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Bisley Valley is situated on the dry western side of Pietermaritzburg. The reserve is a 250 ha patch of thornveld saved from suburban creep by the Pietermaritzburg city council. There are a variety of habitats including grassland, open and closed woodland, and thickets. It is an easy area to walk, and contains excellent bushveld birds, plus giraffe, impala and zebra. There is a picnic site with braai grids supplied, but no toilets. Please take your refuse home. Entrance is free.

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Birding

The trail starts from the far side of the new picnic site, and goes down a short easy walk to the Pamela Reed Hide (dust the benches before sitting). Just before the hide the trail branches off to the left, goes down through a small stream bed and up to a vehicle track. Turn left (about 50m to the right is the now closed old picnic site) and follow the dirt road for approx. 100m, and on the left is a pole with the red and yellow trail markers. Two easy circular trails start from here and take up to 3 hours to complete, depending on how often and for how long one stops to look at birds.

1. From the Pamela Reed Hide there is Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Little Grebe and, for the last 3 years running, Dwarf Bittern in summer. (If the Dwarf Bittern cannot be located from the hide, walk around the dam to the right, up the incline and through the old picnic site. About fifty metres on, take the path to your left that descends and crosses the river that feeds the dam. The Bittern is most often found feeding along this patch of overgrown river.) Numerous weavers, bishops, widows and warblers can be viewed (best from spring to autumn). In addition, Southern Boubou, African Firefinch, Long-billed Crombec, Green-backed Camaroptera and Golden-tailed Woodpecker occur.

2. In the old picnic site Violet-backed Starling breed in the trees, and Green Wood-Hoopoe may still breed in the tall tree over-looking the river. In summer, a Dusky Indigobird is a certainty on a tall dead tree at the start to the trails, at the red and yellow trail markers. African Pygmy-Kingfisher, Spotted Flycatcher and Yellow Weaver are also often found in the old picnic spot. Keep an eye open for African Goshawk and Gabar Goshawk.

3. The more open woodland at the beginning of the trails is home to Common Scimitarbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Crested Barbet, Black-collared Barbet, Red-backed Shrike (summer only), Black-crowned Tchagra, Chinspot Batis, Greater Honeyguide and Brown-backed Honeybird. Canaries are plentiful, with Yellow-fronted Canary, Brimstone Canary and Streaky-headed Seedeater being present, there is a good selection of waxbills (Blue Waxbill, Common Waxbill, Swee Waxbill and Orange-breasted Waxbill), and Fiscal Flycatcher are common.

4. The denser thornveld conceals Southern Tchagra, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Jacobin Cuckoo (6 species of cuckoo in summer), and a variety of migrant warblers in summer including Marsh Warbler (very common), Willow Warbler, Icterine Warbler (rare), and a record of Common Whitethroat exists.

5. The open area around the conservation center with large Acacia sieberana's hosts species such as Narina Trogon, Square-tailed Drongo, African Dusky Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, and both Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Cardinal Woodpecker. Watch for small seed-eaters that flush with white-outer-tail feathers as Golden-breasted Bunting are plentiful here. A Greater Honeyguide has a calling post near the small dam where Thick-billed Weaver and Little Rush-Warbler are plentiful.

5. A hide overlooking a small wetland on the natal Midlands Bird Club Trail is rewarding in spring and summer with constant activity from nesting Thick-billed Weaver, Yellow Weaver, Lesser Masked-Weaver and Village Weaver. This is also a good spot for Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Little Rush-Warbler and breeding Red-headed Quelea. In the bigger evergreen trees Cape Batis may be ticked.

6. The grasslands at the top of the reserve, virtually over the road from the Oribi Airport, hold populations of Shelley's Francolin, Yellow-throated Longclaw, and occasionally in summer Corn Crake may be flushed. Black-winged Lapwing frequent these areas when the grass is short. Seven species of Cisticola occur in the reserve.

7. Driving back along Murray Road towards the R56, just after the dip is a dirt road off to the left. An early morning drive along this road in summer can yield both Fiery-necked Nightjar and European Nightjar, Spotted Eagle-Owl and if you are lucky, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl. If this dirt road is followed, past the old entrance to the reserve, for 7 km, a wonderful piece of grassland is reached on the right. Blue Crane breed here and can be seen from the road with small chicks in summer. Secretarybird breed on the far hillside. Obtain permission from farmers and you may be rewarded with Broad-tailed Warbler (in rank grass often near the road), both Kurrichane Buttonquail and Black-rumped Buttonquail, Short-tailed Pipit (spring) and eleven species of Cisticola (Pale-crowned Cisticola being particularly abundant - listen out for their distinctive call). Other birds worth looking out here for are Corn Crake, Shelley's Francolin and Coqui Francolin, Common Quail (abundant in some years during spring), Booted Eagle, Martial Eagle and Red-headed Quelea (moister valleys.) Rarer visitors recorded are Tawny Eagle and Denham's Bustard. Keep your car in sight while birding along here.

Jon Anderson 2007
Adam Riley 1998.


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