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A day out in Stellenbosch: Birdwatching for beginners

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Welcome to Stellenbosch – South Africa’s second oldest town and most inspiring wine, food, art and cultural destination.
Villiera - bird

In their blog, ‘Bird Watching 101: A Guide for Beginners’, the US’s National Audubon Society (who are committed to the conservation of birds, other wildlife and healthy ecosystems) declares birdwatching as the easiest, most rewarding and accessible pastime you can find!

It’s free (perfect for these post-COVID, economically-challenging times) and all would-be twitchers need to do is get outside and enjoy!

In fact, their team has a few simple tips if you’d like to embark on an avian adventure:

Step outside

Even if it’s only into your own backyard! Many South Africans fell in love with birding during lockdown, with popular South African birding app, Birdlasser, laying down a challenge to see who could spot the most individual species of birds during the national lockdown.

Incredibly, the frontrunners identified more than 200 species, with one participant reporting 58 different species seen from his balcony in Amanzimtoti!

Grab a guide – and start a list

Hartenberg bird

It’s always handy to have guide to help you identify birds – and a checklist to start you on your way. Stellenbosch farms like Hartenberg Wine Estate (77 species) and Villiera (118 species) keep comprehensive lists, so enquire when you next visit!

  1. Beg, buy or borrow a pair of binoculars

While you don’t need a pair of binoculars to be a successful birder, they definitely make birding a whole lot easier. Ask a family member or friend if you can borrow a pair of binos or add them to your Christmas list. A beautiful summer of birding awaits!

Seek out new locations

We couldn’t agree more. If you want to expand your range, you need to visit different locations and habitats.

Happily, Stellenbosch is spoilt for choice. Both the Jonkershoek and Assegaaibosch nature reserves are great for beginner, casual and serious birders alike (keep a look out for the various kingfisher species, the African fish eagle, the Cape sugarbird and more!). The Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden is a compact garden and a great outing for the whole family (R15 Admission); while the 7-hectare Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden will delight and amaze. You’ll love the indigenous garden’s many pathways and trails, water features and ponds, birdsong and insect life.

For Lewis, birds are a symbol of freedom and you’ll love discovering his bird sculptures, including a fish eagle, red-billed teal brace, a rock kestrel and majestic barn owl.

Connect with local birders

Jordan bird

Chat to local birding enthusiasts and watch your passion grow! Consider joining the Cape Bird Club, a wonderful community of local birders, or chat birds with knowledgeable guides on some of Stellenbosch’s wine estates including Villiera and Jordan. Villiera’s 220ha wildlife sanctuary, for example, has 12 dams plus marsh areas which attract a huge variety of bird life! Their 2-hour game drives (by arrangement) can be angled at bird watching – perfect for beginners and seasoned twitchers alike!

Become a morning person

As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm, which is why many birders head outdoors at dawn. Bad news for those who love a long Sunday slumber, birds are most vocal and active when the sun comes up, making them easier to spot in the early morning.

In better news, this means you can start your day in the great outdoors, coffee flask in hand, and plan a scrumptious breakfast or brunch out in Stellenbosch after birding!

These are great tips for bird lovers, and we’d like to add just one more: head to Stellenbosch!

Vergenoegd and Waterford are both participating in BirdLife South Africa’s Floating Wetlands project which aims to create habitats for waterbirds and other biodiversity on farms dams while removing harmful pollutants from the water. These wetlands will provide havens for breeding, roosting and feeding for a variety of species, including ducks, raptors, cormorants, herons and egrets, waders and shorebirds, rallids, kingfishers – even flamingos and pelicans.

Vergenoegd birds

Alternatively, take a wander to Delheim, where a passion for, and commitment to, sustainability has seen the development of an assortment of dams, ponds and waterways that promote a wonderful diversity and assortment of bird-life. Over 50 different bird species have been now been identified, including the common fiscal, black sparrowhawk, Cape spurfowl, orange-breasted sunbird, Cape wagtail, lesser swamp-warbler, Levaillant’s cisticola, African dusky flycatcher, African Harrier-Hawk, Klaas’s cuckoo and plenty more!

Of course, if you’d like to get the kids interested in birds a visit to both Eagle Encounters at Spier and the Duck Parade at Vergenoegd has to be high on your list!

Spier kids birds
Eagle encouter at Spier

Littlies will love watching as Vergenoegd’s ‘quack squad’ of 1070 Indian runner ducks march off for their day in the vineyards (where they’ll be hard at work keeping pesky snails at bay). Visitors can take a tour of the duck pens and “breeding room” with Denzel, the estate’s duck farmer, before cheering the ducks on their way. And after? There’s no better time to enjoy a wine tasting or picnic.

Kids of all ages will fall in love with the raptors and owls at Eagle Encounters. Make sure to watch one of the falconry displays and listen closely as the passionate guides tell you more about the centre’s rehabilitation, conservation, education and eco-tourism goals. It’s guaranteed to turn your flock into birders for life!