Birdwatching experiences arranged by Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Liz at Lancaster arranges birding tours for guests

A recent guest from the United States who came to stay at Liz at Lancaster is an avid birder. Arriving on a Thursday evening and leaving on Sunday morning meant he only had 2 days in Joburg.   He was completely amazed at what Liz managed to arrange for him.  See his review on Tripadvisor.

Verreaux Eagle in nest at Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. Source:

On the Friday Tagala, Liz at Lancaster’s manager-driver, drove Gary to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens where he explored the waterfall and the ridge area. The nesting site of the only pair of urban Verreaux eagles  is found on the cliffs next to the waterfall. The current pair, Makatsa and Thulane, hatched their latest eaglet on June 17 of this year. Black eagles typically lay two eggs about four days apart. A few days after hatching, the stronger of the two kills the weaker one, a practice known as “Cainism” after Cain and Abel’s fratricide. Thulane (meaning the shy one in Zulu) arrived at the gardens in 1999 after the disappearance of Quatele (the cross one). The female at that time was Emonyeni (of the wind), an “old lady”  who disappeared in 2016. She was believed to be around 50 years old at the time.  Unfortunately it seems the eagles had taken to the skies when Gary was there but he still had lots of excitement adding new birds to his list. 

And then through Birdlife South Africa  (1.5 kms from Liz at Lancaster), and a chain of various referrals, Liz made contact with Andy Featherstone head of the Wits Bird Club, who agreed to take Gary out for the day on Saturday. Liz packed a picnic breakfast and lunch for the two twitchers and off they set at 6 am for an entire 12 hours of bird-watching east of Johannesburg at Marievale and nearby grassy farmlands.  Gary came back a tired but very happy guest with well over 120 new birds – an impressive day’s “lifers”.     

Birding in nearby Delta Park

The African Hoepoe or Upupu Africana

Had Gary stayed for the Sunday he could have joined the bird walk in nearby Delta Park. Delta’s bird list is amazing with their website recording 269 species seen since 2002.  Around the various dams there are ducks, coots, moorhens and other water birds, as well as the odd kingfisher; the open veld sections attract bishops and weavers, guineafowl and francolin, and the areas of denser bush attract birds such as Willow Warblers, Great Reed-Warblers, and Tawny-flanked Prinias, sparrowhawks and owls. The park also seems to regularly attract highly unusual species and in the past seven years Madagscar Cuckoo, Longtailed Pipit, and Ayres Hawk-Eagle, amongst others, have been recorded.

Garden Birds at Liz at Lancaster

At Liz at Lancaster we have an information booklet for guests which includes an illustrated record of all the birds seen or heard in the garden – currently standing at 42 species. 

Watching at the bird feeder … we start them young!

Black Collared Barbets and Honey Guides

Cape Sparrow and Black Collared Barbet

We have had Black Collared Barbets nesting in a barbet log on a tree in one of the courtyards and I have spent endless hours watching them bob up and down on the branch as they perform their liquid duet.  We even had a Lesser Honey Guide visit (the brood parasite who lays her egg in the barbets’ nest) but she was chased off by Mum Dad and Auntie Barbet.  Honeyguide chicks are not nice siblings: born with hooks on their bills they attack the host chicks and kill them. 

Red-chested cuckoos and Cape Robin-Chats 

Forever hungry; forever feeding Photo Courtesy Andrew Delmont

The Red Chested Cuckoo, commonly known as the Piet-my-vrou, parasites the little Cape Robin-Chat.  The cuckoo egg incubates quicker than those of the host and consequently hatches earlier so the hatchling is able to kick the other eggs out of the nest and become the sole occupant. But being so much bigger than his hosts, the poor little robin is destined to spend an exhausting 2 – 3 weeks feeding this interloper.  I can understand why Mother Nature has encouraged the Cuckoos to give up their parenting responsibility and go nightclubbing, but why has she ensured that the little Robin hosts take up the exhausting responsibility 

Crested Barbets

The crested barbet (also sometime nicknamed the fruit-salad bird) often reminds me of a comical little cross-dresser! Source:

We currently have a pair of crested barbets nesting in the barbet log.  They make their presence know with their loud shrill DRRRRRR, even divebombing the unsuspecting dog. But most strange of all they continue their dialing tone call even when safely ensconced inside the log.  I love their scientific name Trachyphonus vaillantii) (‘trachys’=rough, ‘phone’=voice, sound’).  La Vaillant was the famous French naturalist cum explorer. He named a number of bird species newly brought into the scientific taxonomy (as opposed to the existing indigenous names). 

Birding around Johannesburg and in Gauteng.

Sasol has produced a superb guide to birding spots in South Africa. South African Bird Finder by Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Jonathan Rossouw includes a guide to birding routes throughout Southern Africa and Madagascar.  Route 13, copied below, deals with Gauteng and surrounds. 

All sites are ranked into one of three categories of priority: essential (the region’s best); excellent (top sites but expendable to a time-limited visitor); and local interest (ideal for those looking for new areas to explore). Sites include practical details of access, best times to visit, habitat diversity and the birds that occur there and general natural history; the more important sites feature a detailed map. 

Map of Gauteng birding route from South African Bird Finder 

I’ve mentioned Marievale (137 on map; 72 km from Liz at Lancaster), Delta Park and Walter Sisulu Gardens (146 on the map; 25 km from guesthouse). Other relatively accessible sites are Suikerbosrand (138 on map; 57 km from Liz at Lancaster) and Kloofendal.

There are Gauteng sites which are further afield which I have listed here by map number (with distance from Liz at Lancaster indicated in kms in brackets)  

Paradise Flycatcher with chick in the Pilanesberg Source: Andrew Delmont

140 Zonderwater and Cullinan (96 kms)

141 Ezemvelo Bronkhorstspruit (131 kms)

142 Rooiwal (85 kms)

143 Seringveld (80 kms)

144 Rust de Winter (144 kms)

145 Zaagkuildrift and Kgomkgomo (139 kms)

147 Magaliesberg (+/- 120 kms)

And of course the Pilanesberg is an excellent birding destination with over 300 species.   

Birding in Soweto

Raymond Rampolokeng Photo courtesy of Veli Nhlapo of the Sowetan

What is top of mind when the town Soweto is mentioned? Hector Peterson? 1976 uprising? Apartheid regime?  Maybe more recently  Vilakazi Street? Lebo’s cycling tours? Bungee jumping off the Soweto towers. But certainly not bird-watching? Well – think again because the enterprising Raymond Rampolokeng who runs Bay of Grace Tours offers bird-watching tours in the wetland areas of Soweto, including Orlando and Moroka Dam. Rampolokeng is Soweto’s first trained birding guide who is passionate about conservation.   

So be rest assured that as a birder, if you come and stay at Liz at Lancaster you will be welcomed to a birding friendly environment!  Liz even has insider knowledge of less well-known but excellent birding destinations close by through a friend who is an avid birder. 



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