Paarl Bird Sanctuary

Paarl Bird Sanctuary is a very common birding location in the Western Cape, particularly for water birds. The sanctuary is located about 60km from Cape Town and can easily be reached via the N1 into Paarl. The area of the sanctuary is around 45 hectares and offers some excellent birding. The Paarl Bird Sanctuary is a sewage treatment facility so when you visit, bear in mind that you shouldn’t be expecting the scent of flowers in the air, with that said the worse is mainly upon entry and not really too bad around the ponds, in fact there are some benches set out along the pond just after entry where one could sit. It is no secret that the Paarl Bird Sanctuary has had a bit of history as far as security goes, the sanctuary is located just opposite a large area of low-cost housing which sometimes sees residents entering into the sanctuary, and unfortunately have been seen trying to collect the eggs from the birds nests, as well as posing a security risk. With that said though, there has been a continued effort to increase the security of the area and make it as pleasant for the birders as possible, and on most of my visits the guard who walks the Paarl Bird Sanctuary has been visibly patrolling.

The sanctuary is free of charge to enter and most of the birding is done by driving along the roads alongside the ponds, where one can easily stop and scan for anything of interest and either shoot from their car, or park on the side and get out – though with the roads being narrow in some areas, you are urged to consider the other birders that may want to pass through the road. The sanctuary has also seen host to some very interesting rarities over the years including African Jacana, Greenbacked Heron, American Purple Gallinule, Greater Painted Snipe, Goliath Heron, African Pied Wagtail, Squacco Heron and many more.

A mistake I made the first few times visiting the area was assuming that I had to pass the gate area (not the main boom, but the entrance near where the fence is later on). This caused me to miss some of my targets which seemed to exist solely on the couple of dams on the right, before you reach the fence area mentioned above. This area is where one can find the sought after Fulvous Duck sometimes and where I also encountered a large number of White-Faced Ducks. These ponds tend to be very active from the few times I’ve gone to them now knowing that they are there, and definitely wouldn’t make a visit without spending quite a bit of time looking hard through the masses of Grey Headed and Hartlaubs’ Gulls that tend to populate them. Around these two first dams I found a lot of other smaller, non-water birds too in the form of Brown-throated Martins and a Malachite Kingfisher which were feeding from the very small concrete pools in the one corner.

Once one passes through the gate you can either turn right or go straight, though to keep the traffic flowing in a single way, straight would be the more commonly taken route – and you don’t want to be stuck reversing the way. You will immediately come to a more tree covered area with a pond on your right with some benches if I recall correctly, this pond is generally fairly quiet in my experience but naturally birds move around and what is quiet one day may be teeming the next. Of interest by this first pond was a Cape Canary, a Juvenile Grey Heron and not much else. If you continue forward you will come to another dam on your right, with a view across to a bank where you can often see African Spoonbills, Great White Pelicans, Cormorants and if you’re lucky a perched African Fish Eagle.

Next is the large pond which extends to the other side of the sanctuary, on this pond you can expect to see vast numbers of Little Grebe, possible Black-Necked Grebes, a variety of Teals and Ducks and Egyptian Geese. As you reach the end of the pond the road begins to take a right where you will find yourself moving alone the narrow road with the main dam on your right and a small harder to view one on the left, this left pond which usually has a lot of growth on it, is where the Jacanas tend to be seen, so it is worth a scan of the surface. Also in the solitary line of trees just within the pond, near to the road is where you can often find a large number of Egrets and Herons, look on the left to the shallow waters for possible Three-Banded Plovers.

If you then continue, the road will take a right and you will be moving alongside the main pond again, there will be a bank area with stones where you can often see large groups of Cormorants and various ducks. Moving onwards you will have a small view through the trees of the other pond, though this is also accessed by continuing, following the path which takes a right along the fence and then after a short while taking the path to the right, this path is narrow and getting in and out of the area isn’t easy, it may be worth parking just outside of this path if you’re hesitant to do reversing over a small bridge. This area is very good if you’re looking to get closer to the Pelicans and Spoonbills than the other areas.

Assuming one didn’t take that right turn or merely got out alright… You will then come up to a bird hide on your right, there is usually ample area to park here so that shouldn’t be a problem. I haven’t had too much success from that hide personally, but I’m sure there are others who have.

I have still only been to Paarl Bird Sanctuary a handful of times, so there are probably a lot of species I am missing out on, in fact with 140+ species recorded here I know there is. Black Crakes, African Rail, Black Crowned Night Herons are just a few that can be found here but that I have not yet personally seen, and I can only write on what I have witnessed personally, but I hope that my information may help you when visiting the sanctuary. You can use the google map in the top left to locate the exact areas where I personally saw the species. As usually, this article will likely expand as I visit the sanctuary more… I do need the Hottentot Teal still, which I know can be found here.

GPS co-ordinates: 33° 41′ 28.90″ S , 18° 58′ 36.74″ E

2 thoughts on “Paarl Bird Sanctuary

  1. my letter of concern to Drakenstein Municipality today:
    On my visit today to our beloved Paarl Bird Sanctuary we could see how this place is just going more backwards with each visit… I’m writing this letter with great concern that grass is overgrown the area. Dams are overgrown with the invasive water hyacinth and not a lot of birds is seen in the area…

    The bird hides is in a disgusting condition and of no value to any birder, even if it was in a great condition you would not be able to see any birds from the bird hides!

    Then we see a few ducks in the bigger waterhole on the sewerage side of the fence (also where there is a board showing directions to the men’s & ladies) and we were so glad that we can now take some pictures of these ducks when a security guide ask us to leave as we are not allowed to be on this side of the fence…

    Driving more than 50km to a place that was once (long ago) a birders paradise and to hope that this time you will see a difference is heartbreaking!

    Surely something can be done to make this place again a birders paradise!

    1. Excellent report by Bryn de Kocks. Please note that Marinelle’s report was written in 2014 at a time when Water Lettuce was a problem on many of the pans (NOT Water Hyacinth as reported). The municipality took the trouble to obtain suitable bugs to control the problem, which is a slow solution as we all know. However the pans were cleared and the problem did not re-emerge in 2015 or 2016, though it probably will do again from time to time. There are currently NO bird hides because they were destroyed by vandals. Plans are now in hand to make suitable small parking areas where the birds can be viewed from one’s car. Please take the trouble to ascertain the opening times before driving to Paarl because the sanctuary is ONLY OPEN AT WEEKENDS when security is on hand. During the week visitors may access the Works area only, but the two pans here are also interesting and there is a viewing platform above the toilets. Report to the office on arrival. Opening hours are from 7.30 am to 4 pm. It is true there have been security problems in recent years but monthly bird counts are continuing as they have done for the past 22 years (without interruption) and active steps are being taken to improve the situation. In September 2016 no fewer than 90 school children visited the sanctuary on school visits and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. In South Africa these days one has to be careful wherever you go, but Paarl is still a birder’s paradise, so do come!

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