Birding in Memel
Did you know?
A number of famous South African musicians have moved to Memel.
Birding in Memel, an area in the Free State of high grassland with a massive wetland, is a premier experience – and not only for birders.
This is a high-altitude grassland, with an extensive wetland nearby - an exceptionally scenic place with oxbow lakes.
You have a better than good chance of seeing those ultimate grassland lifers – Rudd’s lark, Botha’s lark and the rare yellow-breasted pipit. Also in the region you might be lucky enough to see the striking blue korhaan, blue crane and Denham’s bustard.
In some respects, the experience of birding in Memel is similar to that of Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga. Memel, however, is less ‘discovered’ a destination and retains the old-fashioned feel of a truly agricultural town.
The area where Rudd’s lark and Botha’s larks can be found is just south of Memel, where you also might see black harrier, lanner falcons, African rock thrush, buff-streaked chat, ground woodpecker and mountain wheatear.
One of the drives recommended by birders is to head out on the Normandien road to the jaw-dropping views from the top of the escarpment, with the yellowwood forests of KwaZulu-Natal below.
Here you stand an excellent chance of seeing forest birds like the bar-throated apalis, yellow-throated woodland warbler, Cape batis and African olive pigeon.
Take a long loop back via the Klip River Valley, its many grassy wetlands full of widowbirds, warblers and bishops.
The Seekoeivlei wetland itself yields an excellent variety of birds including African snipe, African shelduck, African darter, southern bald ibis and grey crowned crane.
Heading there or back you may find spike-heeled larks and grey-winged francolin.
Memel itself is well worth the visit. A sleepy little farming town with a beautiful church, it has attracted a number of creative émigrés from cities. Its environmentally friendly cob houses and rammed earth buildings have become something of an attraction in their own right.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Mahem Country Guesthouse
Tel: +27 (0) 58 924 0034
Tel: +27 (0) 58 924 0740
How to get here
Memel is about 300km, or less than three hours' drive from Johannesburg. Take the N3 road to Durban, and turn off at the Vrede/Frankfort exit. Turn left and follow the R34. You'll go past Vrede and then head into Memel.
Best time to visit
All the migrants arrive in September and October, so there's good birding then, and into the summer. But every season has its specials.
Tours to do
Jimmy Saunders of Mahem Country Guesthouse can help with birding tours.
You could take your own vehicle, or travel with a guide like Jimmy Saunders from Mahem Country Guesthouse.
Length of stay
If you'd like a good chance to see the somewhat cryptic and elusive Rudd's and Botha's larks, stay two or three days.
What to pack
If you're going to be there in winter, bring lots of thermal wear. It's one of South Africa's coldest towns during the chilly season.
Where to stay
There's a lovely hotel and a number of excellent guesthouses, some of which cater specifically for birders.