Posted on the 10th May 2020

Members of BirdLife Overberg and friends participated in the Global Big Bird Day count co-ordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on Saturday 9 May 2020. This was completely different to efforts of previous years - the Covid-19 lockdown stage 4 was in effect and we were therefore restricted to birding in our gardens and could only move outside our properties between 06h00 and 09h00 within a radius of 5km. In our case in the Overberg this in effect implies that it was between 07h00 and 09h00 as first light was at seven. The aim of the Global Bird Day is to count as many species possible throughout the world. Our Overberg count produced really fantastic birding despite the restriction mentioned above.

I started at the VERMONT SALT PAN that produced very little as it is very close to being bone dry. There were a few miserable REED and WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANTS and single BLACK-HEADED and GREY HERONS and the two gull species hanging around with more guineafowls and spurfowls than waterbirds in the pan as such. Birds that we saw on big count days previously, but not today included the PIED AVOCET, BLACK-WINGED STILT, LITTLE GREBE, CAPE SHOVELER, CAPE TEAL, LESSER and GREATER FLAMINGOS, THREE-BANDED PLOVER and BLACKSMITH LAPWING. We usually expect to find at least 30 species in this area on any given day and at least 40 species during optimal times in early summer – the fact that I could only scrape together 20 species (mostly in the vegetation around the pan) tells a story in itself of the sad state of the pan.

Acacia Pied Barbet
Olive Thrush











The coastline areas in Vermont and Onrus were overrun with hundreds of people making the best of the two hours to escape the lockdown making birding very difficult if not impossible. The lookout point along the coast at Bitou Road produced the LITTLE EGRET and WHIMBREL and at Harderbaai there were species such as the CAPE CORMORANT, AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and GREATER CRESTED TERNS, as well as both the COMMON and SANDWICH TERNS, probably overwintering. Other interesting sightings of endemic species the milkwood trees alongside the coastline included the CAPE BATIS, SOUTHERN BOUBOU, FISCAL FLYCATCHER and CAPE SUGARBIRD in. An AFRICAN GOSHAWK was patrolling the skies. I managed to identify 50 species by 09h00 and started waiting for feedback from the other participants.

Steve initial list arrived just before 11h00 and this once again illustrated the vast birding potential of the NAPIER region. A FIERY-NECKED NIGHTJAR was heard just before sunrise and he recorded all three the pipits to be found in the Overberg, together with other LBJs such as CAPE BUNTING, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA and FAMILIAR CHAT. Steve has made the Napier region well-known for its raptors and on Saturday he added JACKAL BUZZARD, VERREAUX’S EAGLE, AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK and BLACK SPARROWHAWK to our growing list. I also thought that ACACIA PIED BARBET, BLUE CRANE and BLACK SAWWING represented great sightings.

Black-winged Stilts
Fork-tailed Drongo







The action really increased when we received the list from CleanMarine volunteers Helen and Alison from the world renowned ROOIELS SITE. The Rooiels site again came up trumps with several endemic rippers such as the CAPE GRASSBIRD, KAROO PRINIA, CAPE ROCKJUMPER, CAPE ROCK-THRUSH, CAPE SISKIN, CAPE SUGARBIRD, ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRD and GROUND WOODPECKER. Other good sighting and some mentioned earlier included the CAPE BUNTING, FAMILIAR CHAT, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA, VERREAUX’S EAGLE and NEDDICKY. For such a selection of special species to be seen in such a small area just again illustrates the birding potential of the Rooiels site. The ecological diversity of the three sites discussed until now already left us on a whopping 103 species recorded and it was evident that the species added would decrease with new reports as the majority of common species had already been recorded.

The next report in was that of Carl from Kleinmond and despite all the species already described he was able to add seven species, six of which were birds associated with wetland type of habitats. These were the LITTLE GREBE, PURPLE HERON, BLACKSMITH LAPWING, BROWN-THROATED MARTIN, COMMON MOORHEN and AFRICAN PURPLE SWAMPHEN. The KLEINMOND ESTUARY and the LAMLOCH SWAMPS clearly have great potential specifically as far as waterbirds are concerned and certainly need to be protected from unsustainable tourism developments. David from Betty’s Bay just down the road from Kleinmond also submitted an impressive list dominated by BANK CORMORANT and AFRICAN PENGUIN – both species that require conservation intervention.

White-necked Raven
Plain-backed Pipit









One would have thought that the report from Rynhard at SANDBAAI that was received later on would not contribute much, but still he found great species such as the PEREGRINE FALCON, STREAKY-HEADED SEEDEATER and WHITE-FRONTED PLOVER. Carin used the wonderful birding opportunities at the ARABELLA ESTATE to log the most species seen by anyone of us. Her list came in very late, but still she managed to add some great species to our list: SOUTHERN RED BISHOP, AFRICAN BLACK DUCK, INTERMEDIATE EGRET (!), AFRICAN FISH EAGLE, BARN SWALLOW, AFRICAN BLACK SWIFT and CASPIAN TERN represent great examples.

Cheryl, Lester and Johan are becoming land-based pelagic bird spotters of note and with their spotting scopes they were able to add sought-after species such as the CAPE GANNET, PARASITIC JAEGER, WHITE-CHINNED PETREL and SUBANTARCTIC SKUA. Note should also be taken of the fact that they identified several other pelagic that included both the Giant Petrels earlier in the month. They also found the SOUTHERN TCHAGRA in coastal brush and Johan added RED-CHETSTED SPARROWHAWK to our list. Richard at STANFORD also logged 50 species and found the BLACK CRAKE, WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCK and WHITE-BACKED DUCK at Willem Appel se Dam. Riaan added THREE-BANDED PLOVER from KLEINBAAI.

African Dusky Flycatcher
African Spoonbill










Ultimately we were able to record 141 species, a really excellent count for this time of year. The full list of species seen is being posted on the website or is available from us. Keep in mind that due to the lockdown restrictions members were not able to visit top sites such as the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens, the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, the Rotary Drive Scenic Drive, the Witkrans site and several of the gravel roads in the wheatbelt areas. This implies that several species that one would expect to find in our region on any given day (or that had been seen at other times in May) might have been added yesterday. Just think of the DENHAM'S BUSTARD, YELLOW CANARY, BLUE-MANTLED CRESTED-FLYCATCHER, MARTIAL EAGLE, SPOTTED EAGLE-OWL, HAMERKOP, BLACK HARRIER, CROWNED LAPWING, LARGE-BILLED and RED-CAPPED LARKS, AFRICAN MARSH-HARRIER and SECRETARYBIRD. 

We will certainly investigate the possibility of repeating this exercise in future as it could produce interesting comparisons in the medium to long term. It certainly illustrates the vast birding potential of the Overberg region if one just considers all of the endemic species seen,.

Our appreciation to all who had participated and contributed and this includes several members not mentioned. Please let us know of any other species seen in the Overberg region yesterday that we might have missed.
10 May 2020.

Image provided by Steve Peck.

Verreaux's Eagle



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