South-eastern Wetlands and Grasslands – Marievale Bird SanctuaryNatasha Shilubane2023-01-04T13:04:15+00:00
South-eastern Wetlands and Grasslands – Marievale Bird Sanctuary
About the Birding
The reserve consists of large expanses of marsh with extensive reedbeds interspersed with open patches of water and mudflats during drier periods and the winter months. There are areas of natural grassland and farmland surrounding the wetlands which offer a slight change in species that one could encounter. Waterbirds are however the main attraction with large populations of Reed Cormorant, Red-knobbed Coot and Yellow-billed Duck.
It is arguably the best location in Gauteng to see Goliath, Black, Squacco and Purple Herons alongside the more common Grey and Black-headed. African Spoonbill and African Darter are relatively common and Greater and Lesser Flamingos occur from time to time. Waterfowl include the likes of Cape Shoveler, White-faced Duck, Red-billed Teal, Blue-billed Teal, Southern Pochard and even the occasional Cape Teal, Fulvous Whistling Duck, South African Shelduck and White-backed Duck. During migration and low water levels, waders include large numbers of Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, African Snipe, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, and Little Stint with both Wood and Marsh Sandpipers occurring regularly. During summer months the reedbeds are alive with Lesser Swamp, Little Rush and African Reed Warblers with the occasional Greater Reed and Sedge also making an appearance from time to time. African Purple Swamphen and Black Crake are often seen but African Rail is slightly more difficult to locate. Little Bittern are regularly seen from the Otter and Flamingo hides. African Marsh Harriers are frequent and Western Marsh Harriers turn up from time to time. In winter Marsh Owls can be seen quartering the nearby farmland and grasslands.
Marievale Bird Sanctuary is approximately 1 000 ha and located at the southern end of the Blesbokspruit RAMSAR site: a designated Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. The reserve is accessed by approximately 12 kilometres of rough dirt roads that can become impassable during long periods of wet weather, but for most parts of the year are suitable for any vehicle type.
Access and facilities:
The sanctuary has ablution and picnic facilities. Birding and photography is made a lot easier thanks to the availability of five different hides which are all very popular amongst visitors. There is no entrance fee and visitors to the sanctuary are merely requested to sign in with the guards upon entering. Details on the various hides can be seen below:
Duiker Hide is the first hide you will reach after entering the gate to the northern part of the reserve. It overlooks an area that in previous years had many mud banks suitable for waders and deeper water for stilts and other waterbirds. Unfortunately, due to the high water levels, this has now become more of a dam than a vlei and very few birds can be seen. Even so, it is a beautiful hide and with improved conditions the birds will quickly return to the area. The surface of the hide is cement based and smooth. Benches are not fixed and can be moved to make provision for wheelchair users. The viewing slots and shelves are at an acceptable height.
Flamingo Hide is located at the picnic spot and overlooks a vlei/dam where a number of waterbirds can be seen, as well as weavers, waders and swallows. Due to reed encroachment and high-water levels, much of the habitat for waders has been lost. The floor of the hide consists of cement. Benches are fixed and the space between the benches is too narrow for a wheelchair. On the one side of the hide there are viewing slots with no benches and this can be used by a person in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, from this viewpoint you will not be able to see the whole water body. There is no leg clearance.
Hadeda Hide is the first hide you reach after entering through the main gate. The hide has a wonderful view over a large area of water and many hours can be spend here watching waterbirds, weavers, warblers and sometimes even flamingos and elusive crakes. The parking area is on grass and a cement pathway leads to the hide making it easily accessible. The benches are fixed, but there is a space between the benches for a wheelchair but with little leg space. The floor consists of cement and is smooth.
Otter Hide is located on the main cause way that runs through the reserve. It is a smallish hide overlooking a body of water with lots of water birds, shorebirds and other species. There is no parking area and cars need to park on the causeway that is also used by heavy vehicles like trucks. This is not ideal at all and can even be dangerous. A pathway consisting of paving leads to the hide which might create difficulties for people who are mobility impaired. The floor of the hide consists of cement and is level without hindrances. The benches are bolted to the cement floor and cannot be moved.
Shelduck Hide is the last hide that you will find on the road travelling through the reserve. Just as the Duiker Hide, it overlooks a large dam area with a low number of birds. This is also due to rising water levels. From the parking area a long pathway consisting of gravel/stones leads to the hide. Unfortunately, this hide has become extremely run down over recent years and is no longer recommended for birders to visit until such time as it has been repaired.
From O.R. Tambo International Airport, take the R24 towards Johannesburg. Shortly after the R24 merges with the N12, then branch left off onto the N3 south towards Heidelberg and Durban. Continue along the N3 for approximately 35 kilometers and take the R550 (R554) Nigel / Lenasia offramp, turning left towards Nigel at the offramp intersection. Continue along this road for approximately 20 kilometers until reaching the T-junction with the M63 where you turn right towards Nigel. Proceed through Nigel (the road becomes the R42 after the traffic light intersection with this road) and continue along the R42 towards Delmas. After crossing the Blesbokspruit River and passing several large pans on the left the entrance to the reserve is signposted to the left. Approximate travelling time from the airport is 1 to 1.5 hours depending on traffic conditions and the time of day.
GPS coordinates: S 26°23’06”, E 28°30’61”
Times: 05:00 – 18:00
Entrance Fees: R35 per person, R25 per car, R45 per combi, R55 per minibus, R80 per bus. Only card facilities available.