North West – Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain (western Zaagkuilsdrift)

About the Birding

The start of this birding route is taken at the main T-junction in the Kgomo-Kgomo village, precisely at these coordinates: 25°09’26.9″S 28°04’51.1″E, or -25.157469, 28.080873. All the distances described below are measured from here.

Kgomo-Kgomo bridge:
The primary area for birding here is the main bridge over the Moretele River, 800m south of the coordinates above. The first 400m south from the main T-junction pass through very dry acacia thornveld plains. Species such as Black-chested Prinia, Scaly-feathered Finch (Weaver) and Black-throated Canary are common.

Small open sections in between these small acacia thorn trees should be carefully scanned for Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark and Temminck’s Courser year-round, and Dusky Lark during summer only (Dec – Apr). Between 400m – 800m south from this point, the acacia thornveld ends, and you enter into the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplains. During wet years this area floods and supports some of the most exciting wetland birding to be had anywhere in South Africa, however, this rapidly dries up during the winter, with only the odd small pocket of water remaining, aside from the main Moretele River channel – which supports water throughout the year.

It is best to try and arrive at this bridge as early as possible, as this is your best chance for seeing some of the skulking species that are present during wet years. This is a great place to park (please pull off the road), have coffee and breakfast, while watching all the waterbirds. Species present throughout the year, providing small pockets of water remain, include species such as White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Common Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, African Jacana, Yellow-billed Stork, Reed Cormorant, African Spoonbill, Squacco and Grey Herons, Great and Little Egrets and Hamerkop. Summer, and the onset of rains fills these pools up, and in exceptional years, inundates this entire floodplain – turning this into a verdant wetland, brimming with sedges and reeds, and open pools of water. While it is possible to walk around into these floodplains, the high-up views you get from the road gives you an excellent vantage point and almost unsurpassed views over the wetlands, and is usually the best strategy for seeing species. The more regularly recorded migrants are species such as Dwarf Bittern, Greater Painted-snipe, African Crake and Lesser Moorhen, however, Allen’s Gallinule, Baillon’s Crake and the almost mythical Striped Crake turn up in exceptional years. Other species such as Fulvous Whistling Duck, Hottentot Teal, White-backed Duck, Black and Purple Herons, Intermediate Egret, Glossy Ibis, African Snipe, Whiskered and White-winged Terns and Malachite Kingfisher all move in when conditions become suitable. During summer the floodplains edges should be searched for Harlequin Quail and Common (Kurrichane) Buttonquail, while large flocks of Black-winged Pratincole gather as well (look for the odd Collared Pratincole in between). Summer also brings in with it various shorebirds, such as Ruff, Common Greenshank, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers and Little Stint, alongside the resident Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers. The bridge provides excellent views out over the floodplains, and is a great area to see raptors – keep an eye out for the likes of Black-chested Snake Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Cape and White-backed Vultures, and in summer, species such as Montagu’s Harrier. Of course, a wide array of other species can be found on the floodplains, and during summer, species such as Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Amur Falcon, White-winged Widowbird and Yellow-crowned Bishop add to the area, while the dried-up floodplains during the winter form good areas for African Quail-finch, Cut-throat Finch, Yellow Canary, while also increasing chances for seeing species such as Temminck’s Courser and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark. Many rare birds (both nationally and provincially) have been recorded here over the years, and one should always be on the lookout for any odd species. Recent examples of these have included Rufous-bellied Heron, Saddle-billed and Woolly-necked Storks and Pectoral Sandpiper, to name a few. Before the area becomes inundated, rare species to be on the lookout for include Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Lark-like Bunting and Caspian Plover (Sep – Dec).

Eastern Kgomo-Kgomo/western Zaagkuilsdrift road:
Returning back to the main T-junction mentioned above, we will now work the main roads heading east from the village (and joining up with the Zaagkuilsdrift road, described under the Limpopo birding sites). This route primarily covers dry acacia thornveld birding, but also includes two small dams, and some further floodplain birding.

From the T-junction, follow the road eastwards (towards Pienaarsrivier/Rust de Winter) bypassing the village to your left (with a mix of houses, kraals and acacia bushes), with open plains to your right. These open plains are a great area to find several of the open country specials mentioned above, such as Temminck’s Courser and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, and in summer, Black-winged Pratincole and Dusky Lark. The village is surprisingly birdy, and has a wide range of dry acacia species such as White-backed Mousebird, Great Sparrow, Yellow Canary, Red-headed and Cut-throated Finches and many others. In summer keep an eye out for Lesser Grey Shrike on the fences, and Great Spotted Cuckoo (that parasitises the many Burchell’s Starling present in the village). After 1.1km, you will see a small dam to the right (south side of the road), a few hundred metres into the floodplain (look for the natural dam ‘wall’, that stands above the ground). While in the wet season this dam is usually of little significance, although worth checking for Greater Painted-snipe, this dam is a great area to check out during the dry season (winter/spring), as it is a great water source for many birds. In particular this is a great place to see African Quail-finch well, and many other birds come and drink here (such as Cut-throat Finch). After 1.5km, you will see a temporary small pan/wetland immediately to the left (north) side of the road. This small wetland usually only holds water during the wet season (and dries up rapidly afterwards), and is a great area to search. African Crake, Lesser Moorhen and Greater Painted-snipe are all regular with the right conditions, and Western Yellow Wagtail can often be found around here during the summer months as well. Additionally, this is an excellent area for shorebirds. At dusk, numbers of Double-banded Sandgrouse gather to drink from the above-mentioned two dams.

After 1.8km, the road splits – turning left (north), takes you along the edge of the village for several more kilometres, before eventually heading up towards Bela Bela (there is good acacia birding on this route, but it is not discussed below), however, turning right (continuing eastwards) leads you into the Zaagkuilsdrift Road, and the rest of the route we will focus on. After turning right at this split, some 100m further on (1.9km), a small temporarily flooded area is reached.

When inundated, this is an excellent area to search for Dwarf Bittern (scan the trees and edges of the vlei alike), along with African Crake (often seen in the road along here) and Greater Painted-snipe. Continue through a slightly more open portion for a few hundred metres, and after 2.3km you enter into a denser stand of thickets/acacia clumps. In summer (Jan – Mar), this is a great area for various migrant warblers. Marsh and Icterine Warblers and Common Whitethroat are regular, while some seasons Thrush Nightingale and even River Warbler can be found here. These latter two are incredibly secretive birds and are very to see – knowledge of their calls are vital in finding them. Thrush Nightingale is usually more prevalent in January/February, while River Warbler is more prevalent from mid-end March. After passing through these thickets, at 2.5km, you pass another floodplain portion that floods during good rainy seasons. This is another excellent area for Dwarf Bittern, African Crake and Greater Painted-snipe. Additionally, when conditions are suitable, this is a great area to search for the rare Striped Crake. Following this open area, the acacia woodland that follows for the next 1.5km, in particular, is a great area for birds. In summer (Jan – Mar), a number of Olive-tree Warblers can regularly be found on this portion of the road (listen for their nasal calls), and it otherwise hosts some of the best dry thornveld birding in the area. Species such as Acacia Pied Barbet, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brubru, Ashy Tit, Cape Penduline-tit, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Barred Wren Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Southern Pied Babbler, Marico Flycatcher, Marico Sunbird, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbills, and Shaft-tailed and Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs are all regular. It is also worth keeping an eye out for the Bronze-winged Courser quietly perched under the trees along this strip of the road. After 5.5km from the T-junction in Kgomo-Kgomo village at the start of the route, the road crosses into the Limpopo Province and brings the end of this route (please read more about the Zaagkuilsdrift Road under the Limpopo route, as this road is the western end of the Zaagkuilsdrift road). Night-time birding along this route can be good, with Fiery-necked Nightjar regularly seen, along with Southern White-faced, Western Barn, Spotted Eagle- and Marsh Owls all present. Pearl-spotted Owlets are common throughout the area, and can also be seen during the day.

Western Kgomo-Kgomo/western Zaagkuilsdrift road:
Returning back to the main T-junction in Kgomo-Kgomo mentioned at the start of this section, we will now work the main roads heading west from the village.

This route primarily covers dry acacia thornveld birding.

From the T-junction, follow the road westwards through the bulk of the Kgomo-Kgomo village. You pass through the village, with various homesteads present for the next 4km. Don’t overlook these areas, as good birding can be had. Open areas often host Temminck’s Courser and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, while the dry acacia thornveld in between the houses has species such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Cape Penduline-tit, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbills, Great Sparrow and Cut-throat Finch. After 4km, an open area forms on to the left (south) side of the road, with good acacia woodland on the opposite side (right). The open field should be scanned for Abdim’s Stork during the summer, and the powerlines in this area are a great strip to find Pale-chanting Goshawk, Purple Roller, Southern White-crowned Shrike, and in summer African Cuckoo. This excellent dry acacia thornveld continues for many more kilometres, hosting a similar suite of species to that described above (Eastern Kgomo-Kgomo route), and will form a good backup site, if you are still searching for any of those species. After 11km, you will see a dam to your right (north), which usually holds water throughout the year. Various ducks, herons and waders are often in evidence here, although this dam can be difficult to view adequately (as it is fenced). After 13.2km, the road ends with a T-junction leading towards Moretele. Turn left here (to the south) and continue a short distance to the bridge over the Moretele River, where you can scan for a range of water birds.

Key species:

Dwarf Bittern, African Crake, Lesser Moorhen, Greater Painted-snipe, Black-winged Pratincole, Temminck’s Courser, Dusky Lark, Olive-tree Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Great Sparrow

About the Birding Site

The floodplains around Kgomo-Kgomo form one of the best, and most exciting birding destinations in South Africa! This area is dominated by very dry, acacia thornveld, and is punctured by the Moretele and Pienaars Rivers, which spill out onto the vast flats surrounding the Kgomo-Kgomo village. Although dry and dusty for most of the year, these flats become flooded (or partially flooded) with summer rains, and host some of the most exciting tropical birding to be had anywhere in the country when inundated.

Dense acacia thickets feature on the edges of these waterways and play host to a further array of sought-after species. The birding is excellent here, and while summer, especially January – March, are the best birding months where daily totals can exceed 150 species, and it is easily possible to find over 100 species in a few hours with minimal effort, together with a number of exciting migrants moving in, winter birding can be productive for the resident specials as well.

Key species:

Dwarf Bittern, African Crake, Lesser Moorhen, Greater Painted-snipe, Black-winged Pratincole, Temminck’s Courser, Dusky Lark, Olive-tree Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Great Sparrow

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
This site is based off of public roads – both gravel and tar. The bulk of the birding is confined to the road, although the open fields and plains surrounding the Kgomo-Kgomo village are all communal lands, and the local community permit birders to walk these areas, and it is possible to wander away from the road (please be courteous towards community members).

Other related information:

Access and facilities:

This site can be done as a day trip, in conjunction with the full Zaagkuilsdrift Road, lying to the east, in neighbouring Limpopo Province (please see our write-up under the Limpopo birding routes). There are no facilities in the area, however, it is possible to organise a lunch visit to the nearby Zaagkuilsdrift Bird Sanctuary and Lodge, by prior arrangement.

This is an excellent birding destination, and is one of the premier birding sites in the wider-Gauteng area, and indeed the whole of South Africa! A wide range of species can be expected, and summer visits with a number of migrant’s present, can exceed 150 species, with 100 species possible in a matter of a few hours.

GPS Coordinates:
The Kgomo-Kgomo village is located at these coordinates (25°09’26.9″S 28°04’51.1″E, or -25.157469, 28.080873) which are also the base point for the description for the birding route described above.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are currently available in the area. There are two recommended accommodation options occurring a short distance away, in the Limpopo portion of the Zaagkuilsdrift Road (both of which double-up as excellent birding destinations in their own right):

Wolfhuiskraal Guesthouse
Renette Opperman: +27 (0)73 303 1568
Website: http://wolfhuiskraal.simplesite.com/420122552
E-mail: renette.opperman2@gmail.com
E-mail: kosie44@gmail.com

Zaagkuilsdrift Bird Sanctuary and Lodge
Website: https://zaagkuilsdrift.co.za/

Local guide information:
Birding Ecotours operate day tours to the area.

Text prepared by:
Dylan Vasapolli

Key species:

Dwarf Bittern, African Crake, Lesser Moorhen, Greater Painted-snipe, Black-winged Pratincole, Temminck’s Courser, Dusky Lark, Olive-tree Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Great Sparrow

Contact details:

N/A

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