Zaagkuilsdrift – A Birders Paradise

Sunday 3 March 2019 Escape to the Wild took guests on a day tour to the Zaagkuilsdrift and Kgomo Kgomo area north of Pretoria in search of a variety of Warblers along with the many other bushveldt birds that call the area home. This is how it went.


Author: Bradwin Adendorff

An Adventure at Zaagkuilsdrift

Zaagkuilsdrift lies just a few kilometres north-west of Pretoria. The area is a well-known Birding Hotspot with over 300 recorded species. Due to the Acacia woodland and a large floodplain along the Pienaar’s River, the area attracts vast numbers of Crakes, Herons, Bitterns and Waterfowl. Zaaguilsdrift is probably one of the best Warbler watching locations in Gauteng , and the reason my guests and I were up eagerly before dawn on a Sunday morning!

Under the cover of darkness, we searched trees and fences for possible owl sightings. We were lucky enough to spot a Marsh owl devouring a field mouse in one hungry gulp! As the sky started to lighten 20 minutes later, with the mourning glow to our backs, we spent at least 15 minutes watching a juvenile Spotted Eagle Owl, who ran, hopped and skipped, in pursuit of the many moths flying around in the headlights!

As the sun rose, the warbler hunting began in earnest at spot number one! The dawn chorus began with a whole host of species serenading the morning. Classically, the first bird to begin its morning call was the White Browed Scrub Robin, the warblers soon followed suite, and we had Common White Throat, Garden Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Grey Backed Cameroptera’s in the bag. We bumped into some fellow birders and enjoyed the dawn chorus with a good cup of coffee and birding banter before moving on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

We made a stop just a few kilometres down the road, where we managed fleeting views of a possible Thrush Nightingale. But after a good 45 minutes trying to relocate the elusive bird, we move on. The stop was not in vane, however, with great views of Namaqua Dove, Broad Tailed Paradise Whydah and Purple Indigobird. Switching the vehicle into 4 x 4 mode along a road resembling a river, we managed stunning views of African Crakes foraging in the tall flooded grass, darting in and out, less than 6 metres away.

Despite our attempted break from Warblers, we began hearing Barred Wren Warbler in the distance and Olive Tree Warbler in a thicket adjacent to the road. With patient anticipation, we managed to piece together the Olive Tree Warbler, first a tail, then a wing, an eye and at last, the beak, allowing us to piece together the bird like a mental jigsaw puzzle.

We had not yet given up on spotting the Thrush Nightingale, and for our patience, we were welcomed by a very accommodating Garden Warble, Red Billed Fire Finch, and a few Scaly feathered Finch. And as all birders know, after a little waiting and just a little more searching, there it was! The Thrush Nightingale had flown in from behind and perched ahead of us just long enough before darting into the thick thorny bushes, smiles all round and just a few “air punches”, as our mission had been accomplished.

As the midday heat approached, we enjoyed a snack and juice break, overlooking the main Kgomo Kgomo Floodplain. The floodplain was in excellent condition with enough water and flooded vegetation to support vast numbers of birds. We were thoroughly entertained by Blue Cheeked Bea-eaters, hawking insects metres in front of us, as well as a beautiful Intermediate Egret hunting fish in the water lilies.  We slowly made our way back over the flooded marshland, stopping every couple hundred metres, we were delighted with great views of Black Winged Pratincoles flying overhead. With Warblers still on our minds, while searching in the reeds and swamp grasses, we had views of African Reed Warbler, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Little Rush Warbler.  But the highlight, undoubtedly, was a beautiful Sedge Warbler, which sang its heart out in the reed beds below the bridge, giving everyone great views as it jumped around from reed to reed                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

The trip was a great success with many great birds and some memorable sightings! We ended the morning with 120 odd species seen and an overall total of 9 warblers in the course of a few hours. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, after all!