Sanctuary at Marievale

Marievale is a bird sanctuary north-east of Nigel in the southern part of Gauteng in South Africa. It forms part of the Blesbokspruit. According to Birdlife, the Blesbokspruit is one of the Vaal River’s larger tributaries flowing from the Grootvaly Wetland Reserve in the north to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary in the south. This is the only Ramsar wetland in the Gauteng province. It was declared a wetland of international importance in October 1986. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

~Aldo Leopold

Water levels in the Blesbokspruit are artificially maintained by the inflow of mining, industrial and municipal effluents which supplement the summer rainfall. The wetland was formed during the 1930s after road and pipeline embankments were constructed for the mining industry of the area.

“I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.”
~Ed Begley Jr.

The Blesbokspruit is an Important Bird Area (IBA). In summer you will find a wide variety of water birds and seed-eaters, the odd raptor, mongooses, grasses and wild flowers. Summer migrants also join the seasonal gathering and you are likely to see cuckoos and Amur falcons.

Being so accessible, an hour or so from Johannesburg, this is an ideal place to practice your wildlife photography and sharpen your bird identification.

 You can find two types of teal in Marievale. I have never seen a Cape Teal in Marievale but there are many Red-billed teal and Hottentot teal. The Red-billed teal has that distinctive blackish cap and nape and bright red bill.

Red-billed teal male and female are similar in appearance. The colouring is cryptic from above when these ducks are in the reeds for cover. The Cape teal looks similar but has a pinkish bill and does not have the distinctive black forehead, crown and nape of the Red-billed teal.

The wetlands are surrounded by flat grasslands. Being a swamp-like area the water table is very high so numerous varieties of grasses and wild flowers grow there in the spring and early summer. One of the most distinctive flowers you will see is a bushveld vlei lily.

The masked weaver has a red eye and the lesser weaver has a yellow eye.  They both have that black face mask. The masked weaver does not make a entrance tunnel to its nest whereas the lesser weaver does make a small tunnel entrance but nothing like as long as the spectacled weaver. The weavers select trees and bushes when building their nests rather than reeds, which the bishops use.

Juvenile Little grebe. There are many Little grebes here and you might also be lucky to find the Great Crested Grebe.

The African snipe is so well camouflaged that unless to you are looking for it, chances are you will not see it until this “pocket rocket” jets out of the reeds.

African snipe are often seen at Marevale. I have never seen a Great snipe or a Painted snipe at Marievale. I have only seen Painted snipe on the banks of the Chobe river and in a swamp in Amboseli.

“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” ~Edward O. Wilson

The bushveld vlei lily is usually only open fully at midday and are slightly sweet-scented. It appears from late November to January. One has to get down on your knees (or belly) to get an attractive background for your image.

There are many seed and insect-eaters in the grasslands around the waterways in Marievale. The Levaillant’s cisticola is a common sighting as is the Grassbird. The cisticolas are small insect eaters and their small straight bills are well adapted for pecking diminutive insects off foliage.

Feeding in the waters you will find, a variety of herons, coots, moorhens, ducks, avocets, spoonbills and greater flamingoes.

“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy – it is already too late for that – but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.”
~ Aldo Leopold

You will find both Sacred and Glossy ibis and Hadedas in Marievale. This is a close up head shot of a Glossy ibis. Breeding adults have reddish-brown body plumage and shiny bottle-green wings. Non-breeders and juveniles have duller bodies and their head and neck is a light greyish-brown with white flecks.

Small group of Fluvous Whistling ducks. This duck is easily identified by its distinctive reddish-brown plumage. Both male and female plumage is similar, but the size of the female is slightly smaller and has duller plumage than the male. They prefer wetlands.

White-throated swallow. There are only four southern African swallows which have patches of rust red feathers in their plumage. The White-throated swallow is the only one with a rust red patch on its forehead directly above its beak.

The Barn swallow has a rust red patch on its forehead and its throat. The Wire-tailed swallow has a rust-red crown and nape. This White-throated swallow was preening itself in the warm early morning sun.

I never managed to get a good image of an Pied Avocet. This bird has pied colouring with a distinctive red eye. You don’t always see these avocets as they are partial migrants and seem to be storm followers. These birds are also filter feeders, much like spoonbills.


“Human society is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the earth environment. If our “parent company” destabilises, our society and our economies go down with it.”

~The Natural Step

A pair of Red-billed teal sunning themselves in the morning sun after feeding earlier.

Yellow-billed duck is a local but is nomadic. It is known as a dabbling duck, as it usually feeds in shallow waters by dabbling and upending. You also see mallards, teal and fluvous whistling ducks doing this.

A Fluvous whistling duck in resting mode with one foot tucked up and standing one legged in perfect balance. This character also had a short snooze, resting its beak on its chest. They also rest their heads on their backs while they nuzzle their beaks into their back feathers. Usually they place their heads on the opposite wing to make it easier to balance.

A Fluvous Whistling duck running on the surface of the water to get airborne.

An adult male southern Pochard drying off after having bathed. This is a common duck in southern Africa, but I have only seen a few at Marievale. 

Adult male Southern Pochard feeds mainly on plants and will eat small invertebrates when they can find them.

Juvenile female Southern Pochard with its distinctive white crescent band from the back of its eye down to its throat. The base of its bill is also white. The female does not have the red eye of the adult male.

I am not sure what this next bird is but I think it is a Neddicky, based on its colouring. Its tail did not flick up like a warbler or Prinia. It does not have a white or light coloured band over its eye and its belly and throat were very light cream coloured, almost white.

Juvenile Common moorhen foraging in the shallows.

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”

~Edward O. Wilson

Dwarf coral tree is a deciduous shrub which is often multi-stemmed. They grow wild in the grasslands of Marievale and bloom in November and December. They produce scarlet flowers  and these brightly coloured flowers attract sunbirds.

In summer there is a blaze of purple, white and yellow Statis in the grasslands around the waterways of Marievale. This can make a perfect background for some bird images. The only problem is you have to get out of your vehicle and get low to get the right background and that usually chases the birds away.

An adult Glossy Ibis in full breeding plumage. To maintain longitudinal balance these ibis fly with their necks stretched out. Flocks of these ibis can be seen flying in a “V” formation over Marievale.

Perhaps my favourite southern African duck, the Hottentot Teal. It is small beautifully, if not cryptically, coloured with  an exquisitely coloured blue beak. The male seems to be larger and slightly darker than the female with a area of green sheen on the outside of its secondaries. This next image is of a female Hottentot Teal.

“What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.”

~Paul Hawken

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


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