Posted on the 4th September 2013

Going to Plett we had a fairly uneventful drive in terms of birding as we were mostly trying to figure out our ix35 that we only received last Friday. Elaine spent a lot of time reading the manual – by our standards this realy is rocket science as our two skedonke were both more than ten years old. Brave new world, but what a fantastic vehicle. We decided to start a life list for the car and have now reached 80 species. Watch this space, as Maggie, as we decided to call it after the sales lady, is taking us on a round trip of several National Parks in October.
There are real indications of a summer approaching as we saw Yellow-billed Kites, Black Sawwing, Pearl-breasted and White-throated Swallow and Alpine Swift. We also only saw pairs of Blue Cranes and no birds flocking. Come on summer, we deserve you this time. Once we had gone past George we got glimpses of the great birds that the Garden Route is known for. An African Olive-Pigeon at Knysna, a VERY white Forest Buzzard at the Garden of Eden tree and that brilliant flash of red as a Knysna Loerie (I insist) flew across the highway. Sadly, we only found one Black-shouldered Kite all day. The preliminary findings from SABAP2 clearly suggest that this species is in trouble, ai tog.
We also stopped at local tourism offices along the way to deliver birdfinder brochures for the Garden Route and Klein Karoo to be used during the forthcoming summer season. We were very encouraged as we got several reports that these brochures are very popular and being used extensively by visitors.
Once again we are fortunate to be staying in Wilfred and Marcia's apartment on the Goose Valley Golf Estate. Sundowners on their elevated patio overlooking the confluence of the Bitou and Keurbooms Rivers, the estuary and the (current) mouth to the west with Robberg in the background is to die for. Zillions of Kelp Gulls and I hope that we can chat to BirdLife Plett members about their conservation project on this species over the next two days. Whimbrels and greenshanks were prominent, but the highlight certainly was a quartering African Marsh-Harrier scattering a group of gypos over the marshes.
The many species in the coastal bush however dominate birding at Goose Valley. Southern Boubou, Burchell's Coucal, Sombre Greenbul, Steaky-headed Seedeater, Southern Tchagra, and apalis, bokmakierie, prinia, robin, thrush, wagtail, the list just go on. Brilliant! And then as the night settles the calls of Water Dikkop (I insist), Fiery-necked Nightjar and spotty. This region is highly underrated as birding destination – I recall that I posted a recent outing report of the BirdLife Plett on a visit to Goose Valley. Great birding!

To the west - hellish green with 5 traps
Pan in front of apartment











To the east - confluence of the Bitou and Keurbooms Rivers










We were not able to bird much on Thursday and Friday as we were presenting the course. We will however attempt to do a short report as participants in the course always come up with very interesting local birding stories.
Thursday morning started out with a dawn chorus of epic proportions. In the distance we could hear many gulls and terns, together with Common Greenshank and Common Whimbrel along the estuary. Most of the birds mentioned last night were very vocal and we were delighted to pick up on Olive Bush-shrike, Black Cuckooshrike and both Knysna and Olive woodpeckers. What a start to the day! The participants in the course were very enthusiastic and often very proud of the birds found in the region. Once again it seemed as the Bitou River floodplain and Nature's Valley came out tops as birding destination every time, although several participants came from The Crags and believed that their area is highly underrated.
As far as Western Cape birding is concerned most participants were quick to indicate that Plett and environs tend to throw up some really special birds. The Sooty Falcon is generally seen as top of the pops and the name-dropping indicated species such as Black-collared Barbet, African Cuckoo-Hawk, African Finfoot, Black Heron, Black-bellied Starling, Grey Sunbird and many more. Also interesting that the people from The Crags pointed out that Long-crested Eagles have been around in the area for many years. We need to encourage these birders to start participating in atlasing and the hope is expressed that Doug Harebottle's MyBirdPatch workshop being done this weekend will contribute significantly in getting birders involved in reporting birds more regularly. Many of these birders take special species for granted and do not realise how special some of these species are as far as the Western Cape Province is concerned. One just have to read John Graham's report on birding at Nature's Valley to get to understand the quality of birding in the region:

Our birding day ended on the patio – seven Speckled Pigeons came flying in our direction when suddenly a Black Sparrowhawk came out of nowhere and scattered the alarmed pigeons to what looked like the rest of the province. One wonders if the spar is just doing this for fun, or if it would be able to take pigeons in flight?

Part of the group during practical outing
Explaining BLO's new educational brochures












The practical outing on Friday morning took us to the Plett sewage works, one of our favorite birding destinations in the area. Mike Bridgeford, the Chairman of BirdLife Plett, assisted us in this regard and took half of the group around the ponds. Thanks Mike. Unfortunately there are heavy construction works underway at the ponds and this dampened the birding somewhat. Most of the common ducks of the region were on display, but the vegetation around the ponds produced a lot of specials. Species here included four sunbirds, a very white Forest Buzzard, Sombre Greenbul, Black-headed Oriole, Southern Boubou, Olive Bush-Shrike, Cape Batis and many more. The quality of birds at the sewage works allowed us to illustrate the principles behind the Flight for Birders course meaningfully.

The area between Robberg and the Tsitsikamma National Park certainly has vast birding potential and it became evident to us that this region deserves far greater exposure as a top birding destination. We will attempt to develop electronic birdfinder descriptions for the Bitou local municipality, similar to that done for the Overstrand local municipal region. (See under Overberg Birding Routes elsewhere on this website). Discussions about the identification of potential sponsors in this regard have commenced.

During the course
With Cindy-Lee Cloete








(Course images by Mike Bridgeford. - Ed.)









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