In April 2008, we were fortunate to visit Bird Valley Estates, which lies near Cramond just past Albert Falls on the Greytown road. The Estate is situated in a pine plantation and surrounds a large wetland.
This wetland was formed originally by the construction of a dam wall to form a fairly substantial dam called the Cramond Satellite Dam. This dam consists of a large expanse of open water, part of which is used for water-skiing and other water sports. The shoreline is well vegetated with bulrushes, sedges and water lilies.
Both the open water and the vegetated banks offer suitable habitats for a wide variety of water birds such as African Fish Eagle, White-breasted and Reed Cormorants, Egyptian Goose and large flocks of Spur-winged Geese, Yellow-billed Duck and Hottentot Teal. Along the banks one could find Blacksmith Lapwing, African Jacana, Black Crake and Purple Swamphen.
Further up stream from the dam on the Mpolweni River, the catchment comprises a large swamp wetland with narrow channels along which one could easily paddle a canoe. Small open patches of water with floating water lilies closely resemble channels of the Okavango. Here in summer one would expect to find African Pygmy-Goose and White-backed Duck. Along the banks bordering these channels various species of egrets, warblers, bishops and weavers including Golden Weaver can be seen. This wetland is of great significance because at times large numbers of Grey Crowned Cranes visit the area. Both Blue and Wattled Crane would well be expected to be future regular visitors as both these species occur at the Karkloof Conservancy, which, as a crane flies, is very close by. Bird Valley Estates can, with appropriate development and management, offer another possible breeding site for Grey Crowned Crane and Wattled Crane.
In the surrounding plantations we found Black-headed Oriole, Spotted Eagle Owl and African Goshawk. Additional species to be expected here include Long-crested Eagle, Forest Buzzard, Black and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk and Paradise Flycatcher. Between the dam and the plantation is an extensive grassland where in summer one would expect to find quail, button-quail, and a variety of cisticolas, possibly Cuckoo Finch, and a host of other seed-eaters.
This area certainly demands a visit for some good birding in summer. As this site is a new development and bird life is offered sound protection, a monthly bird list would be most interesting. There is a suitable picnic site with ablutions and also one could request to do some fishing over lunchtime. We certainly spent an excellent autumn day of birding.
As this land is privately owned permission is required before any visit is made. Birders are most welcome on an organized outing but are asked to contact Richard Alcock, 082 903 5187, and confirm the bird club to which you belong.
Steve Davis and Roy Cowgill
Article in KZN Birds No. 24 September 2008