Welcome to Week 50 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Marievale Bird Sanctuary.

I don’t have my own set of binoculars yet. But perhaps it’s time to admit I’m a birder.

Duck at Marievale Bird SanctuaryA common moorhen cuts through the water in Marievale Bird Sanctuary.

I started getting interested in birds during a recent trip to the Kruger National Park, and even wrote a whole blog post on birds in the Kruger. Then a couple of weeks ago I went to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, the most popular birding spot in Gauteng. I mainly went because birders have been raving to me about it for years and I thought it would be a nice thing to cover for #Gauteng52. But I must confess I loved it and can’t wait to go back.

The South African highveld is not known for its wetlands. But this is mining country, and in the 1930s the mining industry started pumping water from underground and created a manmade watery wonderland. (Please excuse this infantile description of what I’m sure is a highly complex scientific phenomenon. If there are any geologists reading, feel free to chime in.) The area was declared a Ramsar site — or a “wetland of international importance” — in 1986. Read more here.

Marievale is a beautiful and pristine nature reserve. It’s maintained by Gauteng Province and, quite astonishingly, admission is free.

Goliath heron at MarievaleA goliath heron enjoys the water at Marievale. The nature reserve still adjoins an ugly-looking mine, but the birds don’t seem to care and neither do the birders.

A Morning in Marievale

My friend Stuart, a keen birder, picked me up in his Landrover at 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. It was painful. But the sun comes up early at this time of year and the soft morning light is gone by 8:00 a.m. We arrived at Marievale a little after 6:00.

The roads in Marievale are a combination of paving, dirt, and gravel — accessible for all vehicles but it helps to have a 4×4, especially after a big rain.

Stuart and Marie-Lais at MarievaleStuart and Marie-Lais, who also came along, outside one of the bird hides.

There are five bird hides and nearly 250 bird species in Marievale. (A bird hide is a small building where birders go to “hide” and watch birds without scaring them away.)

Marievale bird hideOne of the Marievale hides.

Before we even made it to our first hide, Stuart stopped the truck when he spotted an African spoonbill next to the road. “I’ve seen them here before, but never this close,” Stuart said excitedly. We shot many photos of the spoonbill, which is the size of a small dog and has a bill shaped just like a spoon.

African spoonbill in Marievale
The African spoonbill.

We spent most of the morning in two different hides and saw a few dozen different birds.

It was so peaceful, and the air was clear and cool after the heavy rain the day before. I loved listening to the sound of birds’ wings skimming the still water. I also loved taking photos of the birds and their reflections.

Pied avocets in MarievaleA pair of pied avocets.

Little grebe at Marievale bird sanctuaryA little grebe, also known as a dabchick.

White-throated swallow in MarievaleThis white-throated swallow posed for ages on its perfect perch. Most of the hides have intentionally placed logs and sticks right in front of them, inviting the birds to rest within easy viewing distance.

Pied kingfisherA pied kingfisher.

Levaillant's cisticolaA Levaillant’s cisticola — big name for a little bird.

We finished the outing with a breakfast fry-up at the Marievale picnic area, complete with scrambled eggs, bacon, lemon-marinated mushrooms, and buttered rye bread a la Stuart.

It was a perfect morning.

The Marievale Bird Sanctuary is on the R42 in the East Rand (Ekurhuleni), about four kilometers from the town of Nigel. Opening hours are from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in summer and 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in winter. Admission is free. There are a couple of very nice-looking cottages available for over overnight stays — call +27-11-439-6300 to book.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

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