Considering I may be writing for this blog fairly often, I thought perhaps readers needed to know a bit about Wakkerstroom. Lots of birding-boffs of course do know of it as some 17 years ago it hit the “birders view” as a hot destination to see some of the grassland specials.
Wakkers, as it is affectionately known (actually it is just shorter!) is an old little village by SA standards, established in 1859 as an eastern administration centre in what was then the Transvaal Republic which in those days, extended well into northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The village grew in the space between the 700 ha wetland – one of the larger reed-marshes in SA – on the north-western side and the hills on the southern side.
Surrounding the village are extensive highveld grasslands and so it was between these two biomes that birding visitors started coming this way. This is certainly not the only place is our country that supports a variety of “specials” but it was another new area to visit to see them.
Some 50 years ago there was a Wakkerstroom revival when the prospect of oil being found brought new residents but that soon faded and so did the village until the later bird-revival and this has not faded! In fact in the past 5 years or so, the little village has come alive with many new residents buying permanent or get-away houses, shops have been revamped, the very old hotel given a new lease on life and a lot more accommodation facilities opening. On the whole the old houses and shops were done up very tastefully and some of the new houses built with a good feeling for the character of the village.
In the early 1990’s, the wetland got a Natural Heritage Site status and this in large because of the number of Grey Crowned Cranes that make it their nesting destination each year. During the breeding season visitors are assured of seeing pairs of these visitor-friendly cranes with chicks from either of the “road-bridges” that cross the wetland. It is always remarked on, especially when the one pair can be seen taking their chicks from the short grassy area, through the reeds, often across open water to another patch they have chosen for their “night-roost”. Charming.
More next time – on the cranes of the Wakkers wetland
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