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WALKER BAY BIRD FAIR REPORT BY BRYAN BUTLER OF SOMERSET WEST BIRD CLUB

Posted on the 4th April 2015

A SPECIAL EXPERIENCE – THE WALKER BAY BIRD FAIR
(This report first appeared in BATIS NO. 70, April 2015, the newsletter of the Somerset West Bird Club).
I was determined to attend so despite pressures from various sources the tent was packed, the fridge loaded and off I set. What follows is a brief description of a very good 4 days in my life.
1. The Intro
I met with a group of 40 other delegates at Rooiels where they saw both the Cape Rock-jumper and the Ground Woodpecker. Orange-breasted Sunbirds were also in abundance. The party then moved to Stony Point for a look at the African Penguins
and where we could see all four Cormorants – the Crowned, The Cape, the Whitebreasted and the rarer Bank Cormorant. Then on to Harold Porter for some further birding – all this under the leadership of Carin Malan of BirdLife Overberg – and a bite of lunch. Anxious to set up camp, at this stage I drove off to find the campsite I had booked.

Part of the group at Rooiels.  Image by Richard Masson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





2. The Camp
Strandskloof. The address is Gansbaai but it is a good ten minutes further on than that towards Baardskeerdersbos and so was more than half an hour’s drive from Stanford – not convenient. However, the resort was great – wonderful ablution block, lots of windbreaks and an end site to myself, surrounded by trees. One morning there were African Hoopoe, Fork-tailed Drongo and Southern Boubou all within touching distance of each other a few metres from the tent. The owls called at night and there was nearly always birdsong or wing-flapping or something going on.
3. The Opening Ceremony and first day
The fair was officially opened by Mr Tim Appleton M.B.E. on Friday morning. He is the person who launched the first ever Bird Fair in the UK about 15 years ago – at Rutland Waters. It started small but has grown into a major tourist attraction and a
very important event in the international birding calendar. This was followed by a very entertaining session by Vernon Head and Mel Tripp – essentially covering Vernon’s Book – “In Search of the Rarest Bird in the World”. There followed a talk on “Woodpeckers of the World” – did you know there are 200 of them? The speaker, Duncan Butchart, has seen 70 of them. Sean Privett, a botanist then talked about the wonderful symbiotic relationship between insect, animal and bird within the
Fynbos environment. (He described, for instance, how one of the Proteas drops its seeds on the ground, covered in a sticky substance. The local Pugnacious Ants will then team up and take this trophy underground to feed the others, leaving the seed
underground until the next fire sweeps over and the rain falls and the seed germinates. The invader Argentinian ant, on the other hand, simply devours the entire package, seed and all – bad news). In the afternoon we had talks by Dr Odette Curtis talking on her passion – Renosterveld – and Mark Anderson CEO of Birdlife, talking on the achievements and plans of BirdLife South Africa.
There was just time for a two hour cruise on the Klein River on a boat which took 14 people and on which we sat in plastic chairs. We didn’t see too much – some Swamphens and Yellow-billed Ducks - A Fish-Eagle and an immature Gymnogene
(African Harrier-Hawk). By the time I got back to camp it was already completely dark – it was a long day.
 

Cape Rock-jumper at Rooiels
Ground Woodpecker . Images by Anton (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






4. Saturday and the High Seas
Saturday morning. Up at 05h30 to be at Kleinbaai by 06h30 for a trip to Dyer island – only to be told that we should have known that the trip will now be at 08h00. Oh well, a few cups of coffee and friendly chats with other delegates in the same boat (ouch!).
And very shortly we were off – I think there were 30 on the boat, under the able guidance of a young skipper named Dicky – a man who knows his ocean birds but can’t tell a sparrow from a warbler! Dressed up in lifejackets and sou’westers we looked a likely crew. Dicky had to keep reminding himself that we wanted birds, not sharks as we set off for Dyer Island. Fascinating it was, and with an abundance of Swift Terns. Dicky described the courting behaviour of these terns. They mate for life, and find their mate by flying high up and then tumbling together in perfect harmony. If the harmony isn’t there – no mating. Practice again – and again – until we get it right.

White-chinned Petrel
Dolphins & gannets. Images by Riaan Jacobs (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


As we left the waters surrounding Dyer Island we were followed by a White-chinned Petrel. He followed the boat on elegant wings, clearly hoping for a morsel of - anything. We were doing 15 knots and he looked like he was out for a gentle stroll. Knowing that we were all birders, Dicky headed out into the deep waters, telling us all to look out for birds on the surface of the water. In the process we saw a number of Bryde’s Whales. These whales are around 14 m in length and weigh around 15 metric tons and feed on the anchovies which were obviously present somewhere in the water – a thrilling sight.
And then Dicky suddenly started jumping up and down with excitement. “There it is” – “I don’t believe it” “we are so lucky” “Look Ladies and Gentlemen – look ahead of you!!!” We clambered to look. Up ahead the water was churning as if a giant food mixer was immersed in the sea. Then we saw them – Dolphins – hundreds of them - and Gannets, thousands, lining up to dive one two three - like arrows into the water. A bait ball is formed when a large shoal of small fish pack together in a defensive “ball” when they are attacked. And they were being attacked. On the surface the dolphin were having a feast! Just below the surface the Gannet were picking them off by the hundred – and probably underneath all this, the shark were also having a great time, nipping at the heels of the bait ball so to speak. The dolphins love the boat and swam with us for a while – there must have been over a hundred of them. It was chaos. It was mesmerising and it was nature at its most brutal, most rewarding, most energetic, most exhilarating and most awe-inspiring – and Dicky, our Skipper, was as excited as we were. We did not want to leave but eventually we had to. When we reached shore there was a spontaneous and unanimous decision to pass the hat round to say thanks to a great skipper!

Diving gannets
Taking off. Images by Riaan Jacobs (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 







So it was back to Stanford and the marquee. Tim Appleton was on the agenda to talk about wetland birding and conservation in the UK, but because of the boating we missed most of it and in any event our heads were still filled with the bait ball experience. Tim was followed by Prof Peter Ryan talking about Gough Island and how mice are killing the greatest sea bird island. I had not heard him talk before and he was most entertaining. Finally we had a rather light-hearted talk by Trevor
Hardaker – Around the World in 80 Birds – an excuse to talk about some of the more unusual birds he has encountered on his travels.
After lunch I attended Dr. Anton Odendal’s Mini Raptor course – always informative and well handled. The final talk was by Tim Appleton describing just how the British Bird Fair became the world’s biggest wildlife event and what it manages to do for Avian conservation.
5. The Finale
There was a break of 90 minutes before the Zeiss Bird Brain of the Year Quiz, hosted by John Maytham commenced, but by then I had had enough and I hightailed it to the camp site where I relaxed, cooked supper, and hit the camp stretcher! The next morning I broke camp and headed back to Stanford for the final event of the fair – a live demonstration of raptors etc. This was really an event for the kids and enjoyable as it was, after half an hour I discretely left and headed for Somerset West, arriving home at precisely 13h00. Tired, but satisfied. By the way, I was not the only Somerset West Bird Club Member to attend – would love to hear the opinions of others!
Bryan Butler

(All imgages by BirdLife Overberg members)

Bank Cormorants at Stony Point. Image by Richard Masson

COMMENTS

2069
ROYD FRITH (posted: 2015-06-15 16:28:09)
Good afternoon Bryan,

I am sure that your report would be excellent input for those planning the 2016 Walkerbay Bird Fair which is we believe planned for the first quarter of 2016