BLO AT DUINEPOS IN THE WEST COAST NATIONAL PARKPosted on the 28th March 2012
BIRDLIFE OVERBERG'S WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK BIRDING WEEKEND – MARCH 2012
During the weekend of 23 to 25 March 2012 15 members of Birdlife Overberg were blessed with an opportunity to spend the weekend at the Duinepos Chalets birding the magnificent West Coast National Park.
Part of my pre trip homework involved reading the book by A. Berruti and J. C. Sinclair titled “Where to Watch Birds in Southern Africa” (published 1981). Their advice- autumn is the best time for waders as their plumage transforms into breeding colours.
I am the sort that thinks all terns are identical twins (maybe excepting the Caspian and Swift) and every previous time I have been in wader territory I have muttered about how the heck one sorts out what’s what in this multitude of various shades of grey and white birds. At least this time, true to the book, I had the beginnings of the breeding colours to help me out.
I travelled from the Overberg with Auriel and Jenny and we were also to share a chalet. We arrived early afternoon on Friday and as high tide was only at 4 pm, we took time to settle into our environmentally friendly and comfortable Duinepos chalet. After a cup of tea we decided Seeberg Hide was to be our mission for the day. According to our pre-trip homework, Seeberg is best immediately either side of high tide and the Geelbek Hide, 4,5 hours after high tide for between 2 to 3 hours. Karoo Scrub-Robins were everywhere and our first stop was for a Marsh Harrier quartering along the verge of the road before disappearing down towards the lagoon. Black-shouldered Kites were frequently seen hovering overhead and we were to see numerous fieldmice and rats that would keep the raptors in peak condition. We stayed for some time at the Seeberg Lookout point on the kopje overlooking the lagoon with more chats, Karoo Prinias and Yellow Canaries keeping us company. Cape Spurfowl were in the open ground and although we looked, we did not find any Korhaans.
On the dirt road down to the Seeberg Hide there were more chats, prinias, francolin, sparrows and bokmakerie with swallows and swifts in the air. Though moving slowly, I had to apply brakes for 8 Grey-winged Francolins right by the side of the road. We were treated to good views as they moved off slowly. We arrived at the hide before 4 o’clock to find we had it to ourselves. The boardwalk down to the hide gave us White-backed Mousebird, Grey-backed and Levaillant’s Cisticola, Bokmakerie and the Ostrich you find everywhere. Once there, Seeberg Hide was incredible for the sheer volume of birds. Auriel and Jenny are normally into their field guides, identifying this bird and that, but confessed they could not put their binoculars down for fear of missing something. There were thousands of terns, every now and then taking off in an awesome display of flight. We were able to definitely identify Common, Sandwich and Swift and maybe an Arctic and very likely others. In the still water behind the hide were White-fronted and Common Ringed Plover along with Yellow Canaries and Sanderling, one which was beginning to show red colouring. The sand bank in front of the hide was ever changing with an abundance of Grey Plover, Red Knot and Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage. There were Common Sandpiper, Sanderling, Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls, two Black Oystercatchers, Ruddy Turnstone and White-breasted Cormorants all sharing the space and coming and going as the tide reached its peak. Finally also, a lone Bar-tailed Godwit which hung around only until the next wave washed over the sandbank.
Back at the car park, a pair of White-throated Swallows allowed us to approach and photograph them at close quarters in the late evening light. We were fortunate to accede to Auriel’s request to stop and study the “C” behind the ear of the Cape Sparrow, for, as we moved off again, she pointed “there” and not 10 metres away on the ground was a Black Harrier. The pale eyes stood out in the slanting sunlight and we were able to photograph it as it took off and flew diagonally across us. It was one a breath-taking moment which left us euphoric as we returned to Duinepos. We related our memorable afternoon to our fellow birders only to find that perhaps we had been outdone by their sighting and photographing of an African Rail with juvenile right below the hide at Abrahamskraal.
The birding in the chalet area is very rewarding and the birds are generally confiding making for excellent photography. It was a pleasure to be up before sunrise to the sound of birdsong, including Fiery-necked Nightjar. The Cape Spurfowl and Karoo Scrub-Robin literally get underfoot as you sit on your front veranda. Birds visiting the birdbath included Cape Bunting, Cape Robin-Chat, Bokmakerie, Cape Weaver, Pied Starling, Cape Bulbul and White-throated Canary. Fieldmice and larger mouse-like rats had nests in the bushes alongside the chalet and were to be seen scurrying about. In the area between the chalet and the swimming pool we had good sightings of Long-billed Crombec, Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, prinia, White-backed Mousebird and Bar-throated Apalis. A pair of Rock Martins had taken up residence in the lapa area and White-throated Swallow were to be seen swooping over the swimming pool for a lunchtime drink.
On the Saturday morning high tide was at 4:08 am and we were in the Geelbek hide by 8:30 am which was perhaps half an hour too early. There was some excitement when we first arrived with Carin photographing a rooikat – we were to see three more during the weekend. South African Shelduck and Greater Flamingoes were seen in the distance with a number of waders who moved closer and closer as the tide ebbed. A flock of Spoonbills landed right in front of us and proceeded to preen each other before moving off to feed in the company of Little and Great Egret who appeared to use the Spoonbill to flush their prey. A Marsh-Harrier flew over the water just within photography distance. Curlew Sandpipers were the most abundant of the waders and most sported breeding colours. Black-winged Stilt, Whimbrel and Grey Plover were feeding in the distance and Ruddy Turnstones were nearer at hand. Common and Marsh Sandpiper were evident, along with Sanderling and Common Ringed Plover. On the way out we were entertained by a number of Cardinal Woodpeckers busy in the line of gum trees although one of the ladies stated all she had been able to see was the hundreds of “bottergatte” which were abundant everywhere. I think this (like most Afrikaans) is a lot more descriptive than the “toppie” I grew up with.
I missed the lunchtime picnic to Tsaarsbank and thus cannot report on what seabirds were located at the coast and adjacent islands. The Saturday afternoon plan was to visit Abrahamskraal Hide to try and find the elusive African Rail seen the previous evening. As we arrived there was a covey of 5 Grey-winged Francolin that flew off a short distance and returned to be seen later. The fresh water wetland was active as we continually scanned the fringes for the rail and we were entertained by the antics of the Red Knobbed Coots and Little Grebe. Grey Heron, Cape Shoveller, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, South African Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Sacred Ibis and Purple Swamphen were present and a Black harrier flew over twice. Yellow and White-throated Canaries came down to drink along with Cape Longclaw and Cape Wagtail. Our patience was rewarded and a juvenile African Rail eventually appeared twice on a rock by the reeds just below the hide. We did not see the adult but fellow birders saw her later on the far bank.
I had 4 birds on my personal wish list for the weekend – the nitwit, reef knot, pendulous tit and grey winged francolin. The WCNP delivered 3 with only the tit remaining elusive. (I have seen this bird when growing up in Zim but not yet the Cape variety). Our small “chalet sharing” group of Auriel, Jenny and I estimated that during the weekend we had seen over 100 species. I am not a list keeper, but hopefully one of the other members will have a full list and a final count.
The first sentence of this report contains the word blessed, and we were - by near perfect and largely windless days - by Duinepos Chalets that offer great value, maintain high standards and provide a close to nature experience - by camaraderie of fellow birders, entertainment round the braai fire and anecdotes and humour from the characters in the group, but mostly by the birds that we came for and waders in their breeding plumage. West Coast National Park is a great birding destination and thanks to Elaine, Anton and Anita and BLO for arranging a fantastic weekend.
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