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Spitskop Dam is situated near Kimberley on the Harts River on the border of the Northern Cape and North West provinces. The dam attracts large numbers of water birds and the surrounding open Acacia woodland hosts a number of Kalahari specials. A good day’s birding in this area can produce up to 120 species during the summer months. The waterfowl numbers start increasing in the winter months as the ephemeral wetlands in the interior of southern Africa start drying up.

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Specials

White-fronted Plover, Grey Plover, Pink-backed Pelican, Yellow Wagtail, Caspian Tern, Black Heron, Black-winged Pratincole, Lesser and Greater Flamingo, Osprey, African Snipe and African Rail. Rarities include Pectoral Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Red Phalarope, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Pacific Golden Plover, Caspian Plover and Olive-tree Warbler.

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Habitats

Open dwarf-Acacia woodland surrounding the western shore, the Harts River below the dam wall, the dam and its floodplain, farmland and smaller farm dams.

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Facilities

A basic camping ground with simple ablutions. Various small B&B’s can be found in Barkley West, Kimberley and Jan Kempdorp all within an hour’s drive of Spitskop Dam. A small entrance fee is charged and this covers the camping fee as well. At the camping ground there is a gravel road that follows the south-western edge of the dam, with the road traversing some of the Acacia veld.

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Birding

1. En Route
Good birding can be done from the minute you leave Kimberley en route to Spitskop dam (see below for directions) . Once on the road to Barkley West look out for Lesser Kestrel and Greater Kestrel in the open grassveld areas, as well as Red-breasted Swallow and Greater Striped Swallow. Northern Black Korhaan and Kori Bustard have also been recorded in these areas. At the bridge over the Vaal River just before entering Barkly West, keep an eye out for Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Bradfield’s Swift and South African Cliff-Swallow, some of which breed under the bridge.

There are a few small farm dams along the way, which may produce some interesting birds, one particular dam is found just as you enter the small mining town of Roxton. The turn-off to this dam is about a 100m after Blinkklip Bazaar shop on the right hand side of the road. Follow this small dirt road for 1km and you will arrive at a small dam, which often holds Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe and Little Grebe, Maccoa Duck and Southern Pochard. Orange-breasted Waxbill and Long-tailed Widow have also been seen in areas with moist grassland during good rainfall years.

Check some of the smaller river crossings for Red-billed Firefinch, Green-winged Pytilia and Orange River White-eye.

Before you arrive at Spitskop dam you will pass though some irrigated wheat fields which can produce species such as Stonechat, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Red-billed Quelea, Steppe Buzzard, Blackshouldered Kite, Cape Longclaw, Swainson’s Spurfowl and Desert Cisticola.

2. High Level Bridge over the Harts River
The high level bridge just before the dam is a good spot to have a coffee break before proceeding further. Check the reed beds on either side of the river for Black Crake, Malachite Kingfisher, African Purple Swamphen, Squacco Heron and Black Heron, Little Bittern and occasional Black-crowned Night Heron. There is a continuous stream of waterbirds flying from the dam wall past the bridge, including cormorants, egrets, herons, White-winged Tern and Whiskered Tern. Check the large flocks of swifts, swallows and martin’s which form around the bridge for Bradfield’s Swift. Horus Swift has been recorded in the past.

3. Woodland and Camping Area
The Acacia woodland area around the camping ground produces good Kalahari species such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Ashy Tit, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Yellow-bellied Eromomela, Common Scimitarbill, Kalahari Scrub-robin, Marico and Chat Flycatchers. Any of the woodland areas can produce a variety of summer migrants such as Red-backed Shrike, Jacobin Cuckoo, Diderick Jacobin Cuckoo, African Cuckoo, Willow Warbler and more recently Olive-tree Warbler.

A gravel road follows the western edge of the dam to the north of the camping ground. This road takes one past some well-vegetated bays and these can produce species like Purple Heron, Hottentot Teal, African Snipe, African Rail, Black Crake, Black Heron, Squacco Heron and Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher.

On the road from the bridge to Mammutla there is a windpump and water trough on the left side of the road, check this area for drinking seedeaters such as Redheaded Finch, Scaly-feathered Finch, Yellow Canary and Black-throated Canary, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Lark-like Bunting, Grey-backed Sparrowlark and Cape Sparrow. Due to the concentration of small seedeaters at the drinking trough, look for Gabar Goshawk in this area (winter is the better time).

4. Bluegum tree bay
This is one of the first large bays encountered on the western side of the dam and gives one the opportunity to start identifying the many wader species that are present in the summer months. Some of the more common waders recorded are Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper , Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Common Greenshank, Common Ringed Plover and the occasional White-fronted Plover. This is also a good spot to keep an eye out for Lesser Kestrel, which use the large bluegums for roosting. Fishermen also use this spot to clean fish, which attracts flocks of Grey-headed Gulls. This area is also good for Grey Heron, Black Heron and Goliath Heron and Little Egret, Yellow-billed Egret and Great Egret. The dead bluegum tree in the water is sometimes used by African Fish-eagle. The open grassed floodplains in this area can produce Yellow Wagtail in the summer months as well as Red-capped Lark, African Pipit, and Kittlitz’s Plover.

5. Godwit peninsula
This area is most likely the best birding area around the dam and has produced some good vagrants in the past. When descending from the village towards the floodplain area look for Capped Wheatear, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Spike-heeled Lark, Red-headed Finch, Pied Starling, Kittlitz’s Plover, Double-banded Courser and look between the grazing goats and sheep for Yellow Wagtail during summer. The peninsula is the best spot on the dam for waders and has produced species like Red Phalarope, Pectoral Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Caspian Plover. Some of the waterbirds recorded in this area included Pink-backed Pelican, Caspian Tern, Pied Avocets, Cape Shoveller, South African Shelduck, Lesser Flamingo and Greater Flamingo, Cape Teal and Red-billed Teal, Southern Pochard, Yellow-billed Stork, Black-wing Pratincole and Spurwinged Goose.

6. Harts River inlet
This area can also produce good birds particular when the dam fills and the surrounding grassland is flooded. Most of the waders and water birds mentioned before can be recorded in this area. However look for Cape Longclaw and Yellow-crowned Bishop, as this is the best area for them. Northern Black Korhaan is also common. Orange-breasted Waxbill has been recorded but are apparently irregular visitors in years of good rainfall.

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General

Spitskop dam is easily accessible from Kimberley and is well worth a day visit. To get to Spitskop Dam from Kimberley take the R31 to Barkly West. As you enter Barkly West, turn right onto the R374 to Windsorton, travel for about 25km and turn left on to the signposted Spitskop road. Follow this dirt road until you get to a T-junction (about 30km), then turn right onto the Jan Kempdorp road (R370) and after about 5km you will approach a high level bridge on the left. Turn left here down the R371 to Reivilo (gravel road). The entrance to Spitskop Dam is about 1km down the road on your right. Drive up to the gate where a small fee is payable to get to the camping ground and the Acacia woodland area. The entrance fee covers camping charges, and no booking is required. To get to the northern shore of the dam go past the Spitskop Dam entrance and carry on for a further 2.2km to the Mammutla turn off. Turn right here and follow the road for a further 6km (road becomes tar), turn right behind the chevron sign and follow the gravel road to the dam’s edge. From here you can follow the dam’s edge all the way up to the back of the dam (Only 4x4 is recommended and be especially cautious during wet conditions).

GPS Points
1. R374 Junction to Windsorton (In Barkly West): S 28 32.209’ E 024 31.596’

2. Spitskop turn off from the R374: S 28 20.360’ E 024 37.271’

3. Turn off to small dam opposite Blinkklip Bazaar: S 28 13.329’ E 024 30.010’

4. T-Junction: S 28 09. 845’ E 024 28.366’

5. R371 Turn off to Reivilo: S 28 07.815’ E 024 29.965’

6. Spitskop Dam entrance to gate and camping ground: S 28 07.561’ E 024 29.551’

7. Turn off to Mammutla: S 28 06.554’ E 024 28.935’

8. Turn off to Bluegum tree bay: S 28 04.604’ E 024 31.600’

9. Turn off to Godwit peninsula S 28 04.195’ E 024 32.046’ Follow the track staying right at all small forks in the road, will lead up to a small village. Drive towards the large bluegum next to broken down house and then down to the shore line and flood plain.

10. Harts River inlet area S 28 01.376’ E 024 34.379’ To get to the Harts River inlet from Godwit Peninsula, return back to point 9, turn right onto the main gravel road and continue up the road to Kameelputs and then onto Losasaneng. Just outside of Losasaneng turn right onto a small gravel road (S 28 01.239’ / E 024 32.138’), follow this road up into the village of Madithamaga, continue on the same road past the village, at the point (S 28 00.869’ / E 024 33.889’) turn right and follow the gravel track down to the flood plain and Harts River inlet.

Andrew Stainthorpe - 2007



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