INTRODUCTORY NOTES ON BIRDING AT STILBAAIPosted on the 6th April 2012
BIRDING IN THE STILBAAI AREA
We presented a Flight for Birders bird identification and conservation course at Stilbaai towards the end of March and came away highly impressed with birding opportunities in the region. We express our sincere appreciation and thanks to the Hessequa municipality for allowing us to use their great facilities in Stilbaai for the course and to John and Jenny Willemse for setting us up in their lovely home – what hospitality and support! Thank you very much.
The group that participated in the course was very enthusiastic and passionate and it is clear that there is vast potential in this region for the development of formal BirdLife South Africa structures. The presence of good numbers of younger people was even more encouraging - this was largely due to the participation of seven employees from the Oyster Bay Reserve. This reserve features great birding (more than 200 species) and a Trust drives really interesting educational and community involvement projects. Make a note of the name and watch this space.
The practical outing on the Thursday afternoon went along a gentle hiking trail from the tourism office and Palingat towards the estuary. Make a point of visiting the Blombos Museum to learn about the fascinating Archaeology of the region when passing through this area and keep in mind that one can hand-feed the tame eels at 11h00 each morning. There are a variety of well maintained hiking trails in and around Stilbaai and the plants and trees on the one that we went on are continually being restored to indigenous vegetation. This, together with the existence of the Stilbaai Marine Protected Area, can only contribute to meaningful and sustainable conservation efforts in the region.
The dense vegetation and thickets along the little stream produced stunning birding. We were able to study CAPE SUGARBIRDS, KAROO PRINIA and both GREATER and SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRDS in the open areas at the beginning of the trail and the usual bishops, sparrows and weavers were abundant. Several wagtails here are also minus toes and we had fleeting glimpses of AFRICAN PARADISE FLYCATCHERS. We were also able to compare the resident AFRICAN DUSKY FLYCATCHERS with the visiting SPOTTED FLYCATCHER. Both KNYSNA WARBLER and KNYSNA WOODPECKER were heard, but unfortunately not seen. As is to be expected in this type of habitat we found BAR-THROATED APALIS, CAPE BATIS, CAPE BULBUL, SOMBRE GREENBUL, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT and CAPE WHITE-EYES fairly often. I was very impressed with the birding along this trail and I wondered about the possibility of finding species such as LEMON and TAMBOURINE DOVES, CHORISTER ROBIN-CHAT and the like, but looking for these will be for a next visit.
The open verges along the water's edge produced different species such as BOKMAKIERIE, BRIMSTONE, WHITE-THROATED and YELLOW CANARIES, FISCAL FLYCATCHER, CROWNED and BLACKSMITH LAPWING, FISCAL SHRIKE, GREY-HEADED SPARROW and COMMON WAXBILL, plus guess who? PINTAILED WHYDAH. The mudflats on the other side of the estuary still had surprisingly good numbers of waders for this time of the year and in the distance we could distinguish migrants such as GREY PLOVER, COMMON, CURLEW and MARSH SANDPIPERS, RUDDY TURNSTONE and COMMON WHIMBREL. Resident species included WHITE BREASTED CORMORANTS, LITTLE EGRET, KITTLITZ'S and WHITE-FRONTED PLOVERS, AFRICAN SPOONBILL and BLACK-WINGED STILT. We also saw KELP GULLS, AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS and many SWIFT TERNS. Not bad for a gentle walk with lots of mirth, banter and questioning in less than two hours. One wonders what this area will produce if it is twitched seriously.
The areas surrounding STILBAAI further has great birding potential and I just mention a few of these briefly. The town's water treatment works features a bird hide that is apparently very good for birding, particularly in the morning. This is where a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE was found some years ago. There are several farms upstream along the river that offer mostly self-catering accommodation where birding can be outstanding. Read the short article by KELLY HARDING elsewhere on this website. Birds that she had seen on their farm in the days after the course (not seen by us during the practical outing) included FOREST CANARY, YELLOW-BILLED EGRET, AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE, BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHER, CAPE PENDULINE-TIT, KAROO SCRUB-ROBIN, STREAKY-HEADED SEEDEATER and AMYTHEST SUNBIRD.
To the west of Stilbaai lies VERMAAKLIKHEID, a secluded little hamlet situated on the banks of the Duivenhoksrivier between Heidelberg and Riversdale. A group of BirdLife Overberg members spent a weekend there earlier in the summer and came back very impressed. Birds not mentioned before that they found here include MARSHALL EAGLE, COMMON GREENSHANK, GIANT and PIED KINGFISHER and CARDINAL WOODPECKER to just mention a few. To the east lie VOëLVLEI and LANGVLEI that local birders believe are THE birding hotspots when conditions are optimal after good rains. This area produced the HUDSONIAN GODWIT earlier in the season and a brief overview of some trip reports to the area in recent times produced sightings of species such as BAILLON’S CRAKE, BLUE CRANES, MACCOA DUCKS, together with most of the other ducks and teals to be found in the region, BOOTED EAGLE, LANNER FALCON, large numbers of breeding BLACK-NECKED GREBES, RUFF, WOOD SANDPIPER, LITTLE STINT and WHISKERED and WHITE-WINGED TERNS. And so one could go on …............. Kindly note that access to the latter two birding destinations is through private property and that permission for entry is needed.
This is just brief feedback on less than 48 hours spent in Stilbaai during which time we were busy with the course for most of the time. What is the message? Birders traveling along the N2 should certainly spend some time at Stilbaai as this short report did not even begin to scratch the surface of what is available in the region. Elaine and myself have added a few days in this area to our itinerary for when we do the fieldwork and research for the production of the birding brochure for the Eden district municipal region.