To get to the Smaldeel route, take the R350 out of Grahamstown on the Bedford road. Turn right onto the R344, a dirt road, and start birding. This route takes you through valley bushveld, over the Great Fish River and dry grassy plains.
Specials on the Smaldeel route:
Sabota lark, Sickle-winged chat, Acacia Pied barbet, Karoo Scrub-robin, Malachite sunbird, Cape, Golden-breasted and Cinnamon-breasted bunting, White-throated canary, Rufous-eared warbler, Chestnut-vented titbabbler, Lark-like bunting, Southern Pale Chanting goshawk, African stonechat, Grey-backed sparrowlark, Southern tchagra, Cape and Chinspot batis etc.
The route starts at the turn-off to Kwandwe game reserve, where there is a mixture of valley bushveld and scrub. Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Acacia Pied Barbet and Long-billed Crombec are some of the birds to be encountered along this first stretch. Where the road forks turn left, where one passes through a patch of more lush vegetation, where Cape Batis, Black-backed Puffback and Green-backed Camaroptera can be seen. The habitat then changes to a mixture of Noorsveld, open woodland and patches of bare ground in between, where Cape Bunting, Malachite Sunbird, White-throated Canary and, with some careful watching, Sabota Lark can be seen. Further along, the veld opens up into patches of semi-karoo. Here, Rufous-eared Warbler are plentiful. Just stop and listen for their strident, “tee-tee-tee-tee-tee” call. These plains are also a favourite display ground for Eastern Clapper Lark, with their characteristic flapping-on-the-rise then whistle when they parachute back to the ground. Their cousin, the Spike-heeled Lark, moves around in small parties, uttering a chuckling call. Golden-breasted Bunting Yellow-bellied Eremomela are not uncommon in and around the scattered trees.
The road then crosses the Great Fish River at Piggott Bridge. It is always worth a stop here, as one never knows which water birds will be seen here. The habitat is perfect for African Black Duck, so keep an eye open for them. After the bridge, the road climbs up to higher ground. At these higher elevations, larks and pipits become more prevalent. Large-billed and Rufous-naped Larks inhabit the flatter, grassy areas, with nomadic visitors such as Lark-like Bunting and Grey-backed Sparrowlark coming into the area under the right conditions. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting can be seen perched on the fences, while Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk eye out the landscape from the treetops and remaining telephone poles.
There are a few options available for the return drive. One option is to go back via Woodlands farm where the landscape is flat open Karoo plains and another is the take the north western route back through farmlands and over the Greater Fish river. Both routes lead to the R350 which is the Bedford – Grahamstown road.