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Rust de Winter Nature Reserve is a good area to find a range of the common thornveld and broadleaved woodland birds that occur around Pretoria. The dam attracts large numbers of interesting waterbirds, especially in winter. A morning or full day visit is recommended, and time should also be spent exploring the localities situated close by Rust de Winter. Around 400 species have been recorded at Rust de Winter Nature Reserve, and a summer visit could produce 150 species, while in winter around 100 can be expected.



Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron, Black Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Green-backed Heron, Little Bittern, Comb Duck, White-backed Duck, Maccoa Duck, African Pygmy-Goose, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Red-footed Falcon, Coqui Francolin, Shelley's Francolin, Red-crested Korhaan, Northern Black Korhaan, White-bellied Korhaan, Greater Painted-snipe, Water Thick-knee, African Cuckoo, Striped Kingfisher, Purple Roller, Bennett's Woodpecker, Flappet Lark, Sand Martin, Ashy Tit, Cape Penduline-Tit, Southern Pied Babbler, Barred Wren-Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Pale Flycatcher, Striped Pipit, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Wattled Starling, Burchell's Starling, Great Sparrow, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver and Golden-breasted Bunting.



The most important factor to Rust de Winter's wide variety of birdlife, is the variety of habitats. These include excellent broadleaved woodland, rocky woodland slopes, alluvial acacia veld, mixed woodland, riverine forest, the dam wall and surroundings, open water, marshy area at the inlet, and areas of grassland when the water level drops. The transition between habitats is interesting when driving along the shore, and gradually changes from broadleaved to mixed woodland, and eventually acacia at the bottom.



Camping in allowed along the shore, but facilities are limited to field toilets and braai sites (no wood). There is only one basic route along the western shore of the dam, which although rocky in places, is relatively easily passable with a sedan vehicle. A gate at the dam's main inlet, prohibits vehicle access to the rest of the reserve, but by phoning the officer-in-charge beforehand, access can be arranged. However, this road requires a high-clearance vehicle. Birders may walk along the shoreline and back through the woodland here.



An excellent general area to start birding is where the smaller dirt road towards the reserve branches off to the right of the main Pienaarsrivier / Rust de Winter road. The actual junction itself is a great place to spend a few minutes and one should progress slowly towards the entrance gate. Birds like Burchell's Starling, Wattled Starling, Great Sparrow, Red-backed Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Magpie Shrike, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Willow Warbler, Marico Sunbird, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, White-browed Scrub-Robin, White-throated Robin-Chat, Red-breasted Swallow and Pearl-breasted Swallow are common. Southern Pied Babbler, Scaly-feathered Finch, Ashy Tit, Cape Penduline-Tit and Southern White-crowned Shrike are less frequently encountered. Visitors that arrive early enough will find numerous Rufous-cheeked Nightjar on the road in summer.

The grassland areas along the left side of this road may yield Desert Cisticola, Spotted Thick-knee, Rufous-naped Lark and Northern Black Korhaan. The Red-crested Korhaan often runs across the road, or can be heard displaying by day or at night. Rollers include Purple Roller, European Roller and Lilac-breasted Roller. Try the tall, dead trees at the bend in summer for African Cuckoo, which also occurs on the hillsides. Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove and Double-banded Sandgrouse may be encountered at the edges of the road. The woodland near the gate is good for Yellow-throated Petronia, Southern Black Flycatcher, Black Cuckooshrike, Klaas's Cuckoo (summer) and Golden-breasted Bunting. Grey-headed Bush-Shrike and Grey Tit-Flycatcher are uncommon.

The entrance gate usually has Yellow-fronted Canary, Black-throated Canary, Pearl-breasted Swallow and resident Striped Kingfisher. Walk down to the dam wall for Striped Pipit, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Common Sandpiper, South African Cliff-Swallow, Familiar Chat and Red-winged Starling. The dense valley holds African Pygmy-Kingfisher. Also keep an eye open for soaring raptors including Lesser Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon and Amur Falcon.

After signing in at the gate, the first woodland areas support Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Pale Flycatcher in small numbers, Spotted Flycatcher, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling (the latter 3 only in summer) and Flappet Lark, which also occurs around the gate. Listen for the latter's display flight. Francolins are common and include Natal Spurfowl, Swainson's Spurfowl, Crested Francolin, Coqui Francolin and the occasional Shelley's Francolin.

Check the shoreline, also on the opposite shore for Goliath Heron. The inlets support breeding Southern Masked-Weaver with the occasional Lesser Masked-Weaver. Black-crowned Tchagra is common. Keep progressing slowly towards the inlet. The road passes over several smaller inlets before reaching a dead end at gate near the main inlet in to the dam. This is the best area for waterbirds, which are a major attraction to Rust de Winter, and the spectacle of thousands of waterfowl moulting on the dam is fascinating. The best area is generally just after the gate at the end of the angling territory. Try for White-backed Duck, White-faced Duck, Comb Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, African Black Duck, Spur-winged Goose, African Pygmy-Goose, Southern Pochard, all three grebes, Lesser Flamingo, Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed Egret, Black Heron, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Green-backed Heron Squacco Heron, African Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Black Crake, African Jacana, a variety of waders including Greater Painted-snipe, White-winged Tern, Grey-headed Gull, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and perhaps Giant Kingfisher. Little Bittern are also occasionally flushed.

The thornveld in the region of the gate is very rich and has the typical variety of thornveld species such as Violet-eared Waxbill, Common Waxbill (marshy fringes) and Blue Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia and Cuckoo Finch (open areas), Icterine Warbler and Garden Warbler, shrikes, all the Common Cuckoos including Great Spotted Cuckoo and Levaillant's Cuckoo, Arrow-marked Babbler, 3 whydahs, Rattling Cisticola, Jameson's Firefinch and Red-billed Firefinch, Marico Flycatcher, etc. Birds of prey vary from White-backed Vulture (may roost on pylons) to Gabar Goshawk. Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Steppe Buzzard, African Fish-Eagle and Greater Kestrel are also frequently spotted. Pearl-spotted Owlet are breeding residents, and are imitated by the Sabota Lark! Red-billed Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Speckled Mousebird and Red-faced Mousebird occurs in the larger trees, while Barred Wren-Warbler frequents the mid-canopy levels from where its "breeeeeeeeep" calls sound out. Karoo Thrush and Southern Boubou live in the dense thickets on the shoreline.

All along the shore (except when water levels have dropped substantially), marshy grassland and reedbeds support White-winged Widowbird, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Red-billed Quelea, Lesser Swamp-Warbler and Little Rush-Warbler. A good mix of Swallows and Swifts usually hawk insects over the reeds and water and these might include interesting species such as the rock, Common House-Martin, Sand Martin, White-throated Swallow and the dark morph of the Brown-throated Martin. Water Thick-knee and African Wattled Lapwing are often around.

The Pienaarsrivier / Rust de Winter road often yields some interesting species not normally found within the reserve. These include Bennett's Woodpecker, Meyer's Parrot, Namaqua Dove, Groundscraper Thrush, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver and White-bellied Korhaan (open broadleaved woodland) while the deep booming calls of Ostriches can be heard at night. Bronze-winged Courser and Temminck's Coursers are seldom-seen inhabitants of open woodland and bare ground respectively. These birds may be found by pulling off from the main tarred road between the village of Pienaarsrivier and Rust de Winter, wherever possible.

Of course, every locality has its rarities, and at Rust de Winter, this title is undoubtedly won by the Golden Pipit, which was present in the thornveld region from January to March 1986. Other interesting species are African Finfoot, Olive-tree Warbler and Common Whitethroat. An interesting variety of inland waders and uncommon raptors have also put in an appearance.



The reserve is approximately 80km north of Pretoria. Take the N1 (Pieterburg) highway north, and turn off at the Pienaarsrivier / Rust de Winter offramp. Turn right, back over the highway and continue for some 25km. The entrance to the reserve is signposted on the right. If you reach Rust de Winter village you have gone too far. Start your birding along the dirt entrance road to the dam, or continue to the reserve itself, after 3km on the dirt road. The reserve office is on the right, just inside the reserve. Alternatively, take the Boekenhoutkloof offramp 45km north of Pretoria. Turn left shortly afterwards to Rust de Winter and drive for 27km. Turn right at the T-junction, and the reserve is signposted on the right as above. Good birding can be had along both these routes.

A nominal entrance fee is payable at the gate. Birders are mostly confined to the area normally open for angling. Access to the eastern shore is by foot, as is access to the inlet. To visit the area below the dam wall, one has to make special arrangements. A key is available on special request to drive through the second gate. The gate times change sporadically, but good birding can be had in the vicinity of the entrance gate if you arrive too early. You can camp at the club grounds of the SA4X4 Club situated next to the Elands River. Contact Peter Claasen at cell no. 082 558 6184.

Faansie Peacock 2007

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