North West – Pilanesberg National Park & Sun City

About the Birding

This is a relatively large park, with good birding possible throughout. Please note however, that you are restricted to your vehicle whilst in the park (except at designated points, such as picnic sites, hides and the camps, where you are allowed to disembark). As such, it is advised to spend time in the areas you are allowed outside your vehicle (such as the camps), as being on foot enhances your birding experience and makes it easier to find many of the specials.

The Manyane Camp is a fantastic area to bird, with a sizable portion of the camp being covered in natural bush – primarily acacia thornveld. As the camp is fenced off, it is possible to explore it on foot. Keep an eye out for trickier specials here, such as Southern Pied Babbler, Barred Wren-Warbler, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, and in particular, Great Sparrow. More common species include Grey Go-away-bird, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler (Warbler), Marico Flycatcher, Scaly-feathered Finch (Weaver), Blue Waxbill and Golden-breasted Bunting. Note that you may find a similar suite of species whenever you come across acacia thornveld patches (such as between Kwa-Maritane Ldoge and the Manyana Gate; and around the Tlou Dam). The Mothatha Scavenger Hide, near the Manyane Gate occasionally hosts Cape, White-backed and rarely Lappet-faced Vultures.

Areas of dense woodland, often around the many rocky koppies and along the rivers and drainage areas should be searched for the likes of African Green Pigeon, Black Cuckooshrike, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, White-throated Robin Chat, Grey-backed Cameroptera and Yellow-throated Petronia (Bush Sparrow), amongst others. In the rockier areas, keep a careful eye out for the shy and inconspicuous Short-toed Rock Thrush (especially near the picnic site on the south side of Mankwe Dam), along with Familiar and Mocking Cliff Chats, Lazy Cisticola and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Flappet Lark can often be found in these areas as well.

A wide range of the typical ‘bushveld’ species occur throughout the park, and are regularly seen. These include a number of barbets, mousebirds, honeyguides, woodpeckers, shrikes, robins, flycatchers, thrushes, starlings, sunbirds and many small seedeaters. Summer brings with it many migrants, and the park fills up with cuckoos – Diederick, Klaas’s, Red-chested, Black, Jacobin and Levaillant’s are all regulars, while African and Great Spotted Cuckoos less so. Expect other species such as Woodland Kingfisher, Spotted Flycatcher and Violet-backed Starling. A wide range of warblers can also be found throughout the park. Marsh and Icterine Warblers are the most regularly found, but with careful searching, you may also find Common Whitethroat (search especially small dense bushes) and Olive-tree Warbler (search especially in dry thornveld). Knowledge of their calls is vital in locating and identifying these species.

The more open areas of the park host various species from Common Ostrich, to the likes of Coqui Francolin and Double-banded Sandgrouse, and all of the more common species such as Crested Francolin, and Natal and Swainson’s Spurfowls. The park is a great place to find Secretarybird, and small numbers of Kori Bustard also occur. Summer brings in the likes of Common Buttonquail and African Crake, while winter (and the fires) bring in the likes of Temminck’s Courser and Buffy and Plain-backed Pipits. Rufous-naped Lark and African Pipit are common throughout the area. The park is a great area for raptors, and it always pays to keep an eye in the sky. Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles, African Hawk Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle (spring – autumn) , Black-winged Kite, Gabar Goshawk and Lanner Falcon are all regularly seen.

The best water birds can be found at the large Mankwe Dam, but various species occur at the many other smaller dams, and along the rivers throughout the park (other good dams to visit include Rathlogo, Tlou, Makorwane and Lengau). Species such as Egyptian and Spur-winged Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal and White-faced Whistling Duck, Grey Heron, Great Egret, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Hmaerkop, African Darter, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, African Jacana and Black-winged Stilt are almost always present. African Fish Eagles are present at most of the dams. Summer brings in with it a range of shorebirds, such as Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Ruff. Pied, Malachite and less commonly, Giant Kingfishers are usually in evidence as well. Striated Heron and Little Egret frequent the rivers, and species like White-backed Night Heron have even been reported. Keep an eye out for scarcer species.

The Sun City resort also has great birding, and a wide range of the general bushveld species can be found here, however, this is a busy resort and it can become crowded.

Key species:

Cape Vulture, Secretarybird, Kori Bustard, Coqui Francolin, Giant Kingfisher, Crimson-breasted Shrike (also rare yellow morph), Short-toed Rock Thrush, Southern Pied Babbler, Great Sparrow

About the Birding Site

Pilanesberg National Park lies 160km north-west of Johannesburg, and is the fourth-largest protected area in South Africa. The park covers a wide range of habitats, including vleis, lakes, streams, thick bush, broad-leaved and Acacia woodland, rocky koppies, and open grasslands. The park encompasses the Pilanesberg mountains and is a malaria-free region.

The resulting structure is a ring-complex of concentric rocky ridges, the highest being 1,669 m, interspersed in a matrix of low-lying plains. Much of this 27km diameter circular park is accessible from the 200km network of good roads either on a self-drive basis or on guided game drives (through the various lodges around the area).

Owing to the extensive range of habitats and the fact that the park is situated on the transitional zone between the dry western and moister eastern parts of the country, means that over 350 bird species have been seen here, and a large variety of other wildlife including the “Big Five” are present. The park is a registered Important Bird Area (SA023) and provides refuge to a number of globally and nationally threatened species. To aid viewing experiences, a number of hides have been built at key spots. The park is an excellent birding area, and a high species list can be expected, whether you’re visiting only for the day, or staying for a longer visit.

Key species:

Cape Vulture, Secretarybird, Kori Bustard, Coqui Francolin, Giant Kingfisher, Crimson-breasted Shrike (also rare yellow morph), Short-toed Rock Thrush, Southern Pied Babbler, Great Sparrow

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
Pilansberg NP is accessed by four (4) gates:
Bakubung Gate (25°20’22.8″S 27°03’48.5″E, or -25.339667, 27.063467)
Kwa-Maritane Gate (25°20’39.3″S 27°09’02.2″E, or -25.344236, 27.150605)
Manyane Gate (25°15’17.4″S 27°12’39.0″E, or -25.254841, 27.210845)
Bakgatla Gate (25°11’15.5″S 27°08’45.1″E, or -25.187643, 27.145848)

Please visit the website for more detailed information: https://www.pilanesbergnationalpark.org/.

Although this is called a National Park, it doesn’t fall under SANParks control, and WildCards are not accepted here.

Other related information:

Entrance Rates:
Pilanesberg tariffs are per person and per vehicle.

Adults: R80
Adults Foreign Nationals: R110
Children (6-12 yrs): R30
Pensioners (SA only): R40
Vehicles (Sedan/LDV/SUV): R40
SA citizens should produce identity document to substantiate citizenship

Gate times:
March and April: 06h00-18h30
May to September: 06h30-18h00
September and October: 06h00-18h30
November to February: 05h30-19h00

Recommended accommodation nearby:
There are no BirdLife Recommended Accommodations in the area, however a wide range of accommodation options exist in and around the park, to suit all budgets. Please visit this link below for more information on the many accommodation options in the park: https://www.pilanesbergnationalpark.org/accommodation/.

The extravagant Sun City resort lies just to the south of the park, and this too has a wide range of accommodation options.
General Enquiries:
Tel: +27 (0)14 557 1000
Email: sctyres@suninternational.com
Website: https://www.suninternational.com/sun-city/

Local guide information:
Birding Ecotours operate tours to the area

Text prepared by:
Dylan Vasapolli (Birding Ecotours)

Key species:

Cape Vulture, Secretarybird, Kori Bustard, Coqui Francolin, Giant Kingfisher, Crimson-breasted Shrike (also rare yellow morph), Short-toed Rock Thrush, Southern Pied Babbler, Great Sparrow

Contact details:

Pilanesberg National Park Office
Park Head Quarters (ENQUIRIES ONLY)
Monday to Friday
Tel: + 27 (0)14 555 1600

Tourism Operations Manager:
Valerie Melk
Tel: + 27 (0)14 555 1600
Fax: +27 (0)14 555 5525
Email: pilanesberg@nwptb.co.za

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