This past Sunday, my brother introduced Joubert and me to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, a popular destination for birdwatchers and photographers in Gauteng’s Far East Rand.
Marievale protects 1012 hectares of the much larger Blesbokspruit RAMSAR wetland, surrounded by mine dumps and other development. Facilities include two 4-bed chalets overlooking the wetland for overnight visitors, a conference centre, picnic sites, walking trails and several photographic hides. The roads in the reserve are rough gravel, for the most part easily traversed in a normal sedan.
The reserve’s vegetation comprises extensive stands of reedbeds (about 70% of its surface area) and flooded grasslands, interspersed with areas of open water and, during drier periods, mud flats frequented by impressive concentrations of wading birds. The area can hardly be described as pristine however, as the wetland itself owes its existence to the altered flow of the river caused by mining, railways and roadworks, inundating what would otherwise have been grasslands. Pollution from the mines and industries surrounding it, and upstream, is now threatening Marievale’s man-made wetlands.
Nevertheless, the list of bird species recorded at Marievale has around 280 entries; during the extremely enjoyable six hours we spent in the reserve on Sunday we managed to tick 70 of those. Many of the birds are quite accustomed to the steady flow of human visitors and offer excellent photographic opportunities from the hides or while walking and driving around.
Marievale Bird Sanctuary is controlled by the Gauteng Province’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and is easily accessed from the R42 to Delmas, just 4km outside the town of Nigel (map drawn with Google Maps).