Posted on the 12th November 2017

We always drive through Sedgefield to some of the top birding destinations along the Garden Route such as Wilderness, Plettenberg Bay, Nature’s Valley and Tsitsikamma, never even considering the possible birding potential of the village. We presented the Flight for Birders course at the St Francis church hall in Sedgefield on Friday and Saturday and stayed at the very comfortable and well equipped Island Cottage. We arrived late on Thursday and only had 50 minutes before nightfall. 

The calls of Diederik Cuckoo, Burchell’s Coucal, Sombre Greenbul and Black-headed Oriole were heard from the surrounding vegetation and I decided that I might as well do some atlasing. I was delighted to see that the entire village falls in one single pentad. (3400_2245). We have the boundaries of two pentads running straight the middle of our house at Onrus and it is rather irritating when BirdLasser signals that one has entered a new pentad when walking down the passage. When we were eventually able to have a sundowner outside we found that Cape Weavers and Southern Masked-Weavers were breeding actively and there were seven species of swallows, swifts and martins patrolling the skies. The Cape Robin-Chat and Olive Thrush and four different sunbirds were foraging in the cottage garden. We managed to record a respectable 35 species in less than 50 minutes that we had before it became dark.

Cape Weaver
Southern Masked-Weaver












On Friday morning I enjoyed my coffee in the garden with a Hamerkop flying past. African Fish-Eagles called continually from down at the vlei and the calls of Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou and African Hoopoe were also prominent. I was delighted to find Black-bellied Starling and Green Wood Hoopoe as these don’t occur in our area. I also got my first Banded Martin of the season. We were up to 54 species by the time we left for the course.

African Hoopoe
Bar-throated Apalis








A smallish, but very enthusiastic group of participants was dominated by tour guides and representatives from conservation agencies, three of them coming from as far afield as the Baviaans area. The advantage of smaller groups is that one can take more questions and spend more time illustrating conservation issues. It also allowed me to do my Punda Maria and Pafuri talk in the section on how one prepares to visit a new birding area. I have not done this for some time, enjoyed it a lot and Elaine and I decided that it should be brought back into the course.

I quickly walked around the block during lunch to see what the birding conditions were in view of the afternoon’s practical outing. I found Streaky-headed Seedeaters feeding fledglings and droves of Spotted Thick-Knees in an old graveyard and decided this is it. The graveyard is not in use anymore and overgrown with grasses in seed. There were seedeating species all over the place and these included species such as the Cape Canary, Cape Siskin, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows and Common and Swee Waxbills. The mature trees in the gardens along the streets produced most of the common garden birds and I enjoyed the Cape Batis and a surprisingly confiding Sombre Greenbul – not often that one can show a group this species. A Peregrine Falcon also staged a high-speed flypast. The highlight was undoubtedly the Thick-Knees: the graveyard is secured behind a fence and we saw 12 adults and at least 4 youngsters – dikkop heaven!

Southern Grey-headed Sparrow










In the afternoon Elaine and I decided to explore the Swartvlei area for an hour or so, but to stay within the pentad. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of coots with good numbers of Great Crested and Little Grebes between them. An island along the N2 was very productive with Cape Teals, African Darters, Grey and Purple Herons and a single Marsh Sandpiper being among the species recorded. Interesting that a Caspian Tern attacked and drove off a Yellow-billed Duck – the unfortunate duck probably came to close to the tern’s nest?

The road towards the Swartvlei Caravan Park and beach is a birding gem. On the one side is the vlei and on the other side mature indigenous coastal forest. We added the Red-billed Teals, Glossy Ibis, Common Moorhen, Pied Kingfisher and African Spoonbill, with an African Fish-Eagle patrolling the skies. The Klaas’s and Red-chested Cuckoo, Black Cuckooshrike, African Paradise Flycatcher, Fiscal Flycatcatcher and Karoo Prinia were heard or seen along the vegetation. We were pretty sure that we heard the Knysna Warbler calling, but not certain enough to score it. We also had great views of Jackal Buzzard and African Goshawk. The parking area at the beach produced the usual suspects such as Kelp Gull, White-fronted Plover and African Black Oystercatcher. Such a pity that we had so little time, as one would love to walk and bird seriously along this road.

Jackal Buzzard
Red-billed Teal









Later that evening we heard the call of the Spotted Eagle-Owl and in the morning the distinctive single ‘skree’ call of the Knysna Woodpecker. To end up with 96 species identified when atlasing is not the purpose of these courses is certainly impressive! And all of this during a period of a rediculous drought! Sedgefield is hugely underrated as a birding destination and Elaine decided that we will organise a BirdLife Overberg midweek tour to this village next year. Keep in mind that it can serve as an ideal base to visit top birding destinations such as the Wilderness lakes system, the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Knysna and that we can plan day visits to Plett and Nature’s Valley. We also feel that the development of detailed birdfinder web page descriptions for Sedgefield should be considered. We will start negotiating about both these issues with some of the locals that attended the course. Birding at Sedgefield was certainly a very pleasant surprise. We have found during courses that there are so many areas, such as Wellington, Montagu and Sedgefield that needs to be marketed as top birding destinations in the Western Cape - and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Common Waxbill
Caspian Teal









DR JANET STANFORD (posted: 2017-11-23 13:19:36)
Thank you to you and Elaine for a most informative and inspiring course.
JENNY STEVENS (posted: 2017-11-12 20:16:05)
Thank you for in interesting and informative two days. You have inspired me to read my bird book again!