Johannesburg is the gateway to South Africa for most foreign tourists. Whether you are visiting for business or pleasure, the chances are you will arrive at OR Tambo International Airport. Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and is said to be the largest city in the world that is not located on the coast, river or lake. If you are a keen birder, then you will probably try to organise a bit of time to go birding during your visit. So where could you go if you have a half-day to spare?
The public transport network in Johannesburg and South Africa in general, is not suited to a recreational pastime such as birdwatching. The best solution is to hire a car, which opens up your birding choices significantly.
Marievale Bird Sanctuary – spring spectacular
If you are visiting in spring, then I would suggest that you visit Marievale Bird Sanctuary which is around an hour’s drive from Johannesburg depending on where you are staying. In spring, before the summer rains, Marievale attracts vast numbers of water birds. There are a couple of hides within the Bird Sanctuary, and you can either walk to them or drive. They are spread out, so driving is normally the easiest option.
This reserve boasts an extensive checklist of around 300 species. Most people visit to look for water birds. Look for Baillon’s Crake, Baird’s Sandpiper, Black-winged Pratincole, African Snipe, Goliath Heron, Red-chested Flufftail, South African Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe and much more. African Marsh Harriers often patrol over the wetlands.
Although Marievale is known for its water birds, you may also see Blesbok, Cape Clawless Otter, Yellow Mongoose and Southern Reedbuck.
Read more about Marievale Bird Sanctuary on BlueGnu.
Birding in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens
Another option is to visit Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. The gardens offer some good birding with the highlight being a chance to see the magnificent Verreaux’s Eagles (Black Eagles) that breed near the top of the waterfall.
The advantage of birding in a public place is that the birds are more approachable than other places. Cape Robin-chats are common as are Kurrichane Thrushes and Arrow-marked Babblers. A Bokmakierie is always a great sighting especially as they can be a bit shyer than some species. A visit to the Aloe Garden is likely to reward you with sightings of various sunbirds including Greater Double-collared, Amethyst and White-bellied Sunbirds.
The thickets are home to Black-headed Orioles and African Paradise Flycatchers (in summer). Weavers get busy building nests during spring, and these attract the attention of Diederik and Klaas’s Cuckoos. A variety of water bird are attracted to the small dams and waterways.
Read more about the Walter Sisulu National Botanic Gardens on BlueGnu.
The climate in Johannesburg varies from hot conditions in summer, often accompanied by spectacular thunderstorms, to cold conditions in winter. Spring and summer are the best seasons to go birding, but winter will still give you a good chance of seeing numerous resident species.