Bird watching is a great outdoor activity for the family and can be an exhilarating Sunday morning experience. A few of the best sites offer very good restaurant, as well, affording you a place to relax with the family over lunch and discuss the day’s sightings. All you need are a pair of binoculars, a bird handbook, and an interest in the natural bird life around you. Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa is an easy-to-use guide.
The lovely city of Pretoria offers you great birding opportunities because of its unique location. It is located between the Bushveld and the Highveld, situated at a pleasant altitude, contains a good mix of natural environments, and has an abundance of parks and water, and they all combine to offer a great selection of rewarding birding locations.
Pretoria has around 400 different bird species within about a 50 km radius of the city, which is purely phenomenal. The variety will guarantee you an enthusiastic start to your birding hobby or the opportunity to greatly increase your bird list if you are already on the go. Later you can start targeting specific biomes, but to kick start, Pretoria is simply a fabulous city birding venue, even on global standards.
A great place to grab your binoculars and start your morning’s birding (or end it if you have lunch in mind) is the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary. It has a great wetland, and you can find a range of water birds as well as coucals, kingfishers, barbets, hoopoes and possibly even the Ovambo Sparrowhawk. Afterwards you’ll find excellent food at the Sanctuary’s lovely Blue Crane restaurant. This pretty venue is situated at 156 Melk Street in the green suburb of New Muckleneuk. There is safe parking, and the bird walk is very pleasant indeed.
Next up is the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve, which has been around since the 1980s and offers a range of fine habitats including grassland, woodland, and wetland. It also has the floodplain, where in total almost 150 species have been listed to date. You can find swallows, grassbirds, weavers, widowbirds and waxbills here. Head to Faerie Glen through Atterbury Road, left at January Masilela (Old Louis Botha) road and follow the signs. The Reserve is wheelchair-friendly, too.
The Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve is another good spot to get away from it all, as it lies in the quiet suburbs and has a mixed habitat where you will see flycatchers, canaries, warblers (difficult to identify), and waxbills. Take the Rigel Avenue turnoff from the N1 and head east, turning left into Solomon Mahlangu (Old Hans Strijdom) drive, right into Rubenstein and left into Helios.
A fabulous place for more than just birds is the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens, which could also be a good place to end your birding as it offers very decent ablutions and good restaurants. The gardens are arranged in a well-maintained and manicured south section that offers fabulous opportunities for seeing boubous, puffbacks, and nectar-eating sunbirds while you wander through the delights of the gardens. The wilder north section, with its smattering of bushveld vegetation, offers fine habitats for tchagras, barbets, and shrikes. The Botanical Gardens are wheelchair-accessible, as well.
Further out of town one can expand the weekend birding trips to take in places like Rietvlei Nature Reserve, the Roodeplaat Dam, and the Wonderboom Nature Reserve, which lies closer to the Magaliesberg Mountains. For further information on birding sites, directions, facilities or special arrivals, either join your local Pretoria bird club by calling BirdLife Northern Gauteng, or visit them on www.blng.co.za. Living in Pretoria offers you a really great reason to get the family involved in the really rewarding and exciting hobby of bird watching.