Posted on the 28th November 2015

Last year BirdLife Overberg's TEAM ROCK-JUMPER won the Birding Big Day competition for the Western Cape with 170 plus species identified on the day. We worked from first light to late and were all extremely tired after a hard day's work. We therefore decided to again participate, but to limit our birding to six hours and a maximum of 100km, which we managed to do. The decision was to walk Arabella Estate, do the Swartrivier road and then Vermont and Onrus.

Chris, Carin & Ilse along the Bot








We started at Arabella and walked down a few fairways, worked along the Botriver estuary (currently tidal) and back to Dawid and Carin's. The estate is a birding revelation: Common species that we found quickly included BAR-THROATED APALIS, CAPE BATIS, BOKMAKIERIE, FORK-TAILED DRONGO, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT, STREAKY-HEADED SEEDEATER and SWEE WAXBILL. HELMETED GUINEAFOWL and CAPE SPURFOWL were particularly numerous. There were also large numbers of BARN, GREATER STRIPED and WHITE-THROATED SWALLOWS, and LITTLE and WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTS flying about everywhere. The estuary produced KITTLITZ'S PLOVER, MARSH SANDPIPER, BLACK-WINGED STILTS and COMMON WHIMBREL and a magnificent pair of AFRICAN FISH-EAGLES. Other raptors here included BLACK-SHOULDERED and YELLOW-BILLED KITES and ROCK KESTREL. Huge numbers of CASPIAN, SANDWICH and SWIFT TERNS worked the tidal channels for food. Our walk of just under two hours yielded 64 species – outstanding casual birding! We then had something light to eat and and enjoyed coffee at Carin's.

Arabella fairway
Swartrivier road landscape












From here we decided to visit the VAN DER STELL pass briefly as we had some outstanding birding there last year. It came as no surprise to bump into Jessie Walton and Rob Martin again – them of the KAROO PRINIA and BROWN-BACKED HONEYBIRD interplay research . Again the discussions were very interesting and their enthusiasm and excitement invectious. Over the last two summers they had studied 17 prinia nests parasitised by the honeybirds. Fascinating findings and many challenging questions to try and answer. I won't tell anything else as we decided to invite them to come and tell us about their research and observations at one of our monthly meetings next year. The pass further produced FOREST and JACKAL BUZZARDS, LESSER HONEYGUIDE, CAPE CLAPPER LARK, AFRICAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER, PIET-MY-VROU and SOUTHERN TCHAGRA.

Jessie, Rob, Ilse, Anton & Chris glaring into the sun
Brown-backed Honeybird chick 1









Attentive adoptive parent
Brown-backed Honeybird chick 2










The Swartrivier road did not disapoint (as usual) and again produced all of the cisticolas, larks and pipits that one would normally expect to find along here. And of course many many BLUE CRANES, SACRED ISIS, AFRICAN STONECHAT, CAPE CANARY and so on. A first for all of us was to see a CAPPED WHEATEAR on a building. This road remains the best spot in close proximity to Hermanus and Cape Town to study the region's LBJ's.
















(The first BLO member to identify these four LBJs through the user comments wins a bottle of wine. Team Rock-jumper members excluded)

From here we drove back to Hermanus along the shores of the Botriver estuary through Fisherhaven. We added LITTLE EGRET, GREAT CRESTED GREBE, the common herons and there were large stands of GREATER FLAMINGOS on display. And thousands of terns utilising the tidal estuary. At the Hawston sewage works we found YELLOW-BILLED DUCK, CAPE SHOVELER and CAPE TEAL.

White-breasted Cormorant
Black-crowned Night-Heron









The Vermont salt pan is still full to the brim and there were good numbers of the usual cormorants, AFRICAN DARTER, MACCOA DUCK, LITTLE GREBE and herons. A BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON showed well, the SOMBRE GREENBULS were very vocal and a BLACK SPARROWHAWK flew overhead. We also enjoyed an AFRICAN PURPLE SWAMPHEN with its fledgeling – the latter certainly being one of the most unattractive juvenile birds around.

Swamphen & chick
That young bird










Maccoa Duck
Black Sparrowhawk









In the end we scored 115 species. We believe that this is an excellent return for casual birding in a short time (we ended at 11h45) with such a short distance covered. All of this once again shows that the Cape Whale Coast is hugely underrated as a birding destination.
Surprisingly, the big dips for the day included YELLOW BISHOP, BRIMSTONE and YELLOW CANARIES, KLAAS'S CUCKOO, AFRICAN DUSKY FLYCATCHER, all of the kingfishers, SPOTTED THICK-KNEE and COMMON WAXBILL. Wait for it …......... we never once saw a KELP GULL today!!!!!!!!!!!!
Over lunch the 'What If' questions started surfacing and the team started throwing around ideas of trying to get 200 species next year – this is the Western Cape remember. Watch this space.

(Images by Carin & Anton)















ILSE BIGALKE (posted: 2015-11-29 06:58:06)
Beautiful pics - astounding ones of the honeybirds and night-heron respectively!