North West – Hartebeespoort Dam

About the Birding

Although much of the land in the Hartbeespoort area is private there are several resorts, farms and nature reserves where one can access birding habitats.

As you come over Saartjies Nek on the R511 and descend towards the dam you will be rewarded with magnificent scenery. First possible port of call is the Oxwagon Lodge (GPS: 25°45’521″S 27°55’561″ E) on your right hand side.

The lodge has a short walking trail and one looks out over the valley below. Watch out for Mocking Cliff Chat, as well as Amethyst and White-bellied Sunbird and a large variety of other woodland birds such as Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black Cuckooshrike, Black-backed Puffback and Green Wood-hoopoe.

From here continue your drive down the hill stopping adjacent to the Xanadu Eco Park. Here you will find the Swartspruit dammed up and this area is often home to a number of waterbirds including White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, African Darter and African Fish Eagle. The area is mostly a private housing development, but early morning can still view parts of the Swartspruit from Xanadu Blvd (GPS: 25°44’46.4″S 27°54’39.6″E)

From here, backtrack slightly along the R511 and turn right to Jasmyn Farm Market with its indigenous gardens, wetlands and ponds. Great stop for fresh fruit and some refreshments (GPS: 25°45’13.0″S 27°54’34.8″E)

The next stop is to continue west to the Meerhof Resort (GPS: 25°45’43.2″S 27°53’39.8″E). This area offers good views of the dam and opportunities to see a number of waterbirds including the ever present Little Egret along the shoreline. The trees in this resort also provide viewing opportunities for a wide variety of bushveld birds.

On leaving Meerhof can make a slight detour over the Swartspruit river area (GPS: 25°45’09.3″S 27°54’07.1″E), known as the Meerhof Conservancy. You may see African Fish Eagle, African Jacana and Black Crake in this area. Continue up the hill past Birdwood estate, at the T-junction turn right and at the main R511 turn left and continue straight into Schoemansville.

Continue along this road to the Hartbeespoort dam wall (GPS: 25°43’31.8″S 27°50’55.2″E). Parking is available on the far side once through the tunnel. Walk back along the wall and look out for Little Swift, Rock Martin, Rock Kestrel, Verreaux’s Eagle and other birds frequenting these rocky areas like Cape Rock Thrush. (Please note: This is only really a feasible birding stop early in the morning and be careful of hawkers at the parking area).

Mount Amanzi is a resort situated below the dam wall on the banks of the Crocodile River also offers great birding for likes of Southern Boubou, African Paradise Flycatcher (summer), Grey-backed Cameroptera, Black-backed Puffback and Half-collared Kingfisher along the river.

From here continue along the road to a prominent intersection with the R512. Turn left here going over what is known as Kommandonek Pass. Follow the R512 going past the suburb of Kosmos turnoff continuing to stay left on the R512 which crosses the dam once again (GPS: 25°45’42.6″S 27°48’19.2″E). Park on either side of the bridge (where safe) and walk back onto the bridge. This spot is only really feasible very early in morning or late afternoon (when there is less vehicle traffic). Can see a variety of waterbirds from here such as White-faced Whistling Duck and Knob-billed Duck.

A good place to scan the Magaliesberg Mountains itself is to stop near the Leopard Lodge turnoff (GPS: 25°45’42.7″S 27°46’02.3″E). Park well off the road and scan the cliffs above for soaring Cape Vulture which has a large nesting colony (Skeerpoort Vulture Colony) here, Black Stork, African Black Swift and Rock Kestrel.

One of the more accessible areas to explore the Magaliesberg Mountains is in the Vergenoeg Nature Reserve which has hiking trails. Turnoff from the R560 (GPS: 25°45’45.8″S 27°45’59.5”E). Vergenoeg Nature Reserve Trails is situated on the slopes of the Magaliesberg and overlooks Hartebeespoort Dam. Along the trail(s) can enjoy incredible views of endangered Cape Vulture and over 200 bird species and more than 50 indigenous trees have been identified in this area. Good bushveld birding potential around Vergenoeg and Leopard Lodge for the likes of Arrow-marked Babbler, Neddicky, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Blue Waxbill and Long-billed Crombec. The rocky cliffs of Magaliesberg are home to Red-winged Starling, Mocking Cliff Chat and Striped Pipit.

The Magalies Park Resort on the R560 offers great birding on the grounds too with a mix of gardens and indigenous woodland. Here you could see the likes of Southern Black Flycatcher, Bronze Mannikin, Southern Boubou, White-throated Robin-chat, Karoo Thrush and African Grey Hornbill amongst others. Fairy Flycatcher is a winter visitor to Magaliesberg and summer is bolstered by migrant species such as Klaas’s Cuckoo and European Bee-eater. The resort also has remnant patches of bushveld for species already mentioned and Cardinal Woodpecker and White-browed Sparrow-weaver. There is lso a bird hide situated on the western inlet of the dam that may produce Levaillant’s Cisticola, Thick-billed Weaver, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Black Crake. The Magalies River here is also favoured by reclusive species such as Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot.

Also along the R560 is Van Gaalen cheese farm [GPS: 25°47’17.0″S 27°46’15.1″E] in Skeerpoort for excellent refreshments and home-made cheese. The farm offers picnic baskets and self-guided trails. Along the wooded Skeerpoort River have a chance for Half-collared Kingfisher, White-backed Night Heron and African Finfoot along the waterways, especially early mornings. Nearby bridges over the Skeerpoort and Magalies Rivers should also be checked for these species, especially early morning.

One can also see the southern side of Hartebeespoort Dam off Oberon Street at the Mountain Lake Spar (GPS: 25°46’33.1″S 27°51’26.5″E). This road passes through mixed bushveld, riverine woodland and open grassy areas before reaching Oberon Resort (GPS: 25°45’51.3″S 27°52’39.0″E) which can be another worthwhile birding stop overlooking the dam. This site is perhaps better for birding on week days and has some good Acacia woodland inhabited by White-browed Scrub-robin, White-bellied Sunbird, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler (Warbler) and Crimson-breasted Shrike. Waterbirds on the Hartebeespoort Dam could include Grey-headed Gull, Purple Heron, White-faced Whistling Duck, Black Heron and Red-knobbed Coot. Stands of alien water hyacinth often encroach large areas of the dam unfortunately.

Near Hartebeespoort town, at the foothills of the Magaliesberg lies Vulpro – a vulture rehabilitation and research centre. See the excellent work being done by this group to ensure the survival of Cape Vulture. You can book a visit to Rehab Centre as well as the Vulpro Hide, the latter allowing for great photographic opportunities.

The Malagiesberg Aerial Cableway provides a novel way to get to the top of the mountain where one may also see Nicholson’s Pipit, Wailing Cisticola, Cape Rock Thrush and Mountain Wheatear and other specialist birds that favour rocky slopes.

Key species:

Cape Vulture, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Bunting, Southern Black Tit, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher, Striped Pipit

About the Birding Site

The Hartebeespoort area has much to offer the visiting birder. Although the area has seen a lot of development in recent years, productive birding habitat still remains. Here one finds the dramatic Magaliesberg Mountains with open grasslands and forested foothills to the Hartebeespoort Dam and a mosaic of rivers and woodland types. The Magaliesberg Biosphere was proclaimed an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2015.

Key species:

Cape Vulture, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Bunting, Southern Black Tit, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher, Striped Pipit

Other Related Information

GPS coordinates:
Hartebeespoort Dam Wall: 25°43’32.0″S, 27°50’52.4″E

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Mount Amanzi
Website: https://www.mountamanzi.co.za/

Other related information:

Vergenoeg Nature Reserve and Hiking Trail
Tel: +27 (0)82 655 3469
Trail information can be found here:
Website: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/south-africa/north-west/vergenoeg-hiking-trail
Trail start: -25.75882, 27.75617

Magalies Park
Website: https://www.magaliespark.co.za/

Vulpro Centre and Hide
Website: https://vulpro.com/ and https://vulpro.com/book-a-visit/

Leopard Mountain Lodge
Website: https://www.leopardlodge.co.za/

Oberon Resort
Website: http://eaglewaters.co.za/

Hartebeespoort Aerial Cableway
Website: https://www.hartiescableway.co.za/

Van Gaalen
Website: https://www.vangaalen.co.za/

Text prepared by:
Martin Benadie | Specialist Birding Guide

Key species:

Cape Vulture, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Bunting, Southern Black Tit, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher, Striped Pipit

Contact details:

N/A

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