TRIP REPORT: WADER BASH IN THE WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK 2013Posted on the 12th February 2013
The WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK (S33º 14’643” E18º 12’145”) is an Important Bird Area (SA 105) and a RAMSAR site. The Park includes the beach and dune land between the villages of YZERFONTEIN and LANGEBAAN, the beautiful lagoon and the Saldanha Bay Islands. More than 300 bird species have been identified here, and the Park is probably best known for the thousands of migratory waders in summer. Terrestrial birding should, however, not be underestimated. The Rhenosterveld (a type of fynbos) of the Park represents of the last large remnants of this habitat type, and hosts good numbers of the vulnerable BLACK HARRIER.
One of the main birding events in this Park is the Wader Bash organised by the Honorary Rangers. This year's event was held between 8 and 10 February and was once again a huge success despite rather inclement weather. We arrived on Friday afternoon and at 17h00 the entire group got together in the now beautifully decorated educational centre (well done HR's). The rules of the game (note that they don't use the phrase competition anymore) were explained. Teams of four or five had to see how many species they could identify between 18h00 on Friday and 18h00 on Saturday. An experienced guide was appointed to each team and was not allowed to identify any species. Our team consisted of Elaine and myself and old friends Wilfred and Marcia Crous. Carin Malan's team consisted of her sister Maresa and Peter and Liz Hochfelden of the Stanford Bird Club.
|Maresa, Peter, Marcia & Wilfred in hide (Anton)|
|Maresa hard at work (Anton)|
We decided to begin our birding at the ABRAHAMSKRAAL HIDE (S33º 13’857” E18º 08’136”). As one would expect we found species such as RED-KNOBBED COOT, BLACK CRAKE, LITTLE GREBE, COMMON MOORHEN, AFRICAN RAIL, CAPE SHOVELER, AFRICAN SPOONBILL and LESSER SWAMP-WARBLERS. The water is very overgrown by reeds (a huge point of debate by participants throughout the weekend) and this caused us to miss out on several species that we would normally expect to find here, such as YELLOW-BILLED DUCK, WOOD SANDPIPER, SOUTH AFRICAN SHELDUCK, AFRICAN PURPLE SWAMPHEN and the teals. The BLACK HARRIER and AFRICAN MARSH HARRIER that often quarter past here were also absent even though we did find good numbers of these throughout the weekend. Large numbers of martins, swallows and swifts are to be seen here in summer and the highlight was a pair of fledgling WHITE-THROATED SWALLOWS still attempting to fit into their nest inside the hide. The vegetation around the dam gave us species such as BOKMAKIERIE, WHITE-THROATED and YELLOW CANARIES, GREY-BACKED and LEVAILLANT'S CISTICOLAS, CAPE LONGCLAW and CAPE WAGTAIL. The access road to the hide produced WATTLED STARLING and WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD, but unfortunately not NAMAQUA SANDGROUSE.
|Cape Shoveler (Wilfred)|
|Young White-throated Swallows (Anton)|
The area at and around the trees leading to the Geelbek homestead (and the homestead itself) brings another suite of species into play and we decided to concentrate on this general area before sunset. We managed to add YELLOW BISHOP, CAPE BUNTING, GREY-WINGED FRANCOLIN, BLACK-HEADED HERON, AFRICAN HOOPOE, ROCK KESTREL, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE, CAPE WEAVER and some of the usual doves and sparrows. We were disappointed to dip on species such as ACACIA PIED BARBET, CAPE BATIS, SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, LESSER HONEYGUIDE, SOUTHERN BLACK KORHAAN, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, CAPE PENDULINE TIT and CARDINAL WOODPECKER, all of which having been reported on here on the capebirdnet in recent months.
|Grey-winged Francolin (Carin)|
|Female Southern Black Korhaan (Carin)|
The evening was spent with a communal braai, with ample supply of the sponsor's products. Glendower, Stretton's and local wineries were appropriately thanked for their continued support of these birding events.
It was rainy and misty at dawn on Saturday and this did not bode well for a good day's birding, or bird photography for that matter. A SPOTTED EAGLE-OWL on one of the chimney's at Duinepos looked somewhat eerie in the mist. We decided to start our day at the original GEELBEK HIDE (S33º 11’417” E18º 07’477”) that is situated in close proximity to the historic GEELBEK HOMESTEAD AND RESTAURANT. (S33º 11’43.22” E18º 07’23.15”). The hide overlooks salt marshes and mudflats and is the best spots to view waders. The hide is best visited at ebb tide - four and a half hours after high tide and two hours after low tide in Table Bay and this is what influenced our decision to start the day here. The boardwalk leading to the hide again provided great entertainment: GREY HERON, BLACK-SMITH LAPWING, KITTLITZ'S PLOVERS, LITTLE STINTS and BLACK-WINGED STILTS were easily identified despite the persistent drizzle.
|Geelbek hide 1 (Anton)|
|Geelbek hide 2 (Anton)|
There was literally 'standing room only' when we arrived at the hide - at one point I counted 38 birders trying their best to get a glimpse of the action. Initially there were only GREATER FLAMINGOS around given the depth of the water. As the tide receded the COMMON WHIMBRELS, BLACK-WINGED STILTS, PIED AVOCETS (what lovely birds, particularly in flight), COMMON GREENSHANKS and MARSH SANDPIPERS started moving in. As more and more sandbanks became exposed the shorter legged waders started moving in with RED KNOT, GREY PLOVERS, THREE-BANDED PLOVERS, CURLEW SANDPIPERS and SANDERLINGS being most plentiful. This allowed for great opportunities to hone one's wader identification skills. Highlights here included a BAR-TAILED GODWIT, CHESTNUT-BANDED PLOVERS and the arrival of a few EURASIAN CURLEWS. It allowed participants the opportunity to compare the significant difference in size between the curlews and the whimbrels. Species that were strangely absent included PURPLE HERON, AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE, AFRICAN MARSH-HARRIER, RUFF, RUDDY TURNSTONE, as well as the COMMON REDSHANK that had been reported on several times during the summer. This hide remains one of the top birding sites in our region if one considers that special birds seen here in recent years include DUNLIN, TEREK SANDPIPER, GREATER and LESSER SAND PLOVER and BLACK TERN.
|Whimbrel (left) & Curlew (Carin)|
|Greater Flamingo (Carin)|
I had a bit of a medical problem and wasted about two hours of our team's time looking for equipment in Langebaan. By the time we reached the SEEBERG HIDE, (S33º 09’509” E18º 03’637”) it was raining heavily and we decided not to walk to the hide. This hide, with its new boardwalk, is situated about 1km from the LANGEBAAN ENTRANCE to the Park (S33º 07’057” E18º 03’308”) and the best viewing here is at high tide. Vagrants viewed at the hide in recent years include BLACK-TAILED and HUDSONIAN GODWITS, EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER, LESSER SAND PLOVER, and BROAD-BILLED, TEREK and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS. We then decided to drive along the gravel track that follows the water's edge. One of the huge advantages of participating in the Wader Bash is that several of these tracks that are normally not accessible to the public are opened for participants. Along here we found large numbers of canaries, interestingly a flock of twelve CROWNED LAPWINGS that stayed in front of our vehicle for a long time and a very rufous, orange-eyed SPOTTED EAGLE-OWL easily to be confused with Cape Eagle-Owl by birders that are not observant. Other groups found JACKAL BUZZARD, BOOTED EAGLE and OSPREY along this road. Our highlight here was a male GREY PLOVER in full breeding plumage – magnificent bird.
|Spotted Eagle-Owl (Wilfred)|
|Grey Plover - Russian lady (MC)|
From here we returned to our chalet for lunch before we went to TSAARBANK ( S33º 08’900” E18º 00’105”) on the Atlantic seaboard. This site should be visited as most of the so-called Benquela current endemics are available. We found BANK, CAPE and CROWNED CORMORANTS, HARTLAUB'S and KELP GULLS, AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and several terns. We were also delighted to finally get RUDDY TURNSTONES. Spotting scopes are needed to look for AFRICAN PENGUINS and CAPE GANNETS on the distant Vondeling Island.
|Ruddy Turnstones (Anton)|
|Hartlaub's Gulls (Anton)|
We then returned to Geelbek via the Schrywershoek gravel road that follows the western and then southern sides of the Langebaan lagoon. We were amazed at the large numbers of ROCK KESTRELS and BLACK-SHOULDERED KITES that were found along this road and were able to find good numbers of waders along the salt marshes. Two groups found EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER is this area. Our last stop-over was at Mooimaak, another of the roads especially opened for participants in the weekend. We only managed to add some common species such as PIED CROW, WHITE-NECKED RAVEN, PIED STARLING and SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRD here and were unable to find BARN OWL in any of the old buildings. Our highlight here was a group of LARK-LIKE BUNTINGS. One group was able to add VERREAUX'S EAGLE at this site.
|African Black Oystercatcher & Eurasian cousin (Carin)|
|Lark-like Bunting (Anton)|
We had run out of steam by now and decided not to take the fifteen minutes walk from the homestead to the TWO HIDES IN THE SALT MARSHES (S33º 12’21.69” E18º 07’24.50”). This is where the waders go when it is high tide at the two Geelbek hides. This can be very rewarding, with interesting birds along the way. The gala dinner was great fun and we all agreed that birders and BirdLife South Africa clubs should support these birding weekends presented by the Honorary Rangers in most National Parks far more regularly and in greater numbers. The various teams saw a total of 138 species over the twenty-four hour period – a remarkable achievement given the poor weather conditions.
|Mel's winning team|
|BirdLife Overberg ladies receiving their gift|
On Sunday morning it was time for lectures: I presented my talk on 'Why visit the Western Cape to bird? Largely an endemic brag session' and Carin Malan gave a compelling rendition of the five BirdLife Overberg ladies chasing pelicans on Jutten Island. Read more about their adventure at the following link:
|Bank Cormorant on Jutten Island (Carin)|
|Crowned Cormorants on Jutten Island (Carin)|
It is hoped that these two talks will contribute to the meaningful conservation of birds and their habitats in the Western Cape Province. All the Honorary Rangers of the West Coast National Park should be congratulated with another highly successful Wader Bash. The members of the two Overberg teams would in particular like to express their appreciation to Noeline van den Berg, Pamela Rutledge and Alec and Janet Celliers for making our weekend so enjoyable. Long may this weekend continue and contribute to bird conservation in the Park. The weekend again illustrated that the West Coast National Park remains one of the top birding spots in our country.
Final comments regarding accommodation in the Park are included for visiting birders: Self-catering accommodation is available at DUINEPOS. (S33º 11’701” E18º 08’289”). This facility is managed by a group of local ladies, and birding around the chalets is normally simply superb. (Reservations: +27 022 707 9900 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
These chalets are very well appointed, practical and affordable and really great for birding. One is right in the “bush” and birds are all around one – really wonderful to sit on one's patio or at the swimming pool and be able to bird at leisure. There is a very comfortable communal “lapa” area as well and the facility could be used very effectively as base for groups when exploring birding delights of this wonderful National Park. Members of BirdLife Overberg have in recent years spent two weekend camps here and another midweek camp is being planned for the flower season in August.
Most importantly, Duinepos gives one the opportunity to stay over in the West Coast National Park and is in close proximity to the bird hides at Geelbek and Abrahamskraal. The Duinepos chalets could also be used as a base to visit other top tourism destinations along the Cape West Coast such as Darling, the salt pans at Yzerfontein, the Seeberg bird hide, the Langebaan quarry and birding destinations a bit further away such as those at Paternoster, Velddrif and Rocher Pan.
|Jackal Buzzard (Carin)|
|Grey Tit (Anton)|
|White-fronted Plover (Anton)|
|Pied Avocet (Anton)|