Bird-watching in Soweto MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Bird-watching in Soweto

Bird-watching? In Soweto? Can you believe it? This is just one more surprising twist in my Soweto Weekend, thanks to the lovely people at Fair Trade Tourism, Getaway, and SoWeToo. I was lucky enough to join Raymond Rampolokeng for a bird-watching adventure in Thokoza Park, near Moroka Dam in Soweto, on a sunny afternoon – the perfect time to spot Black-Headed Herons, Butcher Birds, and Red Bishops. And the best part? I hadn’t even heard of these birds before the tour!

I want to introduce you to someone truly special, someone who is making a difference in Soweto. His name is Raymond Rampolokeng, and he is the founder of Bay of Grace tours. Born and raised in Soweto, Raymond has a deep connection to this vibrant community.

In 2008, Raymond started the bird-watching aspect of Bay of Grace tours. This passion for birds stemmed from his previous work as a bird sanctuary officer for Birdlife SA. During his time there, Raymond dedicated himself to promoting birding education among young children. This experience ignited a fire within him to create a business that would not only educate and inspire but also contribute to the future conservation of our environment.

Raymond noticed a gap in the tourism industry when it came to showcasing the real Sowetan life. Traditional tours had become sterile and disconnected, with tourists observing Soweto from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. Raymond saw an opportunity to change that.

With Bay of Grace tours, Raymond provides a unique experience where visitors can truly immerse themselves in the life and culture of Soweto. It’s about going beyond the surface and venturing into the heart of the community.

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When you join a tour with Bay of Grace, you’re not just sightseeing, you become a part of something greater. You contribute to the future of conservation while gaining a deeper understanding of the rich history and daily life of Soweto. Raymond’s tours promote sustainability and foster environmentally-conscious youth who will carry the torch for future generations.

Beyond the birds and the sweeping landscapes, Raymond shows you the soul of Soweto, its people, and their stories. It’s an immersive experience that will stay with you long after the tour is over.

As I stepped into Thokoza Park, binoculars in hand, I joined Raymond on a quest to spot birds amidst the lush greenery and serene waters. The park was alive with energy, with children laughing and playing on swings under the graceful branches of Weeping Willow trees. Families gathered for barbecues and picnics, while a newly married couple posed for their wedding photos, surrounded by their loved ones. It was evident that the local government had worked tirelessly to breathe new life into this once-neglected space as part of a mayoral project. But it was not just the authorities who had played a role in the park’s transformation; the locals had taken pride in their surroundings and actively participated in its upkeep and activities.

I have to admit, I’m not exactly what you’d call a natural birdwatcher. It’s not a fast-paced activity that gets your heart pumping. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – it’s slow and deliberate, allowing you to truly appreciate the beauty of nature. Maybe that’s why I found myself feeling a bit out of place after my high-octane quad-biking adventure earlier. My body was still revved up, but my surroundings demanded a more leisurely pace.

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As I strolled through the park, my eyes scanned the area, eagerly searching for any signs of avian life. There were groups of people scattered throughout, each engrossed in their own activities. But for me, the real excitement came from those little creatures fluttering through the trees and gliding over the lake. It was a thrilling game of hide-and-seek, with me desperately trying to catch a glimpse of these feathered wonders.

Sure, birdwatching may seem like a tame activity compared to some of the more adrenaline-fueled adventures out there. But there’s something truly special about it. It’s an opportunity to disconnect from the chaos of modern life and reconnect with the natural world. Time seems to slow down as you patiently wait for a bird to reveal itself.

And when it finally happens, when you spot that elusive bird perched on a branch or soaring through the sky, there’s a rush of excitement that can’t be put into words. It’s a moment of pure joy and wonderment.

So, if you’re looking for a new way to appreciate nature, give birdwatching a try. It may not give you an adrenaline rush, but it will give you something far more valuable – a renewed sense of awe and appreciation for the world around you.

The birds we saw today weren’t many. It’s migration season, so there weren’t a lot of species around. However, we did manage to spot a few Black-Headed Herons by the dam on the inner island. They were tucked away among the leaves, so I had to really squint through my binoculars to see them. Listening is a crucial part of bird-watching. Sometimes, it’s the only way to know which birds are nearby since they blend in so well. One bird that stood out was the Blacksmith Lapwing Plover. Its call sounds like the clanging of iron against iron. There was another bird that I couldn’t identify, but it had an impressive ability to mimic other bird sounds. The soothing sound of the reeds, accompanied by birdsong and children’s laughter in the background, made the whole experience even more enjoyable.

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Raymond’s hard work in the tourism and birding industry is paying off. His company regularly organizes tours and excursions, and it’s making a positive impact on how people perceive Soweto. Recently, he hosted a group of elderly ladies from the West Rand who had never been to Soweto before. The experience completely changed their ideas and opinions about the area. It’s clear that bird-watching in Soweto isn’t just popular, it’s thriving.

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