REPORT ON BIRDING AT ONRUS, VERMONT SALT PAN AND THE SWARTRIVIER ROAD
Posted on the 16th October 2016
I took Wilana Smidt, a friend of ours from Pretoria out birding yesterday morning. The RED-CHESTED CUCKOOS and SOMBRE GREENBULS were very vocal throughout Onrus and Harderbaai produced species such as the CAPE CORMORANT, the gulls, LITTLE EGRET and WHITE-FRONTED PLOVER. The first COMMON WHIMBRELS of the season were also found. The highlight however was the vast numbers of COMMON, SANDWICH and SWIFT TERNS that took to the skies regularly creating a spectacle that just has to be seen. It is a great privilege to be able to point out the key identification features of the various species to visitors. Surprisingly we did not find a single AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER.
Terns, terns, terns
Wilana visits Onrus regularly, but has never been to the Vermont salt pan. She was very impressed with the diversity of water associated birds on offer as we were able to identify more than 40 species in less than an hour’s visit. The numbers of GREATER FLAMINGO were staggering, but breeding birds, many of them with chicks were the star attraction. These included the WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANT, BLACK-NECKED and LITTLE GREBES, BLACK-HEADED and GREY HERONS, BLACKSMITH LAPWING, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, CAPE SHOVELER, BLACK-WINGED STILT and CAPE TEAL. The reed beds and other habitats around the pan hosted the CAPE BULBUL, LEVAILLANT'S CISTICOLA, FISCAL FLYCATCHER, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT, CAPE SUGARBIRD, COMMON WAXBILL, CAPE WHITE-EYE, as well as LITTLE RUSH-WARBLER and LESSER SWAMP-WARBLER. We also heard the calls of BAR-THROATED APALIS, SOUTHERN BOUBOU and AFRICAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER. In the end we were entertained by a pair of CAPE SPURFOWL with no less than eleven youngsters! The Vermont salt pan is hugely underrated as a top birding destinations and needs to be visited every time the opportunity arises.
Cape Spurfowl family
The Karwyderskraal road was fairly quite and we added species such as the CATTLE EGRET, COMMON FISCAL, HELMETED GUINEAFOWL, WHITE-NECKED RAVEN and MALACHITE SUNBIRD. Good numbers of BLUE CRANES were on show creating more excitement. The Swartrivier road did however produce the goods: For starters we found both BLACK HARRIER and AFRICAN MARSH-HARRIER. Dawid and Carin Malan came driving past us and they also found an AFRICAN MARSH-HARRIER earlier – huge excitement! Common species in abundance included the BOKMAKIERIE, CAPE and PIED CROWS, FORK-TAILED DRONGO, CAPE SPARROW, PIED STARLING, SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRD, CAPE WAGTAIL and CAPE WEAVER.
There is a small dam to the right at 34° 16'52.20”S 19° 11'34.20”E and there were the YELLOW-BILLED DUCK, EGYPTIAN and SPUR-WINGED GEESE, SOUTH AFRICAN SHELDUCK and AFRICAN SPOONBILL. This road is all about the region's LBJs and we were able to positively identify all of the cisticolas and pipits on offer. We were royally entertained by species such as LARGE-BILLED and RED-CAPPED LARKS, KAROO PRINIA and AFRICAN STONECHAT, all in various stages of breeding behaviour or feeding fledglings. CAPE CANARIES were abundant and we found one BRIMSTONE CANARY. The best experience was no less than seven YELLOW-BILLED KITES and a single JACKAL BUZZARD swooping around a harvesting machine working the wheat. Several of them were able to come away with rodents fleeing from the harvester – what brilliant opportunists!
At the area around the river itself we added SOUTHERN RED and YELLOW BISHOPS, SOUTHERN MASKED-WEAVER, SPECKLED MOUSEBIRD, NEDDICKY, GREATER STRIPED and WHITE-THROATED SWALLOWS, LITTLE SWIFT and PIN-TAILED WHYDAH as well as the first BARN SWALLOWS of the summer. We then had yet another excellent lunch at the Gabrielskloof Wine Estate.
We had two very exciting sightings upon our return to Hermanus – a VERREAUX'S EAGLE graced the skies towards Botriver village and a single NAMAQUA DOVE was found on the gravel road. Always wonderful to find these birds in this area. In the end we managed to find 93 species on a often cloudy day with blustery conditions towards the end. If one considers that we missed out on “bankers” such DENHAM'S BUSTARD, YELLOW CANARY, ROCK KESTREL, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE, CAPE CLAPPER LARK, CAPE LONGCLAW and CAPPED WHEATEAR then it stands to reason that this area is simply outstanding as far as birding is concerned.
Report & images by Anton