Cape Interior – Paarl Mountain

About the Birding

The Paarl Mountains, stand proud of the surrounding plains, 50km to the east of Cape Town. After heavy rains, the wet slopes appear pearly white at a distance, hence its name being Dutch for pearl.

Birding is mostly confined to the eastern slopes where a series of dirt roads lead from the adjacent town of Paarl up to the dams at the summit. These roads lead through a range of habitats from alien thickets to Fynbos as well as the dams mentioned already. This site is perfect for a standalone day trip out of Cape Town or as part of a longer trip heading into either the Tankwa, south along the Breede River into the Overberg, or into the Karoo.

The recommended route starts at the southern end of Rotary/Jan Phillips Mountain Drive (-33.7650, 18.9475) close to the Taal Monument. Head north along this road, stopping after 700m at the first prominent heavily vegetated gully.

Scan for common species like Cape Bulbul, Cape White-eye, Cape Robin-chat, Cape Canary and Olive Thrush. In areas where the thicket transitions to Fynbos, turn your attention to species like Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, and Cape Sugarbird. Four species of sunbird: Malachite, Southern Double-collared, Amethyst and Orange-breasted, are all possible as well. This gully used to be reliable for the highly sought-after Protea Canary. In recent years, it has become scarce, but it is still worth listening out for its typically sweet canary call.

As you continue north, scan the road edges for Cape Grassbird, and the occasional covey of noisy Cape Spurfowl. It is recommended that you stop for any large flocks of aerial feeders. Scan these sometimes massive, but always chaotic groups, for the four regularly occurring swift species: African Black, Alpine, Little and White-rumped. In summer, the swifts are joined by an array of swallows. Barn, Greater-striped and White-throated Swallows are all commonly found, while Pearl-breasted Swallow is a rare addition. This species is best found over the farmlands on the lower slopes. The striking Black Saw-wing is another summer special, which favours areas with taller trees, but can be found throughout.

After a further 650m stop at the prominent dam at the T-junction (-33.7577, 18.9471). The surrounding shoreline and over-hanging vegetation are a good spot for look for both Malachite and Giant Kingfishers (uncommon). Another target is the usually secretive African Black Duck. This species rarely frequents the open water, so scan the possible hiding spots along the shoreline. Reed Cormorants are by comparison an easier bird to find, and are often seen roosting on the metal gangway running out away from the eastern shore.

Remember to bird the stands of Eucalyptus and oaks on the opposite side of the road. Doves like Red-eyed Dove, African Olive-pigeon, and Speckled Pigeons frequently roost here. Fork-tailed Drongos, Swee Waxbills and both Forest and Cape Canaries are also common. In summer, keep an eye open for African Paradise-flycatchers.

Continue on the winding road for another 3.8 kms, stopping at any drainage lines or stands of Waboom Proteas Protea nitida and continue scanning for Protea Canaries. The best chance to find the canary is at the Meulwater Botanical Gardens (-33.7346, 18.9470).

The gardens feature a well laid out series of footpaths that lead through areas of both natural and planted Fynbos. In addition to many of the species already mentioned, the gardens are likely to yield both Cape Batis, and African Dusky Flycatchers. Harder to find specials including Olive, and Cardinal Woodpeckers, with the oaks in the picnic area being the best spots to search.

Protea Canaries are usually the focus of most birding trips. They are possible through the gardens but start by scanning the stand of King Proteas Protea cynaroides on the slope immediately north of the parking lot. The upper path running west (-33.7337, 18.9420) to east (-33.7342, 18.9452) is another good area to search. Additionally, search any of the streams or possible places the species might come down to drink. Be aware that the superficially similar Streaky-headed Seed-eater can be common in the same habitats as Protea Canary. Pay special attention to features like the double wingbar, black throat and pinkish bill for the Protea Canary and the subtle differences in the call.

After birding the garden, continue along Rotary Drive, keeping left at the fork (-33.732, 18.9476) then taking the next left (-33.7327, 18.9423) until you reach the end of the road.

This area, as well as most of the route, is excellent for raptors. A few patient hours of scanning can yield an impressive list including Booted Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Jackal Buzzard, Forest Buzzard, Lanner, and Peregrine Falcon. Common Buzzards, European Honey-buzzards (uncommon) and Yellow-billed Kites are all present in summer. Forested areas are home to African Goshawk, and both Black and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawks. Any time raptor watching will also turn up White-necked Ravens and the ubiquitous Pied Crow.

You can return to the Paarl main road R45, by retracing your route or following any of the main roads leading downhill.

About the Birding Site

Paarl Mountain is a distinctive series of rounded granite outcrops, just off the N1 east of Cape Town.

The mountain side are covered in Fynbos with stands of Waboom proteas. Along with some thicker drainage lines and several catchment dams, the area can produce a good species list. This area is one of the classic sites for Protea Canary, but this target can sometimes be elusive.

Other Related Information

Southern start of Rotary /Jan Phillips Mountain Drive:(-33.7650, 18.9475)

Meulwater Botanical Gardens: (-33.7346, 18.9470)

Admission costs: free on weekdays, R30 per person on weekends

WildCard applicable: no

The picnic area is disabled friendly but the paths in the gardens are steep and can be uneven.

Contact details:
Tel: +27(0)21 807 6231
Mobile: +27(0)73 748 6325

Text preprared by:

Mike Buckham (Better Birding), Vince Ward (Birding Africa)

Key species:

Protea Canary, Cape Sugarbird, Giant Kingfisher, African Black Duck, Orange-breasted Sunbird, African Olive Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Grey-backed Cisticola, , Black Saw-wing, African Black Swift.