A group of BirdLife Overberg members went on a morning outing in the Onrus pentad on Sunday 23 January 2011. Conditions were windy, but sunny and we spent an hour each at the Vermont salt pan, Harderbaai and the Onrus caravan park. The Vermont salt pan once again produced the goods allowing great sightings of Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Greater Flamingos. All three of these species are really spectacular when they fly around in small flocks. Along the shore we were also able to get great sightings of Kittlitz's and Three-banded Plovers. Further away there were the usual water birds that included Little Grebe, Common Moorhen, Cape Shoveller and Cape Teal. There were also good numbers of cormorants, gulls and herons around. The biggest excitement was however caused by a pair of Black Crakes that moved out and into the reeds. Very few of the smaller birds such as cisticolas, prinias and warblers that one would normally expect to find here were observed, probably due to the wind. We were though able to record 28 species in the first hour – not to shabby for conditions like this.
Greater Flamingos at Vermont salt pan
White-fronted Plover at Harderbaai
The drive down to Harderbaai produced lots of the normal garden birds such as doves, mousebirds, sparrows and sunbirds. Every single bottlebrush tree had several Cape Sugarbirds fighting their “territorial” battles as they do every summer around these parts. The terns, together with Hartlaub's Gulls were out in force at the day roost and we were able to systematically point out the differences between Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns to the novices. The small size and black shoulder patch, the black bill with the yellow tip and the pure yellow bill could be studied easily. The periodic mass take-offs of these birds caused great spectacles. White-fronted Plovers allowed really close observations and there were also interesting species such as Cape Cormorant, Little Egret and African Black Oystercatcher around. This spot is always worth a visit in summer. We managed to add a further 12 species in the second hour.
I'm sure The Byrds sang "Tern, Tern, Tern" in the 60's
Mixed tern flock at Harderbaai
The manager of the Onrus caravan park has just been converted to birding and proudly produced a list of his park drawn up by birders over the festive season – 33 species seen within the park and 32 in the surroundings. Closer scrutiny of this list revealed good species such as Klaas's Cuckoo, Spotted Eagle-Owl, African Goshawk, African Openbill, Swee Waxbill, Olive Woodpecker and so on. I agreed to take the manager copies of the recently published checklist of the birds of the Overberg as he apparently gets quite a few requests for something like this from campers and caravaners. (I have always believed that this is a niche group that BirdLife should not underestimate in view of extending its membership base).
The Onrus caravan park is an outstanding venue to look for those difficult “thicket birds” that are often so difficult to find. There are huge milkwood thickets right along the shoreline and this allows the best of both worlds as far as birding is concerned. Flycatchers, drongos, sunbirds and a variety of the usual garden birds of the region can be studied here. The target species here though are Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Sombre Greenbull, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia and Common and Swee Waxbill. We were also fortunate to see vast numbers of Alpine Swifts racing across the skies – the huge size and white bellies impressed us all.
Three windy hours of relatively casual birding produced an impressive 59 species. This just goes to show that Onrus should not be ignored when birders visit the Overberg.