CELEBRATING BIRDING AT THE DE MOND NATURE RESERVE Show details
KINDLY NOTE THAT THIS POSTING IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION
This lengthy description of birding opportunities at the De Mond Nature Reserve is divided into four sections:
• The access road to the reserve
• Birding at the milkwood trees at the entrance to the reserve
• Birding along the estuary
• Birding along the dune trail
It is loosely based on trip reports of several visits to the reserve by members of BirdLife Overberg
|Cape Clapper Lark|
|Agulhas Long-billed Lark|
DE MOND – THE ACCESS ROAD
The De Mond Nature Reserve can be approached from various directions, but for practical purposes we only discuss the gravel road that is clearly signposted along the R319 between Bredasdorp and L’Agulhas. Birding along this gravel road can be exceptional – it is recommended that care is taken to travel slowly along here and enjoy the wonderful birds on view. We discuss birding during very dry conditions, as well as when the floodplain is flooded.
|Denham's Bustards - note bird on nest|
|Southern Black Korhaan|
It is March 2013 and the area is dry and dusty and some of the specials of the region show themselves almost immediately. Denham's Bustards and Blue Cranes are seen easily due to their size and most excitingly a magnificent Black Harrier quarters over the landscape. This is Overberg Wheatbelt birding at its best and LBJs abound. We spend some time at one of the windmills with water troughs and witness a continuous stream of birds – lots of drably coloured Southern Red Bishops and Cape Weavers, together with Cape and House Sparrows, Cape and Yellow Canaries and Pied and Common Starlings. This is prime lark and pipit country but we quickly find Large-billed and Red-capped Larks and African Pipit. Now a majestic Secretarybird struts deliberately through the veld, soon to be followed by a pair of Southern Black Korhaan. A lone Jackal Buzzard and three Yellow-billed Kites also stage fly-pasts. Capped Wheatears are plentiful and Grey-backed and Zitting Cisticolas are also on view.
Excitement reaches fever pitch as we find the two hugely sought-after Wheatbelt endemics, first the Cape Clapper Lark and then the Agulhas Long-billed Lark. Several Steppe Buzzards and a pair of Black-shouldered Kites add spice to the birding. We are surprised at the high number of Steenbok seen. This is Wheatbelt birding at its best – keep in mind that we had not yet travelled 10 km along this gravel road.
Now it is November 2015 and 25 BirdLife Overberg members visit De Mond.
Many of the fields are transformed to large water-masses due to the recent floods and there are waterbirds everywhere – this gives new meaning to 'the Agulhas Floodplain' phrase. Whiskered and White-winged Terns are everywhere and Maccoa Duck, African Fish-Eagle, Great White Pelican and many other waterbirds and ducks are easy to pick up. There are vast numbers of Spur-winged Geese and Glossy Ibis, undoubtedly the most that I had ever seen in one spot.
It is also exciting to hear the familiar call of the Common Quail along several of the water-logged areas. There are numerous White Storks and the other migrants are dominated by vast numbers of Barn Swallows. The sighting of the morning is undoubtedly a relatively vagrant European Roller. Most of the region's LBJs are also seen and the cisticolas, larks and pipits are very prominent with displays all over the place. We also find two beautiful Kudus behind game fences.
The low-water bridge at Vogelgezang (www.vogelgezang.co.za) just before De Mond Nature Reserve is reached is also very special and some time should be spent here. Some of the species identified include Levaillant’s Cisticola, Diederik Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Egret, Greater Flamingo, African Rail, African Snipe, African Spoonbill and the majority of ducks to be found in the region. A quartering African Marsh-Harrier also causes a stir. Astonishingly, we identify more than fifty species in the short distance to De Mond – I estimate a maximum of 10km. Breathtaking to think that we have not yet reached our destination for the day – the De Mond Nature Reserve!
BIRDING AT THE MILKWOOD TREES SURROUNDING THE PICNIC AREA
Birding at the De Mond Nature Reserve starts at the parking area at the entrance gate as the area is surrounded by ancient Milkwood thickets. This area, together with the picnic spots, hosts a variety of common species that one would normally expect to find in these coastal thickets. On one outing during February 2014 we enjoyed a number of very confiding species in the area around the benches where we were having lunch.
Common resident species included Bar-Throated Apalis, Fork-tailed Drongo, noisy Sombre Greenbuls, African Hoopoe, Cape Robin-Chat, Amethyst, Malachite and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds and Olive Thrush. Cardinal and Olive Woodpeckers were also seen working their way through the branches. Some of the endemics seen were Cape Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Weaver and Cape White-eye. It was a joy watching the ever popular African Paradise Flycatchers.
This area is however known for several prize sightings. We find the hugely sought-after Southern Tchagra scuttling through the leaf litter under the Milkwood trees just about every time we visit De Mond – we believe that this is the best spot for this special in our region. One bird was once so habituated that we could approach it within a metre. Another very special endemic that is regarded as near threatened to look out for is the Knysna Woodpecker. One has to locate it by listening for its single skree shriek as it is not known to drum (knock) that often. This, the only spotted woodpecker in the region, is found around the picnic area fairly often. Interesting to note that out of range species such as the Terrestrial Brownbul, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Tambourine Dove and African Olive Pigeon have also been found according to the bird atlas records.
|Male African Paradise Flycatcher|
|Male Cape Batis|
A pair of Spotted Eagle-Owls has been breeding in the area around the office complex for many years. Over the years our members have taken vast numbers of photographs of cute little chicks and it seems as if the adults are fairly successful in raising the chicks each year. The bird atlas records indicate that Fiery-necked and Rufous-cheeked Nightjars and Barn Owl are found here – one must assume that these are recorded by people staying over for the night. As far as accipiters are concerned confirmed sightings include African Goshawk and Black and Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks.
|A wet and rather bedraggled Spotted Eagle-Owl|
|Loving spotty siblings|
|Female Southern Boubou|
On the particular day described we were also fortunate to find several snakes around the picnic area. A magnificent Mole Snake came slithering in between the tables freaking out pairs of hysterical Cape Batis and Southern Boubou. A ladybird caught a lift on the snake and MC Botha got the awesome image included herewith. About twenty Southern Double-collared Sunbirds then created a huge din and after some scanning of the canopy we found the source of the irritation – a rather large Boomslang. On our way out of the reserve a huge Puffadder crossed the road.
|Checking out that snake|
|Mole Snake and ladybird|
The picnic site further offers the viewing of excellent waterbirds. There were Water Thick-knees on the lawn on the water’s edge and a Black-crowned Night-Heron flew overhead going upstream. Giant Kingfishers often use the hanging bridge as a perch to study the water and Pied Kingfishers are common sightings. We were entertained by “springers” leaping out of the water and a huge mixed flock of swallows, martins and swifts created an identification nightmare as they swirled past the picnic site.
The picnic site alone really offers superb birding, illustrating why the De Mond Nature Reserve should be regarded as one of the most underrated birding destinations in the Western Cape Province. And the best is yet to come as we will now focus on the birding delights of the famous De Mond estuary.
BIRDING ALONG THE DE MOND ESTUARY
The De Mond Nature Reserve is best known for the vast numbers of terns and waders that occur here during summer months. To this should be added that the reserve often produces rare and rather exotic vagrant waders. The BirdLife Overberg committee decided to organise a morning club outing to De Mond on a Sunday morning in February 2014. On the Saturday afternoon Trevor Hardaker added spice with a SA Rare Bird News report that read as follows: “White-rumped Sandpiper – a single bird located at De Mond Nature Reserve near Arniston this morning. I am still trying to work out how many records there are of this species, but it is certainly less than 25 for Southern Africa ever! The last record of this species in the sub-region was in Walvis Bay back in December 2007! Added distractions included 4 (!!) golden plovers thought to be made up of two American Golden Plovers and two Pacific Golden Plovers, as well as at least one Greater Sand Plovers.” No question, we were off to De Mond on the Sunday morning and we report live as events unfolded.
Upon our arrival we immediately set off towards the mouth. It was just beyond low tide and the morning sun was to our left and we decided we not cross the rickety bridge, but explore the eastern side of the estuary. First up we found Whimbrels. There were also good numbers of African Black Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers, vast numbers of Common Ringed Plovers, Curlew en Common Sandpipers and Kittlitz’s Plovers. We were surprised that many White-fronted Plovers were still breeding. Another memorable sighting was the flock of Greater Flamingos with the Indian Ocean waves breaking in the background. I am pretty sure you do not get too many opportunities where you can view Flamingos against the backdrop of the sea. Lesser Flamingos are only reported from here occasionally.
|Common Ringed Plover|
We studied our first “different” wader in amongst three whimbrels and were delighted to figure that we got our first American Golden Plover. Some distance further we joined John and Greta Graham and two birders that drove all the way from PE to witness this spectacle. The stars of the show however were Pacific Golden Plovers and John painstakingly and patiently pointed out the differences between these and American Golden Plovers close by. To crown it all both Little Terns and a Damara Tern staged flypasts. The Damara Tern is special as De Mond is the only reliable spot in South Africa where these birds breed.
|Both Golden Plovers and more|
|Pacific Golden Plover|
We then investigated the mudflats closer to the mouth and found Greater Sand Plover and Broad-billed Sandpiper – this day was turning into one of the most memorable outings in the club’s history. Unfortunately there was no sign of the White-rumped Sandpiper that was reported the previous day.There were many other waders identified during this outing, but I decided to review these species through an analysis of SABAP2 (the bird atlas project) records. The resident Three-banded Plover and migratory Common Greenshank are found fairly regularly. Reasonable numbers of Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stint normally occur in flocks. Species that are reported less often, even though these are regularly seen and photographed include Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Common and Terek Sandpipers. Very few or sporadic records of Red Knot, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone are noted – the latter probably due to the relative lack of rocky shores at De Mond. Note should also be taken of a few isolated records of the Lesser Sand Plover. Need one say more? De Mond offers brilliant wader birding at its best!
Conditions were changing as the tide started coming in and vast numbers of Cape Cormorants and terns were entering the estuary area from the sea. The cormorants settled on the opposite bank and looked somewhat dwarfed by the few White-breasted Cormorants and Grey Herons on show. Then we witnessed really peculiar and comical behaviour: The Cape Cormorants would start running en-mass for about twenty meters and then stop, only to repeat the behaviour.
But let’s turn our attention to the terns. We had earlier mentioned the spotting of both Damara and Little Terns. Caspian Terns are a regular feature at De Mond and can often be seen fishing and diving along the deeper channels of the estuary. The vast flocks of terns were however comprised of the resident Swift Tern and migratory Common and Sandwich Terns. It is very difficult to describe the extent and sheer numbers of the birds on show. As the tide came in the terns started gathering on the available sand. They often took off in flocks that looked like “red-bill quelea curls” high above the mouth. We have never witnessed so many terns in one spot – there were literally four different “roosts”, each with thousands of birds in it. But let the brilliant images taken by BirdLife Overberg members that accompany this description illustrate the extent of these wonderful birding experiences.
Most members of the group were ravenous by now and we decided to return to the picnic area for lunch. Birding along the vegetation adjoining the estuary should however not be underestimated. We heard the distinctive calls of the Bokmakierie, Acacia Pied Barbet and Cape Longclaw. There were canaries aplenty and we quickly found Cape Canary, White-throated Canary and Streaky-headed Seedeater. Some novice members created a huge Yellow and Brimstone Canary identification debate and we were able to point out the key differences between the two species from close quarters. A Rock Kestrel shot out of the trees and took a prey item close to us before returning to a perch. The ultimate excitement of a fantastic morning’s birding was a Black Harrier drifting and quartering over vegetation towards the horizon. Was this one of the greatest morning outings in our club’s history? Most probably!
(Images by BirdLife Overberg members MC Botha, Ingrid Grundlingh, Riaan Jacobs, Carin Malan, Dawid Malan, Richard Masson, Charles Naude. Anton Odendal and Steve Peck).
Note that there are more trip reports and the like on bird-watching opportunities at the De Mond Nature Reserve available at the links below.
SLOW BIRDING AT COASTAL PATHS ALONG ROCKY SHORES - THE ONRUS AND VERMONT EXPERIENCE Show details
SLOW BIRDING AT COASTAL PATHS ALONG ROCKY SHORES – THE ONRUS AND VERMONT EXPERIENCE
What I appreciate most about bird-watching is how it allows one the opportunity to experience examples of the wonders of nature in all its splendour. To me there is nothing like strolling along a rocky shoreline to replenish the soul and to witness the ever changing moods of the sea. There are several such experiences to be had along the Vermont, Onrus and Sandbaai (VOS) coastal path near Hermanus in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. For most of the way, the VOS coastal path is paved, with wooden bridges across small ravines. As you can imagine, birding here is exceptional – the range of coastal birds plus all the common garden birds and interesting species in the coastal thickets pretty much represent most of the species found along the Overberg coastline. The most enjoyable facet of birding along here is how things change throughout the year. Each month, each season and each weather condition seems to deliver something different and exciting – herewith some examples taken from our reports over the years
|Onrus beach with Harderbaai in the background - Image by Storm van der Merwe|
|Stormy seas at Onrus - Image by Ronel Botha|
The Harderbaai Marine Reserve is best observed from the parking area at 34° 25’10.81”S 19°10’24.97”E. This area is best known for the vast numbers of terns that can be present at day roosts during summer months. These birds regularly adorn the rocks to rest and preen, particularly early in the morning during low tide. It is early in December and we take a group of BirdLife Overberg members to this site as it is an ideal spot to hone tern identification skills. The large Swift Terns are present throughout the year and are easy to identify by pure yellow bills. Now they are however joined by the summer migrants as large numbers of the smaller Common Tern with its characteristic black shoulder patch and Sandwich Terns that feature black bills with yellow tips are present – I state that they have dipped their bills in cheese sandwiches and that always seems to stick with people. The group reacts in awe at the spectacular sight of literally thousands of these birds taking to the skies in a massive flock, only to settle back again. Once these three species, that usually make up 99% of the terns in our area, have been positively identified by everyone the search begins for other species. The Arctic Tern could add to the excitement seasonally and the Roseate Tern can be found occasionally. The Antarctic Tern is not in play at this time of year, because it is South Africa’s only winter migrant present between May and middle September.
|Massed terns & gulls - Anton|
|Harderbaai sunset - Image by Aurelia Esterhuise|
We now start shifting our attention to some other coastal birds on offer. African Oystercatchers and the White-fronted Plovers breed on the few patches of sand among the rocks. The latter is special to us given that they have disappeared from several Western Cape beaches in recent years. Most participants believe that finding two diminutive White-fronted Plovers chicks hiding between the rocks and kelp is the ultimate sighting of the day. These two species have now become BirdLife Overberg’s conservation priorities and news regarding future projects will be released soon. There are a few Cape Cormorants between the usual White-breasted and Reed Cormorants. I relate the story of the day in 2013 when Cape Cormorants in their tens of thousands moved up the coast and came to rest and preen on the rocks along the Harderbaai shore. This results in me having to promise that I would show them the photographs at some point. We further see summer migrants such as the Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank and many Whimbrels. Large numbers of Barn Swallows, together with a few Greater Striped and White-throated Swallows are also flying about. What wonderful coastal birding on such a splendid summer’s day.
|White-fronted Plover - Anton|
|African Oystercatchers - Image by Carin Malan|
My favourite short hike is the section of the coastal path along the fence of the Onrus caravan park between Atlantic Drive and Davies Pool (34° 25’00.33”S 19° 09’59.20”E). It offers the viewing of coastal birds together with species associated with the well-wooded habitats of the caravan park. The calls of the Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Klaas’s Cuckoo and Sombre Greenbul often echo through the area, but it is usually a mission to get visitors and friends to actually spot them. Large shoals of dolphins are sometimes seen surfing the waves. This section of the coastal path is the best area from which to witness the ever changing moods of the sea and this will be highlighted later.
The Onrus caravan park deserves to be discussed on its own and is certainly worth investigating. It hosts an interesting suite of birds, but this clearly not during peak holiday seasons. The park is accessed from De Villiers Street at 34° 24’52.25”S 19° 10’18.28”E. Huge groves of Milkwood thickets along the coastal path allow for lazy birding overlooking Harderbaai. One outing produced a “bird party” of no less than eleven different species chasing a huge boomslang through the trees. The repetitive quick, quick, quick call of the African Goshawk is a feature of early morning birding and the African Harrier-Hawk provides great entertainment, often being mobbed by other birds usually orchestrated by the Fork-tailed Drongo. The timid and inquisitive African Dusky Flycatcher and Swee Waxbill often allow for wonderful photographic opportunities. The Spotted Eagle-Owl, African Olive Pigeon and Cardinal and Olive Woodpeckers are present, but fairly difficult to observe. Look out for Diderick and Red-chested Cuckoos, Spotted Flycatcher and African Paradise-Flycatcher during summer months. A friend called during the previous summer: “There is a Cape Wagtail feeding a huge black thing in the caravan park” – a parasitic Red-chested Cuckoo chick being raised by the unfortunate wagtails. Most birders that we have taken to the caravan park describe it as a prime spot for birding in such a well-wooded area.
|African Dusky Flycatcher - Anton|
|Harderbaai - Image by Elaine Odendal|
But let us return to the coastal path – in winter violent seas dislodge kelp and deposit these plants on the rocky shores. Many insects are attracted to the rotting kelp and we are always fascinated to see the variety of species not usually associated with feeding along the sea to be found at Harderbaai. Species such as the Yellow-billed Duck, Cattle Egret, Egyptian Goose, Little Egret, Blue and Purple Herons, African Sacred Ibis and even Black-crowned Night-Heron then forage successfully. Elaine was very excited when she also found an African Spoonbill foraging recently – a first for us along these rocky shores. These storms with raging north-easterly winds ravaging the coastline create a completely different mood of nature. We then like having a glass of wine at one of the parking areas in the late afternoon and watching the action from the protection of our vehicle. These storms regularly drive pelagic species closer to shore and we have recorded species such as the Southern Giant Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters and Subantarctic Skua. Harderbaai has also over the years developed a reputation for delivering somewhat exotic vagrant species such as the White-fronted Bee-Eater, Little Blue Heron, African Openbill, Northern Rockhopper Penguin and Red-billed Tropicbird.
|Black-crowned Night-Heron - Richard Masson|
|Northern Rockhopper Penguin - Carin Malan|
The short section of the VOS coastal path between Davies Pool and the Jan Rabie tidal pool (34° 25’06.68”S 19° 09’46.07”E) is excellent for the observation of species along the coastal fynbos and thickets, as this morning in September clearly illustrates. At first light it is to be expected that the Olive Thrush will be first to announce the break of day, soon to be followed by the familiar call of the Cape Robin-Chat. We find a large patch of aloes where Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds in their splendid breeding plumage are already very active despite it being so early. Noisy pairs of Bar-throated Apalis and Karoo Prinia are enjoying the early rays of the sun atop shrubs allowing us the opportunity to compare their calls – the prinia with its surprising loud and rapid ‘kli-kli-kli’ call and the male apalis with its slower, but harsh ‘tillup-tillup-tillup’ notes, with the female responding with her high-pitched ‘ti-ti-ti’. What a privilege to observe this from such close quarters. The area along the wooden boardwalk over the little stream resonates with the calls of many frogs and the Arum Lilies are in full bloom. Ahead of us, southern right whales frolic in the blue. Cormorants, gulls and terns are now flying in different directions along the shore ready for another day’s foraging. We are delighted to see several endemic species such as Southern Boubou, Cape Bulbul, Cape Spurfowl, Fiscal Flycatcher and Cape Weaver in quick succession. Most excitingly a small family group of Cape Clawless Otters scatters from the coastal path as we approach the tidal pool. These otters are seen regularly at several spots along the VOS coastal path.
|Karoo Prinia - Anton|
|Cape Spurfowl - Anton|
The longer sections of coastal path between the Jan Rabie tidal pool and the Bitou Street lookout point (34° 25’16.87”S 19° 09’17.09”E), as well as the section from the lookout point to ‘Brekfis Baai’ offer alternative birding experiences. The vegetation along here is rank and dense and the thickets significantly taller than that of the previous section of the coastal path. Birds recorded here regularly include Bokmakierie, Brimstone Canary, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Streaky-headed Seedeater and both Red-faced and Speckled Mousebirds. The familiar call of the Burchell’s Coucal often associated with water pouring from a long-necked bottle adds to the excitement. I particularly enjoy the antics of the “hyper-active” Long-billed Crombec as it scurries through branches. To crown it all we regularly find the much sought-after Southern Tchagra along here – its melodious call seems out of place so close to the sea. Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls forage continually along the shoreline with Grey-backed Gulls joining them occasionally. A raucous pair of Giant Kingfishers is ever present and Pied Kingfishers often plunge into the water from a dizzy hight thus utilizing prey in deeper waters. This is also an ideal area from which to watch whales in season and large shoals of dolphins often pass by. Huge flocks of Cape Cormorants, together with Cape Gannets, terns and other seabirds are sometimes seen feeding off shore.
|Pied Kingfisher - Anton|
|Southern Tchagra - Image by MC Botha|
Visitors and tourists, both locally and from abroad are increasingly being attracted to leisurely slow birding along our shores. Such birding is even more popular and attractive along the Cape Whale Coast shoreline due to the high levels of endemic species to be found here. Keep in mind that many similar experiences of casual coastal birding are to be had, not only in Hermanus, but anywhere along the South African coast – very few birders have however investigated this alternative, but very exciting form of bird-watching. Also consider that the VOS coastal path is in close proximity to many to the top birding destinations in Hermanus, such as the Vermont Salt Pan, Hermanus cliff path, Fernkloof Nature Reserve and the Klein River Estuary.
Visitors should further consider the fact that about half of the number of species to be found along the VOS coastal path has not even been mentioned in this description. Links to detailed descriptions of birding opportunities, other species to be found and trip reports along the VOS coastal path are given below.
|Massed Cape Cormorants at Harderbaai - Anton|
|White-throated Swallow - Anton|
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- BRYN DE KOCKS BIRDS IN ONRUS
- 21 MAY MORNING OUTING - ONRUS AND ENVIRONS
- NORTHERN ROCKHOPPER PENGUIN AT ONRUS
- NOW THAT THE MIGRANTS ARE GONE � VERMONT, HARDERBAAI AND SWARTRIVIER ROAD
- WHERE TO STAY - BIRDSONG IN VERMONT, HERMANUS
- A 90 MINUTES TWITCH AT ONRUS AND VERMONT
- BIRDLIFE OVERBERG AT FERNKLOOF - WITH A DIFFERENCE
- PLANNING YOUR WALK ALONG THE HERMANUS CLIFF PATH