Elaine and myself decided to take the day off to check out the canola fields around Greyton and Caledon this morning. The wind was pumping, howling and gusting when we woke up and we nearly decided not to go. We prepared food last night and the picnic cooler was packed, so decided what the hell. Certainly not ideal conditions for birding.
We started at the Vermont salt pan and were delighted to find three times more LESSER FLAMINGOS than GREATER FLAMINGOS – I have never seen so many lessers at the salt pan. The usual suspects such as the WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANT, LITTLE GREBE, GREY HERON, BLACKSMITH LAPWING, COMMON MOORHEN and BLACK-WINGED STILT were on show, but there were only a few CAPE SHOVELERS around. The relative lack of ducks is probably due to the low water levels.
The reed beds and grass around the pan hosted the CAPE BULBUL, LEVAILLANT'S CISTICOLA, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT and COMMON and SWEE WAXBILLS. We also heard the calls of SOUTHERN BOUBOU in the distance and the CAPE SPURFOWLS were out in force. The star of the show was undoubtedly a magnificent BLACK SPARROW-HAWK that circled the pan, making mock dives at bewildered waterfowl.
We then went to Onrus and Harderbaai and along the way found the BAR-THROATED APALIS, SOMBRE GREENBUL, SPECKLED MOUSEBIRD and most of the common doves, sparrows and sunbirds. Harderbaai delivered CAPE CORMORANT, LITTLE EGRET, WHITE-FRONTED PLOVER, AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and the two gulls.
The trip along the Karwyderskraal road soon produced the DENHAM'S BUSTARD, BLUE CRANE and AFRICAN SPOONBILL. Other common species included COMMON FISCAL, FISCAL FLYCATCHER, HELMETED GUINEAFOWL, BLACK-HEADED HERON, as well as the three crows. In the area around the metal bridge we found the SOUTHERN RED BISHOP, FORK-TAILED DRONGO, CAPE LONGCLAW and WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCKS. We enjoyed breakfast here and were very surprised when a very large mixed flock of ALPINE and LITTLE SWIFTS with ROCK MARTINS drifted past towards the Bot estuary. An immature BLACK HARRIER slowly quartering over the landscape stole the show.
Most of the fields along the Swartrivier road are under wheat and canola at this stage and this mono-culture effect is really not good for birding. We did however see droves of CAPE and YELLOW CANARIES and AFRICAN STONECHATS, as well as some LARGE-BILLED and RED-CAPPED LARKS, AFRICAN PIPIT, KAROO PRINIA and the windswept cisticolas.
We then drove to Genadendal and Greyton along the Helderstroom road which follows the Sonderend River. By now the wind made birding almost impossible even though we were delighted to find AFRICAN MARSH-HARRIERS twice. This is a beautiful road and we believe that it has HUGE birding potential – we recommend that the club goes there early one morning in spring WHEN THE WEATHER IS CLEAR. Lunch was at the Greyton Nature Reserve and here Elaine discovered, by chance, that there was a screw stuck in our front left tyre. We eventually found a very friendly old man that repairs tyres in an obscure back street of the village.
We returned over Shaw’s Pass and the valley, but took a de-tour back to the Karwyderskraal landfill site and Fisherhaven. We added CAPE SUGARBIRD and MALACHITE SUNBIRD at Fisherhaven and LESSER SWAMP-WARBLER and many CAPE TEALS at the Hawston sewage works. In the end I managed to log 90 species on BirdLasser. I regard this as an awesome achievement given the ridiculous weather experienced. Most importantly however: No description or photographs will be able to give justice to the splendour and sheer beauty of the Overberg Wheatfields at this stage. So, check out the weather predictions and get out there on the first clear and windless day. It is wonderful and we are blessed to live here.