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The Best Highveld Birding In South Africa

If you want to combine a birding holiday with a visit to Johannesburg or Pretoria or have a very limited time and need to be close to the O.R. Tambo International Airport, there are plenty of fantastic birding options in the highveld.

The high lying (about 5 000 ft above mean sea level), temperate areas in the centre and north of South Africa are referred to as the Highveld. From the south of the Free State up through Northwest Province, and Gauteng, and including the high lying sections of KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, this area has cold dry winters and hot wet summers.

It has a great diversity of vegetation with lots of savannah, plenty of bushveld and a lot of farmed areas. From the excellent national parks and superb private game reserves, through many lesser protected areas and even into the suburbs of the towns and cities, there are great birding opportunities.

Having lived in South Africa for 50 years, we know where to look for great birding opportunities and how to get you there. As a UK registered company with ABTA and ATOL protection, and with access to all the best tour operators and accommodation we can put together a fantastic highveld birding trip for you.

Contact us today to start the planning process!

The Best Options For Highveld Birding In South Africa

There is an amazing range of possibilities for birding on the South African highveld. Far too many to mention more than a fraction of them. Starting closest to the main centres of Johannesburg and Pretoria we will give some ideas.


There are great options for birding in and around Johannesburg. the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve and the Walter Sizulu Botanical Gardens are outstanding, as is the Rondebult Bird Sanctuary. Bullfrog Pan is well worth a visit.

Around Pretoria there are several bird sanctuaries, the most notable being the Austin Roberts and Struben Dam Bird Sanctuaries. The Faerie Glenn, Moreleta and Rietvlei Nature Reserves are also great birding places, as are the National Botanical Gardens.

A few of the species you might expect to see amongst the vegetation are Olive Thrush, African Hoopoe, Red-throated Wryneck,  Black-collared and Crested Barbets, Brown-backed Honeybird, Black-throated Canary, Bronze Mannikin, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Burchell’s Coucal, Cape Robin-Chat, Cape White-eye, Common Fiscal, Common Waxbill, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Groundscraper Thrush, Red-faced and Speckled Mousebirds, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Marsh and Willow Warblers, Ant-eating Chat, Banded Martin, Buffy Pipit, Capped Wheatear, Desert Cisticola, European Roller, African Paradise and Fairy Flycatchers, Giant and Half-collared Kingfishers, Greater Honeyguide, Longtailed Widow, Orange-throated Longclaw, Spike-heeled Lark, and Thick-billed Weaver.

On the ground and around the water, among many others: African Rail, Cape Shoveller, Great Crested Grebe, Grey-headed Gull, Little Bittern, Northern Black Korhaan, Secretarybird, White Stork and Common Quail.

Notable raptors are Verreaux’s Eagle, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, African Fish-Eagle, African Grass-Owl and Greater Kestrel.

Free State

With vistas of the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho and the Drakensberg to the north of them, the eastern highlands of the Free State are particularly beautiful. To the west there is an area of intensively cultivated arable land, and further west the land becomes drier as you approach the Kalahari.

Scattered throughout the Free State are a number of nature reserves that provide great birding: The Golden Gate National Park, Sandveld Nature Reserve, Soetdoring Nature Reserve, Willem Pretorius Game Reserve and Tussen-die-Riviere Nature Reserve are all worth visiting. There are also hundreds of dams and marshes and municipal parks and gardens all over the province. Some of them are absolute treasure troves!

There is a wonderful selection of Raptors to be found, including African Harrier-Hawk, Rufous-chested and Black Sparrowhawk, Peregrine and Lanner Falcon, Jackal Buzzard, Verreaux's Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, and African Fish-Eagle.

Other notable species are Wailing Cisticola, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Ant-eating and Buff-streaked Chat, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Mountain Wheatear, Cape, Yellow, White-throated and Forest Canaries, Swee Waxbill, Red-headed Finch, Secretarybird, Southern Bald Ibis, Long-tailed Widowbird; Long-billed, African, African Rock, Plain-backed, Yellow-breasted and Buffy Pipits also occur here, together with the endemic Cape Longclaw, Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks and Orange River Francolin.

North West Province,  Limpopo and Mpumalanga Highveld

To the west of Johannesburg and Pretoria is the North West Province, to the North is Limpopo and to the East is Mpumalanga. The highveld parts of the latter two provinces, together with the North West Province form a semi-circle around the densely urbanised Gauteng. While a good deal of this area is heavily farmed by cattle farmers and crop growers, there is also lots of beautiful bushveld, some of it preserved in excellent national parks and private nature reserves.

These areas provide perfect opportunities for birding, as do the hundreds of smaller protected areas, dams, wetlands, parks and gardens.

The Magaliesberg Mountains outside Pretoria, the Pilanesberg and Madikwe National Parks, the Baberspan RAMSAR site and the Bloemhof dam are all important sites to the west. To the north, the Marakele National Park and the Nylsvlei floodplain are particularly interesting areas. To the East two of the main areas are Wakkerstroom and Chrissiesmeer.

Among the waterbirds and waders that you may see are  African Finfoot, Little Bittern, African Pygmy-Goose, Water Thick-knee, African Wattled Lapwing, Green-backed Heron, and Black Crake.

Predators include Cape Vultures, African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene), Jackal Buzzard, Verreaux’s and Wahlberg’s Eagles, Black-chested and Brown Snake-Eagles, African Fish-Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Peregrine and Lanner Falcons, Lizard Buzzard, Little Sparrowhawk, and Spotted Eagle-Owls and Scops-Owls.

And as for the rest, here is a very small sample: Southern Boubou, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Arrow-marked and Southern Pied Babblers, Tawny-flanked and Black-chested Prinias, Pin-tailed and Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Dark-capped and Red-eyed Bulbuls, Grey and Cape Penduline-Tits, White-browed and Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Cape Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Malachite Sunbird, Lazy and Wailing Cisticolas, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Swee Waxbill, Purple Roller, Black Cuckooshrike, Brubru, Southern White-crowned Shrike, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbills, White-fronted, Little, Swallow-tailed, Carmine and European Bee-eaters, and Fiery-necked Nightjars.

We can help you in deciding how and when to go, where to go to, for how long, with or without guides for the whole trip, or with local guides for part of the trip; and all those other issues that make the difference between a wonderful, rewarding, stress-free holiday and something a little less satisfying.

Contact us now for a no-obligation discussion about your dream highveld birding holiday!

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