Spread your wings


The Swartland Birding Route has a staggering variety of West Coast birdlife to delight and enthrall.

Once you fly away along the R45 from Malmesbury towards Paarl, the start of the Swartland Birding Route meanders through wheat fields and seasonal water features, with sightings of those inimitable LBJs topping the list. But you also may spot water birds, waders, crowned lapwings, three-banded plovers and other beauties.

The pace (and sightings) get hotter once you turn west on the gravel at the Babylonstoren Rd (S33°31.596. E18°50.856′). Helmeted Guinea fowl are a dime a dozen, elegant Blue Cranes grace the open fields and those with an eagle eye may spot Jackal Buzzards with their distinctive kaaaa-haa-haa yelps.

Stay on the gravel road and then turn south-west at the Babylonstoren-Paardeberg Rd (S33°28.665′ E18°47.903′). Near water holes and the Bosgaasfontein Dam, waterfowl can be seen in droves. But if you patiently wait awhile, sightings of pipits, orange-throated Cape Longclaws and chunky African Stonechats should make you as happy as a lark.

Also, do take the time for a look-see over patches of undisturbed veld for the Karoo Prinia with its sharp chleet-chleet-chleet-chleet-chleet-chleet and buzzy tit-tit-tit-tit-tit calls, the skulking Bokmakierie, the yellow-tufted malachite and canary species.

At the junction to Fynbos Estate (S33°32.449′ E18°46.658′), turn east into the estate. Here, on a few short hiking trails, all is still and hummingly silent. The reward is close-ups of many garden species such as the Cape White-Eye and Cape Bulbul. Unimpressive? Absolutely not.

Return to the Paardeberg Rd and turn west. Misverstand Dam will be in the south and further along, Welgemeend Dam. Look out for the aggressive Fork-tailed Drongo closer to the R302.

To get back to Malmesbury, proceed north at the R302-Paardeberg junction (S33°31.410′ E18°44.205′). Exit the town in a northerly direction by turning right at Piketberg Road to continue onto the gravel road. All along, the glass-sharp winter world will be melodramatically lit with lush wheat and canola fields, while ghostly vineyards provide counterpoint.

Turn north-east at Riebeek Rd (S33°22.195′ E18°44.213′) and then south onto the Riebeeksrivier Rd (S33°19.604′ E18°48.647′). Apart from gangs of waterfowl and waders at numerous dams, you just may spy the resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagle to crown your trip. And right after Voorspoed Dam from October to May (S33°21.041′ E18°48.999′), a glimpse of the bulky Horus Swift is bound to get you tweeting.

Meanwhile, along the Kasteelberg slopes, be sure to scan the skies for the Booted Eagle and the local Jackal Buzzard, while the pole-perching Steppe Buzzard and scavenging Yellow-billed Kite conquer the sky in summer.

Okay, sad but inevitable: time to leave our feathered friends behind by turning south-west at Riebeeksrivier Rd-R46 (S33°24.183′ E18°50.718′) to rejoin the tarred road.

Somehow, a day spent in nature in quiet contemplation of the West Coast’s rich avian life leaves one strangely elated. And all is well in the world again.


Thanks to Dave Beer for 3 photos.
Route mapped by Arnwalt at Enviro Watch.