North West – Potchefstroom and surrounds

About the Birding

Site: Klipdrift Dam
Situated about 20km from Potchefstroom on the Johannesburg road (N12). Turn right at the second Klipdrift sign, past the cell phone tower. Follow the gravel road for +10km and turn left into Van Niekerk’s farm at bluegum plantation. Follow the road to the resort and do your birding there. Water birds, including terns, ducks, Great Crested Grebe, Pink-backed Pelican, Caspian Tern, Black-winged Pratincole (summer), egrets, herons, storks, waders and grassveld species can be seen here. Montagu’s Harrier and Pallid Harrier as well as Lesser Black-backed Gull are among the rarer species that have been seen here.

Site: Eleazar Road to Klerksdorp
This circular road is a must for someone who wants to get to grips with grassveld species. Drive out of Potchefstroom on the Ventersdorp road (R53), and turn left to Eleasar (-26.677189, 27.073511). Along this road you enter pipit and lark habitat. Spike-heeled Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Rufous-naped Lark and Red-capped Lark all occur. Look out; or rather listen, for the varied repertoire of Melodious Lark in areas where red grass (Themida triandra) grows. Where the road goes through rocky areas, look for Eastern Long-billed Lark. Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark and Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark are usually seen. They are easy to find on the road and the difference between the females can also be studied. Try to identify the different pipits by looking at their chest, back and throat markings, as well as their behaviour. African Pipit’s white outer tail feathers will give it away immediately, while a pipit with no markings will most probably be a Plain-backed Pipit. Keep your eyes peeled for Secretarybird and Martial Eagle, both of which breed in the area. Ant-eating Chat, Capped Wheatear and Familiar Chat are common. Pied Starling can be seen at the Eleazer Mine. Go straight past the mine. A few kilometres further is a huge pan on the right (-26.662467, 26.824823). Depending on water levels, a lot of different waders can be seen. Both Lesser Flamingo and Greater Flamingo, as well as Little Stint, several species of duck, ibises and African Spoonbill can be seen when there is water in the pan. A couple of kilometres further is the farm Goedgevonden. There is an earth dam on the right (-26.664174, 26.762465) which sports great numbers of waders and water birds and Maccoa Duck and White-backed Duck have been seen here regularly. You can turn left here, continue to bird, and drive to the main road between Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp (N12) and go back to Potchefstroom, or keep going straight to the Faan Meintjies Nature Reserve, just a few kilometers on.

Site: Vredefort Dome-Venterskroon
This is a rather unique area in the Potchefstroom district, a mountainous bushveld habitat with the Vaal River running through it, surrounded by grassland. There are several small gravel roads which give one access to a number of diverse habitats in a rather small area. The Kromdraai Road that turns left off the R501 at Scandinavia Drift (-26.933797, 27.057314) runs on the northern side of the Vaal River and gives one access to farmland, mixed acacia bushveld, grassland and riverine habitat. In summer there are a number of migrants in this area, including cuckoos, raptors and listen out in the thickets for warblers. Once one enters the mountainous area along the river, one should keep an eye out for waterfowl, kingfishers and the odd Common Sandpiper sitting on the exposed rocks in the river. At the T-junction, after Elgro River Lodge, one can turn left and return to Potchefstroom, or right to the Schoemansdrift Bridge. When you head to Schoemansdrift Bridge just after the tar road turns to gravel the road bends and you enter an area surrounded with koppies. This is a very nice spot to stop and add a few species to your triplist. Species like Ashy Tit, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Common Scimitarbill, Familiar Chat, Brubru, Black-backed Puffback, Dusky and Purple Indigobird, and keep an eye out for raptors, such as European Honey Buzzard often seen here in summer. At the Schoemansdrift Bridge over the Vaal River (-26.970834, 27.210544) one can expect African Pied Wagtail, African Black Duck, Goliath Heron and kingfishers and late afternoon the odd Green-backed (Striated) Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron. The weir is also a good place to look for Common Sandpiper in summer.

Heading back to Potchefstroom one can take the Venterskroon road down to the R59 that will take you to Parys. Listen for the different cisticola calls in the grasslands. In summer the area is full of displaying whydahs and widowbirds. Ovambo Sparrowhawk can be seen in the bluegums along the road if one is lucky. The odd Verreaux’s Eagle soars above the rocky outcrops in the Vredefort Dome. These roads are very good for owls and nightjars and one should take your time driving these roads at night to inspect each and every nightjar, since four different nightjars can be found in the Dome area.

Key species:

South African Shelduck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, African Rail, Sand Martin (summer), Orange-breasted Waxbill, Little Bittern, Cape Shoveler, Whiskered Tern, Purple Heron, African (Purple) Swamphen

About the Birding Site

Habitats around Potchefstroom consist mainly of wide open grassveld interspersed with mixed acacia and other bush. South of the town is the Vredefort Dome with its own special birds. Potchefstroom was once a region of vleis and marshes. Sadly these no longer exist, but the small remnants that survived still make for excellent birding. Specials include several lark and pipit species, as well as Western Osprey, Great Crested Grebe, Crimson-breasted Shrike, African Grass Owl, and Black Sparrowhawk.

Key species:

South African Shelduck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, African Rail, Sand Martin (summer), Orange-breasted Waxbill, Little Bittern, Cape Shoveler, Whiskered Tern, Purple Heron, African (Purple) Swamphen

Other Related Information

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Many guesthouses and self-catering options can be found in Potchefstroom
There are no BirdLife Recommended Accommodations in the area.

Local guide information:
No BirdLife Recommended Tour Operators or local guides are currently available in the area.

Other related information:

Text prepared by:
Martin Benadie | Specialist Birding Guide
Johan Viljoen

Key species:

South African Shelduck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, African Rail, Sand Martin (summer), Orange-breasted Waxbill, Little Bittern, Cape Shoveler, Whiskered Tern, Purple Heron, African (Purple) Swamphen

Contact details:

Potchefstroom Tourism Association