(This report originally appeared in the November 2019 edition of “BATIS”, the quarterly newsletter of the Somerset West Bird Club – Ed.)
A glorious winters’ day dawned on the 27th July 2019 for our CAR count. Most routes had beautiful weather, no wind, sunshine and excellent visibility. A couple of routes had mist in places affecting visibility but, on the whole, it was an excellent day. Many teams to the west of the precinct commented on the huge amount of canola fields which are replacing the fynbos areas thus affecting birdlife. Being such a beautiful day a couple of routes were affected by crop spraying activity which, of course, chases birds away. The areas around Swellendam – Heidelberg still very dry, dams empty, but that is where most of the Blue Cranes were seen. Mossel Bay area also very dry. Generally, many routes commented on the lack of raptors seen but there was a big increase in Cape Crows.
The Blue Crane count of 4283 was up by about 300 compared to last year, and this number does not include the flock of over 40 individuals seen from the N2 between Caledon and Riviersonderend. As usual the Blue Crane count is highest in the Heidelberg/Swellendam areas at this time of the year, with 1950 seen in this area, and 1143 in the middle section of the precinct around Riviersonderend and Protem. Obviously, the birds prefer the drier areas with less canola fields. Many Blue Cranes were seen in pairs, with the big flocks seen at feedlots. One team saw an amazing sight at one place of over 200 Blue Cranes and over 200 Cape Crows feeding at a feedlot. Unfortunately, 2 individuals were also found dead under a powerline. There was a good increase of Denham’s Bustard (156) seen by nearly all the teams, with again the most seen in the Heidelberg and Mossel Bay areas.
Blue Cranes - Image by Carin Malan
The count of Southern Black Korhaan (7) was low, but the number of Karoo Korhaan (38) was a good count. Again, most of these birds seen in the Heidelberg and Swellendam areas. Spur-winged Goose (1428) seen throughout the precinct, mostly in the western section area where most of the canola fields are, so obviously they love canola and are definitely not on the endangered list yet!
The Black-headed Heron count of 46 was definitely down from the 100-280 birds seen in previous years, and one wonders why. The same goes for Secretary birds of which only 5 were seen. Thank goodness it has been made “Bird of the Year” as it is vulnerable. Since 2018 we have started counting Grey-winged Francolin as they have become rare. Twenty-nine were counted, mostly in the Protem area. Raptors have also become rare. Only four Black Harriers were seen, one Steppe Buzzard, 55 Jackal Buzzard, 10 Blackshouldered Kite and two Pale Chanting Goshawks.
Southern Black Korhaan
The corvids are doing well, especially the Cape Crow with 1062 seen. Eighty White-necked Raven were seen, mostly feeding on dead sheep. It was a good day for atlasing as there was an abundance of both large and small birds. Two teams saw Fish Eagles feeding on dead sheep, vultures were seen and a beautiful Martial Eagle. The buck on our count list were plentiful: Vaal Rhebok 79, Steenbok 67, and Cape Grysbok 15. Many thanks to all the teams for being a part of this great effort towards conservation, and a big thank you to John Carter, Ann White and Anne McLeod for all their hard work placing data on the database.