Free State Birding Route

 By: Z Moses
The Free State Birding Route takes in all the province's major birding hotspots. With greatly varying habitats from one corner to the next, you can expect to see a plethora of birdlife at any point along the route, which can be tailored for maximum viewing pleasure, at your leisure.

The Free State Birding Route capitalises on all this province's main attractions - its dramatic landscapes, scenic and peaceful back roads and of course, its birds. With more than 450 recorded bird species in the Free State, including more than 100 southern African endemics and near-endemics, it's a must-see destination on your South African birding safari.

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Spanning the entire length and breadth of the province, the route covers a vast and naturally diverse area, allowing you to pick the spots you most want to visit. Pack a map, your binoculars and field guide and head out onto the open road for a laid-back birding experience.

Start out in the northern region, beyond the boundary of the Vaal River. There are a number of pools and pans in the area that sustain a growing water bird population, including two species of flamingo. Here you can also visit the Vaal Dam, many historical Boer War sites and the Vredefort Dome, a World Heritage Site.

As you move further west, so the landscape changes to accommodate drier, semi-arid vegetation punctuated by thornveld. Look out here for species like the Kalahari scrub-robin and tinkling cisticola.

The route then moves south towards the Karoo and confluence of the Orange and Caledon Rivers. Another semi-arid region, this area is dominated by rocky hills, open plains and the Gariep Dam. Listen out for the distinctive calls of the resident Karoo robins, greybacked cisticolas and African rock pipits. In between spotting, pop in at the local Landzicht wine cellar for glass of premium South African wine.

The eastern region is an absolute must on the Free State Birding Route. Not only is it home to some of the province's most impressive natural attractions, including the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, but as it swings north, also some of southern Africa's most important birding areas.

Watch for soaring Bearded and Cape Vultures over the eastern cliffs, and pipits, larks, Southern bald ibis, wattled crane and white-winged flufftails in the wetlands, grasslands and forests to the north.

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There's plenty to see and do on this exciting route, so take your time. When not watching birds, you can admire the big sky scenery.
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