Posted on the 1st January 2012

Happy New Year to all.  (This is for my friends Eddie Cassani, Jan Kuipers and Otto Nel who are all celebrating their birthdays today).   I include some of my first pictures for the year.

I always try to bird on New Year's day in an attempt to get my year list of species seen off to a 'flyer'. We had guests for lunch, with the result that I decided to go out early to see what I could get between about 05h00 and 09h00. It was cloudy when I got up and light conditions were not ideal for birding and photography impossible.

I started with a cup of coffee and in the semi-darkness I saw a long tail standing out from a large shrub across the road: my first bird for the year was a Cape Sugarbird feeding on a bottlebrush!!!!!!!!! We are so blessed to have these birds visiting our gardens during the summer months. I drove to the beach slowly and at the caravan park picked up the calls of the doves and sparrows and thought that it was not to bad to hear Cape Bulbuls, African Paradise Flycatchers and Sombre Greenbuls.

The beach was in a shocking state: there were about fifty young people still hanging around in various states of drunkenness, one must assume waiting for the sun that they would not see given the clouds. Sebastian Vettell would have liked this as the litter was dominated by Red Bull cans. (I should add though that by the time I returned to Onrus at 09h00 the area was clean and the refuse removal trucks were in full operation. The Overstrand municipality and it's staff should be commended for such excellent service on a day like this).

First 2012 pic: Young Fish-Eagle in the distance


African Pipit







Harderbaai did not disappoint though: the terns were already present in large numbers at the day roost (I estimate at least a thousand) and I could pick up Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns easily. Light conditions were to bad to identify the more difficult species, although I thought that there might have been at least little and roseates in there. We'll try to confirm them some other day. There were also the gulls, hadedas, Cape Cormorants and White-fronted Plovers present. I surprisingly dipped on the Oy's.

From here I moved to the Vermont salt pan where there was large-scaled activity as the light conditions improved. Grey Herons, Kelp Gulls and White-breasted Cormorants were active at nests and there were large numbers of Cape and Red-billed Teals all over the place. Further to this there were three other ducks and the normal avocets and stilts, the usual ralian-type species and the two resident warbler species present. High above an African Goshawk drifted past with its usual early morning high in the sky patrol. By the time I left Onrus and Vermont I was already on 48 species after an hour's worth of birding in trying conditions. This is certainly a top birding destination and we will continue marketing it as such. (This is why I keep on writing these reports).

Then onto the Karwyderskraal road where astonishingly I added ALL THREE BUZZARDS, YBK, vast numbers of White Storks and eight other species by the time I had reached the landfill site. This suddenly left me on 60 species in an hour and a quarter and I started developing visions of getting a hundred species before lunch. From here to the old metal bridge over the Botriver I added species such as Klaas's Cuckoo, all three crows, African Spoonbill and the young African Fish-Eagle that is still hanging around at it's nest. The sun was now braking through the clouds and I thought that I might as well make this my first bird photographed for this year given the fact that this iconic bird is the 'Bird of the Year' at BirdLife South Africa. I personally believe that this is an excellent choice as it will work very well as a theme in talks, posters and general educational campaigns. (70 species after 97 minutes).

Blue Cranes


Karoo Prinia






From here on the radical species count obviously started slowing down as I slowly moved along the Swartrivier road. Carin sent me an image of a pair of Blue Cranes with small chicks last week and I was looking for these. A large flock of these birds (fifty plus) had been present here for several weeks and I was really surprised to find at least two pairs with small chicks on the edges of the flock. I had stereotypically believed that pairs of these birds always brake away from the flock in order to breed and raise their young. Another thing that I need to find out about. This is the beauty of birding …......... an ongoing and continual learning curve.

The Large-billed Lark nest that I had reported on some days ago was abandoned with only a few tiny pooh marks where the nest had been. I did find the adults and could only see one fledgling, but easily 700 yards down the road and wondered whether moving the chicks away from the nest site is another survival strategy.








The area around the low water bridge over the Swartrivier produced both bishops, Black-headed and Purple Herons, White-throated Swallow, Banded Martin and a pair of Common Moorhen with FIVE healthy chicks. I am concerned about this little bridge though – the railings had been washed away some years ago and I predict that it will be washed away if we ever get a little flood again. Be very careful here and stay to the middle of the bridge. For the rest I managed most of the birds that I would normally expect along this road except for Cloud Cisticola and the two falcons, two harriers and Black-shouldered Kite.

By the time I started driving back to Onrus I was on 98 species and could not go to the Hawston sewage works as I was running out of time. I then started thinking about obvious common species that I had dipped on and came up with Laughing Dove, Speckled Mousebird and Southern Double-collared Sunbird. I decided to drive down Duke street as there are often good numbers of garden birds around and got all three species. This left me on 101 species by 09h00 and I packed it in.

I personally believe that this is a great start to my birding year and with trips to at least the Eastern and Northern Cape, the Garden Route, die Knersvlakte and the Kruger and Tanqua National Parks in the offing, who knows where this will leave me at the end of the year. 700? Any bets?

Young Capped Wheatear







Spotted Thick-knee







Steppe Buzzard taken in Vermont!

















ANGELA KEY (posted: 2012-01-04)
What a magic start to 2012 Anton. Thoroughly enjoyed your entertaining account of scoring a century before breakfast! My bet's on 700+. My 2012 resolution is to get back into painting, particularly little watercolours. Inspired by the prinia and the stonechat, both perfect poses. Please can I use your photos for reference? Can you email the photos to me at above address? I'd be thrilled Anton. Will make more effort to contribute to Birdlife this year too. Selling lots of bird call CDs and Sasol/Roberts guides at bookshop!!! Best wishes to you & Elaine.