BIRDING BIG DAY 2019 – SIX HOURS IN THE OVERSTRANDPosted on the 2nd December 2019
We decided two years ago that participating in BirdLife South Africa’s birding big day for the full 24 hours is simply too tiresome and we have some questions about one’s carbon footprint when rushing around all day. For this reason it was decided only to bird for six hours within the restricted area of the Onrus, Vermont, Hawston and Meer-en-See areas and along the Karwyderskraal and Swartrivier roads. Yesterday Aletta, Anita, Elaine and I were chauffeared by Ben in his comfortable landy making for a great morning’s birding. Thanks for this Ben. Carin and Dawid took it easy at Arabella Estate and Rooisand.
We started at the Vermont salt pan and the first impression was the huge numbers of Greater Flamingos with a few lessers thrown in for good measure. It was also interesting that these birds included many juveniles of both species - it was the first time that I found immature Lesser Flamingos here. The Reed and White-breasted Cormorants were very active on the breeding platform and Pied Avocets and Black-winged Stilts were on display around the edges of the pan. The usual coots, gulls and moorhens showed well and the Grey Herons were still feeding chicks. A single Black-crowned Night Heron flew past, but there were no indications of the many breeding pairs found in the reeds this time last year. The only wader on display was a Marsh Sandpiper and there were no ducks to make mention of. The same tendency was found a few weeks ago during our quarterly CWAC count and we are very concerned about this. We will approach authorities in view of undertaking regular water quality samples as something is definitely wrong at the salt pan.
|Massed birds at Vermont salt pan|
Many species were identified in the vegetation around the edges of the pan either through sightings or by call. These included the Cape Bulbul, Levaillant's Cisticola, Cape Spurfowl, Malachite Sunbird, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Pin-tailed Whydah. Others recorded were the Fiscal Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia, Cape Sugarbird, Common Waxbill and Cape Weaver. In the hour that we spent at the Vermont salt pan we were able to record 39 species. Not too shabby! This compares favourably with previous counts despite the lack of ducks and waders on display. This is certainly one of the top birding destinations in our area.
We then drove through Vermont where we only added Cape Cormorant, Rock Martin, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Cape White-eye. Harderbaai at Onrus again produced excellent birding as we found the Cape Canary, Little Egret, African Black Oystercatcher, White-fronted Plover and Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns. We did not go the Onrus River estuary as this is now very overgrown with exotic reeds making birding almost impossible. We are in support of the proposed removal of these reeds and will submit our report and recommendations on this tomorrow.
We then headed off to the Hawston sewage works where one of the best sightings of the day was a magnificent male Namaqua Dove pointed out by Aletta. The count steadily increased as we found the Southern Red Bishop, Yellow-billed Duck, Grey-headed Gull and Barn, Greater Striped and White-throated Swallows. Across the road there were unfortunately no open water on view along Paddavlei, but we did see African Darters and Hottentot Teals flying about. The calls of Grey-backed Cisticola and Africa Reed and Little Rush Warblers were prominent.
Once again Nida Potgieter kindly organised a permit for us to enter the Meer-en-See area. The Botvlei seems ready to breach with the mass of water leaving no space for waders to forage in. The birds on view were very disappointing even though we did record the Common Greenshank, Glossy Ibis, Kittlitz's Plovers and Cape Teal. We decided to enjoy our picnic here and were able to add the Bar-throated Apalis, Fork-tailed Drongo, Sombre Greenbul, Neddicky, Cape Robin Chat and Swee Waxbill around the edges of the estuary. It was very windy at the Fisherhaven slipway, but we did find Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes and White-rumped Swifts.
The wind was really pumping by the time we reached the Karwyderskraal road, making birding conditions fairly difficult. The Cape and Pied Crows and Common Buzzards were recorded along here. The Swartrivier affords locals the opportunity to compare the difficult LBJ’s of the region and visitors to get several of the region’s specials and endemics. We decided to return to Hermanus along the gravel road between Dassiesfontein and Caledon (and the Hemel-en-Aarde valley) to optimise our chances of enjoying top class Overberg Wheatbelt birding and once again these two roads did not disappoint.
We enjoyed species such as the Brimstone and Yellow Canaries, Large-billed and Red-capped Larks, African and Plain-backed Pipits, African Stonechat, Pied Starling, African Stonechat and Capped Wheatear. A brilliant immature Black Harrier staged a flypast and we were very excited to find that some Blue Cranes were already strutting around with chicks. The last sighting blew us away: a dam close to Caledon hosted hundreds of Spur-winged Geese, more than half being immature (as well as a single African Spoonbill). None of us had ever witnessed such a spectacle. In the end we had 99 species on our list for the morning’s outing and this became 100 when I realised that the Swift Tern is not currently on the BirdLasser App. This actually became 101 species when I found that I did not score the Speckled Pigeon once I received Carin’s list – trash birds normally don’t count.
|A small part of hundreds of Spur-winged Geese|
Carin initially walked through Arabella Estate and Dawid later joined her at Rooisand. The two of them managed to log 96 species adding a cracking 36 species to our team’s list! Terrestrial species that we did not get, but they added to the day’s list included the Cape Batis, Bokmakierie, Southern Boubou, Long-billed Crombec, African Hoopoe, Cape Longclaw, Streaky-headed Seed-eater and Red-winged Starling. Species added along the estuary were the Red Knot, Common Ringed and Three-banded Plovers, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Cape Shoveler and Red-billed Teal. Most impressively they added birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon, African Fish Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, Rock Kestrel and Yellow-billed Kite.
|Common Sandpiper - Carin|
|YBK fighter pilots - Carin|
The central section of the Overstrand municipal area clearly offers great bird-watching potential as 136 species were recorded by our two teams in a matter of six hours in conditions that were not ideal. Also keep in mind that the complete list (available from us) includes 22 species that are endemic and 6 species that are near-endemic to South Africa. The Overstrand region must be visited by all birders visiting the Western Cape: Consider that we did not visit great birding destinations to the west such as Rooiels, Stony Point and Harold Porter, as well as spots to the east such as Fernkloof, Stanford, Danger Point and Baardskeerdersbos.
One should further add that many species that one would expect to find in the region on most days were not recorded yesterday. Here are just a few examples, but keep in mind that such a list is by no means comprehensive. Elaine and Helé do early morning hikes along the Onrus and Vermont coastline and in the last week they found Diederick, Klaas’s and Red-chested Cuckoos, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Red-faced Mousebird, Southern Tchagra and Common Whimbrel to just mention a few. Other species that feature regularly in trip reports on birding in the area include the Denham’s Bustard, Hamerkop, Black-winged Kite, South African Shelduck, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Alpine Swifts and Caspian Tern. Need one say more about the vast bird-watching potential of this central section of the Cape Whale Coast region?
A detailed and comprehensive overview of birding opportunities in the Cape Whale Coast region is currently being upgraded and can be viewed at this link:
|Rooisand's wild horses - Carin|
|Preening Peregrine Falcon - Carin|
|Coots with chicks on the golf course - Carin|
|Irritated African Harrier Hawk - Carin|