GREAT OVERSTRAND BIRDING AS PART OF THE WALKER BAY BIRD FAIR
Posted on the 27th February 2015
Finally the day arrived – the Walker Bay Bird Fair’s 2015 outing to Rooi Els, Stony Point, Harold Porter National Gardens and Rooisand Nature Reserve started at 07h00 departing from Stanford. Some more birders were collected at Onrus before the outing started at the world-reknowned Cape Rock-jumper site at Rooi Els.
The Rooi Els site forms part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, designated by UNESCO as one of 400 such reserves worldwide. Kogelberg was South Africa’s first registered biosphere reserve and it includes the entire coastal area, 7.5km off shore in the Atlantic Ocean, from Gordon’s Bay to the Botrivier vlei, and inland to Grabouw and the Groenland Mountain. The Kogelberg Biosphere is about 100 000 ha in extent, with a sensitive core of 18 000 ha that is kept pristine.
Biosphere reserves are 'new concept' reserves: no fences to keep 'people' out and 'nature' in. It is the commitment of local communities, farmers and conservation and government agencies to protect the magnificent landscapes and unique biodiversity. The reserve protects about 1,900 different plant species of which 77 species occur nowhere else on earth. Bird species found here include Brimstone Canary, Cape Bunting, Verreaux's Eagle, Cape Rock-jumper, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrushes, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Ground Woodpecker.
Cape Sugarbird in the rain
It was overcast and rather windy when the group arrived at Rooi Els. More than fourty bird-watchers were however not deterred by a little bit of wind and cold, as the site host several endemics. The pressure was on group leaders Carin Malan, Chris Cheetham and John and Sheila Bowman - the co-founder of the British Bird Fair and Reserve Manager at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, Tim Appleton MBE, was one of the birders.
Very obliging Cape Rock-thrushes were the first species encountered, and these were followed by some target species such as Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Bunting, Cape Sugarbird and Familiar Chat. The leaders had to work really hard to find a pair of Ground Woodpeckers and then suddenly (thanks goodness !!!!) a beautiful female Cape Rock-jumper was found, even though in the distance. The Verreaux's Eagles were unfortunately not to be seen. There were many Red-winged Starlings feeding on top of the fynbos, and the group found this rather interesting as they could not figure out what the birds were actually feeding on. Sadly the weather was not great and some rain set in.
From here the group moved to Stony Point, breeding ground of the African Penguin which is situated at the old abandoned whaling station in Betty's Bay. Group members were lucky to find not only the African Penguins, but all five cormorant species – White-breasted, Cape, Crowned and Bank Cormorants. The latter are still breeding, the white marking on their rumps showing beautifully. Also a single Reed Cormorant. Group members also enjoyed the dassies and Cape Girdled Lizards. Three pairs of AfricanBlack Oystercatchers were present as well, and vast numbers of Cape Gannets have been observed throughout the morning as they were flying towards Hermanus, possibly towards fish in Walker Bay?
Time was running out as the group moved on to the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. This lovely garden, also part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, is situated in the center of the coastal fynbos. It consists of 10 hectares of cultivated fynbos garden and 190.5 hectares of pristine natural fynbos, forests, mountains and coastline. During the 1930's land in the Hangklip area between the Palmiet River and the Rooi Els River was acquired by three business partners, that included Harold Porter. After Harold Porter's death on 27 February 1958 the reserve was offered to the then National Botanical Gardens of SA, which renamed it in Harold Porter's honour. Target species here include Victorin's Warbler, African Black Duck, several flycatchers, Cape Siskin, Cape Spurfowl, Sombre Greenbull, Olive Woodpecker and Swee and Common Waxbills.
The participants were very eager to enjoy a picnic lunch after all the hard work of the morning. An African Black Duck was found on a pond at the entrance to the garden – great start. Once all had finished their picnics, the group went in search of the Swee Waxbills that were reported earlier, but sadly dipped on this species. The Sombre Greenbuls were out in force, together with Orange-breasted Sunbirds. African Paradise-Flycatchers and Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatchers were not found, but several African Dusky Flycatchers were seen. The weather condition were not good and bird-watching was found to be disappointing.
Some of the group had to make their way back to Kleinbaai to attend the official opening of the wonderful new APPS (African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary). A few in the group made their way to the Rooisand Nature Reserve in search of LBJ's such as cisticolas, lark and pipits and were delighted to find Western Osprey.
All in all it was a great day's birding in the Overstrand with 67 species being seen. If other outings produce such great sighting as well this year's Walker Bay Bird Fair will be a huge success.
(Images by BirdLife Overberg members Carin Malan and Richard Masson)