GREAT BIRDING ALONG THE CAPE WHALE COAST DESPITE DREADFUL WEATHER
Posted on the 7th November 2018
I had an appointment to take out guests on Monday morning and they could not do it on any other day. We went out birding despite dreadful conditions that featured poor light, strong winds and intermittent showers. We were forced to stay in the vehicle for most of the morning. We started off at Harderbaai where COMMON, SANDWICH and SWIFT TERNS, together with HARTLAUB’S and KELP GULLS looked rather bedraggled preening on the rocks. I was however able to point out the differences between the three common terns to be found along our coastline in summer. A few CAPE CORMORANTS looked rather forlorn on the rocks. Unfortunately there were no African Black Oystercatchers or White-fronted Plovers on view. Our newly erected fishing line bins did at least afford the opportunity to tell our visitors about some of our conservation projects.
Sandwich and Common Terns
We then popped into the Vermont salt pan where the wind was really pumping, with steady rain making it impossible to get out of the vehicle. Photography was out of the question with the result that we use images taken on previous outings. There were LESSER and GREATER FLAMINGOS on view, together with the PIED AVOCET, BLACKSMITH LAPWING and BLACK-WINGED STILT. WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANTS and GREY HERONS were very active at their nests feeding chicks continually. The best sightings were that of the MACCOA DUCKS making a welcome return to the pan and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS. The reed beds and other habitats around the pan usually host a brilliant variety of species, but today we were only able to find the FISCAL FLYCATCHER, KAROO PRINIA, CAPE SPURFOWL, CAPE TURTLE-DOVE and CAPE WHITE-EYE as these were close to the car. We amazingly only logged 16 species at the salt pan compared to the 44 species that we recorded a few Saturday mornings ago. Weather like this is certainly not the birder’s best friend.
We then moved onto the Karwyderskraal road where we spent some time at the Afdaksrivier. The BAR-THROATED APALIS was seen skulking in the bushes and the AFRICAN STONECHAT and MALACHITE SUNBIRDS were very prominent. SOUTHERN RED and YELLOW BISHOPS were displaying beautifully in the reed beds, with GREATER STRIPED and WHITE-THROATED SWALLOWS patrolling the skies. Pairs of BLUE CRANES were observed in several places, clearly preparing for the breeding season, with some of them sitting down probably on nests.
An interesting sighting was that of a dog feeding on a lamb carcass next to the road. At least eight YELLOW-BILLED KITES were in close attendance waiting to join in the feast. The observation of the day however was a WESTERN OSPREY feeding on a fish on a post next to road. It took off with its prey and settled down in a field a short distance away. This was an astonishing sighting as it was at least a kilometre from the river. One wonders why it would fly such a distance with its prey to feed in peace – we speculated that this was to get away from the resident pair of African Fish Eagles that frequent the area at the river. A few CAPPED WHEATEARS were seen in close proximity to the Osprey.
The area around the old metal bridge produced some of the usual suspects such as the YELLOW-BILLED DUCK, as well as BOKMAKIERIE, CAPE BULBUL, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT, CAPE WAGTAIL and CAPE WEAVER. It was very quiet however, which was very disappointing to our guests, but understandable given the conditions.
The Swartrivier road was also very quiet, but produced CAPE CANARIES, CAPE CROWS, LEVAILLANT'S and GREY-BACKED CISTICOLAS, AFRICAN and PLAIN-BACKED PIPITS, COMMON MOORHEN at the low water bridge and large numbers of PIED STARLINGS. A magnificent male DENHAM’S BUSTARD caused huge excitement. We were also able to study both LARGE-BILLED and RED-CAPPED LARKS adults feeding their young on the road. The second edition of the Roberts Bird Guide again proved its worth as the juveniles of both these species are brilliantly illustrated in this publication.
The restaurant at Gabriëlskloof was unfortunately closed as coffee would have been great in this cold weather. We decided to head back along the N2 and R43, but did again drive along the Karwyderskraal road. We added LITTLE GREBES, SOUTHERN MASKED WEAVERS and an OLIVE THRUSH, with birds of prey including ROCK KESTREL and BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE The Yellow-billed Kites were now having a field day at the lamb carcass as the dog was nowhere to be seen. We also went past the De Bos dam and the last bird seen was a magnificent JACKAL BUZZARD along the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley road.
We ended up with 76 species logged in a matter of just over four hours, which I thought was not too bad in such trying conditions. These include at least 17 endemic or near-endemic species, once again illustrating the wonderful birding potential of the region. I went back in my records and found that in previous outings along this route we logged more than 100 species during the month of November. We are looking forward to exposing many more visitors to the birding delights of the Cape Whale Coast over the summer months (hopefully in birder friendly weather).
(I did not even try to take photographs in these conditions and the images used here were taken previously).
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