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Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve is one of the very few reserves situated in the grassland biome on the central South African highveld. It is therefore not very rich in diversity of species, but hosts many of the South African endemics and provides a very relaxing spot for a few hours' birding. Around 80 species can be expected in a morning or afternoon trip.



Great Crested Grebe, Little Bittern, Secretarybird, African Fish-Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, Greater Kestrel, Common Quail, African Purple Swamphen, African Rail, Northern Black Korhaan, Grey-headed Gull, African Grass-Owl, Giant Kingfisher, Half-collared Kingfisher, Spike-heeled Lark, Banded Martin, Capped Wheatear, Ant-eating Chat, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Desert Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Cloud Cisticola, Plain-backed Pipit, Cape Longclaw, Thick-billed Weaver, Long-tailed Widowbird, Orange-breasted Waxbill.



The reserve consists mainly of grassland habitats. The Rietvlei and Marais Dams on the Sesmyl Spruit provide a wealth of open water and wetland habitats, and some of the smaller inlet streams create spongy marshes. Along the Sesmyl Spruit is some dense woodland, supporting quite a different bird community. The latter habitat is especially well developed below the dam wall but this is an area of restricted access. Isolated thornveld thickets consisting mostly of Acacia karoo are found throughout the reserve. Exotic trees such as poplars, gums and wattles cover a lot of ground, but the reserve management is actively controlling these problem species.



Rietvlei Dam has a number of well-run facilities. First and foremost a well-laid out section of tarred and dirt roads criss-cross the reserve, making for easy access to most habitats. There is a conference centre known as the "Boma" which should be booked in advance. Horse-trails and hiking trails also operate in the reserve under the watchful eye of one of the local rangers. There is a picnic site where a good bird hide is also situated on the banks of the Marais Dam. Two further bird hides (Coots' Corner near the entrance gate; and Fern Fountain hide in the eastern section) are also highly recommended. Angling is possible on the western shore of the dam but a permit should be obtained (find out at the gate). Night drives can also be arranged for groups of 8 or more persons.



The kraals and settlements near the entrance gate provide habitat for Spotted Thick-knee, while the patch of acacia trees on the left has had Crimson-breasted Shrike. The Sesmyl Spruit can be seen far below in the valley. However, this productive area is rapidly being converted into townhouses.

Once inside the reserve the tar road leads to the Coots Corner hide and a very good marshy inlet about 500m from the gate, where Great Crested Grebe, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, African Darter, Lesser Swamp-Warbler and Southern Masked-Weaver can invariably be found. In summer African Reed-Warbler is common at this point. Another 500m further the open areas on the right after this inlet are good for pipits and roosting thick-knees.

Continue with the main tarred road over the hill and down past a small marsh where Levaillant's Cisticola and African Stonechat are common. To the right, the "Ghwarrie Route" is sometimes good for Plain-backed Pipit, especially if you can take one of the dirt roads flanking off to the sides. Cape Longclaw are also common here. Take the "Ghwarrie Route" to the right or continue straight. Follow the signs to the bird hide and picnic site (Marais Dam). From the spacious hide one can expect to tick the usual waterbirds such as White-breasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Little Grebe, Yellow-billed Duck, African Black Duck, Little Grebe, Egyptian Goose and possibly Spur-winged Goose, Red-knobbed Coot and Common Moorhen, while Black Crake, African Rail, African Purple Swamphen, Sedge Warbler and Lesser Swamp-Warbler, White-throated Swallow and Little Bittern can usually be seen. Walking along the edge of the dam, through the picnic sites and on to the dam wall, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Karoo Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, Common Myna and Levaillant's Cisticola are common. Right in the corner of the dam, there is a stand of Wattle trees which hosts Half-collared Kingfisher. Dark-capped Yellow Warbler occur throughout the reserve's wetlands, but this is a good area to find them.

From here take the "Vlei Route". The grasslands are full of "LBJ's" ' with a little trouble these guys can be sorted out, and you will be amazed at the variety of species. Desert Cisticola and Zitting Cisticola are the most common ones, but look for Cloud Cisticola in short, rocky grassland on ridges and Wing-snapping Cisticola in ankle-high grass. Spike-heeled Lark is much rarer than the ubiquitous Rufous-naped Lark. When there are bare, overgrazed or burnt areas Capped Wheatear and the occasional Temminck's Courser move in. Northern Black Korhaan and Secretarybird are the most common terrestrial birds, and watching Secretarybird for long periods often provides one of views of African Grass-Owl and Common Quail as the larger Secretarybird flushes them up. Otherwise it is almost impossible to see these species as you are not allowed to leave your vehicle except at designated spots.

The wooded vegetation along the spruit supports a totally different but distinctive bird community. Thick-billed Weaver frequent the reedbeds, and Garden Warbler and Marsh Warbler, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Cape White-eye, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Southern Boubou the riverine forest. Green-backed Heron and Common Sandpiper frequent the waterside habitats. Lesser Striped Swallow hawk insects overhead. Giant Kingfisher can often be seen on the bridges.

Rietvlei dam itself is a major roosting and breeding locality and feeding area for Pretoria's waterbirds. White-breasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cattle Egret, Red-knobbed Coot and Common Moorhen abound, while Grey-headed Gull and most duck species are present in smaller numbers. Squacco Heron are sometimes present.

The felled trees and exotic stands have Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide, Brown-backed Honeybird, African Hoopoe, Black-collared Barbet, Willow Warbler and African Stonechat (at the edges).

Constantly check the skies for kestrels and falcons. They are usually around but often only seen by the lucky (and aware) birder. Scanning the powerlines in the south can also be productive. Greater Kestrel and Rock Kestrel are the most common but Eurasian Hobby is sometimes seen, especially in the late afternoon. Amur Falcon and the occasional Red-footed Falcon. Steppe Buzzard and Black-shouldered Kite are also common. Swallows and swifts are very numerous, with the most interesting species being African Palm-Swift (open grasslands or near Eucalypts or Palms), Brown-throated Martin (over the water and reedbeds) and Sand Martin.

A number of specials are more common right outside the reserve but do occur in Rietvlei in lower numbers. Examples of these include Red-chested Flufftail, Allen's Gallinule, Melodious Lark, Red-throated Wryneck and Wailing Cisticola are examples of these species. They are perhaps more readily seen in the Bapsfontein area. African Crake has been recorded at Rietvlei.



Admission times:
Summer: September to March 05:30 - 17:00 (You may remain inside until 19:00 when the gates close).
Winter: April to August 06:00 - 16:00 (You may remain inside until 18:00 when the gates close).

An entrance fee of R34.20 (reduced rates for children and pensioners) is payable at the gate. Note that this rate regularly fluctuates. Season tickets are available for regular visitors. The reserve can be reached at +27 12 345 1819.

How to get there:
From the R21 take the IRENE / RIETVLEI DAM off-ramp. Drive in an easterly direction. At the 4-way stop turn right towards Olifantsfontein and the St. Georges Hotel. Drive for 1,5 km, crossing the Sesmylspruit. On the left is a sign indicating RIETVLEI NATURE RESERVE, turn left and follow the road up the hill to the main gate. (Drive past the stone entrance until you get to the offices and entrance gate).

Faansie Peacock 2007

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