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East Rand Pans

Modified: 2008/10/29 14:56 by admin - Categorized as: Gauteng
Well over 100 permanent and seasonal pans dot the East Rand, the vast majority situated on private land. Fortunately within the greater Benoni, Kempton Park, Boksburg and Brakpan area there are also several pans accessible to the public; Bullfrog Pan, sand Pan, Westdene Pan (Korsman’s Bird Sanctuary), Bonaero Park Pan, Carlos Rolfe’s Pan, Steward’s Pan, Leeupan and Blaaupan (Pamula Park Nature Reserve). Located less than 60 minutes drive from the center of Johannesburg, these must surely offer one of the most rewarding and most under-appreciated urban birding experiences to be had in Gauteng. One can only marvel at what the bird life must have been like a century ago.



Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Black Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Green-backed Heron, Little Bittern, Black Crake, African Purple Swamphen, African Jacana, Greater Painted-snipe, Marsh Owl, African Grass-Owl and Spotted Thick-knee.



Most, if not all, of these urban pans have been considerably transformed by human activities. Available habitat varies from one pan to the next and between seasons, but the main components are open water, mudflat, rank inundated grassland, reed bed, sedge and dry grassland. Unfortunately, very little of the original grassland habitat remains in urban areas.



Only Korsman’s Bird Sanctuary (Westdene Pan) currently has a bird hide, and access to this is restricted. While none of the other sites have official trails or hides, the birds are relatively tolerant of humans and excellent views are possible if one approaches quietly.



1. Bullfrog Pan
Despite continuing human disturbances, Bullfrog Pan is one of the most attractive and natural looking pans in the area. There is no official bird list for this site, but over 100 bird species are expected to utilize the pan and the immediate surroundings at different times of year. The birding is quite unpredictable, but always rewarding and compares favourably with places such as Marievale Bird Sanctuary. This pan is also one of the last remaining breeding areas for the Giant Bullfrog on the Highveld and visitors may be fortunate enough to view some of these magnificent animals after heavy rains.

Bullfrog Pan can be accessed via the giant Bullfrog self guided educational trail, which begins at the old Benonian Sports ground on President Brand Street, Rynfield, Benoni. Follow the well signposted trail to the edge of the grass embankment for the best view of the pan. Keep a lookout for Zitting Cisticola, Cape Longclaw, Rufous-naped Lark, Long-tailed Widowbird and African Wattled Lapwing in the grassland area. Little Swift, African Palm-Swift and White-rumped Swift as well as Greater Striped Swallow, White-throated Swallow and Barn Swallow and wheeling flocks of Grey-headed Gull are frequently observed overhead.

A gravel service road runs between the embankment and the pan providing an excellent viewing spot. Although a telescope will be required for some of the more distant birds, visitors have no excuse for straying into the sensitive wetland area. A variety of herons including Goliath Heron, Purple Heron, Black-headed Heron and Grey Heron can usually be seen stalking along in the shallows at the edge of the pan which also serve as feeding grounds for Glossy Ibis and African Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Great Egret, Little Egret, Yellow-billed Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, African Snipe, Blacksmith Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and the ubiquitous Cape Wagtail.

The inundated, rank grassland area to the west of the pan is one of the most rewarding areas and usually produces good views of African Purple Swamphen, Squacco Heron, Marsh Owl and in winter large numbers of Spur-winged Goose. Close examination of the reed beds may produce a skulking Black-crowned Night-Heron and almost certainly Lesser Swamp-Warbler foraging just above the level of the water. Southern Masked-Weaver, Southern Red Bishop and bumblebee-like Yellow-crowned Bishop are the most active terrestrial birds in this habitat while moorhen dominate the lower levels.

During winter, Greater Flamingo may be seen patrolling the open waters, which they share with an abundance of other waterfowl. Red-knobbed Coot and White-faced Duck and Yellow-billed Duck are the most numerous, but Egyptian Goose, Fulvous Duck, Maccoa Duck, White-backed Duck, Hottentot Teal, Red-billed Teal, Southern Pochard, Cape Shoveler, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe are also regularly recorded. Partially submerged fence poles should be checked for African Darter, White-breasted Cormorant and Reed Cormorant.

One can also access the pan from Boden, Patten and Evans roads, but be careful not to trespass on private property. Similar birds as already mentioned may also be expected in these areas, but Pied Kingfisher and African Jacana have also been seen here.

2. Korsman Bird Sanctuary
This sanctuary is often prolific with a variety of waterfowl. The hides are no longer accessible, but good views are available from "The Drive", a 2km circular road which surrounds the pan. A spotting scope is recommended, as the area is fenced. Notable visitors are Black Heron, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo and Great Crested Grebe. There are several active heronries with Goliath Heron, African Spoonbill, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Reed Cormorant and Little Bittern. The reedbeds and their edges should be actively searched for African Purple Swamphen, Black Crake, African Rail, Little Bittern and roosting Black-crowned Night-Heron. The open stretches of the pan almost always have Spur-winged Goose, Red-billed Teal, and numbers of Egyptian Goose and Yellow-billed Duck. A central island supports a colony of White-breasted Cormorant. The shore edges often hide Glossy Ibis, Hadeda Ibis and African Sacred Ibis. Black-winged Stilt and Pied Avocet are regulars and during the wader migration there are sometimes irregular visits from Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Eurasian Curlew sandpiper. Spotted Thick-knee hide in the surrounding grasslands.

The Korsman Bird Sanctuary is found taking the Atlas Road/Benoni turnoff from the N12 to Witbank. You turn right into Atlas road, cross over the freeway and then take a left into Lakefield Drive and a right into Sunny Road and finally a left into Kilfenora Road. Kilfenora crosses one street and leads directly to the sanctuary.

3. Steward’s Pan
is another excellent place for Grey-headed Gull and several thousand may be seen nesting and roosting there on occasions. The same is true for some of the other pans along Atlas Road and although they are on private land, it may still be possible to catch a glimpse of the squawking masses from the edge of the road.

4. Sand Pan
In summer, the reed beds provide roosts for many thousand Barn Swallow and it is worth checking these flocks more closely for other species. Terns, both White-winged Tern and Whiskered Tern, may also be seen flying overhead or simply resting on fence poles in the water.

Sad to say there are also a number of pans such as Amata, Glenshaft and Apex that are so severely degraded that they are no longer worth visiting. Even Carlos Rolfe’s Pan, a former Transvaal Provincial Nature Reserve where 550 Greater Flamingo were recorded in the mid 1980s, has been reduced to a storm water retention pond with reed beds that serve as roosts for common birds such as Cattle Egret. Leeupan, another once glorious birding spot, is now also in decline. Encroached by uncontrolled informal settlements, the species diversity has declined and it is no longer safe to park or to walk around in this area.



Visitors to the pans can use the N12 from Johannesburg or the R21 from Pretoria. If one is unfamiliar with the area, the street guide to the Witwatersrand will come in very useful for navigating from one pan to the next.

Access roads for some of the main pans are as follows:
Bullfrog Pan (President Brand), Sand Pan (Vlei), Westdene Pan - Korsman’s Bird Sanctuary (The Drive), Bonaero Park Pan (Atlas), Carlos Rolfe’s Pan (Kelly), Steward’s Pan (Atlas), Leeupan (R23) and Blaaupan - Pamula Park Nature Reserve (Busschau).

Craig Whittington-Jones 2002
Ashwell Glasson 2001

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