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Golden Gate has much the same spectrum of birdlife as does Giants Castle Game Reserve, but lies more in the actual cradle of the mountains. he reserve is one of the more reliable sites for Bearded Vulture, and a stay of three or four days will provide a gratifying list of up to 100 species of montane birds, many of them endemics. The bird list will vary according to the season: fewer species occur in winter when many of the altitudinal migrants move to lower elevations, but the birding is interesting at any time of year. T Drives, walks, hikes and rides through the reserve expose one to some spectacular mountain scenery and the chance of many interesting birds in all habitats. The scenery is especially beautiful in the autumn (April and early May) when the Lombardy Poplars are in golden foliage.



These include Bearded Vulture and Cape Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Southern Bald Ibis, Grey-winged Francolin, Speckled Pigeon, Alpine Swift, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Grassbird, Cape Rock-Thrush, Bush Blackcap, African Stonechat, Barratt's Warbler, Gurney's Sugarbird, Pied Starling, Red-winged Starling, Cape Weaver, Red-collared Widowbird and Cape Bunting.



The most widespread habitat at Golden Gate is montane grassland on steep slopes. This is interspersed with sandstone cliffs and patches of more or less dense Leucosidea scrub, especially along the streams. A dam towards the western end of the reserve harbours a heronry of Cattle Egret in summer, and is home to several waterbirds.



Good roads traverse much of the reserve for good birding and game viewing. vulture restaurant. Accommodation varies from self-catering chalets to a luxury hotel, and the very attractive Glen Reenen campsite is situated along a willow-fringed stream. A shop near the campsite caters for most basic needs.



Walks from the chalets, hotel and campsite get one into the main birding spots quite quickly, especially the riverine growth, montane grassland and sandstone cliffs.

Look out for Cape Rock-Thrush, Pied Starling and Red-winged Starling, Malachite Sunbird and Yellow Bishop in the gardens around the hotel and chalets. Ground Woodpecker often perch on large boulders close to the main hotel complex and Swainson's Spurfowl may be seen in the grasslands nearby.

A stroll around the campsite should produce Red-winged Starling and Pied Starling, as well as Cape Rock-Thrush, together with a number of sparrow species and Cape Weaver. The patch of 'ouhout' (Leucosidea) just across the stream from the campsite is a good area to look for Cape Grassbird and Bush Blackcap in summer. The elusive Barratt's Warbler also occurs higher up on the slopes, where the 'ouhout' meets the sandstone cliffs.

Behind the chalets is an impressive overhang where Alpine Swift and African Black Swift nest in summer; here one can also see Rock Martin and Greater Striped Swallow. A pair of Verreauxs' Eagle usually breed each year on the 'Brandwag' or sentinel buttress, directly opposite the hotel; keep an eye out for the antics of these birds, together with other smaller raptors such as Lanner Falcon and Rock Kestrel. The valley behind the hotel is good for African Harrier-Hawk, Cape Grassbird and Wailing Cisticola.

A circular drive through sloping montane grassland in the eastern section of the park should produce coveys of Grey-winged Francolin, particularly on recently burnt firebreaks, and very good views of Bearded Vulture and Cape Vulture are also possible as these birds soar over the ridge of the hill above the vulture restaurant. The birds are fed regularly, and sightings are fairly reliable, especially in the winter breeding season. White-necked Raven should also be seen here.

As the main road continues east towards the Qwa Qwa National Park section, stop off at protea Corner to look out for Gurney's Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird, especially when the proteas are in flower.

A small dam close to the main road in the western section of the park is usually host to a number of waterfowl, including African Black Duck. Various warblers are to be found in the fringing reedbeds.

Southern Bald Ibis breeds in the park and in the surrounding areas and could be encountered almost anywhere.



Golden Gate Highlands National Park may be reached on the R712 from the east (Harrismith) or the west (Bethlehem-Clarens); this route is now tarred all the way. The R712 may be accessed from Fouriesburg (on the R711), Kestell (on the R57) or Bergville (on the R74), depending on whether the visitor is driving from the Free State or from KwaZulu-natal.

Tel: +27 58 255 00 12 (hotel) Fax: +27 58 255 0022 (058) 255-0075 (Glen Reenen hutted camp (National Parks)) (058) 255-0946 (vulture feeding information)

Rick Nuttall 2001. Gordon Maclean 1997

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