Common species, special sightings and endangered birds of Gauteng

Birding in Gauteng is particularly rewarding as the province sits between grassland and savannah biomes where varied topography creates a diversity of habitats that attracts many different bird species.

“What I love most about birding in Gauteng is the easy accessibility to so many different habitats, which in turn provides one with around 400 different bird species to be seen,” says Melissa Whitecross, research and administration assistant, Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme, BirdLife South Africa.

To make the best of the region’s birdwatching opportunities, it’s best to explore Gauteng’s five different zones, as each has a unique mix of biome and topography. To make the task easier, a brief biome description is listed under each of the zones, along with a list of the best birding sites; a selection of the more commonly found birds; those not often seen; and those facing serious threat.

Further information on vulnerable, threatened and endangered birds may be found in The 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland produced by BirdLife South Africa.

Ekurhuleni

Ekurhuleni’s wetlands fan out eastwards across the region where they support myriad waterbirds in small pans dotted around the suburbs of Boksburg and Benoni. The best of these sites are: Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Elandsvlei (Dickin’s Pan), the East Rand pans Bullfrog Pan and Korsman Bird Sanctuary, and Modderfontein Reserve.

Birds commonly found in and around these wetland habitats include the red-knobbed coot, grey-headed gull, yellow-billed duck, red-billed teal, glossy ibis, lesser swamp-warbler, reed cormorant, southern masked weaver, red-headed finch and Cape longclaw.

Special birds to be on the lookout for include the black-necked grebe, white-backed duck, Baillon’s crake, marsh owl, whiskered tern, pied avocet and long-crested eagle.

The greater flamingo and maccoa duck are near-threatened species found here, while the African marsh harrier is endangered.

The fork-tailed, marsh-dwelling whiskered tern.

The fork-tailed, marsh-dwelling whiskered tern. (Image: Albert Froneman)

Johannesburg

Johannesburg’s sprawling metropolis is populated in the main by rock doves (feral pigeons) that have adapted to urban life. Away from the city centre, suburban gardens with large trees and manicured lawns attract a high diversity of birds.

The best birding sites in Johannesburg include Delta Park and the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary, Brenthurst Gardens, Sandton Field and Study Centre, Northern Farm and Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve.

Common species include the blacksmith lapwing, laughing dove, hadeda ibis, Egyptian goose, African hoopoe, crested barbet, rock dove, Burchell’s coucal, willow warbler (a migratory species), African wattled lapwing and grey go-away bird. Migratory species may only be seen during the warmer months (November to March).

Keep a keen eye out for the black sparrowhawk, Ovambo sparrowhawk, spotted eagle-owl, African black duck, brown-hooded kingfisher, southern boubou, brown-backed honeybird, woodland kingfisher (migratory) and red-chested cuckoo (migratory), special sightings for this region.

The African grass owl is a vulnerable bird seen in this part of Gauteng.

The diminutive brown-hooded kingfisher.

The diminutive brown-hooded kingfisher. (Image: Albert Froneman)

Tshwane

Tshwane vegetation is characterised by broad-leaved savannah with patches of arid savannah-supporting acacia trees – and a few large bodies of water. Different birds are found here in the north compared with the southern parts of the province.

The best birding sites include the Tswaing Crater, Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve, Rietvlei Nature Reserve and Dinokeng Nature Reserve.

Expect to see the lilac-breasted roller, cut-throat finch, western cattle egret, green-capped eremomela, arrow-marked babbler, red-billed teal, African pipit, Natal spurfowl and southern black tit.

There are many special sightings to be enjoyed in Tshwane’s reserves, including the dwarf bittern, Ayres’s hawk eagle, African fish eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle (migratory), fawn-coloured lark, African finfoot, southern pied babbler, striped kingfisher, Cape teal, Gabar goshawk, white-throated robin-chat and golden-breasted bunting.

The martial eagle is an endangered species found here, while the greater painted snipe, half-collared kingfisher and Abdim’s stork are near-threatened birds, while the lanner falcon is listed as vulnerable.

The distinctive colouring of the half-collared kingfisher.

The distinctive colouring of the half-collared kingfisher. (Image: Albert Froneman)

Sedibeng

Sedibeng is home to many grassland species and a number of threatened birds that live in the region’s mix of grassland, wetland and rocky outcrops. Sedibeng is also one of the best areas to see Highveld specials.

Your best venues for viewing are the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve and Devon farmlands.

Common species include the red-throated wryneck, African quail-finch, black-crowned night-heron, squacco heron, Orange River francolin, ruff, little stint, fiscal flycatcher, acacia pied barbet, rufous-naped lark and, only in winter, the fairy flycatcher.

The orange-breasted waxbill, Amur falcon, Cape weaver, cuckoo finch, white-backed mousebird, western marsh harrier, little bittern, melodious lark, pink-billed lark, African rail and red-chested flufftail should be on your specials checklist.

Vulnerable birds to be found here include the African grass owl, secretarybird and Caspian tern; near-threatened species include the lesser flamingo and blue crane, while the black harrier is a vulnerable species, seen only during winter (June to August).

Master snake slayer, the secretarybird.

Master snake slayer, the secretarybird. (Image: Albert Froneman)

West Rand

The West Rand is the more arid part of Gauteng, with a wealth of topography courtesy of the Magaliesberg mountain range. Typically, savannah vegetation supports species that proliferate in a drier habitat.

When planning your birding outings in the West Rand, these are the locations likely to be most rewarding: the Con Joubert Bird Sanctuary in Randfontein, Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Kloofendal Nature Reserve, the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and the Magaliesberg mountains.

Species drawn to the dry grasslands and rocky terrain include the bokmakierie, crimson-breasted shrike, chestnut-vented tit-babbler, brubru, Swainson’s spurfowl, black-chested prinia, streaky-headed seed-eater, Kurrichane thrush, rock martin, cinnamon-breasted bunting, African stonechat and southern grey-headed sparrow.

Once you’ve progressed beyond the more common species, these are the special sightings to focus on: rock kestrel, striped pipit, Cape rock-thrush, malachite sunbird, mocking cliff-chat, lazy cisticola, bar-throated apalis, freckled nightjar, peregrine falcon, northern black korhaan, black-headed oriole and African grey hornbill.

Verreaux’s eagle is a vulnerable species found here, while the Cape vulture is an endangered raptor.

The impressive wingspan of a Verreaux’s eagle.

The impressive wingspan of a Verreaux’s eagle. (Image: Albert Froneman)