Harold Porter National Botanical Garden

The Harold Porter National Botanical Garden (34°21’08.89”S 18°55’37.74”E) is situated right on the R44 and allows birders easy access to fynbos, forest and mountain associated habitats. This is casual birding at its best as a section of the garden is wheelchair-friendly. Kindly note that the restaurant is currently not in operation, with the result that picnic baskets should be taken along when the garden is visited. The devastating fire during January 2019 had unfortunately ravaged large sections of the garden, as well as infrastructure and the hope is expressed that this will recover in time. Bird-watching conditions are however still excellent. The garden is best known for its many botanical delights and a hike up Disa Kloof in search of the Red Disas that are in bloom up at the waterfall during summer months is highly recommended.

A small pond in the foreground of a landscape view of the Harold Porter Botanical Garden.
Harold Porter garden (Anton Odendal)

The garden is described as follows on the SANBI website:

This lovely garden is situated in the centre of the coastal fynbos where the flora is at its richest. It encompasses mountain slopes with wind-clipped heathlands, deep gorges with relict forests, flats and marshes with restios, sedges and bulbs, as well as dunes adjacent to the beach with specialised salt-adapted plants. The Garden is renowned for its waterfalls and amber pools.

The main fynbos families (proteas, ericas and restios) are present as well as other important families such as irises, daisies and orchids. The Garden boasts red disa (Disa uniflora) in its natural habitat as well as South Africa’s national flower, the king protea (Protea cynaroides).

A visit at any time of the year will prove a delight. We look forward to welcoming you to this little piece of paradise. The Garden is open 365 days a year.

This beautiful, secluded Garden is set between mountain and sea, in the heart of the Cape Fynbos region within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. It consists of 10 hectares of cultivated fynbos garden and 190.5 hectares of pristine natural fynbos. The Garden Estate is the natural part of the garden with several kilometres of nature trails providing scenic views of forests, mountains and coastline.

Note that pensioners can enter the garden for free on the first Tuesday of each month.

This description will now focus on the birds to be look for in the lower section of the gardens with its rolling lawns and adjacent vegetation, as well as the well-wooded trail leading up the Disa Kloof. Endemic species that are regularly found in the lower garden are the Karoo Prinia, Cape Spurfowl, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird. Other resident species that are abundant are the Cape Robin-Chat, Red-winged Starling and Cape Wagtail. Other common endemic species include the Cape Canary, Cape Grassbird and Swee Waxbill. Also expect to find Yellow Bishop, Familiar Chat, Rock Martin, Speckled Mousebird, White-necked Raven, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Sparrow and Malachite Sunbird. Species that are encountered less often include the Cape Bunting, Brimstone Canary, Neddicky and the endemic Cape Siskin. Large numbers of the Black Sawwing and other swallows, martins and swifts to be expected in the region are present during summer months. The lower gardens of the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden offer of the best bird-watching opportunities in the Western Cape Province. To this should be added the sheer natural beauty of the mountainous landscape and outstanding interpretive placards developed and maintained by SANBI. Harold Porter certainly represents an eco-tourism experience to behold.

The excellent birding experiences of this reserve do however not end here. A hike up Disa Kloof towards the waterfall gives access to a different suite of birds as many sought-after species normally associated with forest habitats now come into play. But firstly the melodious call of the hugely sought-after endemic Victorin’s Warbler can often be heard from the mountain slopes when walking up the kloof during spring and early summer. The best spot to look for this species is at the extensive patch of bracken at the beginning of the Disa Kloof trail before the first bridge is reached. Several photographers have been able to add images of this special, but very secretive little bird to their collection at this spot. Time should also be spent on the bridge as such. Several skulking species can often be seen in the rank vegetation along the river and the distinctive calls of the Lesser Swamp Warbler and Little Rush Warbler, as well as that of the African Reed Warbler during summer months often ring out from the dense vegetation. This is also a good spot to look for the African Black Duck – a species that prefers running water. Also look out for the Cape Bunting, Cape Rock Thrush and Ground Woodpecker along the rocky outcrops beyond the little stream.

Endemic species to look out for in the well-wooded areas higher up the trail include the Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Cape Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher and Cape White-eye. Other resident species that are prominent are the Bar-throated Apalis, African Dusky Flycatcher, Sombre Greenbul and Olive Thrush. Also look carefully for the Spotted Flycatcher during summer months. The target birds along this trail are however the Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Olive Woodpecker, with the African Paradise Flycatcher being particularly numerous during summer months. Members of BirdLife Overberg have an annual morning outing to Harold Porter during January to see the Disa uniflora at the waterfall, with the latter three species always being on the ‘hit-list’. It is best to familiarise oneself with the calls of these birds as finding them in rank and well-wooded vegetation could be quite a challenge.

The garden further boasts with an impressive list of birds of prey. The Jackal Buzzard and Rock Kestrel can often be seen flying overhead and observant birders might be able to locate difficult to see species such as the African Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk and Black and Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks. A pair of Verreaux’s Eagles breeds in the area and seeing these magnificent raptors soaring overhead is often the highlight of any bird-watcher’s visit to the garden.

BirdLife Overberg members work their way through the forest looking for birds.
BirdLife Overberg members in the forest (Anton Odendal)

Harold Porter has further developed a reputation for delivering species that are vagrant to the region and here special birds such as the White-fronted Bee-eater, Bush Blackcap, African Emerald Cuckoo, Black Cuckooshrike, European Honey Buzzard, Brown-backed Honeybird and Violet-backed Starling have in recent years caused great excitement in birding circles. The Harold Porter National Botanical Garden certainly ranks as one of the top bird-watching destinations in the Western Cape Province. One only has to look at the amount of bird clubs in the region that regularly organise outings to the garden to understand the popularity of this destination. The diversity of bird species, the wonderful Fynbos-dominated vegetation and stupendous mountain landscapes all contribute to making Harold Porter a safe and secure venue for casual Western Cape birding at its best.

There are however other promising birding destinations at Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay that deserve investigation. Of these a hike from the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens to the Dawidskraal beach is recommended – one can park at the gardens, cross over the R44 and walk down the trail to the sea. A diversity of species already described is on offer. Betty’s Bay also features several water bodies where birding can be very good. Grootwitvlei stands out as the best example of these. A more detailed description of birding opportunities here is being considered.

The three major birding sites (RooielsStony Point and the Harold Porter Botanical Garden) in the greater Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay area give a very good “summary” of Western Cape birding at its best in close proximity to Cape Town and Hermanus. A day visit to the area can easily produce more than 100 species and needs to be added to the itinerary of any birder visiting the region.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *