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The Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is situated outside Harrismith in the eastern Free State and is well-known for its vulture restaurant. The mix of Drakensberg escarpment habitats and dam yields a bird list of 195 species, of which around 100 species can be recorded in summer, especially if the higher mountainous areas are visited. The reserve has a total area of 17 770 ha, of which the dam covers 6 940 ha when at full capacity, and is kept full by pumping from the Tugela-Vaal scheme in KwaZulu-Natal. Water from the dam is released from time to time into the Wilge River, which then flows into the Vaal Dam.

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Specials

Bearded Vulture, Cape Vulture, Southern Bald Ibis, Grey-winged Francolin, Red-winged Francolin, White-bellied Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, Rudd's Lark, Cape Rock-Thrush, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Gurney's Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Bush Blackcap, Cape Batis and Forest Canary.

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Habitats

The dam and associated wetland habitats, montane grassland, with Leucosidea scrub at the base of cliffs, and protea woodland on mountain slopes. Isolated pockets of Silver Proteas occur on plateaus, and dense Afromontane forests in a few mountain gorges.

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Birding

The main attraction is a vulture restaurant which can be viewed from Oliviershoek Pass just outside the reserve, offering good views of Cape Vulture, Bearded Vulture and both Cape Crow and White-necked Raven.

Several waterbird species can be seen from near the reserve entrance and the chalets in the camp, including Little Grebe, Goliath Heron, Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, Caspian Tern, African Fish-Eagle and Osprey.

The grassland and open bush areas support Common Quail, Grey-winged Francolin, White-bellied Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Karoo Prinia and Yellow-crowned Bishop. Southern Bald Ibis breed on sandstone cliffs in the reserve and can be seen foraging in grassland.

The rocky slopes provide habitat for several species such as Grey-winged Francolin and Red-winged Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Rock-Thrush, and during winter, Malachite Sunbird.

In short montane grassland areas look for Yellow-breasted Pipit and Rudd's Lark. Amur Falcon perch on roadside telegraph poles.

Overhead, raptors include Verreaux's Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier, and Rock Kestrel is common.

A scenic drive to the upper end of the reserve in the higher mountainous areas is a must, but permission must be obtained from the reserve office. Along the road Jackal Buzzard, Cape Rock-Thrush, Red-collared Widowbird and Yellow Bishop are common, and Buff-streaked Chat occurs in the rocky areas. In the Protea woodland, look out for Gurney's Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Streaky-headed Seedeater, and Golden-breasted Bunting. Pale-crowned Cisticola is localised, but can be located by call in the moist grassland patches along the mountain streams. In the isolated forest patches, African Olive-Pigeon, Red-chested Cuckoo, Black Cuckoo, Bush Blackcap, Cape Batis and Forest Canary occur locally.

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General

Access to the reserve offices is from the R74 on the Oliviershoek Pass from KwaZulu-Natal and Harrismith. From the Bloemfontein and Gauteng (via N1) areas the reserve can be reached from the N5 or the N3 through Villiers, and is about a four hour drive from both areas.

The reserve has fully catered chalets and reservations can be made by telephoning (058) 6223520. The Qwantani time-share holiday resort falls within the reserve and reservations can be done at (058) 6230882 or write to PO Box 980, Harrismith.

Dawie de Swardt 2007



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