Western Cape, George – Garden Route Botanical Garden

    About the Birding

    The Garden Route Botanical Garden was proclaimed in 1998 and this lush Garden now has many well-established trees, including a variety of fruiting trees. In season, the fruit attracts flocks of Black-bellied starlings. The Cape Cluster Figs, Ficus sur, is a special favourite, and these trees attract both fruit-eating birds as well as fruit bats. The ripe figs are relished by Knysna Turaco and Black-collared Barbet. During the warm summer months, the figs attract many little insects that are preyed upon by Cape White-eye and the beautiful African Paradise Flycatcher. During the cold Winter months, you are likely to encounter bird parties moving through the Garden; and in and amongst the more common birds you can find Green Wood Hoopoe, Grey Cuckooshrike and Black-backed Puffback.

    Arriving at the parking area (-33.9473, 22.4636) several pathways lead into the Garden Route Botanical Garden. All the pathways are well signposted, and to get up to the Van Kervel Dam you should follow the pathway that starts at the entrance booth (-33.9472, 22.4636) and then leads up the steps to the Van Kervel Dam (-33.9470, 22.4641). This dam is the largest body of water in the Garden, and it was the town’s original water storage dam built in 1811. The open water attracts a variety of waterbirds including African Darter Reed Cormorant and Yellow-billed Duck. Grey Heron often fish along the edge of the dam. Brown-hooded Kingfishers nest in the bank of the dam, and they often announce their presence with their piercing calls.

    While you are walking around the dam, be on the look-out for flocks of swifts and swallows coming down to drink from the water’s surface. Most common are the White-rumped Swifts, but George also has a growing population of African Palm Swifts, and these often visit the Van Kervel Dam for a drink. Apart from the more common Greater Striped Swallows, look-out for Black Saw-wing that regularly come to drink from at this Dam. A pair of White-throated Swallows live in the vicinity of the dam and often sit on the dead trees that stick-out above the water level.

    From here you can follow walk to the Wetland (-33.9462, 22.4637), a smaller, shallower dam, adjacent to the Van Kervel Dam. The Wetland is covered in reed-beds, and this habitat is a heaven for birds! The Wetland is home to Little Grebe, Purple Heron, Little Rush Warbler, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Levaillant’s Cisticola. There is a very nice bird hide on the northern side of the Wetland (-33.9454, 22.4637), and from this hide you have a view over a small area of open water. Here you are might see some of the more elusive wetland birds, such as Little Bittern, Common Moorhen, Black Crake, and Malachite Kingfisher. In summer there is always a colony of Cape Weaver that next on the reeds and on the overhanging tree branches next to the hide. African Black Duck, Common Waxbill and Cape Wagtail also use this wetland as a roosting site and arrive in the late afternoon.

    To the east of the Bird Hide is a lawn with a picnic area and a Gazebo (-33.9454, 22.4642). The lawn is surrounded by well established trees that offer excellent garden birding. Here you will find several large wild fig trees, and if they are in fruit then they attract many different bird species. Keep a eye out for African Goshawk and Little Sparrowhawk that lurk in the tree canopy, waiting for an opportunity to hunt the smaller birds.

    The Medicinal Spiral that located directly north of the Bird Hide (-33.9445, 22.4637), provides a good vantage point from where you may spot several birds of prey. Black Sparrowhawk and African Harrier Hawk regularly patrol the Garden, and Peregrine Falcon like to sit in either of the two large pine trees that stand near the railway line (-33.9447, 22.4645, -33.9440, 22.4638). There is a resident pair of Forest Buzzards so you need to listen for their calls as they often fly overhead, calling.

    Sunbirds abound throughout the Garden, and of the seven species that occur in the area, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Amethyst Sunbirds are by far the most prominent. During winter, when the Aloe Bed (-33.9444, 22.4628) is in full bloom, you can expect numerous sunbirds visiting the flowering blooms of the Aloes. The Garden also has a great number of Tree Fuchsia, Halleria lucida, and Wild Pomegranate, Burchellia bubalina, trees, as well as various Pincushions, Proteas and Ericas, that, between them, provide sustenance for all the nectar loving birds during all seasons of the year. When in bloom, the proteas also attract Cape Sugarbird to the Garden.

    Once you enter the forest along the Mushroom Meander Trail (-33.9433, 22.4624), you will inevitable hear the loud calls of the Grey Sunbird. Both this forest specialist, as well as the Collared Sunbird are especially fond of the nectar in the flowers of the Tree Fuchsia, Halleria lucida; so be sure to scan these trees very carefully for any signs of sunbird activity. For forest birding, you will find that the Mushroom Meander Trail is the best path in the Garden Route Botanical Garden. Follow this trail down to the small stream, and listen-out for bird parties that move through the forest canopy. Such bird parties usually contain Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Olive Bushshrike and Black-backed Puffback. Search the forest understory for Terrestrial Brownbul, Chorister Robin-chat, White-starred Robin and Green-backed Camaroptera. This particular patch of forest is also a very good spot for both Buff-spotted Flufftail and Knysna Warbler, both of which are best located by their distinctive calls.

    When you exit the Mushroom Meander Trail, cross over the small wooden bridge that spans that old furrow and enter a great open lawn (-33.9427, 22.4625). Then you will find that there is a line of dead trees along the Eastern border of this lawn, and many of the forest birds enjoy gleaning the branches of these dead trees as they search for various insects. It is a particularly good place to find Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, and Black-headed Oriole. In and amongst the dead trees there is growing, a Wild Peach, Kiggelaria africana; and this particular tree is (seasonally) infested with Acraea horta caterpillars – the favourite food of many a cuckoo! Scan this tree carefully for African Emerald Cuckoo, Klaas’s Cuckoo and Diederik Cuckoo. Red-chested Cuckoo and Black Cuckoo also frequent the area. Apart from the Klaas’s Cuckoo, all these cuckoos are strictly summer visitors. The long grass under these trees as well as the grass growing along the boundary fence often attract flocks of Swee Waxbill and Forest Canaries. There is a well kept trail that leads all along the eastern boundary fence that is particularly good for finding these little seed eaters.

    Whenever there was a fire up in the Outeniqua Mountains, many of the Fynbos birds move and take refuge within the Botanical Garden. Here, they will remain until the Fynbos vegetation in the mountain has recovered to such an extent so that there is sufficient habitat for them to survive. Such visitors include Fynbos specialists like Victorin’s Warbler and Orange-breased Sunbird. The bird hide is a great asset to the facilities that are available at the Garden Route Botanical Garden, and over the year there have been several exciting records captured at this hide; including African Rail and Half-collared Kingfisher!

    About the Birding Site

    A combination of good birding and security makes the Garden Route Botanical Garden one of the top birding destinations in George – a safe haven for both the birds and the birders! The Garden’s extensive network of pathways allows for easy access to a variety of different habitats. The safe environment will allow you to relax and enjoy being out in nature. The Garden Route Botanical Garden is only 16 hectares in size, and yet it boasts an extensive bird list of over 150 species! This staggering diversity is a result of the varied bird habitats that exist within this Garden. In just a short period you can go from sitting in hide at the wetland to walking in the evergreen forest or exploring the landscaped beds full of flowering Fynbos.

    In addition to the bird hide, the facilities include a network of wheelchair-friendly pathways with a good number of benches placed throughout the Garden so that you always have the option to sit and relax. There are also a couple of drinking taps, several picnic spots with tables and seating, sufficient garbage and recycling bins, and a well-kept toilet facility (-33.9455, 22.4649). If you did not bring a picnic along, there is a restaurant with a tea garden (33.9472, 22.4633). If you would like to learn about birds of prey in general and more specifically about the rehabilitation of injured birds of prey, then you can visit the Garden Route Birds of Prey Rehab Centre (-33.9470, 22.4635) where you can go for a guided tour.

    Other Related Information

    The Garden Route Botanical Garden has two entrance gates, the Aloe Gate and the Protea Gate. However, the Aloe Gate is mainly an entrance for members, while the Protea Gate is the Main Entrance for visitors. You should arrive at the Main Entrance / Protea Gate (-33.9479, 22.4637). This gate open daily at 07:30 and close at 17:30. Here you will find the parking area (-33.9473, 22.4636), and in case this parking area is full, then you can also park at the parking area at the Aloe Gate (-33.9465, 22.4649), only a short walk from the Main Entrance.

    From the Main Entrance Parking area you will find the entrance booth from where you can enter into the Garden itself (-33.9472, 22.4636). This parking area also leads to the entrance of Garden Route Birds of Prey Rehab Centre (-33.9470, 22.4635) and the entrance to the Restaurant and tea garden (-33.9472, 22.4633).

    There is a small entrance fee that is payable at the entrance booth; see the website for current rates. A WildCard is not applicable, however, in the case that you plan to be regular visitor, there is also the option to become a member of the Garden Route Botanical Garden and to then get a membership card, that, once purchased, allows you free entrance into the Garden for a period of 12 months. You should be handed a map of the Garden when you have paid your entrance fee at the entrance booth.

    Text prepared by:
    Christiaan Viljoen
    Curator, GRBGT
    Phone: +27 (0)83 703 9482
    Email: curator@botanicalgarden.org.za

    Key species:

    Black-collared Barbet, Black-bellied Starling, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Forest Buzzard, Grey Sunbird, Knysna Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, Olive Bushshrike, White-starred Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland Warber.

    Contact details:

    Garden Route Botanical Garden Trust
    Address: 49 Caledon Street, Camphersdrift, George, 6529
    GPS coordinates for Main Entrance Gate: -33.9479, 22.4637
    Phone number: +27 (0)44 874 1558
    Email: info@botanicalgarden.org.za
    Website: www.botanicalgarden.org.za