Posted on the 1st February 2019

Special announcement on International Wetlands Day
Jessie Walton’s new hide at Keurbos in the beautiful Elgin Valley was officially opened on 27 January and this certainly is a wonderful addition to birding experiences in our region. Jessie gives an overview of her wonderful conservation work in rehabilitating the wetland (and surrounding area) and we also feature Carin Malan’s speech at the official opening of the hide. Note that BirdLife Overberg members will enjoy morning outings to this highly underrated birding destination on 6 April and 7 September – details to follow closer to the time.










Although 'Bird Reserve' might sound pretentious, I don’t know how else to describe my attempt at creating a safe haven for the birds so under threat from fire, agriculture and human expansion in our surrounds.

I’m trying to create a diverse environment to attract a wide variety of wildlife, and to make the areas large enough to sustain them throughout the year. Where others go to the gym, I head out for an hour with a pick and spade (we have tough clay soils), and like the proverbial eating of an elephant, I clear and replant a patch at a time.

In 1982 we moved to a farm that was purely agricultural, with no natural areas and no indigenous vegetation. My mission over the subsequent years has been, and still is, to green the farm and tempt birds back to our area. In 1996 an added section of farm was converted from old orchard to fynbos and thickets, and a sterile dam, where the previous owner shot water birds for sport, has slowly developed into a heronry where Darter, Reed Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Grey and Black-headed Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron and Cape Weaver breed. African Black Crake, Little Bittern and Little Rush and Lesser Swamp warblers frequent the fringes while Giant and Malachite Kingfishers patrol the water.

Three years ago, a Wetland Project was started under the auspices of the N.C.C., the idea being to use wetland plants in floating islands, as well as fringe planting, to improve water quality and encourage birdlife. Although the pilot project has ended, we are carrying on with the implementation, and attempting to create a wetland area to supplement the steep-sided dams and encourage Rails, Crakes, Spoonbills and other shallow feeders. Another new project is the rehabilitation of 2,5 hectare of disused, alien-infested, steeply contoured land, by making paths, doing bit-by-bit clearing and gardening. When these new plantings - mainly Proteas, Ericas and Pincushions, come into fullness, it should create the critical mass for Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds to call home. Already African Stonechat have moved in and my highlight was when a Black Harrier was seen hunting there. The slopes create good lift and hunting for raptors, which are seen regularly.







Not only birds enjoy the natural areas. Large numbers of bats emerge over the dam at dusk and visitors to the guesthouse have complained that frogs keep them awake! We have regular visits from Steenbok, Cape Clawless Otter, Cape Fox, Water Mongoose, and others. The Mongoose Hide is named after the culprit who uses the hide as a toilet!

Although some species have been lost to our valley (for instance, Burchell's Coucal), it is very rewarding to see new faces almost annually, and the limited list of 1983 has grown to an impressive variety of birds now enjoying our haven.

With the legacy left by a dear friend, a dream has been realised to build a hide (named after Leo Kellner) that will enable true nature lovers to share what is dear to me.

jessie addressing the group
Jessie and Carin doing the honours








Opening of Keurbos Bird Reserve: 27 January 2019
Carin Malan

I met Jessie during the days of the Rose festival which later become the Elgin Open Gardens. The more I got into birding the more the name Jessie Walton came up. By visiting the old hide and dams we became friends and of course she introduced me to Rob Martin who later became one of my mentors too.

.. and then of course I got bullied into looking out for Buzzards and taking photos of them because Jessie needed it as reference for her and Robs project together with the late Prof Phil Hockey. ?...... And so we discovered we share another passion – photography. She is of course much better than me ....... Must be the Nikon machine!

Of course, every now and then we would have a bird or animal on the farm that needs rehabilitation and of course I always had the privilege to call on Jessie’s help. The latest rescue was the owl at Eikenhof Homestead that she took in and after a week in her loving care was successfully released. At the moment Dollie the buzzard and Poppie the waxbill is taking up her attention with her family.

For six years she together with Rob worked as field monitors on EIA projects, mostly proposed wind farm sites. That took her from home every so often, but it is during one of these stints that she discovered one of the first Black Harrier communal roosts, which is still being monitored.

In 2012 she started the fascinating Brown-backed Honeybird and Karoo Prinia interaction project together with Rob. This is a long term research project and the first 3 years were used to collect data. Well into the project, dr Claire Spottiswood, together with Prof Peter Ryan, showed interest in the project and Jessie is now a Research Assistant helping the Fitztitude on one of the research projects on the co-evolution in Brood parasites and their hosts. Some of her data, on structural effects and eggshell colour, contributed to a PhD for a Cambridge student. I remember so clearly the call I got from her when she got the first video evidence of a Brown-backed Honeybird laying an egg in a Prinia nest! What an amazing report of an ordinary citizen getting involved in citizen science and academic research!!!! We are so proud of you Jessie!!!

On a more personal note, we have been through difficult times, Jessie fighting the Big C, packing up a friend’s flat after he passed away. BUT we also had lots of fun walking the veld, watching birds, sometimes just sitting with our cameras at the different sites, taking photographs. Also the three of us would very often go for an impromptu lunch, the one that paid last of course got a pea so that person would not pay again, of course Jessie would eat the pea too the amusement of Rob !

(Images by Carin Malan, Jennifer Lean and Anton Odendal - Bird images taken at Keurbos on a previous outing).

Lesser Swamp Warbler
Female Cape Batis











Juvenile Little Bittern
African Darters at nest










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