About 30 km east of the busy N3 freeway between Johannesburg and Durban and near the town of Estcourt in KZN, lies the Weenen Game Reserve (WGR). This beautiful game reserve is tucked away in bushveld habitat, but there are also open areas of grassland. Added to this is a variety of hills, plateaux, valleys and the stunning Bushman’s River Gorge, all of which provide a great variety of habitats and birds.
There is a good network of roads covering WGR, and the camp-site at the entrance is a good place to start. In the grove of large Acacia sieberana (paper bark) trees are numerous birds such as the Bearded Woodpecker, which is one of only two South African woodpeckers that ‘drums’ on dead trees (as opposed to tapping for food). The loud drumming can be heard up to a kilometre away! In the camp-site keep an eye open for the quiet little Black-throated Canaries foraging for seed along with African Pipits and Golden-breasted Buntings. The woodpecker-like Red-throated Wryneck is often seen scrabbling around the large trees as well. At the other end of the scale don’t be surprised to see ostriches strolling through.
Driving on, the road heads towards a T-junction and birds seen en route include the large Rufous-naped Larks, Black-bellied Bustards and, with luck, beautiful White-bellied Korhaans. For the brave there are numerous species of Cisticolas, including the chubby Croaking Cisticola. If the grass is short or burnt, one has an excellent chance of seeing a Bald Ibis. The acacia scrub is ideal habitat for black rhinos (if you are there early enough) and white rhinos, and an abundance of other game graze here and are likely to have Red-billed Oxpeckers on their backs.
Turning right at the T-junction the road passes through some thickets where the spectacular Narina Trogon, the good-looking Orange-breasted Bushshrikes, and the highly secretive Grey-headed Bushshrike can be seen. Further along is a wonderful hide overlooking a pan and while relaxing here you can enjoy Firefinches (African and Red-billed), Blue Waxbills, Pin-tailed Whydahs and Natal Spurfowl drinking at the water’s edge, while evil-eyed Helmeted Terrapins rummage around in the shallows. An interesting spectacle is to see a terrapin picking ticks off a rhino snoozing in the shallows. While walking to the hide look for Fiscal Flycatchers and the neat little Fairy Flycatcher (both mainly in winter), while White-throated Robin-Chats might greet you in the car park.
Driving towards the Weenen Game Reserve field staff office you can see Scimitarbills, the noisy Green Wood Hoopoe, the diminutive Chinspot Batis, Emerald-spotted Wood Doves and Crested Barbets on the road. As you head up towards the plateau the woodland opens up, providing habitat for Little Bee-eaters, Brimstone Canaries and, near rocky outcrops, Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. These rocky outcrops are also home to the high-speed Eastern Rock Elephant-Shrew, most commonly seen as a blur! Once on the grassland plateau look for Blue Cranes, Secretarybirds (which nest there in the few trees), and raptors like the Martial- and Wahlberg’s Eagles (in summer) as well as Cape Vultures and Jackal Buzzards. A must-do is a visit to the view site overlooking the Bushman’s River Gorge – truly spectacular – with the added bonus of spotting Verreaux’s Eagles and Mocking Cliff Chats as well as Black Ducks on the river far below.
In summer one can add a variety of an array of beautiful butterflies, as well as cuckoos to one’s checklist. As you can see, a visit to Weenen Game Reserve cannot be about birds only! In spite of being one of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s smaller game reserves, WGR nevertheless contains a veritable feast of stunning bushveld scenery, game viewing, bird and tree watching and simply soaking up that indefinable but magical game reserve atmosphere.
For full information on Weenen Game Reserve, its accommodation, wildlife and activities go to: http://www.kznwildlife.com/index.php/accomodation/resorts/weenen1