Rietvlei Nature Reserve

Rietvlei Nature Reserve

The 3800 ha Rietvlei Nature Reserve is situated just east of Irene, south of Pretoria. Game is plentiful, and includes white rhino, Cape buffalo, hippopotamus, Burchell's zebra, black wildebeest, blesbok, eland, red hartebeest, waterbuck, reedbuck, springbok, steenbok, grey duiker, and oribi (also cheetah and jackal). There is a great variety of bird life, and there is a hide for bird-watchers at the dam. More than 240 bird species have been recorded. The reserve is mainly visited as a day outing, and offers scenic picnic spots and day hikes for those who enjoy beautiful natural scenery. There is 40 km of road (30 km of which is tarred) for game viewing.

Game rides on horseback are available for groups of 6 to 8 people. The rides last four hours, and cost R90 per person (with a minimum deposit of R250). Horses and saddles are supplied, and rides take place under the guidance of a nature conservationist. (Restrictions are: no riders under the age of 12 years, or over 120 kg in weight.) Overnight horse trails are also available, with 36 km of trails available. Booking should be done in advance for horse trails.

Guided day or overnight hikes can also be arranged through the nature reserve. Booking should be done in advance for hikes. A group of 10 to 15 people can be accommodated for a day hike at a cost of R20 per person. The 10km hike starts at 8am and lasts until about 12 noon.

Night drives can be arranged for viewing of nocturnal animals from special open game-viewing vehicles equipped with spotlights and a qualified guide. The best time to view game is around sunset, and you may have a chance of viewing such animals as brown hyena, antbear, porcupine, and springhare. Two open vehicles are used - one that takes 13 adults, and one that takes 20 adults. The night drives take place on week nights (Monday to Thursday only), from 6pm until 8:30pm. Bring warm clothing (very important, even in summer, as an open vehicle gets very cold after dark). Night drives cost R40 per person, and take a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20 people. After the drive, visitors can join in a 'bring and braai' until 11pm, and firewood and blankets are provided. People need to bring their own food, drink, braai utensils, crockery, and cutlery. There are toilet facilities at the lapa. These drives are very popular, so booking should be done well in advance (about 2 to 3 weeks before the visit). Bookings may be done by phoning the reserve on weekdays between 8am and 4pm.

Angling facilities are available at the Rietvlei Dam. Bass fishing is reputed to be excellent. There are carp, yellow fish, barbel, and kurpers. Visitors must obtain a licence and an entry permit to the dam from the Pretoria City Council. Permits may be bought at Counter 1, Ground Floor, 373 Pretorius Street, on weekdays between 08:00 and 15:15, or at the entrance to the Fountains Valley (Monday to Sunday), or at the entrance to the Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

There are strict limits on the number of cars and people that can enter the nature reserve so it's best to get there early.

Address: Irene / Rietvlei Dam offramp from the R21 highway. From the offramp, drive in an easterly direction (i.e. turn right at the crossroads if coming from the south). At the four-way stop, turn right towards Olifantsfontein, drive for 1.5 km, crossing the Sesmyl Spruit. On the left is a sign indicating Rietvlei Nature Reserve; turn left and follow the road up the hill to the main gate.
Hours: Daily (Monday to Sunday): 7:00am to 6:00pm (no entry after 4pm).
Gates may open at 6am on weekends and public holidays - check beforehand.
Phone: (012) 345-2274
Cost: Adults: R17     Children (7-12 years): R10     Senior citizens: R10
Refreshments: Bring your own refreshments. Picnic facilities, running water, and toilets are available. Firewood is on sale at about R5 per bag.
Accommodation: Rietvlei Caravan Park is situated next to the Rietvlei Nature Reserve.


from http://www.sabirding.co.za/birdspot/050214.asp, by Faansie Peacock, 2001.

Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve is one of the very few reserves situated in the grassland biome on the central South African highveld. It is therefore not very rich in diversity of species, but hosts many of the South African endemics and provides a very relaxing spot for a few hours' birding. Around 80 species can be expected in a morning or afternoon trip.

Great Crested Grebe, Little Bittern, White Stork, Cape Shoveller, Secretarybird, African Fish Eagle, African Hobby Falcon, Greater Kestrel, Common Quail, Purple Gallinule, African Rail, Whitewinged Korhaan, Greyheaded Gull, Grass Owl, Giant Kingfisher, Halfcollared Kingfisher, Eurasian Roller, Spikeheeled Lark, Banded Martin, Capped Wheatear, Anteating Chat, Yellow Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Desert Cisticola, Buffy Pipit, Orangethroated Longclaw, Thickbilled Weaver, Longtailed Widow, Orangebreasted Waxbill.

The reserve consists mainly of grassland habitats. The Rietvlei and Marais Dams on the Sesmyl Spruit provide a wealth of open water and wetland habitats, and some of the smaller inlet streams create spongy marshes. Along the Sesmyl Spruit is some dense woodland, supporting quite a different bird community. The latter habitat is especially well developed below the dam wall but this is an area of restricted access. Isolated thornveld thickets consisting mostly of Acacia karoo are found throughout the reserve. Exotic trees such as poplars, gums and wattles cover a lot of ground, but the reserve management is actively controlling these problem species.

The kraals and settlements near the entrance gate provide habitat for Spotted Dikkop, while the patch of acacia trees on the left has had Crimsonbreasted Shrike. The Sesmyl Spruit can be seen far below in the valley.

Once inside the reserve the tar road leads to a very good marshy inlet about 500m from the gate, where Great Crested Grebe, Common Moorhen, Redknobbed Coot, Darter, Cape Reed Warbler and Masked Weaver can invariably be found. In summer African Marsh Warbler is common at this point. Another 500m further the open areas on the right after this inlet are good for Pipits and roosting Dikkop.

You should continue with the main tar road over the hill and down past a small marsh where Levaillant's Cisticola and Stonechat are common. To the right, the "Ghwarrie Route" is sometimes good for Buffy Pipit, especially if you can take one of the dirt roads flanking off to the sides. Orangethroated Longclaw are also common here. Take the "Ghwarrie Route" to the right or continue straight. Follow the signs to the bird hide.

Park in the smaller dam in the south of the reserve (Marais Dam) where there is an excellent bird hide. From the spacious hide one can expect to tick the usual waterbirds such as Whitebreasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Dabchick, Yellowbilled Duck, African Black Duck, Dabchick, Egyptian Goose and possibly Spurwinged Goose, Redknobbed Coot and Common Moorhen, while Black Crake, African Rail, Purple Gallinule, Eurasian Sedge Warbler and Cape Reed Warbler, Whitethroated Swallow and Little Bittern can usually be seen. Walking along the edge of the dam, through the picnic sites and on to the dam wall, Tawnyflanked Prinia, Karoo Thrush, Cape Robin, Indian Myna and Levaillant's Cisticola are common. Right in the corner of the dam, there is a stand of Wattle trees which hosts Halfcollared Kingfisher. Yellow Warbler occur throughout the reserve's wetlands, but this is a good area to find them.

From here take the "Vlei Route". The grasslands are full of "LBJ's" - with a little trouble these guys can be sorted out, and you will be amazed at the variety of species. Desert Cisticola and Fantailed Cisticola are the most common ones, but look for Cloud Cisticola in short, rocky grassland on ridges and Ayres' Cisticola in ankle-high grass. Spikeheeled Lark are much rarer than the ubiquitous Rufousnaped Lark. When there are bare, overgrazed or burnt areas Capped Wheatear move in. Don't confuse the juveniles with the Eurasian Wheatear, a rare vagrant to our region. Whitewinged Korhaan and Secretarybird are the most common terrestrial birds, and watching Secretarybird for long periods often provides one of views of Grass Owl and Common Quail as the larger Secretarybird flushes them up. Otherwise it is almost impossible to see these species as you are not allowed to leave your vehicle except at designated spots.

The wooded vegetation along the spruit supports a totally different but distinctive bird community. Thickbilled Weaver frequent the reedbeds, and Garden Warbler and Eurasian Marsh Warbler, Paradise Flycatcher, Cape White-eye, Streakyheaded Canary and Southern Boubou the riverine forest. Greenbacked Heron and Common Sandpiper frequent the waterside habitats. Lesser Striped Swallow hawk insects overhead. Giant Kingfisher can often be seen on the bridges.

Rietvlei dam itself is a major roosting and breeding locality and feeding area for Pretoria's waterbirds. Whitebreasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Dabchick, Great Crested Grebe, Cattle Egret, Redknobbed Coot and Common Moorhen abound, while Greyheaded Gull and most duck species are present in smaller numbers. Squacco Heron are sometimes present.

The felled trees and exotic stands have Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide, Sharpbilled Honeyguide, African Hoopoe, Blackcollared Barbet, Willow Warbler and Stonechat (at the edges).

Constantly check the skies for Kestrels and Falcons. They are around but often only seen by the lucky (and aware) birder. Scan the power lines in the south for them. Greater Kestrel and Rock Kestrel are the most common but Northern Hobby Falcon is sometimes seen, especially in the late afternoon. Eastern Redfooted Kestrel and the occasional Western Redfooted Kestrel. Steppe Buzzard and Blackshouldered Kite are more common. swallows and swifts are very numerous, with the most interesting species being Palm Swift (open grasslands or near Eucalypts or Palms), Brownthroated Martin (over the water and reedbeds) and Rock Martin.

A number of specials have been seen right outside the reserve and can be expected to occur within the area that is protected. Redchested Flufftail, Lesser Gallinule, Melodious Lark, Redthroated Wryneck and Wailing Cisticola are examples of these species. They are perhaps more readily seen in the Bapsfontein area. African Crake have been recorded at Rietvlei.

Background information on Rietvlei Nature Reserve

from http://www.safaricamlive.com/rietvlei/Rietvlei%20Main.htm

The Rietvlei Nature Reserve came about as a result of the Rietvlei Water Scheme. Since the main function of the area is to provide water the catchment area needs to be conserved and water needs to be accumulated and distributed. For this reason, the dam was built in the Six Mile Spruit. It`s water supply is supplemented by the Marais Dam which serves as a sludge dam for the larger dam.

Rietvlei Dam, built during the Great Depression, was completed in 1934. According to popular belief, manual labour was mainly used for constructing the dam wall and the surrounding brickwork. During those difficult years of the depression, labourers were only too grateful to receive a fixed income of four shillings a day. The soil on the site where the dam was built was removed by mule carts. That is why a muleshoe or two may still be found at the koppie opposite the yacht club. During 1988, a two-year programme was implemented to increase the height of the wall and to make other improvements. An additional supply of water comes from four springs within the Reserve, from one spring on the adjoining private property, and from five boreholes in the Reserve. Today Rietvlei Dam and its environs provide 26,19% of Pretoria's water requirements.

When the City Council of Pretoria acquired the farm in 1929, it was not open to the public. However, biological planning of the area went ahead, the game (Blesbok from General Jan Smuts' nearby farm) was introduced in the course of time. Subsequently, a nature reserve was proclaimed.

In 1935 the Reserve which covered an area of about 3 500 ha and was located at an altitude of 1 525 m above sea level, was known as the Rietvlei Reserve. In an Administrator's Notice of 1937, the reserve was declared a game reserve and was subsequently known as the Rietvlei Game Reserve. In terms of Administrator's Notice 205, in 1948 it was proclaimed a reserve for indigenous flora, and for the next six years it was called the Rietvlei Reserve for Game and indigenous Flora. Reproclamation of the present nature reserve (west of the Delmas Road) as the Van Riebeeck Nature Reserve was published in the Provincial Gazette on 24 November 1954. In 1992 the name was again changed to Rietvlei Nature reserve.

The minimum size of land needed for the declaration of a game reserve on the Bankenveld in the Transvaal is 1 000 ha according to the policy of the Nature and Environmental Conservation Directorate. An economic farming unit in this area measures for instance 300 ha. The Reserve is therefore equal to ten farming units with a combined carrying capacity of 1 500 to 2 000 head of game, depending on factors such as species of game or the carrying capacity of the veld. The Rietvlei Nature Reserve is therefore a fairly large reserve, in an urban area.

Among the historical sights in the Reserve are a stone rampart where British forces are said to have installed a cannon during the second occupation of Pretoria, and two groups of graves, on which some of the epitaphs are still legible. Among those buried there is a Voortrekker woman, Cecilia Moodie, of the Moodie trek.

Two types of sport take place at the dam, yachting and angling. Northwest of Rietvlei Dam is the club house of the Sail Yacht Club, and the angling area is on the northern and western shores.

The Pretoria Yacht Club, formed in July 1959 under the name of the Pretoria Postals Sailing Club, was the only sailing club in Pretoria which provincial and national yacht clubs recognised at that time. Since 19 December 1963, the City Council has leased a portion of Rietvlei Dam to the Yacht club.

Because the dam is an important source of water for Pretoria and the area surrounding the dam is a proclaimed nature reserve, the Council at that time thought it proper to grant only 400 ft (in those days) of the shore to the sailing club. Motor boats are not allowed as the noise disturbs anglers and the game, and also causes an oil pollution threat to drinking water.

The Reserve is under the management of a Nature Conservationist and sound nature conservation principles are used.

The goal is to re-establish species of game indigenous to the area. As these species evolved in this area, sufficient grazing is available for them to ensure their continued existence. It is nevertheless necessary to provide additional feeding and to implement a system of rotational grazing in the available space of the fenced -in Reserve.

The internal road system divides the Reserve into approximately 31 management blocks. Rotational grazing is implemented by systematically burning these blocks (game prefer new grass shoots on burnt veld) and by putting out game licks that are used as supplementary feeding.

Natural watering holes are spread evenly throughout the area (dam, stream and water holes), which leads to good use of the entire area.

The condition of game and the state during winter months (poorest season) are used as guidelines for determining the carrying capacity of the veld. The aim is always to keep the number of game just below the number of game the veld can support.

The most suitable time for culling game is determined by factors such as breeding, mating, time of the year and condition of the game. The aim is to reduce numbers and correct the sexual balance of animals (such as superfluous rams and old and unproductive animals that are worn with age whose numbers are beyond the carrying capacity of the Reserve), and to protect the area's grazing.

A game census is held annually. Counts are made by helicopter and after that by vehicle. When there are too many animals, they are mostly caught alive and relocated on conservation areas elsewhere (sold or exchanged for other species). By establishing the sexual balance, it is possible to decide how many rams should be culled. Trophy hunters are given the opportunity to hunt surplus rams under the guidance of an approved game operator.

The Reserve which has a typical highveld climate, with an average annual summer rainfall of 724 mm and dry winters with frost, lies 1 525 m above sea level.

The veld in the Reserve is classified as the Central Variation of the Bankenveld. The terrain consists of open grassland with undulating hills. The wetlands in the Reserve are a rare asset.

Indigenous trees occur in small groups. These trees are typical of the highveld. Shale formations where no indigenous trees can grow, are conspicuous. Because of previous farming activities which disturbed the soil, several exotic plants occur in the Reserve. Invader trees such as the silver wattle (acacia dealbaba) cause the greatest headaches. Imported from Australia, they have no natural enemies here. Wattle seed can remain in the ground for up to fifty years and still be viable. These wattles are mechanically deforested, sawn down and chopped up for firewood. Wood not used in the Reserve is removed by a contractor and used for making paper and plagbord.

The most important geological formation is lava which extends in a broad band from north to south through the Reserve. This gives rise to heavy red loam soil with good grazing. Belts run on either side of the lava which give rise to grey loamy soil. The eastern part is dolomite covered by a sill of chert. And there sandy red loam occurs. Dolomite is a sedimentary limestone formation which gives rise to caves with stalactites and stalagmites. Sinkholes occur when the roof of a subterranean chamber collapses. Ground water which accumulates in large subterranean chambers is supplemented annually by rainwater. The overflow of subterranean water then appears as dolomite springs, which sometimes produce a strong flow of water. There are four such springs in the Reserve, from which the water is fed through pipes to the Rietvlei Water Works.

Apart from the 73 grasses occurring here, 147 types of herb grow between the grasses, which are particularly noticeable where game has grazed the grass short. In a good year 2 000 kg of grass and 1 300 kg of herbs (dry weight) are produced on one hectare. Production is highest early in the season when grasses such as Eragrosits curvula (Love grass) and Setaria nigrirostris (Manna grass) produce a high yield, while turpentine grass (Cymbopogon excavatus) and thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta) shoot up again in late summer.

Grasses, the most important group of plants on earth, cover 30% of the land surface. They are not only economically important but they are also of great economical value because of the grazing they provide. The growth points of plants normally occur at the points of leaves and stems, but the growth points of grasses occur at the base of leaves and stems to prevent grazing animals from destroying those growth points. This is why grasses grow so rapidly once they have been grazed.

Grassland is an ecosystem with continually changing composition under the influence of grazing, fire, rain or drought. In this way, stick grass dominates overgrazed veld, whereas red grass is stimulated by winter fires.

Two species of trees occur here which have taken on a dwarf form and grow under ground to survive fires and the cold. The plough breaker (Erythrina zeyheri) is related to the coral tree, as can be seen from its bright red flowers. In winter, the plant dies above the ground, but it has a thick under ground stem which sprouts again the following spring.

A variant of the buffalo-thorn (Zisiphus zeyheriana) is a small thorny bush with long fleshy roots from which the plant sprouts again after winter or when burnt by fire.

The highveld with its vast grassy plains is notably a habitat for types of game that roam together in large herds, such as blesbuck, black wildebeest and zebra. The first white travellers through this region were privileged to see countless numbers of blesbuck and black wildebeest as far as the eye could see.

J. Chapman , who travelled through the North Eastern Free State in 1849 , estimated that half a million black wildebeest passed his wagon in the course of the one day.

One thousand blesbuck grazing on burnt veld on the highveld during the early summer, produce two tons of dung a day. Nevertheless, one never sees an accumulation of dung because millions of small dung beetles bury the dung in the ground. They eat the dung and lay their eggs in it, after which the larvae which hatch also live on the dung. In this way, the nutrients again become available to the plants. During winter when the dung beetles are inactive, patches of dry dung from where blesbuck rams stay keep accumulating, but as soon as the dung is soaked by the first rains of the summer, small dung beetles descend on it in large numbers.

A blesbuck ewe does not eat her afterbirth during the lambing season. Since the afterbirth weighs almost on kilogram, it is an important source of food for jackals which also keep the veld clean. But their main source of food is spring hares.

In winter certain places in the Reserve is completely bare of veld. This is the work of harvester termites which snip off the grass near their nests and carry it into their nests. They can be seen in daytime during winter and if you stand still, you can actually hear them snipping off the grass. They are the only termites with eyes, and they usually move above ground. They eat only dry grass as wet grass is poisonous to them.

With the opening of the Reserve to visitors, it is expected that physical planning will increase. The public's interest will determine the speed at which, and extent to which, the facilities will be provided. The most important management aspect of the Reserve is to make it accessible, while retaining the natural character of this beautiful part of the highveld.

Amethyst Amethyst Guide to Johannesburg       http://www.amethyst.co.za/JhbGuide/

Copyright © 1998-2003, Rodney Jones, rtjones@amethyst.co.za, Randburg, South Africa (Last updated on 30 September 2003)