Bird Watching

The Graskop/Sabie areas are truly a birder's paradise.  Not only is there a huge variety of the more common bird species, but a number of globally and nationally threatened species also occur in the area.

Three IBAs (Important Bird Areas) have been identified in the Graskop area.  This page deals exclusively with the rare bird species of these IBAs.

Knysna Lourie
Copyright: SA Tourism

   Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
    Blyde River Canyon
    Graskop Grasslands
    Mac-Mac Escarpment & Forests

Webmaster's Note:
Parking your vehicle in remote areas or walking alone in the grassveld, forests or plantations is not recommended.

Please be sensible

Red Data Book Categories

50% chance of going extinct in 5 years

20% chance of going extinct in 20 years

10% chance of going extinct in 100 years

Likely to become Vulnerable in the near future

BirdLife International
Aim of the IBA Programme

The function of the IBA programme is to identify and protect a network of sites, at a biogeographic scale, critical for the long-term viability of naturally occurring bird populations, across the range of those bird species for which a site-based approach is appropriate.

Blyde River Canyon (IBA No. ZA008)
Located 8 km north of Graskop, the Blyde River Canyon (700 m deep in places) stretches for nearly 20 km as it cuts a spectacular path through the granite of the great South African escarpment.  This 50 000 ha IBA site includes the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and the Swadini and Manoutsa portions of the Mpumalanga Drakensberg escarpment, which falls outside the reserve, and the forestry-owned areas of Mariepskop, Salique, Hebron, Welgevonden and Onverwacht plantations.

Secure parking for your vehicle is available at Burke's Luck Potholes.  Enquire at the Nature Conservation offices as to where you may or may not walk in the nature reserve.

The vegetation varies from large patches of high-altitude Afromontane forest in the valleys; to forest-related bush clumps along the edge of the escarpment; to open tree savanna; to montane grassveld on the open exposed slopes.

This is the only site in South Africa that supports breeding Taita Falcon.  One pair of the critically endangered Blue Swallow still breed here, and occasionally additional birds are found foraging or moving through the area.  The cliffs of Manoutsa hold over 660 pairs of the vulnerable Cape Vulture, making it the world's fourth largest colony.  The gorges also hold breeding pairs of the Black Stork and Peregrine Falcon (both near-threatened species), as well as the Cape Eagle Owl.

The quiet backwaters of the river support the vulnerable Pel's Fishing Owl, Whitebacked Night Heron and African Finfoot, and the near-threatened Halfcollared Kingfisher. The surrounding grassland supports the endangered Blackrumped Buttonguail; the vulnerable Striped Flufftail, Stanley's Bustard, Blue Crane, Ground Hornbill, Grass Owl and Bald Ibis (which breed within the reserve along the cliff gorges); the near-threatened Secretarybird; as well as the Buffstreaked ChatGurney's Sugarbird occur on the protea shrubs on the hillslopes.

The forest and forest edge supports the near-threatened Crowned Eagle, Orange Thrush and Bush Blackcap, as well as Forest Buzzard, Buffspotted Flufftail, Cinnamon Dove, Knysna Lourie, Barratt's Warbler, Olive Bush Shrike, Chorister Robin, Brown Robin, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary.  The near-threatened Bat Hawk has been recorded in the thick riverine woodland and it is possible that the vulnerable Delegorgue's Pigeon still exists here.  The vulnerable Martial Eagle is frequently seen soaring over bushveld dominated parts of the reserve, which also holds Whitethroated Robin and Gorgeous Bush Shrike.

Other common sightings include Grey Cuckooshrike, Kurrichane Thrush, Starred Robin, Yellowthroated Warbler and Whitebellied Sunbird.

Graskop Grasslands (IBA No. ZA009)
This 10 000 ha site lies within South Africa's mistbelt region and consists of two patches of fragmented grassveld, separated from one another by a plantation.  The first grassland patch lies immediately west of Graskop.  The second patch lies 8 km north of Graskop.

Secure parking for your vehicle is available in Graskop town, as well as at the Berlyn Peacock Tavern, near the Berlyn Falls.

The terrain consists mainly of gently undulating sour grassveld with some hilly terrain, rocky outcrops and sheer cliffs.  Shrub thickets occur along the rivers and patches of fynbos elements are also present.  Isolated forest are restricted to the valleys.  Encroachment by exotic plantation trees is a common site.

These two fragmented grassland patches hold the second largest population of breeding Blue Swallow in South Africa.  The vulnerable Stanley's Bustard and Ground Hornbill, as well as other grassland species such as the Buffstreaked Chat and the near-threatened Blackwinged Plover and Broadtailed Warbler occur here.


More Info on the Blue Swallow:
Endangered Wildlife Trust-Blue Swallow Working Group
Mandy McNamara 082 530 1230

The protea shrubs are hosts to Gurney's SugarbirdSwee Waxbill and Forest Canary are fairly common sightings. The endangered Blackrumped Buttonguail and the vulnerable Striped Flufftail may also occur on this site.

Mac-Mac Escarpment & Forests (IBA No. ZA010)
This 35 000 ha site is located within the South African mistbelt, between the towns of Graskop and Sabie. This IBA consists of the Mariti, Waterhoutboom, Mac Mac, Frankfort, Bergvliet, Kripkraal, Rietfontein, Waterfal, Tweefontein and Ceylon plantations.  It includes the Sabie River in the south and the Mac Mac river in the north.  The Bridal Veil falls, Lone Creek falls, the Mac Mac falls and the Mac Mac Pools are also within the boundaries of this IBA.

The Secretary Bird day-walk at the Mac Mac Pools is part of this IBA.  Secure parking for your vehicle is available at the Pools (you pay a nominal fee at the entrance gate).

This site consists of a patchwork of commercial plantations that still hold superb patches of fragmented indigenous forest, as well as some remaining grassland and sheer cliffs.  Other habitat types include rocky outcrops, gullies, streams, mountain slopes and patches of fynbos.

This area is important for some cliff-nesting species, such as the near-threatened Black Stork and Peregrine Falcon.  The rivers running through the area support small populations of the vulnerable Whitebacked Night Heron and African Finfoot.

The remaining grasslands hold a relatively large population of the vulnerable Ground Hornbill.  Other grassland specials include the endangered Blackrumped Buttonguail and the vulnerable Striped FlufftailBuffstreaked Chat also occur in the grasslands, whilst Gurney's Sugerbird are found in association with protea shrubs.

The forest patches are the most interesting natural habitat within the complex, supporting  the near-threatened Crowned Eagle, Orange Thrush and Bush Blackcap as well as Forest Buzzard, Knysna Lourie, Chorister Robin, Brown Robin, Barratt's Warbler, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary.

Other species include the vulnerable Grass Owl and Ground Hornbill, and the near-threatened Ground Woodpecker, Blackwinged Plover, Halfcollared Kingfisher and Broadtailed Warbler. Rare visitors to the area include the critically endangered Blue Swallow, the vulnerable Bald Ibis, the near-threatened Secretarybird and the Blackbellied Glossy Starling.


Effect of Afforestation

Commercial afforestation in the Graskop area has transformed the grasslands so dramatically that very little of the natural landscape remains.  Afforestation totally altered the species composition as well as the macro-structure of the natural vegetation.  In addition, the concentration of a large number of trees had a profound effect on the hydrology of the area, resulting in the drying up of streams and wetlands.  Furthermore, the effects of habitat fragmentation, changed burning regimes, road construction and altered drainage patterns all cumulatively impact negatively on bird diversity.

There is conclusive evidence that commercial afforestation has already had a major impact on grassland birds, and the potential for further negative impacts on endemic and threatened species is serious.

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