Soetdoring Dam Nature Reserve offers an easy place to see game and do some excellent birding very close to Bloemfontein. And if you feel the urge to bring along a fishing rod, you could catch a kurper or yellowfish. Apart from gemsbok, eland, and black wildebeest, there are also lions.

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Apart from antelope and predators, birders have seen rare vagrants like the American golden plover here.

A short drive out of Bloemfontein is Soetdoring Dam Nature Reserve, a quiet place of water, birds and wildlife.

It’s popular as a place to picnic, to throw a line in the water for carp, and to enjoy a little game watching in a surprisingly large reserve – 7 500 hectares – that includes a large stretch of the Modder River and, as its name implies, a sizable dam.

There are gemsbok, eland, black wildebeest, springbok and zebra. And amazingly, there is a large predator area (separate from the herbivores), where you can see lions and wild dogs.

But it’s the birders who get feverishly excited about Soetdoring Dam Nature Reserve. There are about 290 bird species here, within three distinct ecosystems – wetland, thornveld and grassland. The birding is very easy here – some say you can see nearly the total bird list in a day.

Just parking on the bridge over the Modder River will yield a good number of birds. Here you’re likely to see African shelduck (probably by the dozen or more), plus white-rumped and little swifts, goliath heron, grey heron, and perhaps little bittern.

Along the dam you’ll find ruffs, curlew sandpipers, little stint, Kittlitz’s plover, Caspian tern, various kingfishers and pied avocet.

The grassland part of the park yields plenty of larks – melodious, spike-heeled, eastern clapper, red-capped and large-billed. You could also see small buttonquail and ant-eating chat.

In the thornveld, though, you’ll find a trove of specials. Flitting between the shrubby trees, you might see an Eurasian golden oriole or striped kingfisher. Also regularly seen are the gabar goshawk, pririt batis, Kalahari scrub-robin and brown-crowned tchagra.

In the riverine thickets, keep an eye out for the heavy hopping motion of the Burchell’s coucal and, near water, the green-backed heron. Listen for the tell-tale sweet trilling cry of the Namaqua warbler among the reeds.

Alternately you could just come here to relax around the dam, and listen to the wild cry of the fish eagle.

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