A SIXTY MINUTE TWITCH AT ONRUS & VERMONTPosted on the 17th June 2013
(I thought members would be interested in this one hour bird count done along precisely the same route in Spetember and June. -Ed.)
17 June 2013, another Monday and public holiday with the cleaners taking over the house: I decided to do a 60 minute 'winter count' along precisely the same route described in the text below. Interesting to see what differences occurred for a beautifully sunny day so close to the shortest day of the year. People were out in mass, walking kids and dogs, making birding fairly slow and trouble-some. The are vast numbers of Greater Flamingos at the Vermont salt pan and several photographers were making the best of conditions there. Most of the species described below were on display, although I dipped on canaries, waxbills, whydahs, Grey-backed Cisticola and Karoo Prinia today. I managed to count 24 species at the salt pan, six less than in September.
The drive through Vermont again produced Southern Tchagra, together with Sombre Greenbul, Southern Boubou, lots of spurfowls and most of the usual garden birds to be expected here. I dipped on Spotted Thick-knee, Cape Turtle-Dove, Black-headed Heron and canaries, that one would normally expect to find here. I was on 32 species when I reached the Onrus peninsula, compared to the 40 species in September.
Harderbaai produced Cattle Egret, Little Egret and Sacred Ibis, all species that are normally not present during summer. This area today produced several of our Western Cape specials such as Swift Tern (with none of the migratory species), African Black Oystercatcher and Cape Cormorant and, most surprisingly an overwintering Common Whimbrel.
The Onrus lagoon initially seemed very quiet, until huge numbers of water birds started flying about in what appeared to be a state of panic. A group of very noisy youngsters in canoes came working up the estuary explaining the excitement of the birds. There were large numbers of coots, shovelers and Yellow-billed Ducks milling about and to my delight no mallards. Wonder why? I also saw individuals of species such as African Darter, Little Bittern and Grey and Purple Herons flying towards safer areas of the lagoon. The highlight however was at least 18 Black-crowned Night-Herons flying about in broad daylight and settling momentarily on milkwood trees before taking off again frantically. What a spectacle!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I reached 48 species after 60 minutes, which I thought is not to bad for the time of year with so many people about. The most interesting of the whole exercise though is the difference of species present (and not). I might discuss this with Doug Harebottle and consider registering this circle route as a My Bird Patch. Once I told Elaine about this she decided to take the usual route that she walks with the dog on her own and see how many species she can count along it. Watch this space.
REPORT FROM SEPTEMBER 2012: An hour’s birding at Onrus and Vermont
My National Braai Day started with a call from Ettiene Marais of Indicator Birding asking for advice on a few birds in our area. He is taking a Japanese birder through the Overberg chasing several of the Western Cape target species of the region. This client is particularly doing photography and is wanting to get images of very specific species. It is interesting to note how many international birders are targeting the Western Cape – earlier today I loaded feedback from an Italian birder. This brief report can be seen under 'news' on the website's home page.
It is Monday and the cleaners come in, with the result that I go birding for the 90 minutes that they are busy in the house. I drive a specific route past the Vermont Salt Pan, do a loop through Vermont, go around the Onrus peninsula and Harderbaai and end at the Onrus estuary along Lagoon Drive. There is a report elsewhere on the website of one of these excursions in December 2011, when I managed to identify 77 species in the 90 minutes. This morning there was a northerly breeze and it was rather cloudy, not very good for birding.
Surprisingly, there were no flamingos at the salt pan, as there were vast numbers over the last few weeks. One can only assume that the heavy rains towards the end of last week changed the salinity levels of the water and the birds moved on. I always find it interesting how these birds move around depending on conditions. Good numbers of White-breasted Cormorant, Grey Heron and Kelp Gulls are nesting at the moment and Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed Ducks and Cape Shovelers are protecting their young along the water's edge. Both Spotted Thick-knees and Blacksmith Plovers were particularly neurotic and vocal, probably also suggesting breeding behaviour and Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers were singing in the reeds. Levaillant's and Grey-backed Cisticolas, Common Waxbill and Pin-tailed Whydah were very active in the adjacent vegetation. In total I managed to identify 30 species at the salt pan.
The drive through Vermont was particularly exciting largely due to my first Southern Tchagra ever for this area. The Cape Canaries, Cape Robin-Chats and Sombre Greenbulls were very vocal, together with Cape Spurfowls. There were fishermen out on the water and two Subantarctic Skuas were flying from one boat to the other. I surprisingly dipped on Fiscal Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo and Red Bishops, but most of the other bankers such as Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Bulbul and Karoo Prinia were found.
Also interesting that Little Egret, Pied Kingfisher and African Black Oystercatcher were not found along Harderbaai this morning. The terns are back in a big way and besides the usual Swift Terns, I found Common, Damara and Sandwich Terns at the day roost. These birds have been present over the last ten days. The milkwoods produced Cape Batis, Olive Thrush and lots of greenbuls and white-eyes.
The estuary had been very quiet in recent weeks, probably due to the high water levels and I did not manage to add anything here. After and hour the cloudy weather again started moving in and I decided to head back home. I managed to get 61 species in the 60 minutes that I was out there, and believe that this is not too bad given the conditions and the fact that I missed out on several species that I would normally expect to find. Of these 61 species 16 were endemic or near-endemic, once again indicating how underrated our area is as a top birding destination. I decided that this summer I am going to try my best to get a hundred species in the 90 minutes that I have on Monday mornings when the sound of vacuum cleaners drive me nuts at home.