Wednesday 18 December 2013

Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Johannesburg, December 2013

To the southeast of Johannesburg is Marievale Bird Sanctuary, a large expanse of reed beds, grass and rank weeds. It is the site of a former water treatment plant and if that doesn’t make it sound attractive, 76 bird species were sighted there today through the heat of the afternoon. Waterbirds obviously played a large part in that total with other species that are often closely associated with water.

My heart sank when I arrived to find a barrier, with a no entry sign, blocking the approach road. The day was slow to start and I didn’t arrive ‘til midday. I wasn’t expecting much, but I had hoped to get into the reserve at least. The barrier is manned 24 hours by a guard who allowed me through without any bother, which made me question the purpose of the barrier.

My list had begun just before reaching the sanctuary as I stopped by a wet patch along Engineers Road (at Google Earth ref; 26 20 19.49S 28 27 30. 84E). A brace of White-faced Whistling Duck were seen here along with Banded Swallow, Yellow-crowned Bishop and the ubiquitous Red Bishop.

The first birds to catch my attention after passing through the barrier were the Greater Flamingos. They can often be seen feeding on either side, close to the road. I scanned across the open water and small islands here and noted Grey-headed Gull, Whiskered Tern and White-winged Tern. There were very few ducks today. Species such as Red-billed Duck, Hottentot Teal and Yellow-billed Duck were seen, but in much lower numbers than previous visits.

I turned left at the junction and stopped to watch a Squacco Heron as it gulped down a fish. Plain Martins were taking a rest on some dead reed stems and I was able to get a picture.

The picnic area to the right was very busy with an office party, so I continued to the north part of the reserve and let myself through the gate at Google Earth ref; 26 21 13.86S 28 30 59.83E. The gate is unlocked from 06.00.
There has been a lot of rain in the area and the reserve was quite wet. The first hide was inaccessible as deep puddles blocked the way, but I was happy enough to stop outside and watch a flock of Amur Falcons

Many of them were perched on the utility wires, or hovered above the grassland looking for dragonflies which they ate on the wing, like Hobbies. A male perched fetchingly on a fence. My exposure compensation and colour saturation was poor today. The bill and legs should have shown as a much deeper red.

The road leads round the reed beds, through the rank vegetation where Hirundines and weavers aplenty were seen. Barn Swallows, Greater Striped Swallows, Southern Masked-weaver, Long-tailed Widowbird and Fan-tailed Widowbirds were all present along this stretch. A Great Reed Warbler showed well.

The road crosses a causeway towards the Shelduck Hide. This was also flooded and I ended up with wet boots in an attempt to get into it. The area around it was productive though. A Malachite Kingfisher perched on a wall to watch a tiny puddle and a Black Egret roosted beside the bank. Great Cormorant, African Darter and Great Crested Grebe were added to the list here and a flock of Glossy Ibis flew in.
The road ends here and it was necessary to return the way I had come. There were plenty of African Stonechats in the grasslands. African Pipit and Orange-throated Longclaw were also seen from here.

Birds seen; 76

White-faced Whistling-Duck 2, Egyptian Goose 5, Spur-winged 2, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Duck 2, Hottentot Teal 3, Helmeted Guineafowl 4, Swainson’s Francolin 2, Little Grebe 10, Great Crested Grebe 8, Greater Flamingo 9, Great Cormorant 4, Long-tailed Cormorant 35, African Darter 1, Little Bittern 1, Black-headed Heron 4, Purple Heron 4, Intermediate Egret 1, Black Egret 2, Cattle Egret 30, Squacco Heron 6, Glossy Ibis 60, Sacred Ibis 30, Hadada Ibis 6, Black-shouldered Kite 1, African Marsh Harrier 1, Amur Falcon 39, Black Crake 1, Purple Swamphen 2, Eurasian Moorhen 10, Red-knobbed Coot 150, Blacksmith Plover 30, Crowned Lapwing 1, Common Ringed Plover 2, Three-banded Plover 1, Little Stint 1, Ruff 3, Grey-headed Gull 6, White-winged Tern 10, Whiskered Tern 2, Speckled Pigeon 10, Ring-necked Dove 40, Laughing Dove 3, White-browed Coucal 2, Little Swift 6, White-rumped Swift 2, African Palm Swift 30, Malachite Kingfisher 6, Pied Kingfisher 1, Lesser Grey Shrike 2, Common Fiscal 10, Pied Crow 1, Plain Martin 20, Bank Swallow 60, Barn Swallow 60, White-throated Swallow 6, Greater Striped Swallow 4, Common Bulbul 1, Great Reed-warbler 6, Bar-throated Apalis 1, Tinkling Cisticola 3, Stonechat 50, Common Myna 4, Cape Wagtail 12, African Pipit 2, Orange-throated Longclaw 6, Black-throated Canary 4, Cape Sparrow 25, Southern Masked Weaver 60, Red-billed Quelea 3, Red Bishop 150, Yellow-crowned Bishop 40, Fan-tailed Widowbird 3, Long-tailed Widowbird 30, Common Waxbill 120, Pin-tailed Whydah 2.

Despite lots of puddles on the roads, my normal saloon car did not have any trouble negotiating the reserve. The roads are unmade, but normally passable even in the wet. The signs from the R51 between Springs and Nigel have been taken down. So have the signs that direct visitors around the Engineers Corps.  In the absence of better directions, turn east onto the road signed for the Engineers corps at Google Earth ref; 26 20 12.63S 28 27 17.16E.  Turn right onto a mud road after 3kms. Drive southeast for 2kms then turn left. After another km or so, bear right. Don’t worry if you can’t see the stadium marked on Google Earth, it is a very low-lying affair. You should now be able to see a large pile of rocks and will very shortly find yourself at the barrier.

Previous posts from Marivale Bird Sanctuary can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated African Page for more posts from Johannesburg, including; Tswaing Crater and Kruger National Park.

Birding, Birdwatching, Bird watching, Marievale Bird Sanctuary, Johannesburg, South Africa


  1. Good to hear that there was a flock of Amur Falcons after reading about hunting of them while they are on migration not too long ago. Some varied and interesting images too.

  2. Hi Happy,
    Amur Falcons are summer visitors to Southern Africa. I saw a flock of around 600 during March a few years ago.