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The Qwaqwa National Park is situated on the scenic Highlands Tourist Route in the eastern Free State. The Park can be reached via the tarred road from golden Gate Highlands National Park or from Kestell or Harrismith via Qwa Qwa. The park is approximately a three hour drive from both Bloemfontein or the Gauteng region. The bird list is around 210 species, with up to 75 species observed in a day and 120 species over a weekend if all the major habitats are visited.



The habitats include mostly montane grassland with steep, rocky hillsides and sandstone cliffs in the higher-lying areas. protea woodland is restricted mainly to mountain hillsides, with isolated pockets of Silver Proteas and Sugarbush on mountain slopes at higher altitudes. A visit to the plateau of the higher Qwaqwa mountain is recommended, as there is a mosaic of bird habitats. Several rivers (Rietspruit, Kleinspruit and Rietvlei) with dams with an extensive vlei area between the mountains attract waterbirds and skulking flufftail and rail species.



Special birds of the Qwaqwa and golden Highlands National Parks areas include Bearded Vulture, Verreaux's Eagle, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, Gurney's Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird. High-altitude specials include Drakensberg Rock-jumper, Yellow-breasted Pipit, and Mountain Pipit (a rare summer migrant at altitudes above 2000m)



While descending the mountain pass from golden Gate look out for Bearded Vulture and Cape Vulture, Southern Bald Ibis, Verreaux's Eagle, Amur Falcon in summer, Alpine Swift, White-necked Raven, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Grassbird, Karoo Prinia, and Malachite Sunbird flying between proteas on the mountain slopes.

In the lower-lying moist grassland areas listen for Common Quail. Cloud Cisticola and Wing-snapping Cisticola can be heard displaying in summer while the less common Pale-crowned Cisticola occurs in the moist grasslands along mountain streams in the high-lying areas. Barrow's Korhaan and Blue Korhaan occur in isolated localities in the more eastern areas.

In the vlei areas along the river birds such as Little Bittern, Corn Crake, African Rail, Red-chested Flufftail and Striped Flufftail, and Fan-tailed Widowbird may be encountered. The rare and overlooked White-winged Flufftail has also been noted recently in vlei areas.

A guided tour to the isolated Qwaqwa mountain should produce Bush Blackcap in the dense bush, Gurney's Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird in the protea veld, Yellow Bishop in the long grass, and African Rock Pipit and Eastern Long-billed Lark on the rocky hillsides.

Mocking Cliff-Chat, Cape Batis, African Dusky Flycatcher and Drakensberg Siskin occur at the Maluti Picnic spot in the foothills of Qwaqwa mountain on the north-western side (near the Cultural village). Apart from the birds, the scenery is spectacular!



Qwaqwa National Park has overnight accommodation at camps Eerstegeluk and Avondrust, or can be visited while staying at the neighbouring golden Gate Highlands National Park. A two to five day stay is recommended. The scenic tourist road through the park is tarred and a number of viewing sites are provided.

Guided tours to inaccessible areas can be arranged, and the office can be contacted at (058) 7131733 for information and for reservations.

Dawie de Swardt 2007

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