The North West Province of South Africa is bordered in the north by Botswana, in the south by the provinces of Free State and the Northern Cape, and on the northeast and east by Limpopo and Gauteng. Much of the province consists of flat areas of scattered trees and grassland. The Magaliesberg mountain range in the northeast extends about 130 km (about 80 miles) from Pretoria to Rustenburg. The Vaal River flows along the southern border of the province.
Temperatures range from 17° to 31° C (62° to 88° F) in the summer and from 3° to 21° C (37° to 70° F) in the winter. Annual rainfall totals about 360 mm (about 14 in), with almost all of it falling during the summer months, between October and April.
Most of the province falls within the Savannah Biome with its associated Bushveld vegetation. The remainder falls within the Grassland Biome, which contains a wide variety of grasses typical of arid areas. Ten different vegetation types are recognised, mostly belonging to the thornveld, bushveld or savannah grassland categories. With the east-west variation in climate and rainfall, there is a corresponding gradation in the vegetation types.
The vegetation of the arid and semi-arid western region largely comprises Kalahari thornveld and shrub bushveld, while the central region is dominated by dry cymbopogon-themeda veld and the eastern region is characterised by a number of mixed bushveld types. The numerous non-perennial pans occurring in the Province provide important breeding and feeding habitat for many water birds.
The province has a total of 14 national parks and provincial reserves within its borders. The most well known are the Pilanesberg and Madikwe National Parks, which are administered by the North West Parks and Tourism Board. The Province also shares the Magaliesberg Protected Natural Environment with Gauteng.
The North West Birding Route is made up of five sub-routes, namely:
This route forms the gateway to the region being close to Johannesburg and Pretoria, incorporates the Magaliesberg, Pilanesberg, Borakalolo areas and offers birders a wide range of habitat types and species within a relatively small area. The region offers 3 excellent game reserves all set in unique habitats. Most roads are in good condition and the reserves are easily accessible. At least 7 – 10 days would be needed to explore this region thoroughly.
This route incorporating Potchefstroom, the Vredefort dome and surrounding grasslands and offers birders the opportunity to visit and explore the various habitats within the Dome park, Vaal river to the rolling grasslands surrounding Potchefstroom. Within the region is the well known OPM Prozesky bird sanctuary. This sub route is also easily accessible from Johannesburg. At least 5 days would be needed for this route to gain insight into this special area.
The sub route takes one through various forms of Bushveld with its accompanying bird and animal species. A few nature reserves occur within the area as well as the flagship Madikwe Game reserve. All these reserves have unique species justifying an extended visit to the area. To gain the best value one needs to set aside at least 3-4 days in Madikwe and 2-3 days for the rest of the region.
The Barberspan RAMSAR site lies within this sub route as well as a number of pans linked by open grasslands dotted all the way to the Bloemhof dam. This region is a prime water bird route especially during summer when there are thousands of migrant waders present. Birders need to set aside at least two days for each of the key areas ie Barberspan and Bloemhof Dam reserve.
This route incorporates the western side of North West, Molopo Game reserve and the Vryburg areas and offers the true Kalahari experience being situated in the dry west of North West. A route that needs at least a week’s exploration due mainly to its distance from the main centre’s especially the key reserve –Molopo. A 4×4 vehicle would be recommended for touring this region.