Tswaing (Soutpan)

The Tswaing or Soutpan Crater and Museum are fascinating geographical and ecological sites to visit. The 220 000 year old meteoric crater is the main attraction, but the variety of habitats are home to an amazing diversity of bird species, and this has resulted in Tswaing becoming one of the most popular birding venues near Pretoria. Because the reserve is visited often, a checklist of over 320 species of birds has been compiled and around 100 species can be expected in a day visit.



Dwarf Bittern, African Hawk-Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Harlequin Quail, Red-chested Flufftail, African Rail, Terrestrial Brownbul, European Nightjar, Olive-tree Warbler, Garden Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Great Reed-Warbler, Common Whitethroat, White-throated Robin-Chat, Black-faced Waxbill, Violet-eared Waxbill, Cape Penduline-Tit and Burnt-necked Eremomela.



Tswaing has been extensively researched and developed by the National Cultural History Museum, and information in the form of booklets and brochures is available. The crater itself forms an interesting centre-piece to the surrounding flat area.

There are basically three major habitats at Soutpan. The first is mixed woodland near the crater and in the western section of the reserve. The best broadleaved woodland is to be found around the offices. There are some extremely dense thickets of Sickle-bush, Dichrostachys cinerea, to be found in this habitat. Further east one eventually stumbles onto the banks of the Soutpan spruit. Along the banks of the river and the surrounding floodplain, are some of the best thornveld thickets anywhere near Gauteng. The area is totally overgrown with Acacia tortilis, and Gymnosporia thickets with grass and weeds growing through the mid-stratum of the shrubs and smaller trees in some places. The third important habitat is the open water provided by the river and dam and the marshland area for aquatic species.



Apart from the wide variety of guided tours, there are also a number of well-laid out, informative trails around the crater, braai-areas, toilets, parking, camping facilities and firewood.



Starting around the offices and museum, one can expect to find Southern Black Tit, Red-billed Hornbill, Groundscraper Thrush (in the kraals), White-browed Scrub-Robin and Crested Francolin. From here walk over the road you came in on and on to the crater in the direction of the river. Look for African Black Swift mixed in with the commoner Little Swift, African Palm-Swift and White-rumped Swift in the sky above. Common House-Martin, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, Lesser Striped Swallow and Barn Swallow are all common in summer.

The dense thickets of Sickle-bush on the slopes and at the base of the crater, hosts relatively few species, but Crimson-breasted Shrike and White-throated Robin-Chat are often present. The crater itself has Greater Honeyguide in the broken woodland and Egyptian Goose and Black-winged Stilt are usually present far below at the disused salt works. An open water tank set along the left of the road in the thickets usually has some great seed-eaters, and this is a good place to rest in the shade and wait for birds in the heat of the day. Cape Penduline-Tit, Black-faced Waxbill, Blue Waxbill, Common Waxbill, Violet-eared Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Firefinch, Jameson's Firefinch and Yellow-fronted Canary often visited within about five minutes of each other.

The acacia-dominated woodland along the Soutpan stream is a rewarding birding habitat and is home to some very localised and uncommon species, especially this close to Pretoria. Some examples of these are Terrestrial Brownbul, European Nightjar (summer), Garden Warbler, Great Reed-Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler and Marsh Warbler and Common Whitethroat. The nightjar and warblers are only present in summer.

Walking upstream or downstream (towards the marsh), you will encounter a lot more birds if you take it slowly and quietly, concentrating on sounds rather than sight in the dense thickets. Learning the calls of the birds you are looking for, and especially the Warblers, will definitely increase your sightings. Barn Owl, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl and European Nightjar are often flushed from the trees. The latter usually shows two pale patches at the base of the wings as well as a generally paler, sandy colour. Its large size and habit of roosting lengthwise along horizontal branches is also characteristic.

Bird parties usually have Black Cuckooshrike, Cape Penduline-Tit, Arrow-marked Babbler, Willow Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Long-billed Crombec and Rattling Cisticola in attendance. Others that are present are Red-backed Shrike, Levaillant's Cuckoo and Spotted Flycatcher (all summer).

The river supports African Black Duck, Green-backed Heron and Black Crake with the occasional Dwarf Bittern in flooded grassland with stunted thorn trees. Other rallids that could potentially occur are Corn Crake, African Crake, Allen's Gallinule and Lesser Moorhen. The marshy area hosts African Rail, Red-chested Flufftail, African Purple Swamphen, Purple Heron, African Reed-Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Warbler and Little Rush-Warbler, and where the grassland meets the reeds, Burchell's Coucal and Harlequin Quail in summer. Soutpan is well known for its raptors, and these include a breeding pair of African Hawk-Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, melanistic Gabar Goshawk and Little Sparrowhawk, with a wide variety of other birds of prey visiting the reserve on occasion. Of the nocturnal raptors, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Barn Owl are quite common, the later mostly roosting in the dense bush by day. Southern White-faced Scops-Owl prefers the tall, well-developed thornveld along the river, especially in the south-west.



To reach Tswaing from the N1 highway, drive past the Zambezi offramp, taking the next offramp (N4 West / Bakwena Platinum Freeway). Pass through the toll gate and continue for 19km, taking the M80 Pretoria/Soshanguve offramp and turning north towards Soshanguve. Continue driving for approximately 18km to a 3-way stop. Turn right towards M35 Soutpan and continue driving northwards on the M35 for about 15km passing through Soshanguve. About 5km after crossing the Mabopane/Hammanskraal road, turn left at the sign, and follow the road to the main gate. Be warned that the turnoff to the reserve is easily missed!

The reserve is open throughout the year from 7:30 to 16:00. The gates close at 17:00. A small entrance fee is payable, and please insist on an official receipt. An earlier access time can be arranged beforehand.

For more information:
+27 12 790 2302 (T)
+27 12 790 5034 (F)
+27 82 577 4741 (Manager cell)

Faansie Peacock 2007