Posted on the 20th November 2017

The BirdLife Overberg year-end celebrations on 18 November had a special twist as we were joined by several members of the Somerset West Bird Club. A group of the SWBC put together a weekend outing in Vermont. It was decided to arrange a combined birding outing on Saturday morning and to also invite them to our year-end dinner. This collaborative effort was a huge success as this brief trip report will illustrate.










Chris and I decided to once again work our home Pentad (3420_1905) as part of the morning outing. We estimate that close to 40 birders started out at the Vermont salt pan where a large group of Pied Avocets, together with a few Black-winged Stilts and Greater Flamingos impressed initially. Kittlitz's and Three-banded Plovers were working the shallows and a Black Crake darted in and out of the reeds. There were only very few ducks around, probably due to the very low level of the water, but we did manage to add Yellow-billed Duck and Cape Shoveler. Other larger waterbirds that displayed prominently included White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter and Grey Heron. 

At Vermont salt pan
Karoo Prinia - Richard Masson










Many smaller species were very active in the rank vegetation around the edges of the pan. These included the Levaillant's Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Common Waxbill and Pin-tailed Whydah. The Malachite Sunbirds and Cape Spurfowls were present in good numbers. The area around the grove of milkwood trees produced species such as the Sombre Greenbul, African Paradise Flycatcher, Olive Thrush and Cape White-eye. 

A Yellow-billed Kite staged a flypast, but the highlight at the salt pan was undoubtedly the discovery of a Black Sparrowhawk nest in the bluegum trees across the water. One very observant lady pointed out a black spot in the trees and after much debate, a long period of staring through binoculars and the eventual use of spotting scopes most participants were able to see the nest. This is probably the same pair of birds, one of which Chris and I saw flying past with a Speckled Pigeon a week earlier. What an exciting sighting! By the time we left the salt pan Chris had already recorded an impressive 43 species on BirdLasser.

Searching for the Black Spar nest
Greater Flamingos - Richard Masson








The next stop was the Hawston sewage works. I must say that it is quite a mission to navigate a cavalcade of ten vehicles through traffic. Birding at this site is always exciting, and we systematically added Black Saw-wing, Barn, Greater and White-throated Swallows, as well as Alpine and Little Swifts. Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers were noisy in the reeds and most members of the group were able to view these often very difficult to spot birds. A male Southern Pochard caused a stir and then we were alerted to the familiar call of an African Goshawk. One Black-crowned Night-Heron flew over the reed beds of Skilpadvlei across the road. There is only a very small stretch of open water visible between reeds and most excitingly we were able to observe all three species of teals together. Amazing how small the Hottentot Teal in actual fact is. By now Chris had already recorded 59 species.

At Hawston sewage works









We arranged a special treat for our guests from Somerset West by gaining access to Meer-en-See and therefore the mouth of the Botriver estuary. Club member Nida Potgieter who resides at Meer-en-See kindly organised a permit for us to enter. Baie dankie Nida! The access road was something else as 14 species were added. The Namaqua Dove is still rather special in our area and old favourites seen included Cape Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher and Cape Robin-Chat. Seed-eating species added were Southern Red Bishop, Cape and Yellow Canaries, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow. The well wooded vegetation produced the calls of Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis and Southern Boubou.

Southern Grey-headed Sparrow - Anton
Purple Heron - Wilfred Crous










The estuary area produced great species such as Purple Heron, Common Greenshank, Glossy Ibis, African Black Oystercatcher, African Spoonbill, White-fronted Plover and Whimbrel. Large groups of Greater Flamingos flying past is always something to behold and large numbers of terns were also prominent, with Caspian, Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns being recorded. Cape Cormorants could also be seen flying over the sea. A Rock Kestrel was feasting on a rodent on the roof of one of the houses. By the time we left Meer-en-See we had already recorded 96 species.

At the Bot Estuary mouth
Caspian Tern - Richard Masson









From here were we drove to the Fisherhaven slipway and added two very special species along the way. The Karoo Scrub Robin is not common in our area and a magnificent Western Osprey flew past affording great views for all. Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes are often seen from the slipway and again they did not disappoint. Marsh Sandpiper was also added here.

Looking for those grebes
Western Osprey - Richard Masson









The Pentad ends at the landfill site along the Karwyderskraal road and we were able to add several more species along here. Carin’s group found a beautiful male Denham's Bustard in full breeding display, white plastic bag and all. The calls of Bokmakierie and Diederik Cuckoo were prominent and we added Large-billed Lark and African Stonechat. The grand finale before exiting the pentad: large groups of Blue Cranes, several of them busy with their display dances. Chris had recorded 115 species in the pentad in a matter of four hours – are the two of us chuffed?

Large-billed Lark - Anton 
Blue Cranes - Wilfred Crous











We then moved on towards the Swartrivier road. We were delighted to find all three Buzzards in quick succession and Bryan’s group spotted an African Marsh Harrier quartering over the wheatfields. A Booted Eagle in flight caused another stir at the old metal bridge. It was getting very hot by now with less birds being seen and most birders running out of steam. The Swartrivier road did however produce all four cisticolas, Red-capped Lark, Cape Longclaw, Banded Martin and Capped Wheatear, amongst others. In the end we were able to record 126 on the morning – not to shabby for a large group spread over ten vehicles. This once again illustrates the vast birding potential in the Cape Whale Coast region.

Zitting Cisticola - Anton
Capped Wheatear - Anton











The year-end party was a huge success. Seventeen SWBC members joined us in the celebrations and the caterers again kicked butt. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Elaine and Helé for putting this together. Thank you Carin, Colleen and Vivie for your support with preparing the food and Carl, Charel, Frank and Richard for doing the braai. Duncan Butchart was our guest speaker and introduced his wonderful “Garden Birds in Southern Africa” to the audience – an ideal talk for an event such as this. Kindly contact us if you had missed out on purchasing a copy. We have posted a photo gallery of the day’s event, as well as the dinner at this link and will add more images later on:

Guest speaker Duncan Butchart with Tracey & guest
Thanking the caterers for the evening










This combined event between two bird club hold great promise and there are already lots of debates on how this could be developed in future. We would like to thank the members of the Somerset West Bird Club for visiting our region. Maybe we can reciprocate next year.


Spurwing Goose pair with nine chicks






























SONJA PEACY - SOMERSET WEST BIRD CLUB (posted: 2017-11-21 11:58:05)
Dear Anton And Carin
We had such a super weekend in your area and loved every minute of it. So nice to explore different regions and to have such expert knowledge and advice right on hand.
I know that a lot goes on behind the scenes to make these weekends flow effortlessly and you certainly made everything look and feel easy.
This is a great initiative to foster good relations between the clubs and together we can achieve and do so much more.
Personally, I think this would be a great annual event (every Dec a different club gets a turn) and more clubs should be encouraged to come on board.
Going forward I can certainly look at having a similar weekend in our area and possibly extend the invite to another club or three.
The Braai Masters need special mention too as I loved the way the chicken was cooked - succulent and yummy - the salads were delicious and I want to ask if I could get the recipe for the pea salad please. The cupcakes were such a nice touch and so pretty - we all wondered where all those sparkly bits were going to end up though!
Duncan was great to listen to and I am happy to see how many people bought his book - despite his oopsie regarding the Afrikaans names. He is certainly on my radar to come and visit our club.
Big, heartfelt thank you to you and to all your members for your time, hospitality and welcoming spirits.
Best wishes
TITIA BALLOT (posted: 2017-11-21 08:57:31)
Thank you for a splendid evening, Anton. Special thanksalso for
my " caterers gift". Ingenious.
CAROL VAN HOOGSTRATEN (posted: 2017-11-20 17:39:48)
So pleased it all went well and so sorry to miss it.