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BBarberspan Bird Sanctuary – in North West province, just a few hours away from Johannesburg or Pretoria – is one of the largest waterfowl reserves in southern Africa. It was one of the first wetlands in South Africa to be covered under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, indicating its vital role as a sanctuary for migratory birds and waterfowl.
In the distant past, Barberspan was just a large, seasonal pan in the fossil bed of the Harts River (which meandered into a new course over millennia), formed and enlarged by northerly winds and massive herds of springbok trampling the edges of the waterhole.
In 1913, the digging of a channel between the nearby river and the pan transformed Barberspan into a 2 000-hectare, 11-metre deep body of water that now functions as an extremely important wintering site for waterfowl.
Bird numbers are regularly around 20 000, and about 350 different species can be found in and around the pan. In September and October, just before the summer rains reach this part of the country, the pan can be crowded with more than 40 000 water birds.
The sanctuary often supports large numbers of flamingos and pelicans and features sought-after special twitches like maccoa duck, chestnut-banded plover and black-necked grebe. Winter also provides a good chance to spot western dry-country specials like Namaqua sandgrouse, grey-backed sparrow-lark and swallow-tailed bee-eater.
Not only is Barberspan Bird Sanctuary a premier site for ornithological research, but visitors can also fish for carp, barbel (catfish) and yellowfish, or paddle around in a canoe. The many well-positioned bird hides are great places to teach children the joys of birdwatching.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Barberspan Bird Sanctuary
Tel: +27 (0)82 443 9777
Barberspan Hotel and Resort
Tel: +27 (0)73 318 6366
How to get here
The closest town to Barberspan Bird Sanctuary is Delareyville in North-West province, approximately 3 hours’ drive from Johannesburg on the N14 highway via Krugersdorp.
Best time to visit
September and October, when waterfowl numbers are at their most impressive.
You can drive or walk in the sanctuary.
Length of stay
A few hours to a day spent at the pan should provide you with lots of sightings and photos. If you are an avid birder you may want to stay longer, in which case you can stay in nearby Delareyville, or even in the sanctuary.
What to pack
Don’t forget your binoculars and camera, your scope if you have one, and a bird book. Sunscreen and a hat are outdoor must-haves in South Africa, any time of year.
Where to stay
Camping and budget accommodation are available in the sanctuary. The Barberspan Guest House is more upmarket, and Barberspan Hotel and Holiday Resort offers a range of accommodation options.