North West – Vredefort Dome Conservancy

About the Birding

This route discusses the three ‘main’ roads to take for birding in the North-West Province side of the Vredefort Dome:

1. Koedoeslaagte Road (starting point: 26°53’14.0″S 27°23’56.8”E, or -26.887233, 27.399105). Beginning a short distance off the R53 Potchefstroom/Parys road, just north of Parys, follow the road westwards until the above coordinates where the tarred road goes to gravel (see above) – this is used as the starting point for this route, and it continues for 10km.

The initial 1.5km pass through a mix of grassland and agricultural lands, interspersed with the odd farm dam. Typical highveld species can be found here, such as Swainson’s Spurfowl, Cloud Cisticola, Cape Longclaw, Long-tailed Widowbird, Pied Starling, amongst others, while the farms dams usually host species such as Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal and Grey Heron. Between 1.5km to 4km, you pass through an excellent mix of wooded hill slopes and acacia thornveld scrub, and this area usually hosts some excellent birding. Common species present include the likes of Acacia Pied Barbet, Red-faced Mousebird, Fiscal Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler (Warbler), Chinspot Batis and Amethyst Sunbird. Some of the special species to keep an eye out for here include the scarce Brown-backed Honeybird, Common Scimitarbill, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Brubru, Black Cuckooshrike, White-throated Robin Chat, Long-billed Crombec, Orange River White-eye (beware of the confusing Cape White-eye, which do occur as well, although not as commonly as Orange River) and an array of colourful seedeaters, such as Blue, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, Green-winged Pytilia and Jameson’s Firefinch. During the winter months, the dainty Fairy Flycatcher moves in.

Following a sharp turn to the left, the road passes very close to the Vaal River (always scan for African Black Duck, Goliath Heron, African Darter, Green-backed (Striated) Heron and African Fish Eagle), the habitat changes to a drier, more open, acacia dominated woodland. This can be another productive area to bird, and keep an eye out for some of the above-mentioned species, along with the likes of Red-throated Wryneck, Ashy Tit and the local population of Yellow-throated Petronia (Bush Sparrow). Coqui Francolin can also often be heard from these areas, but seeing this species requires much luck. After 7.8km, you pass a small stream (search for additional water birds such as the rare Half-collared Kingfisher), and enter into another excellent area of mountain hillside, with a similar suite of specials occurring here as mentioned above. After 10km, the road ends, and joins up with the Venterskroon Road (see information below).

2. Venterskroon Road (starting point: 26°49’48.1″S 27°23’26.2″E, or -26.830036, 27.390621).
This road begins directly off the R53 Potchefstroom/Parys road, to the north of Parys. The route follows the road westwards for some distance, running parallel to the Vaal River, before eventually joining up with the Rooipooitjie Road, on the far western end of the ‘Dome’.

The first 20 km of this road pass through a very similar mix of habitat, primarily consisting of acacia woodland and mixed wooded hillsides, with the odd agricultural field and open area present. This road runs parallel with the Vaal River for much of the way, and a regular flight of waterbirds up and down the river can be expected. This area also passes through much of the interesting mountain formations of the ‘Dome’, and a few rocky species can be found as well. The acacia woodlands and wooded hillsides must be searched for species such as Acacia Pied Barbet, White-backed Mousebird, Brown-backed Honeybird, Common Scimitarbill, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Ashy Tit, Black Cuckooshrike, Brubru, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bar-throated Apalis, Fiscal Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah and Yellow-throated Petronia (Bush Sparrow), amongst a wide array of more common and widespread species. Orange River White-eye can be found in any vegetation here, but occur primarily along the vegetation flanking the Vaal River. Where you come into close proximity to the mountains, such as 4km, 9.7km, 10.8km, 13.5km, 16km and 18km from the start, it is worth searching for species such as Mountain Wheatear, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Familiar Chat, Nicholson’s Pipit, Cape and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Streaky-headed Seedeater, while Verreaux’s Eagle breed in the area and work the mountains around here (keep an eye to the sky).

After 11.2km you reach Thabela Thabeng Guest Farm, which is one of the better lodges for birding in the area, as it gives you access to riverine frontage on the Vaal River, along with mountainous habitat away from the Vaal River, along with lots of varied wooded habitats. Special permission can be made for a day visit, although this is usually worth an overnight stay allowing you easy access during the prime part of the day – early mornings. A similar suite of species mentioned above can be found here, and the farm can be explored by vehicle and on foot – it has a number of different hiking trails. After 20km, the road exits out of the mountains and wooded hillsides, and open out into typical highveld grassland, where a different suite of species can be searched for. Species such as Ant-eating Chat, Rufous-naped Lark, Cloud Cisticola, Long-tailed Widowbird, Cape Longclaw occur commonly, and one should also search here for Orange River Francolin, along with Eastern Clapper Lark. After a few kilometres, and passing through more acacia woodland, the road links ends and joins up with the Rooipooitjie Road, coming from Potchefstroom. This leads onto the Schoemansdrift Road discussed below.

3. Schoemansdrift Road starting point: (26°55’40.0″S 27°11’37.9”E, or -26.927790, 27.193864). This road begins off the Rooipooitjie Road, on the western end of the ‘Dome’. This route continues in a southward direction, eventually crossing the Vaal River (after 6.4km) and transitioning into the Free State Province portion of the ‘Dome’. The road continues onwards, eventually joining up with the R59, south of Parys.

The start of this road is taken as being the end of the tarred road, and transition to the gravel road. These first 6.4km (until you reach the Vaal River) pass through a mix of farmed, agricultural lands, with the odd mountain ridge and associated acacia thornveld and typical mountain woodland splitting the fields. A similar suite of species to those mentioned above occur here as well, and this route can form a good ‘backup’ birding route, should you still be looking for any of those species. In particular, the mountain ridge reached after 1.4km holds good birding, with species such as Mocking Cliff Chat, Cape Bunting and even Striped Pipit occurring here. A productive acacia patch is reached after 2.4km (and continues for the next few hundred metres), where you can search for birds such as Ashy Tit, Common Scimitarbill and Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbills. Good open plains birding can be had after 4.2km, where you can search for Northern Black Korhaan, Cloud and Desert Cisticola, Ant-eating Chat, and during summer, Banded Martin and South African Cliff Swallow. The Schoemansdrift Bridge over the Vaal River is a great place to spend some time, and you are sure to see many of the area’s water birds – such as Goliath Heron, Pied and Giant Kingfishers and even African Pied Wagtail, amongst others. Also keep a careful eye out for Cape Clawless Otter here. Please note that this bridge may not always be open. Rare birds such as African Finfoot and White-backed Night Heron have been reported along the Vaal River, south of Parys, but access to these areas is restricted and your best bet is to try and arrange a canoe/fishing trip along the river, with one of the many operators found in Parys, although your chances remain slim at seeing these sought-after species.

The Free State section of the ‘Dome’ can be accessed south of the Vaal River via the S80 (off the R59 Vredefort Road from Parys) with another loop road off this that travels close to the southern bank of the Vaal River, the S212. Habitats here are similar to the part of the ‘Dome’ in the North West. Grasslands in the southern eastern parts of the ‘Dome’ can also be good for Orange River Francolin.

The southern banks of the Vaal River can also be accessed in Parys off Grewar Ave (like 26°54’14.0″S 27°26’23.8″E, -26.903890, 27.439953). Here one can possibly find African Fish Eagle, a variety of kingfishers, cormorants, herons, African Darter and Orange River White-eye. The Vaal River can also be accessed between Hadeda Creek and Kommandonek at (26°53’02.5″S 27°21’27.2”, -26.884017, 27.357545) and any other accessible spot between these two venues. The Schoemansdrift Bridge (26°58’15.0″S 27°12’44.0″E, -26.970841, 27.212213) can also be a worthwhile stop for waterbirds.

Key species:

Orange River Francolin, Coqui Francolin, Verreaux’s Eagle, Brown-backed Honeybird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Orange River White-eye, Yellow-throated Petronia, Black-faced Waxbill

About the Birding Site

The Vredefort Dome was declared a World Heritage Site in the early 2000s, due to the unique geology in the area – the dome itself is the site of the largest known crater-impact. The Vaal River crosses right through the heart of the ‘Dome’, and together with the fascinating geology and mountains present here, make this a very scenic area. This area is a very popular tourist destination – attested to by the sheer number of lodges, accommodation establishments and activities available in the area.

Habitat wise, a mix of acacia thornveld, riverine woodland, mountain hillside, rocky cliffs and highveld grasslands can be found in the ‘Dome’. This diversity of habitats means that a wide diversity of birds can be found in the area, and the birding is usually good. The birding is usually better during the summer months, when a wide array of migrants augments the resident species. The ‘Dome’ is serviced from the small town of Parys, found roughly 1h30 south from Johannesburg.

Key species:

Orange River Francolin, Coqui Francolin, Verreaux’s Eagle, Brown-backed Honeybird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Orange River White-eye, Yellow-throated Petronia, Black-faced Waxbill

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
This area, and conservancy, is mainly of private lands and farms, which have a number of lodges and accommodation options available on them (and host some great birding), and is otherwise best accessed by the network of public roads that cross the area. Almost all of these roads are gravel, and they are well maintained, and suitable for any vehicle-type.

Other related information:

This site is best done as a day (or half-day) trip, or over the course of a weekend. Please note there are no facilities along the roads, although many restaurants, and various services can be found in the small town of Parys, which serves as the starting point to the Vredefort Dome.

GPS Coordinates:
Koedoeslaagte Road starting point: 26°53’14.0″S 27°23’56.8″E, or -26.887233, 27.399105
Venterskroon Road starting point: 26°49’48.1″S 27°23’26.2″E, or -26.830036, 27.390621
Schoemansdrift Road starting point: 26°55’40.0″S 27°11’37.9″E, or -26.927790, 27.193864

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are currently available in the area. The small, tourism-orientated town of Parys has a wide array of accommodation options to suit all budgets. A number of lodges occur in and around the Vredefort Dome Conservancy, and many of them have sizeable portions of land, with an array of activities, hiking trails and excellent birding, on the properties. Some of these include:

Thabela Thabeng
BOOKINGS AND ENQUIRIES: Chantel de Meyer
Website: http://thabelathabeng.co.za/
Email: info@thabelathabeng.co.za
Cell: +27 (0)60 923 2265
Tel: +27 (0)56 8181116

Khaya iBhubesi
Head Office: +27 (0)11 662 2136 / 1836
Lodge: +27 (0)568 18 16 13
Cisca Oosthuizen: marketing@khayaconference.co.za
Website: http://www.khayaconference.co.za/

Elgro River Lodge
Tel: +27 (0)18 297 5411 (ask for Elgro River Lodge Bookings)
Email: elgrolodge@iafrica.com
Website: https://www.elgroriverlodge.co.za/

SunWa River Lodge
Lodge Tel: +27 056 817 7107
Email: sales@sunwa.co.za or marketing@sunwa.co.za or goraft@sunwa.co.za
Website: https://www.sunwa.co.za/

The Free State province section of the Vredefort Dome (and the town of Parys) has several other accommodation options available such as:

Dimalachite River Lodge
Lodge: +27 (0)56 818 1860/1/2
Website: https://www.dimalachite.co.za/

Thwane Bush Camp
Website: https://www.thwanebushcamp.co.za/

Kommandonek Game Reserve
Lodge Tel: +27 (0)16 987 7299 or +27 (0)82 887 1312
Website: https://kommandonek.co.za/

Witklipfontein Eco Lodge
Lodge Tel:
Kellé: +27 (0)76 077 63 33
Darryn: +27 (0)65 912 64 52
Website: https://witklipfontein.co.za/

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

Text prepared by:
Dylan Vasapolli (Birding Ecotours)
Martin Benadie

Key species:

Orange River Francolin, Coqui Francolin, Verreaux’s Eagle, Brown-backed Honeybird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Orange River White-eye, Yellow-throated Petronia, Black-faced Waxbill

Contact details:

N/A

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