Spot different bird species in Soweto

Raymond Rampolokeng is a professional bird guide for tourists and an enterpreneur with a wealth of experience in and around Soweto and Gauteng. / Veli Nhlapo
Raymond Rampolokeng is a professional bird guide for tourists and an enterpreneur with a wealth of experience in and around Soweto and Gauteng. / Veli Nhlapo

Bird-watching isn't only for the rural countryside and for holidaymakers.

This is according to one Soweto bird-spotter Raymond Rampolokeng, who told Sowetan that township dwellers can spot fascinating bird species in an urban sprawl if they know where to look.

Known as Soweto's birdman, Rampolokeng is arguably the first and only bird tour guide in the township who has opened many locals' minds to the possibility of sightings of our urban feathered friends.

Rampolokeng was unemployed when he came into contact with the Wits Bird Club and Birdlife SA while volunteering at Soweto Mountain of Hope.

Armed with his binoculars, Rampolokeng, has been running Bay of Grace Tours, which offers bird-watching tours in the wetland areas of Soweto, including the Orlando and Moroka dams.

The 43-year-old is an avid conservationist who is passionate about spotting different species of birds across Soweto and Johannesburg.

He has been conducting tours since 2007 and started the tourism venture in anticipation of the influx of international tourists ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

"I identified a few sites in Soweto that contained conservation values and I identified them as places that reflect a rich history of Soweto," Rampolokeng said.

"These places include the Orlando Dam, in close proximity to the two towers. This place has a lot of hidden gems because it offers kids a number of activities to engage in and I found that I can create a link between the tours and recreational activities offered at the dam."

Rampolokeng has also identified the Enoch Sontonga Koppie, behind the University of Johannesburg's Soweto Campus, where he offers tourists a mini hike that includes spectacular views of the township.

"This part of the tour aims to link the spiritual and religious part of Soweto because there are a number of people who use that hill to pray or connect with their ancestors," he said.

"It also gives tourists an idea of who Enoch Sontonga was and the role he played in South Africa's history."

Sontonga was the composer of the national anthem, Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika.

Rampolokeng uses Moroka Dam as a third site, which he said was refurbished ahead of the World Cup. He is fond of the unusual habits and migratory patterns of the interesting variety of birdlife that calls Soweto home.

He acknowledges that while Soweto is not known for many other things, there are also exotic, colourful birds that command reverence.

He said visitors will find the wetlands that cut through the middle of the township are home to an equally attractive array of unusual birdlife.

His tours usually last for six hours at the three sites. Tours can be also be arranged to include a Vaal River birding cruise in Vanderbijlpark.

During tours, one can come across birds such as doves, swallows, hoopoes, red-chested cuckoo, black-headed heron and grey-headed gull - which is the only inland gull.

Rampolokeng admits to having an affinity for the Cape sparrow, which he uses as the logo for his company.

"You see these birds (Cape sparrows) everywhere and I love their characteristics. They are often taken for granted because they are everywhere and are not colourful, as opposed to other birds that are colourful - especially during mating seasons," he said.