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Paarl Mountain and Bird Sanctuary:

The oak and jacaranda-lined streets of Paarl lie along the banks of the Berg River, at the eastern foot of the low, sprawling massif of Paarl Mountain. The massif offers good fynbos birding and is a well-known site for the inconspicuous and elusive Protea Canary (p.57*). A few kilometres north of the town centre is the Paarl Bird Sanctuary, a picturesque and productive sewage works that attracts an excellent diversity of waterbirds. These include several species that are otherwise fairly scarce close to Cape Town, such as Little Bittern, Lesser Flamingo, White-backed and African Black Ducks, Water Dikkop and Malachite Kingfisher.

Access to Paarl from the N1 national road from Cape Town can be confusing: there are two off-ramps to Paarl, and it is the first and rather inconspicuously marked ‘R45: Main Road’ turn-off that you need to take. The soaring monument to your left honours the Afrikaans language. The Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve, incorporating a small wildflower garden in one of its wooded valleys, is easily reached from Main Road. At 1, turn left (1.6 km north of the off-ramp), onto Jan Phillips Mountain Drive.

The drive winds up through vineyards, then contours northwards, passing the wildflower garden at 2, and the turn-off to the mountain reserve at 3.

The wildflower reserve is a small, pleasant botanical garden that often holds large numbers of confiding Cape Sugarbirds (p.33*) and Orange-breasted Sunbirds (p.33*). Other common species to be found here are Black Saw-wing Swallow, Cape Bulbul, Bar-throated Apalis, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Malachite Sunbird and an assortment of canaries, including Streaky-headed Canary and, towards the top of the garden, the occasional Protea Canary.

Just beyond the wildflower reserve, at 3, you can turn left up into the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve. At the entrance gate 4, a left turn takes you along a good gravel road to the base of Britannia Rock, whereas a right turn leads on to the network of roads that encircles the rolling plateau of the mountain top. The latter is recommended more for its scenic than its birding merits.

At 5, a path up to the 650-m crest of Britannia Rock has been cut into the granite, and, despite the often-present wind, it is well worth the climb. There are sweeping views of the Cape winelands and wheatlands set against the dramatic backdrop of the great ranges of Cape mountains that separate the coastal plain from the interior. Raptors such as Black Eagle, Jackal Buzzard and Peregrine Falcon are often seen wheeling about the rock domes. Other notable birds of this area are Ground Woodpecker (p.105*), African Black Swift and Cape Siskin (p.33*). Although Protea Canary occur in denser stands of mountain fynbos throughout the massif, the bird is never easy to find.

The friendly, manageable character of the Paarl Bird Sanctuary (pictured below) contrasts strongly with the stark, windy nature of its Capetonian counterpart, the Strandfontein sewage works (see p.26). Paarl offers two well-positioned hides, a good diversity of habitats within a modest area, and almost guaranteed sightings of several tricky species.

Malachite Kingfisher, never an easy bird in Cape Town, is invariably present in secluded, reed-fringed inlets, such as those at the southern end of pan 1. This pan is also a good site for White-backed Duck, Purple Gallinule, and, in summer, White-throated Swallow and Red Bishop are much in evidence. It is also perhaps the best place in the Cape to see Little Bittern, which is occasionally observed perching at or flying along the reedbed edges. The excellent bird hide here was unfortunately burnt down, but there are plans to replace it.

The alien thicket adjacent to this pan is overrun with African Marsh Warblers and Paradise Flycatchers during summer. From here, drive on to the hide at the northern end of pan 2, which usually produces an excellent diversity of ducks. The hide holds special significance for South Africa’s best known birder, Ian Sinclair, who ticked his landmark 900th species for southern Africa here, in the form of a vagrant American Purple Gallinule. In addition to the usual widespread waterbirds, several more interesting species can be seen here, among them Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, the occasional White-faced Duck (a bird that has been resident in the Cape for less than a decade, and is still scarce) and, oddly, the more typically mountain-stream loving African Black Duck, which visits from the adjacent Berg River.

Pan 3 is the closest place to Cape Town where Lesser Flamingo can be found, often flocking conveniently alongside the more widespread Greater Flamingo. In summer, keep a look out for the large flocks of fluttering White-winged Terns. In pan 4, an island supports a heronry where, among others, Black-crowned Night Heron breed. African Fish Eagles often roost in the gum trees at the far side, and Common Sandpiper and Ethiopian Snipe feed in the roadside ditch between pans 3 and 4. Returning towards the entrance gate, turn right to the hide at 5. The sandbank in front of this hide usually lures a good diversity of migrant waders, including the localized Common Sandpiper. The reeds here hold Black Crake, and Baillon’s Crake has also been recorded. Before leaving, take a scan around the sewage mixing enclosures at 6, where a loose group of Water Dikkop usually eyes one disapprovingly.

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4 Crassula Way, Pinelands, 7405, Cape Town, South Africa

27/09/09: Dalton Gibbs reports back from Gough Island! Read the blog!

26/09/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip report from trips of 12 and 19 September 2009.

30/08/09: British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water proved very successful, with sunny weather and over 20,000 visitors. Callan's "Birding Namibia and the Okavango" was the most highly-attended lecture on the Saturday, with over 240 people. Congratulations to the winners of the Birding Africa competition and the African Bird Club raffle that we helped sponsor!

12/08/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip reports from August and July 2009. Highlights: Little Shearwater and more!

07/08/09: The sub-adult Black Sarrowhawk visits our garden again! Read on about Raptor Research in the Western Cape.

27/07/09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has grown! And its sibling never had a chance to hatch. See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

27/07/09: To follow modern nomenclature and systematics, we've adopted the IOC World Bird List, Version 2.1.

13/07/09: The 8th African Bird ID Challenge has launched! Win a 50% discount on a Cape Town Pelagics trip, a copy of Southern African Birdfinder, or African Bird Club membership for 1 year.

6 July 09: Cape White-eye research in our garden.

2 July 09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has hatched! See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

2 July 09: Campbell Fleming, a Cape Town scholar, avid birder and photographer, joined Birding Africa last month as an intern. Click here, to see what he got up to.

2 July 09: New pelagic trip reports from the Cape Town Pelagics trips in June 2009. Highlights: Slenderbilled Prion and Leach's Storm Petrel

30 july 09: Our latest Cape Fynbos and Karoo trip reports feature Hottentot Buttonquail, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and other fynbos and Karoo endemics...

26 June 09: Tungsten mining threatens RAMSAR site, South Africa's Verlorenvlei. Read the Media Release.

22 June 09: Claire Spottiswoode, one of the Cape Birding Route founders, was part of the exploratory team at Mount Mabu. The mountain is part of the newly discovered largest rainforest in Southern Africa.

11 June 09: A colour-ringed Black Sparrowhawk visits the Birding Africa office garden. Read why it's a 10 months old male!

14 June 09:
Wildlife at the office of The Cape Birding Route, Birding Africa and Cape Town Pelagics.

31 May 09:
Michel Watelet wins the 7th African Bird Club & Birding Africa ID Challenge. Test your African birding skills and WIN a Birding Africa Cape town day trip or a copy of the Birdfinder!

30 May 09: A tragedy unfolds at Kommetjie south of Cape town as 44 beached False Killer Whales were shot. Click here for more details and pictures.

14 March 09: Raptor Watch in Cape Town on 14 March 09