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Twitchers get an eyeful in Joburg
01 April 2009

Melville Koppies is an island of natural beauty in the midst of a residential area, with a lot to offer the discerning bird watcher

There are many beautiful birding spots in Johannesburg, offering a wide variety of common and rare bird sightings, and a pleasant escape from the urban environment.

The magnificent black eagle
The magnificent black eagle

FOR a big city, Johannesburg is still in touch with nature, with a number of bird sanctuaries that make it one of the best birding destinations in Southern Africa.

Its varied sanctuaries offer sightings of a wide range of African birds, migrants and endemics. Grasslands, wetlands and nature reserves are ideal places for birdwatchers to visit, with a number of top birding spots with these habitats around the city of gold.

Albert Farm
Albert Farm is a real treat for birdwatchers. The conservancy contains a wide variety of birds, such as grasslands and woodlands birds, African snipe, glossy ibis, and Egyptian goose.

It boasts 90 hectares of small rocky ridges and is far less crowded than other parks such as the nearby Emmarentia Dam, home of the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens.

Visitors are free to wander through the lush farm to observe the birds in their natural habitats.

It is also a great place for walking your dog or flying a kite; walkers can explore the spruit, following it downstream until it joins the Braamfontein Spruit.

There is parking in De La Rey Road, opposite the main dam, or in the centre of the park. Albert Farm is in Albertskroon, near Northcliff, in northwestern Johannesburg.

The conservancy is open throughout the year. For further details, contact Godfrey Giles on 011 782 6607 or 083 600 0062.

Bullfrog Pan
A visit to Bullfrog Pan on the East Rand is a wonderful way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a short while.

Over 150 bird species can be found here, including the glossy ibis, African sacred ibis, African spoonbill, great egret, little egret, yellow-billed egret, black-winged stilt, blacksmith stilt, pied avocet, and African snipe.

Keep an eye out for African purple swamp hen, squacco heron, marsh owl and, in winter, large numbers of spur-winged goose on the west side of the grassland area. Close examination of the reeds may produce skulking black-crowned night heron and swamp-warbler foraging just above the level of the water. Southern masked-weaver, southern red bishop and yellow crowned bishop are the most active terrestrial birds in this habitat.

In winter, flamingos may be seen patrolling the open waters, which they share with an abundance of other waterfowl such as red-knobbed coot, white-faced duck, Egyptian goose and fulvous duck.

The sanctuary is almost 10 hectares in size. It has a natural seasonal pan surrounded by grasslands and smallholdings. It is relatively untouched. About 20 percent of the site falls within Ekurhuleni, the neighbouring metro.

It is neither developed nor fenced; hence there are neither opening times nor entrance fees. A gravel service road runs between the embankment and the pan provides an excellent viewing spot. The pan can be accessed from Boden, Patten or Evans roads.

Bullfrog Pan can be accessed via the giant Bullfrog self-guided educational rail, which begins at the old Benonian Sports Ground on President Brand Street, in Rynfield, Benoni. Follow the well-signposted trail to the edge of the grass embankment for the best view of the pan.

Con Joubert Bird Park
The Con Joubert Bird Park is outstanding. Its rough, unusual beauty and rejuvenating atmosphere make it a delightful place to visit.

Lush and green, the magnificent sanctuary is home to over 250 bird species. About 30 hectares in size, it has a natural pan surrounded by 10 hectares of grassland.

Here you will get to see birds such the African sacred ibis, glossy ibis, greater flamingo, maccoa duck, African purple swamp hen and grey-headed gull. It also has a wetland, which has become a regular breeding ground for large numbers of grey-headed gulls and sacred ibis.

Patient observation of the wetlands, especially along the edges of the reedbeds, will reward you with sightings of the skittish African purple swamp hen and the common moorhen.

The proximity of the shallow margins of the wetland to the perimeter fence allows for excellent sightings of waders such as black-winged stilt, pied avocet and three-banded plover.

The Con Joubert Bird Sanctuary is a municipal reserve in Randfontein, on the West Rand. It is open on weekends from 8am to 5pm. Entrance fee is R5 for adults and R2 for children .It also has a tea garden and braai facilities.

For further details, contact Flip Lessing on 082 341 1331.

The sanctuary is bounded by Desert, Horingbek, Aasvoel, Arend and Wol roads in Randfontein. From Johannesburg and Pretoria, take the N14/R28 to Krugersdorp and then Randfontein. This road becomes Paardekraal Road, passes through Krugersdorp and continues as Windsor and Main Reef Road between Krugersdorp and Randfontein. Once in Randfontein, turn right off Main Reef Road into Sixth Street, which becomes Van Riebeeck Road and then Tambotie Street. From Tambotie Street turn left into Horingbek Avenue and then left into Desert Street. The main entrance to the sanctuary is off Desert Street.

Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary
The Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary is rich in a diverse variety of flora and fauna, and is a natural home for a number of birds.

Shy birds like Cape weavers, African black duck, little grebe and grass owls assemble near the sanctuary's lake. Egyptian geese have also been seen gliding in the backwaters of the sanctuary. There are little rush warbler, willow warbler and tawny-flanked prinia.

Some of the other inhabitants of the sanctuary are corncrake, Cape and lappet-faced vultures and brown snake eagles.

There are also two hides, one of which has a paved pathway suitable for paraplegics. Many small mammals also reside in this park, such as mongoose, hedgehogs, genets and shrews.

The park is also ideal for mountain biking, kite flying and orientation exercises. There is parking at the Environmental Centre, close to the Water Wise Sensory Garden. Another parking area is situated just off Standard Drive, Blairgowrie, close to Delta Park School.

Entrance into the bird sanctuary is free. The Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary is in Delta Park. The entrance is at the intersection of Road No 3 and Road No 5 in Victory Park. For further information, contact Dee Daniel on 011 712 6664 or Clive Fletcher on 082 688 1879.

Gillooly's Farm
Situated around a man-made lake, Gillooly's Farm is a superb place to go bird watching. A lot of the birds, especially the waterfowl, at the farm are tame and it is possible to walk right up to them.

With over 50 bird species, the sanctuary spreads over an area of 44 hectares. Prime attractions include the white-breasted cormorant, reed cormorant, African darter, grey heron, cattle egret, white stork, Egyptian goose, yellow-billed duck, house sparrow, and Cape wagtail.

The farm is open everyday from Monday to Sunday and entrance is free.

It is an ideal place to relax after walking. Braai and picnicking facilities are available all around the lake. There is also a restaurant with seating both indoors and outdoors. For further information, telephone 011 453 8006 / 2207 / 8252.

Gillooly's Farm is right next to the N3 highway in Senderwood, a short drive from Edenvale.

Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve
The Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is one of the largest reserves in Johannesburg. It has about 150 recorded bird species and 650 indigenous plants and trees.

The Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is one of the largest reserves in Johannesburg
The Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is one of the largest reserves in Johannesburg

Regular visitors to the reserve include Jameson's firefinch, red-collared widowbird, brown-headed tchagra, red-throated wryneck, black-throated canary, honeybird and Cape robin chat.

The acacia in the reserve support a number of bushveld species, like chestnut-vented titbabbler, cardinal woodpecker, pied barbet and ashy tit. Summer visitors include paradise flycatcher, willow warbler and garden warbler.

Guided walks take place on the second and fourth Sunday of the month. These start from the Frandaph Drive entrance at 9am from May to September and at 8am the rest of the year. These walks normally take three hours. It is open daily from sunrise to sunset for self- guided rambles.

For those interested in history, there are also the remains of a Batswana village and the walls of a house built in 1850 by one of the early voortrekkers, Sarel Marais. The Bloubos Spruit can also be seen on most of the nature trails.

The area was declared a nature reserve in 1984 after the land was bought by the Johannesburg City council in 1939. Today, Johannesburg City Parks is responsible for the management of the reserve.

The area is supervised by horse patrols and a guard at the parking area in Frandaph Drive.

Take the Klipriviers Drive off-ramp (R556) and travel south until you get to the traffic lights on the corner of Vorster and Columbine avenues. Turn right into Columbine; go under the bridge until you reach the traffic lights at Ormonde Drive - there is an Engen Garage and a Black Steers on your left and a Dischem on your right. Turn left at these lights into Ormonde Drive. Pass Devereux Avenue on the left and just before the bridge turn left into Frandaph Drive. At the end of Frandaph is the Silent Pool entrance into the reserve.

For more information, telephone the reserve on 082 454 6114.

Kloofendal Nature Reserve
Kloofendal is a small nature reserve on the West Rand, within easy reach of the centre of Johannesburg. The 150ha site is home to more than 127 bird species.

Kloofendal, on the West Rand, is home to more than 127 bird species
Kloofendal, on the West Rand, is home to more than 127 bird species

There is a hide at the small dam, and other wildlife in the reserve includes a smaller variety of animals. However, the birds are the main attraction, with red-faced mousebird, brown-hooded kingfisher, barn swallow, cape crow, pied crow, brown-throated martin, African hoopoe, ashy tit, red-billed hornbill, lazy cisticola and Cape rock thrush to be seen.

Walks can be self-guided, although qualified field guides take visitors on special trails. Hikers pass old gold mines, and go through terrain covered with a variety of indigenous trees and other flora, such as proteas and orchids.

It was here that Fred Struben discovered the first payable gold on the Witwatersrand in 1884. The old shafts of the Strubens Mine have been restored and are protected as a national monument.

The reserve is also home to the geological site of Confidence Reef, although it is in an enclosed area can only be visited by special arrangement.

It has a stone amphitheatre for open air concerts, and it occasionally features live music. The facility is open daily between the months of September and April; it is closed from May to August because of the high risk of veld fires. Entrance is free.

For further information, contact the reserve on 011 712 6604 or 011 712 6664.

To reach Kloofendal, drive along Ontdekkers Road from east to west; turn right into Christiaan de Wet Road, then turn left into Wilgerood Road, second left into Topaz Avenue and right into Galena Avenue, which leads to the entrance.

Korsman Bird Sanctuary
An impressive small pan with open water and fringing vegetation, Korsman Bird sanctuary is home to a variety of water fowls. It covers an area of approximately 50 hectares.

The sanctuary is inhabited by about 300 species of bird. Notable visitors include the black heron, greater flamingo and great crested grebe. Also to be spotted are goliath heron, African spoonbill, black-headed heron, grey heron, great egret and little bittern.

Exploration around the reed beds may also lead to the sighting of African purple swamp hen, black crake and African rail. Unfortunately, the hides are no longer accessible, but good views are available from The Drive, a 2km circular road around the pan. A spotting scope is recommended, as the area is fenced.

To visit the sanctuary, contact Mearns on 011 965 1027 or 073 210 3340 for a guided tour. The sanctuary is not open to the public. Entrance tickets are R25.

Take the Atlas Road/Benoni turnoff from the N12 to Witbank. Turn right into Atlas Road, cross over the freeway and turn left into Lakefield Drive and right into Sunny Road, and finally left into Kilfenora Road. Kilfenora crosses one street and leads directly to the sanctuary.

Lonehill Koppie
The delightful Lonehill Koppie, situated 28 kilometres to the north of the centre of Joburg, offers a sheer variety of colour, pattern and a rich cacophony of bird sounds. Exploring this koppie with a pair of binoculars is a great outing.

Up to 70 species of bird have been recorded by the Sandton Conservation Society. The sanctuary is a favourite haunt for birds like ibis, kite, guinea fowl, eagle owl, cuckoo and heron.

The koppie was the ancestral home of people of Tswana origins, who lived here about 500 years ago. Evidence reveals that they made iron implements from raw materials found in the area. The Stone Age furnaces below the koppie have been subsequently been fenced off and covered up to prevent vandalism.

It is also linked to a large dam and surrounding parklands, which include a children's playground. There is no need to book, unless there is a school group or other groups planning to visit. There is no charge for general day visitors but for groups there is a levy or nominal charge to help cover maintenance costs.

This unique sanctuary is actively protected and managed by the Lonehill Residents Association and City Parks.

It is open from 1 September until the last week of April, from 8am to 6pm .No dogs or vehicles are allowed. For more information, contact Ian Bell on 011 465 9196 or 082 374 8107.

Lonehill Koppie can be reached via Main Road or William Nicol Drive, north of the N1. From Main, turn west into Lonehill Boulevard, left again into Concourse Crescent, then right into Calderwood Road. The reserve lies at the end.

From William Nichol, turn east into Mulbarton Road, which becomes Lonehill Boulevard. Turn right into Concourse Crescent and right into Calderwood Road.

Lory Park Animal and Owl Sanctuary
The Lory Park Animal and Owl Sanctuary is a haven for a variety of birds. It has 28 bird species and eight owl species. Some of the more common ones are African black eagle, blue sparrow hawk, blue and gold macaw, blue crane, blue-fronted Amazon, jack peacock, naped Amazon and red-lored Amazon.

Other birds to look out for include barn owls, Cape eagle owl, grass owl, marsh owl, spotted eagle owl and tropical screech owl.

Apart from housing some of the rarest species of the avian population, Lory Park is home to many mammals, like the African wild cat, bat-eared fox, dwarf mongoose, honey badger and hedgehog.

In addition, it has a tea garden on the premises, offering light lunches, snacks and drinks. No booking is necessary, except for parties or functions. For further details, visit the Lory Park Animal and Owl Sanctuary website.

To make bookings, contact Marina or Matty on 011 315 7307. The park is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10am to 4pm. Tickets are R30 for children and R40 for adults.

Lory Park is at 180 Kruger Road, President Park, Midrand. To get there, take the Allandale offramp from the N1 at Midrand. Turn right over the highway. Turn left on to the K101/R101 road. Turn right at the fourth traffic light, on Dale Road. Turn right at the third road, on Kruger Road. Go straight down Kruger, pass a stop sign. Lory Park is about 800 metres further down, on the right.

Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Marievale Bird Sanctuary is situated on the southern half of the Blesbokspruit Ramsar site, an area that is also a designated Important Bird Area (IBA SA021) in South Africa. The sanctuary has a good number of wetland and grassland species, with a total list of over 280 bird species.

A good variety of waders, including African rail, Baillon's crake, African snipe and greater painted-snipe, are often recorded. The sanctuary is also famous for rarities such as Slaty egret, pallid harrier, Montagu's harrier, western marsh-harrier, spotted crake, pectoral sandpiper, black-tailed godwit and red phalarope.

The major habitat consists of shallow open water, extensive phragmites and typha reedbeds and surrounding grassland. The general area is surrounded by mining and agricultural activity. The sanctuary is open daily from 5.30am to 7.30pm from October to March and from 6.30am to 6pm from April to September.

There is no entrance fee. For more information, telephone 011 364 1101.

Marievale is on the East Rand near Nigel. From the N3 (south of Johannesburg), take the R550 offramp and turn left. After about 20 kilometres, there is a  T-junction. Turn right and go through Nigel. A few kilometres outside the town take the left fork towards the sanctuary. It is signposted. This road goes through rather run-down mine property, past an army base.

Monte Casino Bird Garden
The magnificent Monte Casino Bird Garden is reputed for its variety of flora and bird species, of which almost 132 species can be found.

The Monte Casino Bird Garden is reputed for its variety of flora and bird species
The Monte Casino Bird Garden is reputed for its variety of flora and bird species

The birds are from all over the world, including a collection of rare parrots like red-tailed black cockatoo, hyacinth macaw and goliath palm cockatoo. Other birds in the garden include pelican, toucan, macaw parrot, owl, cuckoo, South African scarlet ibis, spoonbill, jay, woodrail and guinea fowl.

In addition, the sanctuary offers special educational tours for schoolchildren. Visitors can also relax and enjoy a meal at Café Flamingo, a 90-seater restaurant that overlooks the flamingo pond. This venue also caters for children's birthday parties. For bookings, contact Mandy on 011 511 1203.

Monte Casino Bird Garden is open from 8.30am to 5pm on a daily basis from January to November. During the December holidays the sanctuary is open from 8.30am to 6pm.

The entrance fee is R32,50 for adults and R18,50 for children between the age of two and 10.

The bird garden is at Monte Casino, on the corner of Witkoppen Road and William Nicol Drive in Fourways.

Melville Koppies
An island of natural beauty in a popular residential area, littered with unusual rock formations, Melville Koppies has a lot to offer the discerning bird watcher.

The diversity in the habitat provides visitors the opportunity to observe more than 185 incredible variety of bird species. Among the birds found at Melville Koppies are white-breasted cormorant, reed cormant, grey heron, black-headed heron, purple heron, yellow-billed egret, Egyptian goose, African black duck, spur-winged goose, black-shouldered kite, yellow-billed kite and black eagle.

Its geology goes back three billion years. Stone tools show that early Stone Age people camped there as long as 250 000 years ago. There is also a late Stone Age living room and the remains of a kraal wall can be found on the northern slopes.

In 1963, an iron-smelting furnace was excavated and can be seen today.

Melville Koppies is managed by a volunteer committee together with City Parks. There are regular open days on Sundays and guided walks. On open days, visitors are taken on a one-hour guided walk followed by a stroll down to the spruit. The whole three kilometre route through the 50ha reserve takes about three hours to complete.

Group visits may be arranged on other days. For more information, call Friends of Melville Koppies on 011 482 4797.

Melville Koppies is opposite Marks Park Sports Club in Judith Road, Emmarentia. Entrance is R30 for adults and R10 for children.

Northern Farm Diepsloot
Northern Farm Diepsloot is one of the most beautiful and scenic sanctuaries in Johannesburg, and is a delight for any nature lover, especially for those interested in bird watching. The farm has over 300 bird species, including a breeding pair of the much-loved fish eagle.

Some of the birds seen at the farm are black-crowned night heron, great crested grebe, goliath heron, little bittern, Cape long claw, red-capped lark, African fish eagle, long-crested eagle, Ovambo sparrowhawk, black sparrowhawk, African purple swamp hen, green-backed heron, African black duck, African spoonbill, red-chested flufftail, Cape grassbird and comb duck.

Several species can be seen on the farm that are unusual in urban Johannesburg, including Cape crow, marsh owl, arrow-marked babbler and orange-breasted waxbill. Summer migrants include yellow wagtail, common house martin, sedge warbler, great reed warbler, diderick cuckoo, African paradise flycatcher, amur falcon and steppe buzzard.

In summer, the grassland and cattle kraal areas often have yellow wagtail, amur falcon, greater kestrel, African pipit and pied starling. Nomadic birds like the capped wheatear are seen regularly and numbers of long-tailed widowbird and white-winged widowbird can be expected.

The rest of the area comprises scrublands, grasslands and exotic trees; the poplars are particularly used for nesting by birds each year. There is one hide at one of the large dams, with more being planned.

Also on offer are horse riding, hiking and cycling. There are ablution facilities at the entrance, with a lapa and braai area. An education centre has also been established with classrooms.

Entrance is R20 per person. Tickets can be bought from SA Trails, situated 2,7 kilometres from the entrance towards the T-junction with Cedar Road. It is advisable to get a map when you buy your ticket.

The farm is open on weekends and public holidays from 6am to 6pm throughout the year. For more information, contact Debbie on 082 533 4545 or visit the Northern Farm website.

From Cedar Road (R562) in Fourways, drive past Broadacres Shopping Centre and Chartwell to the T-junction at the end of Cedar Road. Turn right on to the R114 to Diepsloot, across the Jukskei River and turn left on to a tar road at the Riverfield Lodge Hosptial sign - 100 metres after Heron Bridge College. This road leads to Riverfield Lodge Hospital.

At the end of the tar road, follow the dirt road left and right under the N14 highway. Continue along this road for 400 metres until you see the next Northern Farm Access Cards sign and turn left on to the property.

From Sandton or Hartbeespoort Dam, take the R511 offramp from the N14 freeway and turn left on to the R511 (William Nicol Drive extension) at the bottom of the offramp.

Pass under the freeway and immediately turn left on to the R114 Muldersdrift road. Travel on this road beyond the Northern Farm Entrance and continue for another two kilometres and turn tight on to a tar road to Riverfield Lodge Hospital. At the end of the tar road, follow the dirt road on the left and then turn right under the N14 highway. Continue along this road for 400 metres until you see the next Northern Farm Access Cards sign and turn left on to the property. Continue down and park where indicated.

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular sanctuaries in Johannesburg because of its wide variety of flora and birds. It is home to over 200 bird species, as well as a number of reptile and small mammals, including antelope and jackal.

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular sanctuaries in Johannesburg
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular sanctuaries in Johannesburg

Birds to look out for include striped pipit, often near the stream above the falls, black cuckoo, shrike, bar-throated apalis, southern boubou shrike, red-winged starling, black-red chested klaas and diederik cuckoos, and sharp-billed honey guides, Cape rock thrush and mocking chat.

In addition, a breeding pair of majestic verreaux eagles can be found in the cliffs alongside the waterfall. The eagles are well-known for their unusual breeding behaviours.

The gardens cover almost 300 hectares and consist of landscaped and natural veld areas known as rocky Highveld grassland.

Several short walks run through the gardens and the surrounding natural areas. There is also the JCI Geological Trail that gives visitors the opportunity to walk along the Roodekrans Ridge and to learn something about the fascinating geology of the area. Guided tours can be arranged for groups.

Picnicking is not allowed within the gardens, but there is an attractive area, just outside the entrance gate set aside for this. There is a restaurant in the garden that serves tea and simple lunches.

Entrance is R23 for adults, R13 for students with valid student cards, R7 for children, a R5 concession fee, and R2 a child for pre-school groups.

The gardens are open daily from 8am till 6pm. Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens is on Malcolm Road, Poortview, in Roodeport. For further information, telephone the gardens on 011 958 1750.

From Johannesburg, take the R47 (Hendrik Potgieter Road ) heading west towards Krugersdorp. Just before the Ruimsig Golf Course, turn left into Doreen Road (M67) and follow the signs to the gardens.

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Last Updated on 07 April 2009