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Soetdoring Nature Reserve and the Krugersdrift Dam straddle the Modder river in the central Free State. One of the best birding spots near Bloemfontein, it provides an interesting mix of wetland, grassland and thornveld habitats. The bird list is about 290 species, with up to 140 species possible in a day.



Characteristic birds of the reserve include Martial Eagle, Black Harrier (summer), Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Orange River Francolin, Double-banded Courser, Barn Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Melodious Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Large-billed Lark, South African Cliff-Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Ant-eating Chat, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Rufous-eared Warbler, Namaqua Warbler, and Pririt Batis, Waterbirds include South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, African Black Duck, Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo, Goliath Heron and Caspian Tern. During years with exceptionally high rainfall when the dam is at full capacity, Great Crested Grebe, Comb Duck and Fulvous Duck.



Habitats include the Modder river with reedbeds and trees on the river banks, with more open water habitats and shorelines on the Krugersdrift Dam. During years when the dam’s water level is very low, large areas of muddy shore is exposed. Land habitats include grasslands with more open karoo-veld areas, wooded hillsides dominated by Olea species bush, thornveld along the shores of the dam, and riverine thicket along riverbanks.



Before entering the reserve, travel just beyond the signposted entrance and stop at the bridge over the Modder river. A large breeding colony of South African Shelduck under the bridge provides spectacular views of large numbers of swallows moving to and from their nests. White-rumped Swift and Little Swift also breed here while Goliath Heron and Grey Heron forage along the open stretches of water. Look for African Black Duck upstream of the bridge, and for Black Crake and even Little Bittern in the reeds.

The best birding is in the area accessed from the reserve offices which are just off the R700 from Bloemfontein to Bultfontein. After entering the reserve's main gate, a drive through the grassland areas to the southwestern part of the reserve is recommended. Regular grassland species include Small Buttonquail, Northern Black Korhaan, Ant-eating Chat, Long-tailed Widowbird, Rufous-naped Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Red-capped Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Large-billed Lark, and Melodious Lark. Other likely species include Orange River Francolin, Desert Cisticola and both Greater Striped Swallow and Red-breasted Swallow and Black Harrier in summer. If you are lucky, a solitary Kori Bustard or a pair of Secretarybirds may be encountered.

The road through the grassland circles down towards the river and the upper reaches of the dam, with associated emergent reedbeds and thornveld. A stop at most of the picnic sites as well as a walk to the river bank will add some interesting birds. Specials of the thornveld along the river include Gabar Goshawk, Natal Spurfowl, Red-chested Cuckoo, White-fronted Bee-eater, Cardinal Woodpecker, Pearl-breasted Swallow (summer), Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Pririt Batis, Brown-crowned Tchagra and several more thornveld-like species. Especially after periods of good rainfall, sightings of Common Cuckoo, African Cuckoo, Eurasian Golden Oriole, and recently Striped Kingfisher occur. Listen for Namaqua Warbler in the riverine thickets, while Little Bittern, Green-backed Heron and Burchell's Coucal are seen from time to time in the reedbeds along the river. Red-billed Firefinch, Black-faced Waxbill, Orange-breasted Waxbill and Green-winged Pytilia frequent the moist grass near river inlets and in thornveld along the river. Look out for Village Indigobird at picnic sites along the river, while Shaft-tailed Whydah seem to be more common along stretches of thornveld along the Modder River.

The Krugersdrift Dam part of the reserve on the Kimberley road (R64) is the best spot to observe waterbirds. Waders such as Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff are common summer migrants, while Common Ringed Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt also forage along the shoreline. Larger waterbirds may include Yellow-billed Stork (summer), Caspian Tern foraging over the open water, both Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo, and several others. Yellow Wagtail has been observed on a few occations.

Soetdoring has also had its share of rarities during the past few years and includes American Golden Plovers in March 2003, Common Black-headed Gull in December 2003 and Bar-tailed Godwit in October 2000, and Ruddy Turnstone (1998). Unusual species occurring after periods of high rainfall include White-winged Widowbird, Bronze-winged Courser, Common Whitethroat, Red-chested Cuckoo, Great Spotted Cuckoo, and Klaas's Cuckoo. Green Wood-Hoopoe, Rattling Cisticola and Icterine Warbler have also occurred.

Other interesting species recorded outside the reserve include Lesser Flamingo, Greater Flamingo, Chestnut-banded Plover and Black-necked Grebes at nearby pans, and Caspian Plover near the olive Hills entrance (up to 142 birds were counted in fallow land in February 2000).

Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle-Owl are resident.



Access to the reserve is from the Bloemfontein-Bultfontein road (R700) or from the Bloemfontein-Dealesville road (R64); the reserve is about 40 kilometers from Bloemfontein's city centre (about 20 minutes drive).

The reserve offices are at the access point from the Bloemfontein-Bultfontein road. A nominal entrance fee per vehicle is payable and a map of the recommended routes and picnic sites along the river is available. There is also access to the Predator Park where a pride of lions and other predators may be viewed. Limited accommodation is available in the form of a bushcamp for groups. Wooden chalets are being developed at the picnic sites. The reserve office can be contacted on (051) 4339002 for accommodation reservations.

The BirdLife south Africa guide "The birds of Soetdoring Nature Reserve and adjacent areas, central Free State" by author (D. H. de Swardt) published in 2000 is available at R25-00 at Birdlife offices (order from ) and is recommended when visiting the Soetdoring Nature Reserve.

Dawie de Swardt & Herman Kleynhans 2007

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