The Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary was created in 1995 through the diversion of treated sewage water from the town sewage works into a neglected grassland. The result is a fairly small but productive wetland yielding some of the highest counts for rails and flufftails in the country. The sanctuary is situated on municipal land, and is managed by the Vryheid branch of the KZN Wildlife Honorary Officers.
From the parking area, follow the path across the bridge and onto the berm wall. From here a number of species can be seen in the reeds on your left. Look for African Rail, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Painted Snipe and Three-banded Plover amongst the reeds and mudflats. Warblers are prominent here, especially in summer. African Yellow, African Reed, Little Rush, Sedge, Marsh, Lesser Swamp and Great Reed Warblers are all commonly recorded here.
Continue along the path, down the steps and onto the concrete walkway. This area is covered with Leersia grass, and is good for Baillon’s Crake, Red-chested Flufftail and African Snipe. The walkway continues through thick Typha rushes, look out for Orange-breasted and Common Waxbills, as well as Fan-tailed Widowbirds and Southern Red Bishop. The rails, crakes and flufftails are often seen on the walkway, especially early morning and late afternoon.
From the Morris Christie Bird Hide, a variety of waterbirds can be seen. Yellow-billed Duck, Hottentot and Red-billed Teal, South African Shelduck, African Rail, African Purple Swamphen, Black Crake and Glossy Ibis are all regularly recorded. A Wahlberg’s Eagle nest can be seen from the hide in the tall gum trees on your right. In winter, large congregations of Spur-winged Goose gather to feed. Summer migrants include Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint and Common Greenshank. Look overhead for Palm Swift, White-throated Swallow and Brown-throated Martin.
Grey Crowned Crane breed in the reedbeds every year, and can often be seen roosting in the tall trees. Thick-billed Weaver breed in the reeds among the alien gums. Other waterbirds recorded less often include Green-backed Heron, Cape Shoveller, Southern Pochard, African Crake, Burchell’s Coucal and African Marsh-Harrier.
The White Umfolozi River forms the western boundary of the bird sanctuary. Here, Giant Kingfisher, African Black Duck and Half-collared Kingfisher can be recorded. The southern portion of the sanctuary comprises of grassland and scattered alien wattle and gum. Some noteworthy species occurring here include Shelley’s Francolin, Lesser Honeyguide, Cape Robin and endemics and near endemics such as Red-throated Wryneck, Bokmakierie, Bald Ibis and Grassbird.
Visitors to the sanctuary include Osprey, African Fish-Eagle, Long-crested Eagle and in summer, Amur Falcons.
The sanctuary is situated 2km south west of Vryheid on the corner of the western bypass road around the town and the dirt road to Babanango. Coming from Dundee, take the right turn off marked “North Coast, Melmoth”. Travel along the bypass road for about 3km and take the first turn right marked “Babanango”. The sanctuary is on your left. From Durban and Melmoth, turn left just before Vryheid at the sign saying “Paulpietersburg, Newcastle”. Travel for about 3km and take the first turn left marked “Babanango”. The sanctuary is on your left.
Travel for about 200m down the dirt road and you will see the parking area on the left. To gain access to the bird hide, which is locked, collect a key from Custom Graphics shop in Market Street in Vryheid (opposite municipal buildings). Phone Paul Steffenson 034-983 2300 during office hours only for more information and arrangements.