Posted on the 28th April 2020

The spread of Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown imposed on us by the government has had a major impact on all of our lives. BirdLife Overberg activities were swept off the table resulting in the cancelation of monthly talks, outings and all actions related to the CleanMarine campaign. It now seems evident that this situation will remain with us for a long time. Interventions on coping with this situation and restructuring the formats of club activities will be announced as soon as we had consulted with other club representatives, as well as our colleagues in the Western Cape Birding Forum and at BirdLife South Africa.

Red-eyed Dove - Tobie Louw
Cape Sugarbird - Carin Malan









At the beginning of the lockdown period it was decided to launch a series of informal birding competitions. Birding puzzles and bird identification games have been sent out twice a week and these have proven to be extremely successful. A garden bird identification process was also launched and many members kept lists of species spotted from their gardens. Paula’s WhatsApp group was particularly active in this regard with many participants reporting interesting sighting and posting marvellous photos on a regular basis – thanks for keeping this in place Paula. 

We are currently collating the various lists forwarded by members and report on these lists as these are received. Elaine and I have a very small garden and a limited view from our house with the result that we did not believe that we would contribute much from our side. We were however able to pick up on a few lovely endemics such as the SOUTHERN BOUBOU, CAPE BULBUL, CAPE CANARY, FISCAL FLYCATCHER, CAPE SPURFOWL and CAPE SUGARBIRD. I was very pleased to find a pair of BRIMSTONE CANARIES one morning, a species that we have not seen here much before. Birds flying past occasionally included the JACKAL BUZZARD, GREATER FLAMINGO and AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK, with the AFRICAN GOSHAWK putting in regular ‘kwit,kwit’ performances in the morning. Our highlight was the screeching call of the BARN OWL on Tuesday evening, a call that we hear very rarely. 

African Goshawk detail - Paula Combrink
Peregrine Falcon - Ben Thompson










From the beginning it became evident that Steve Peck was going to rule the roost (as it were). His smallholding outside Napier really came up trumps – it all started with Steve’s first sighting (and lovely image one should add) of a TAMBOURINE DOVE on his property. He then promptly let rip with a name-dropping bird of prey brag session that included VERREAUX’S EAGLE, LANNER and PEREGRINE FALCONS, AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE and BLACK and RUFOUS-CHESTED SPARROWHAWKS, together with an AFRICAN GOSHAWK causing chaos with his chickens. Other note-worthy species were ACACIA PIED BARBET, BURCHELL’S COUCAL, BLUE CRANE, AFRICAN DARTER, AFRICAN SPOONBILL, SWEE WAXBILL and CARDINAL WOODPECKER. Steve also added a few summer migrants such as AFRICAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER, BLACK SAWWING and BARN, GREATER STRIPED & WHITE-THROATED SWALLOWS, AFRICAN BLACK, ALPINE, COMMON, LITTLE & WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTS. SPOTTED EAGLE-OWL, FIERY-NECKED NIGHTJAR and SPOTTED THICK-KNEE were added in the evenings. 

The first Tambourine Dove seen on his property - Steve Peck















Chickens in danger: Goshawk - Steve Peck


Plain-backed Pipit - Steve Peck










David Mourant sent in the next list and he brought in a range of different species into play. He lives in Betty’s Bay and has a panoramic view from mountain to coast at his property. He added BANK CORMORANT and CAPE CORMORANTS along the coast with CAPE GANNETS out to sea. The sighting of a YELLOW-BILLED EGRET also caused a sensation. LITTLE EGRET and the two gulls were also seen. The rocky areas and coastal brush around their house produced lovely birds such as LONG-BILLED CROMBEC, KAROO PRINIA, CAPE ROCK-THRUSH and ORANGE-BREASTED and SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRDS. Johann van der Westhuizen also had a view of the ocean and picked up a cracking PARASITIC JAEGER with his spotting scope. He also managed to add AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and SWIFT TERN like this

Interplay between adult and juvenile Black Sparrowhawks - Steve Peck










The three lists discussed until now already pushed our total up to nearly 100 species with the result that the species added from the next lists slowed down considerably. (Keep in mind that I do not repeat species already mentioned as we can clearly not mention everything seen. The full list of species seen is available from us). Carin Malan sent in an extensive list from Arabella Estate and significant species added to our list included CAPE BATIS, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA, KLAAS’S CUCKOO, WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCK, PIED KINGFISHER and YELLOW-BILLED KITE. The undoubted highlight was a HAMERKOP feeding at the little pond in her garden – this species has experienced a dramatic reduction in its distribution range in recent years. Wonderful sighting for our area! Jenny Parsons entertained us throughout the lockdown period with images posted on her Facebook pages and some additions gleaned from her list were CAPE BUNTING, FAMILIAR CHAT, CAPE GRASSBIRD and ROCK KESTREL. 

Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk - Carin Malan
Hamerkop: Special sighting - Carin Malan










Some other odds and ends that was really interesting was an AFRICAN GOSHAWK that often spent time in Gary and Paula Combrink’s garden creating some smashing images by Paula. Chris Cheetham added a GIANT KINGFISHER from his garden in Hermanus. Peter Theron saw a small group of LILLIAN’S LOVEBIRDS in his garden in Betty’s Bay – these probable escapees have been reported from that general area several times in recent months.

In the end we managed to record 125 species from our gardens during the first month of the lockdown period. This compares very favourably with the Global Big Bird counts that we did in the months of May in 2017, 2018 and 2019 when we scored between 147 and 158 species. Keep in mind that we drove around a lot to do those counts and that we covered vast areas in doing so. It is also significant to note that 32 of the species recorded are endemic or near-endemic to southern Africa and this once again illustrates the vast birding potential of the Overberg region.

It is recommended that we continue with these garden counts on a month to month basis now that the lockdown period has basically been extended and that we try and motivate many more members to participate in these counts. More comprehensive recommendations regarding other club activities will follow as soon as discussions with members of other clubs forming part of the WCBF and BLSA have been completed.

We only post a few images with this article as a comprehensive photo gallery of images taken by club members during April is being prepared by Carl Swart.
26 April 2020. (Further report below). 

On a sadder note: This guineafowl has been hanging around in the Fernkloof area for some time now apparently experiencing no problems. Whoever darts these birds with blowpipes should be found. Image sent in by Tobie Louw















And here Prof Peter Ryan comments on all those who had sent in changes in the behaviour of birds in their gardens during lockdown: 

Dear fellow lockdown birders
Many thanks for sharing your observations over the last few weeks. It has been really interesting to collate your responses - more than 100 all told, from not only all over South Africa, but also Zimbabwe, Argentina, Portugal and the UK. Perhaps the clearest message is that having birds around has helped to keep us all sane in these crazy times!

In terms of the actual patterns observed, many birds appear to have responded to the lockdown - at least in urban areas where the signal of reduced human activity was most intense. However, the ways in which birds responded varied depending on the kind of bird, and the signal of change depended on where the particular observer was situated. It stands to reason that if a bird became more common virtually overnight in one area, it had to become less common somewhere else. To me, one of the most interesting results was just how quickly the changes took place. This indicates that birds are acutely aware of our activities, even species that seem to be well-attuned to urban living, reinforcing just how big our impact is on the planet.

Black Sparrowhawk moving through - Steve Peck
Sub-adult African Fish-Eagle - Steve Peck










A full account of the patterns detected will appear in African Birdlife (not the one currently stuck in limbo waiting for the printers to re-open, but the one after that). I hope you will find it interesting. Now, sadly, I have to turn my attention teaching population modeling online, which is going to be an altogether different type of challenge! 

I hope that the easing of the lockdown will soon free us all to expand our birding horizons once again, and you can go forth and atlas your full pentad!
With very best wishes to all.
Stay healthy

Beautiful swallow - Jenny Parsons
That chicken thief again - Steve Peck














Verreaux's Eagle - Steve Peck




















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