EASTER WEEKEND IN THE WEST COAST NATIONAL PARKPosted on the 11th April 2013
We participated in the annual Sasol Strettons Wader Bash in the WCNP, organised by the SANPark Honorary Rangers (see report elsewhere on the website) and decided to book into the Duinepos Chalets for the Easter weekend. This in the hope that not all the waders would have left by then and to have another round of practice. The week prior to our planned arrival, news started filtering through that the waders have all gone??
The West Coast National Park must truly be one of the most beautiful places, with its tidal lagoon, an important birding area and Ramsar-classified and so easily accessible to visitors - all of this only one hour's drive from Cape Town. The area is an important feeding ground for thousands of migratory palearctic waders.
There are 4 hides within the park: Abrahamskraal, with fresh water is in close proximity to the southern entrance gate. There are two hides close to the Geelbek Manor House and these are best visited at low tide. Seeberg hide is towards the Langebaan entrance of the WCNP and is best visited at high tide.
BUT, this weekend was about birding, so we came armed with a tide table, lots of bird books, bins and camera’s ! OOO…. and of course lots and lots of Easter Eggs ! On Easter Friday we made our way to Langebaan via the N7 reaching the park just before lunch time.
We made ourselves comfortable at the Duinepos Chalets (visit www.duinepos.co.za), that started out as a community development and black empowerment project and has since grown into a very successful business. We immediately set off for Abrahamskraal as the tide was not favourable at any of the other three hides. The wind was quite strong, and we only found two Lesser Flamigos and Lesser Swamp-Warbler. No African Rail or the Black Crakes on display.
In order to catch the high tide at Seeberg hide, we had to be there at first light – what a fantastic time of day, although getting up at 06h00 on a weekend is a bit challenging! There was a lot of activity at Seeberg, with Greater Flamingos, Eurasian Curlew, Common Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderlings, Grey Plover and African Black Oystercatcher present. Also lots of Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns and a single Caspian Tern. On a sandbank a little further back there were some juvenile White-breasted Cormorants in the company of all three Gull species (Kelp, Haurtlaub and Grey-headed), as well as Common Ringed Plover and Cape Cormorant.
Seeing the waders now and comparing them to a month ago……….well, it seemed like different birds?? They all seemed white and grey a month ago and now they are mottled or “dirty” as the Mentor always says. They are all changing into their Sunday best in the hope that they will find a mate once back in the Northern hemisphere. What a challenge it is to identify them all. We found the best way of identifying them is to work through them slowly, referring back to the bird books hundreds of times – sometimes still ending up with a hugely out of range bird, only to be disappointed that it is only a very common species? But this is the way to learn.
|Lesser Flamingo at Abrahamskraal|
A message came through of a Lesser Honeyguide that had been seen in the gumtrees leading to the Geelbek homestead. Dawid went out cycling and I decided to go in search of the Lesser Honeyguide. I soon located them, yes a pair, hunting for bees and also inspecting an old dead tree with a hole in it. The pair was accompanied by a juvenile Fiscal Flycatcher.
On Saturday morning we woke up to the calls of a Spotted Eagle-Owl and a Fiery-necked Nightjar. It was still very dark, but we ventured out to find the most beautiful Spotted Eagle-Owl on our roof. We followed him for a while as he was flying from chimney to chimney calling his mate. A bit of early morning birding around the chalet brought most of the LBJ’s, but we were most amused by a pair of Bar-throated Apalises, hunting down the previous night’s insects at all the lights around the chalets. Mid-morning we made our way to the Geelbek hide, meeting up with lots of other enthusiastic birders. Also two very young boys who soon started recognising the “Steenloper” (Ruddy Turnstone), etc once shown to them. What little sponges these young kids are. At BirdLife Overberg we have developed 4 brochures, specifically aimed at kids: please contact us should you need some for your school or education centre.
That afternoon we took the drive towards Tsaarsbank, as it would be low tide and we wanted to walk to the little island that is only accessible during low tide. On the way we came across lots of Black-shouldered Kites on the hunt. Near Kraalbaai we stopped at one that has just landed with a rodent. It decapitated it first and swallowed the whole head and then started tearing the rest of the body into pieces. It took the bird twelve minutes flat to eat its entire meal.
|Black-shouldered Kite with prey|
|Thousands of Cape Cormorants on beach|
It was misty when we arrived at Tsaarsbank and a cold wind blew in from the sea. We noticed that the there were thousands of Cape Cormorants sitting on the sandy beach. Lots of them were washing and preening themselves in the water - there must have been a school of fish in the vicinity. On the rocks we spotted White-breasted, Bank and Crowned Cormorants and a few Cape Gannets flew past. There were lots of Swift Terns, and we never walked to the little Island as the Cape Cormorants were on the beach.
On Sunday we followed more or less the same pattern of birding. We went looking for the Lesser Honeyguide, but it was either still asleep or it was just too windy. (But then bees only start working at 17°C). At Abrahamskraal we eventually found the African Rail, together with Black Crakes, Cape Bunting, three species of Canaries, African Marsh-Harrier and lots of teenage Ostriches. Returning to Duinepos we saw a beautiful Cape Sand Snake, which is restricted to the Western Cape and Renosterveld. By 16h00 it started raining, and once it cleared we decided to walk the newly created Dawid Botha trail starting at Duinepos. How lovely it is to walk in the veld with fresh rain that has just fallen and the smell of the fynbos in the air! That evening we went Nightjar “hunting”, but had no luck.
We will be back to meet up with the Waders on their return !
Text and images by Dawid & Carin Malan
|Cape Sand Snake|
|African Purple Swamphens|