BIRDING ALONG THE NUWEJAARSRIVIER FLOODPLAIN, AGULHAS PLAINS
Posted on the 24th August 2013
Yesterday (Friday 23 August) the sun was actually out over the Overstrand! Peter Hochfelden asked me to do the guiding on a trip to Voëlvlei near the Agulhas National Park during the Stanford Bird Fair and our decision to do a 'recce' was blessed with a cloudless sky. Chris Cheetham joined us for this one. The initial drive past Salmonsdam Nature Reserve, that is currently closed for renovations, was fairly uneventful with only some common birds identified.
We immediately started grasping the extent of the recent rains when we reached Agulhas floodplains along the R43. The very first pan along this road produced large numbers of water birds: Cape, Hottentot and Red-billed teals, both geese, White-faced and Yellow-billed Ducks, Cape Shoveler, Blacksmith and Crowned Lapwing and many more. What a spectacle! The flooded Nuwejaarsrivier along the R43 produced large numbers of birds too many to mention. We saw Malachite and Pied kingfishers several times and were delighted to find migrants in Pearl-breasted and White-throated swallows at both Stanford and Elim. At one farm we visited we actually found ten African Purple Swamphens foraging together in short grass – the reeds and sedges where they normally forage were simply under water. A first for all three of us.
Chris along "Watervlei"
Peter & Chris along Nuwejaarsrivier
We also found a variety of birds of prey. There were Jackal Buzzards aplenty and we were delighted to find both immature and adult Black Harriers quartering over the landscapes. This caused discussions about BirdLife Overberg's fund raising efforts for conservation work on this species through our 2014 calendar and golf day. The highlight was undoubtedly an African Marsh-Harrier chasing an immature African Fish-Eagle over the floodplain. We must have seen or heard 20 of the latter species throughout the morning.
Black Harrier Image: Rodnick Biljon
African Purple Swamphen Image: Chris
The masses of water in Voëlvlei was a bit if a disappointment, more of a Watervlei than a Voëlvlei. We estimated that the water level was 500 meters further than usual, not allowing for sightings of waders, snipes and the vast numbers of flamingos that were present only a few weeks previously. There were a few Lesser and Greater flamingos around and good numbers of Blue Cranes and fish-eagles around the edges of the water mass. Here we again found swamphens strolling around in the open being strangely confiding. One actually allowed us to within three meters from it. Interestingly we found a drowned tortoise and a clutch of five ostrich eggs washed out along the extreme of the water level.
The somewhat dryer habitat surrounding the water was alive with birds making the most of the sunny weather. We found many Large-billed and Red-capped larks, but unfortunately not the Agulhas Long-billed Lark that Chris was looking for. Most of the region's canaries were present and African Stonechats, Capped Wheatears and Pied Starlings were everywhere. The Malachite Sunbirds are presently in splendid full breeding plumage …......... and so one could go on. A brilliant morning's birding – we found 85 species in total.
Pearl-breasted Swallow Image: Chris
One of the main purposes of the 'recce' was to sample the cheese platter at the Black Oystercatcher Wine Estate. Peter's idea is that the morning outing during the Stanford Bird Fair should end with a lunch at this spectacular venue. The cheese platter is awesome and don't forget to try their Sauvignon Blanc – outstanding stuff. Dirk Human, the owner of Black Oystercatcher, gave us a brief overview of conservation projects that a group of farmers are involved in along the Nuwejaarsrivier floodplain. This is being done in collaboration with the Agulhas Biosphere Initiative and possibly a topic for a future feature article. The view form this place is fantastic and this, together with the food and wine should make for a very rewarding outing during the Bird Fair.
Also interesting that there are several self-catering, farm-stay type of accommodation establishments available along the river and it is recommended that bird clubs should investigate this area for club outings. Keep in mind that the southernmost point, Soetendalsvlei, the Agulhas National Park and the De Mond Nature Reserve are all in close proximity to the Nuwejaarsrivier floodplain. The birding potential here is limitless.
(More images to follow later).
Butterfly Image: Chris
The floor of the new hide at Appel se dam, Stanford