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Marievale Bird Sanctuary lies within the Blesbokspruit catchment and is a Ramsar Convention Wetland site. The sanctuary has a good number of wetland and grassland species, with a total list of over 280 species, and has become a magnet for twitchers as rare species are frequently reported. Being within easy reach of Johannesburg, it is a popular birding destination.

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Specials

A good variety of waders, including African Rail, Baillon's Crake, African Snipe and Greater Painted-snipe are often recorded. Good highveld birds include Goliath Heron, Black Heron, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Marsh Owl, Long-tailed Widowbird and Fan-tailed Widowbird. The area is also famous for rarities such as Slaty Egret, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Western Marsh-Harrier, Spotted Crake, Pectoral Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Red Phalarope, which have turned up in the recent past.

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Habitats

The major habitat consists of shallow open water, extensive phragmites and typha reedbeds, and surrounding grassland. The general area is surrounded by mining and agricultural activity.

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Facilities

There is a fairly poor dirt road through the main part of the sanctuary, and three viewing hides. A picnic site and toilets are located near the entrance to the sanctuary.

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Birding

1. Do not ignore the areas either side of the entrance road. The huge piles of stones are frequented by Mountain Wheatear and Bokmakierie. The road then crosses the river and this is a good area for Squacco Heron, Southern Pochard, African Purple Swamphen, Black Crake and African Rail in the early morning. The reeds here are home to African Reed-Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Little Rush-Warbler and Levaillant's Cisticola. Pied Kingfisher are also generally present.

2. The picnic site, toilets and a large pool overlooked by a hide are to the right. Generally, only Red-knobbed Coot and Reed Cormorant are present here, although Barn Swallow and Sand Martin are often seen in the summer.

3. Access to the main part of the reserve is through a gate that is not always manned, and should be kept closed if you let yourself in. Great Crested Grebe, White-breasted Cormorant and Goliath Heron will normally be seen from the second hide. Little Bittern are sometimes seen flying across the water between reedbeds.

4. The best area at the time of writing is an area of open shallow water bordered by reeds a little further along the road through the sanctuary. Large numbers of Ruff are normally present and there are also good numbers of Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and African Snipe. Black-winged Stilt are common and Common Greenshank, Pied Avocet, Three-banded Plover and Kittlitz's Plover are also normally present. White-winged Tern and Whiskered Tern are both regular during summer. This area produced Greater Painted-snipe, Red Phalarope, Common Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Spotted Crake during February/March 1998, so the possibility of finding something special must always be borne in mind. Glossy Ibis, herons and egrets are also common in this area, including Black Heron during the summer months. Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo and Yellow-billed Stork drop in from time to time and, when the water levels drop exposing bare mud, African Quailfinch and Orange-breasted Waxbill are often seen. All of the dabbling ducks are normally present, including Cape Teal, and Fulvous Duck are common, with the occasional Comb Duck during the summer months.

5. The grasslands support large numbers of Long-tailed Widowbird and there is a small breeding population of Fan-tailed Widowbird as well. The smaller cisticola are represented by Zitting Cisticola, Cloud Cisticola and Wing-snapping Cisticola and Common Quail are frequently heard calling. Marsh Owl are sometimes common in years of high rodent populations and both African Grass-Owl and Barn Owl are also present, although not so easy to see. Raptors are not generally well represented, except for the ubiquitous Black-shouldered Kite. African Marsh-Harrier is a regular, if somewhat erratic, visitor and Amur Falcon are often seen in the summer. Western Marsh-Harrier and Secretarybird have both been recorded recently.

6. The third hide is reached by continuing along the road, crossing over the Blesbokspruit and then following the track round to the left. Great Crested Grebe can normally be seen at fairly close range here.

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General

Marievale is situated on the east Rand to the south-east of Johannesburg. From Johannesburg travel on the N17 towards Springs. Go through the toll gate after Carnival City and continue for approximately 20km. Take the Wit Road (R51) off-ramp and at the T-junction turn left (south) towards Nigel. Continue past the sign saying Marievale/Group 16 HQ, through several sets of traffic lights and past the Defence Force Base. Shortly thereafter turn left to Vorsterkroon / Nigel CCC. Continue on this road for 3km, turn left at a T-junction and continue for a few kilometres to the sign indicating Marievale Bird Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is open daily. Opening times are 05h30 to 19h30 from October to March and 06h30 to 18h00 from April to September. There is no entrance fee. Contact Tel. 011-3641101.

Guy Gibbon 2002
Paul wood 2001



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