Nylsvley, S. Africa 2023


While trekking in South Africa during March of 2023, I spent a day in the Nylsvley Nature Reserve. Nylsvley is located about 170 km north northeast of Pretoria, South Africa.

Google Earth map of the route to Nylsvley Game Reserve from Pretoria, South Africa 2023.
Google Earth map of the detailed route to the Nylsvley Nature Reserve from the Boekenhout/Nylsvley sign 2023.

To get to the Nylsvley Game Reserve from Pretoria, South Africa, you take the N1 North towards Polokwane (Pietersburg).  Take the Mookgophong off-ramp. Keep going left, some 3 km later you reach the R101 to Modimolle. Travel south (with the mountains on your right) until you pick up the Nylsvley / Boekenhout sign. Turn at the Boekenhout station sign. About 7 km down this gravel road it crosses a railway line, the entrance to Nylsvley is one km further, on the left.

Public domain map of the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

The Nylsvley Nature Reserve is situated in the upper reaches of the Nyl River near the town of Mookgophong (Naboomspruit) in the Limpopo Province, and includes part of the largest floodplain in South Africa.

The catchment area for the Nyl/Mogalakwena River (McCarthy et al., 2011). The confluence of the Nyl/Mogalakwena River and the Rooisloot is marked by the red circle; [image taken from “Geology and geochronology of the Nyl River floodplain sediments, Limpopo Province, South Africa” Colarossi 2013].

The Nyl River rises in the hills of the Waterberg and flows trough a relatively flat-floored valley between steep hills. Heavy summer storms flood the valley causing the river’s waters to spread out over a wide area, producing vast marshes. These form a 16,000 hectare grass floodplain. Of this area 3,100 hectares are now protected by the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, which is open to visitors.

Looking southeast along the lower road towards the windmill on the floodplain in the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

The Nyl River floodplain stretches from south-west to north-east across the western edge of the Springbok Flats, lying alongside the eastern foothills of the Waterberg plateau, (this plateau is the source-area for the floodplain’s water). There are about a dozen streams and rivers that bring water from the Waterberg onto the floodplain; the largest of these are the Klein Nyl, the Groot Nyl and the Olifantsspruit, (imaged above).

Looking south across the Nyl River from the lower road in the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

The immediate area around the Nyl/Mogalakwena River lies within a down-warped basin composed of rocks from the Pretoria Group and the Rooiberg felsites of the Bushveld Complex, in addition to the Waterberg Group in the extreme west.

The location and geological setting of the Nyl/Mogalakwena River floodplain; [image taken from “Geology and geochronology of the Nyl River floodplain sediments, Limpopo Province, South Africa” Colarossi 2013].

The source area for the Groot Nyl and Klein Nyl Rivers is in the Waterberg Plateau and Formation. The Nyl River originates at the confluence of the Groot Nyl and Klein Nyl Rivers and flows roughly north-eastward across the Karoo sandstones and basalts of the Springbok Flats, which features extensive floodplains and a broad channel due to the very gentle gradients. Further downstream (northwards) the channel disappears to be replaced by a flood-out (a low-gradient, unchannelled floodplain) ~ 7 km wide which merges with the floodplains and forms the Nyl River floodplain wetland. The Nylsvley Nature Reserve is located in this region.

The floodplain wetland of the Nyl River; photo looking east from the Jacana Hide within Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

The Nyl River floodplain wetland is located in a semi-arid climate. The present annual rainfall in the area varies between 250–1100 mm with a mean annual rainfall of 630 mm and an annual potential evaporation of 2400 mm which produces a net water deficit on the floodplain. Water flows through the flood-out primarily as sheet-flow during the rainy season, which deposits thin clay layers that effectively seal the floodplain surface, preventing groundwater recharge and prolonging inundation.

The floodplain wetland of the Nyl River; photo looking southeast from the Jacana Hide within Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

The areas fringing the floodplain in the Nylsvley Nature Reserve consists of a mosaic of Acacia savanna and broad-leaved woodlands. On the north-western side of the reserve one gets a real bushveld feeling with all the Acacia and Sheperd Trees.

The Sweet thorn tree Acacia karroo on the savanna portion of the Nylsvley Nature Reserve in South Africa 2023.

Pictured above and below, the Sweet thorn tree is one of the most common trees in the greater part of South Africa. It has therefore adapted to large fluctuations in temperature and moisture. This species varies considerably in growth form. In the Limpopo, it is a long, slender tree. The bark is smooth and black that is longitudinally fissured. The leaves are dark green and bipinnately compounded, (pictured below).

The leaves of the Sweet thorn in the Nylsvley Nature Reserve in 2023.

Vegetation comprises broad-leaved woodlands, thornveld, grassland and of course the floodplains, and over 600 species of plant have been recorded in the reserve.

Umbrella thorn Acacia tortilis in the bush near Jacana Hide parking within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve 2023.

Pictured above, the Umbrella thorn Acacia tortilis is deciduous and usually not more than 10 m high. A well-known, conspicuous umbrella-shaped crown is only fully developed in old specimens, young tree, (like this one), have roundish or flat-topped crowns. The stem is usually fairly short and the main branches are bare. The very sharp spines of this plant are unique, some are short, blackish and hooked, while this one is long, white and straight. The leaves are bipinnately compound and probably the smallest among the thorn trees.

The Napoon tree, (Euphorbia ingens), within the northern-part of the Nylsvley Nature Reserve 2023

Picture above, Napoon or Euphorbia ingens means large, massive or enormous aptly describing the tree, which can reach roughly 12 m. Its stem is short and the massive crown is very dense. The bark was dark grey, slight rough and dented. Branches were four-sided with four ridges. They branch freely and are conspicuously articulated with about 100 mm in diameter between opposite ridges.

A bird migration sign found at the Jacana hide within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve 2023.

During the rainy season when the marshes are flooded, Nylsvley attracts an incredible variety and number of water-birds. Over 100 species have been recorded on the river and 58 of them breed here.

Looking at a submerged trail near the Jacana-Hide parking within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve 2023
A closer look at the type of birds seen above, (it appears to be a collection of “Great Egrets, Little Grebes and a Blacksmith Lapwing).

Nylsvley Nature Reserve has the greatest number of waterbird species breeding in one area in South Africa, such as the Squacco Heron, (pictured below).

A Squacco Heron, Ardeola ralloides, at the Jacana Hide within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve 2023

Pictured above, the Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides is a very shy, light brown heron with dark stripes on the neck. The yellowish bill turn blue and the legs reddish during courtship. The white wings are conspicuous in flight. Forages in shallow water with enough shelter.

The Jacana Hide within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023

Pictured above, all of the bird hides except one (Dabchick) were burnt down during a fire in September 2013. However, the central “Lookout Tower” has been built since then and it provides the best view points for game as well as waterbirds. The Jacana bird hide offers excellent views of the floodplains.

The African Jacana, (Actophilnis africanus); photo taken from the Jacana Hide within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

Pictured above, The African Jacana, (Actophilnis africanus) has the characteristic of long toes to enable them to walk on floating vegetation. This white neck and black nape contrasts with the rufous body. The male incubates the eggs and raises the chicks.

Looking north at the northern windmill within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

While the primary focus at Nylsvley goes to the birdlife, the reserve is also home to thousands of invertebrate species, including 55 kinds of dragonflies and 194 kinds of butterflies. Additionally, there are 13 kinds of fish, 23 kinds of amphibians, 58 reptile species (including many venomous snakes), and 77 species of mammals (among which sizable populations of the rare Roan-Antelope and the Tsesebe). 

The Tsessebe, (Damalliscus lunatus) on the north end road of the Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

Pictured above, the Tsessebe, (Damalliscus lunatus) is dark, bluish-grey with black on the upper legs, shoulders and upper face. Horns are wid apart at the base and have characteristic “V” shape. They are grazers and prefer open areas with medium to tall tasty grass.

A Blesbok Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi found near the northern border of Nylsvley Game Reserve

Pictured above, the Blesbok Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi has a distinctive white facial-blaze. Their body color is brown with a lighter-colored saddle on the back, and the rump an even lighter shade. The legs are brown with a white patch behind the top part of the front legs. Lower legs whitish. Their preferred habitat is open grassland with water. They often occupy relatively small territories of 2.5 to 6.0 acres in size. They were once one of the most abundant antelope species of the African plains, but have become scarce since 1893 due to relentless poaching for their skins and meat.

Looking east across the Nyl River floodplain from the north-end of Nylsvley Nature Reserve, South Africa 2023.

When a group of early explorers, (moving northward through South Africa), chanced upon a north-flowing river, they thought they had reached the headwaters of the Nile. Although this was not the case, the had discovered a feature rich in biological interest, (the Nylsvley River).

I’m standing on the trail to the Jacana Hide within the Nylsvley Nature Reserve in South Africa 2023.
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