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This productive area is one of the few remaining where relatively pristine grassland can be found close to Pretoria. Most birding is either on private land, or from the roadsides, but it is still a rewarding area with interesting birds pitching up from time to time. A number of very interesting highveld pans, including the well-known Elandsvlei (formerly known as Dicken's Pan), are also found here. Around 100 species can be expected with a full day of exploration.

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Specials

Black Sparrowhawk, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Red-winged Francolin, Orange River Francolin, Common Quail, Red-chested Flufftail, Northern Black Korhaan, Red-throated Wryneck, Capped Wheatear, Marsh Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Cape Grassbird, 7 cisticolas species, 4 pipits species, Cuckoo Finch, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Melodious Lark, Eastern Long-billed Lark and Eastern Clapper Lark. Marsh Owl and African Grass-Owl are present.

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Habitats

Most of the area is covered by rolling grasslands, with extensive marshes, such as Rietvlei and Grootvlei, being found in the valleys. Mountain birding can be good on the Bronberg. The plantations of bluegums and stands of wattles host some interesting species, although such alien afforestation generally has a negative impact on the grassland species. Much of the grassland is used for agricultural practices, and this also has an interesting bird community.

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Facilities

Most of the birding can be done from public roads, as discussed under "General". Farmers are usually very accommodating towards birders, and will let you walk or drive around on their properties, with their prior permission.

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Birding

The area described here stretches from the most southerly and easterly suburbs of Pretoria (Moreleta Park, Elarduspark, Wapadrand and Mamelodi) to more or less Bapsfontein in the south. The route described can be reached from the N1 / N4 intersection by travelling south on the N1 and taking the Atterbury off-ramp. Turn west along Atterbury Road (M11) and then right into Lois Avenue and then left again onto the Garsfontein Road (M30).

Take the M30 out of town, checking the roadside for Pied Starling, Black-shouldered Kite, Long-tailed Widowbird, Common Fiscal, Bokmakierie and if driving in the early morning or late afternoon Marsh Owl and Spotted Eagle-Owl. After about 14km the Grootvlei Residential area on the right is a productive birding area and is (currently) open to public access. The patches of remaining undeveloped grassland here are great for Capped Wheatear, Plain-backed Pipit, African Pipit, Cloud Cisticola, Coqui Francolin, African Quailfinch, Red-headed Finch and Pied Starling, while areas with a bit of scrub should be searched for Wailing Cisticola, Red-throated Wryneck and Pearl-breasted Swallow. Two scarce and sought-after species, Orange River Francolin and White-bellied Korhaan occur in small numbers. Mountain Wheatear is locally abundant on the roofs of the houses and Eurasian Golden Oriole has been seen in stands of alien trees. Greater Kestrel nests on the power pylons along the main thoroughfare road.

Continue towards Welbekend and cross the R 25 (Bronkhorstspruit / Bapsfontein road). Continue past the school on the left until the road turns to dirt. A few kilometres further you should cross a small well-vegetated stream where Dark-capped Yellow Warbler occurs. If you do attract these warblers with recordings of their territorial songs please use them sparingly. African Black Duck and Half-collared Kingfisher should be expected here. Continue over the bridge and soon after you will come to a T-junction with a small dam visible to the left and in front of you next to some willow trees. The small marsh around the dam is worth searching for Common Waxbill, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Southern Red Bishop and Yellow-crowned Bishop. The dam itself sometimes holds Yellow-billed Duck and Southern Pochard. If you turn left here there is an off-chance that you could encounter Cuckoo Finch, although they can turn up anywhere in this region. Peregrine Falcon are sometimes seen hunting in this general area.

Turn right at the T-junction by the dam and slowly bird the next kilometer or so. Grasslands in this general area can be very productive, particularly for larks: Melodious Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Rufous-naped Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Red-capped Lark, Spike-heeled Lark and Eastern Long-billed Lark have all been recorded and are best looked for in summer when they are singing and displaying. Also to be looked for are Ant-eating Chat, Banded Martin and Horus Swift (the latter two only in summer) which all breed in the banks and holes created by the diggings. Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Amur Falcon, Red-footed Falcon and even Jackal Buzzard have turned up here. Pipits include Long-billed Pipit, Plain-backed Pipit and African Pipit.

Continue up onto the rocky ridge. The ridge here supports small populations of Mountain Wheatear, Orange River Francolin, Wailing Cisticola, Amethyst Sunbird, Lazy Cisticola, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Rock Martin. They can be found in any rocky areas with grass and shrubs. If you are up for a kilometre walk you can also access the railway bridge, where African Black Duck on the river below and Rock Dove around the bridge can be seen.

After crossing the ridge, check the dams and vleis on both sides of the road for Red-collared Widowbird, White-winged Widowbird and Long-tailed Widowbird and Cape Weaver. Continue along this dirt road and check out the agricultural lands around the area where a road comes in from the left near some buildings. These (and other agricultural lands in the area) support an interesting diversity of birds including Northern Black Korhaan, Swainson's Spurfowl, Pied Starling, Spotted Thick-knee, African Wattled Lapwing, African Quailfinch, Barn Swallow and more, with Red-capped Lark and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark putting in an appearance every so often. Also in this area some species that are distinctly associated with gardens or exotic plantations can be found. These include Bokmakierie, Bronze Mannikin (streamsides or in grasslands when feeding), Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Spotted Flycatcher. White-fronted Bee-eater occur near suitable breeding banks. Cape Grassbird are common in the tangled growth near streams. You should start driving through rather dense and uninteresting wattle plantations. Although not very bird rich, wattle, eucalyptus, poplar and willow plantations in this area support breeding Ovambo Sparrowhawk and Black Sparrowhawk, Red-throated Wryneck, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Southern Boubou, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl, Fork-tailed Drongo, Brown-backed Honeybird, Lesser Honeyguide, Greater Honeyguide and Jameson's Firefinch

After passing through most of the alien trees a small depression is visible on the left (sometimes supports smaller numbers of waterbirds including Yellow-billed Egret) and a dirt road goes off to the right which leads to the pans at Elandsvlei (please see separate Elandsvlei birding spot entry).

Continue until you reach the tarred road between Delmas and Bapsfontein (R50). Turn right and keep going straight for the following +-35km passing through Bapsfontein. As you drive back towards the city Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve is on your left for most of the way. Roadside birding usually reveals Long-tailed Widowbird, Pied Starling, Amur Falcon and occasionally Red-footed Falcon (both summer) and Capped Wheatear. The road leads to between Wingate Park and Elardus Park suburbs in Pretoria, from where you can just continue going straight until you reach the N1 at the Rigel offramp.

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General

The area described here stretches from the most southerly and easterly suburbs of Pretoria (Moreleta Park, Elarduspark, Wapadrand and Mamelodi) to more or less Bapsfontein in the south. The route described in the main text can be reached from the N1 / N4 crossing by travelling south on the N1 and taking the Atterbury offramp. At the crossroads over the highway go left (east) in Atterbury road and Menlyn shopping Centre should be on your right. Turn right at the robot at the corner of Menlyn in Atterbury / Lois Ave. Take Lois Ave up to Garsfontein road (Menlyn Road or Welbekend road) and turn left. You should now be on the right route and the Pretoria East Hospital is a few kilometres further on just after the Moreleta Plaza Shopping Centre. It is however advisable to first consult a good general map of this area, as some of the secondary roads can become confusing.

Faansie Peacock 2007



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