This year’s Birdlife South Africa Birding Big Day was held on Saturday 27 November and several teams participated throughout the Overberg region. Some teams took part in the 5km radius competition and others in the 50km km radius competition. It was decided to consolidate all the scores in view of seeing how many species could be recorded in the Overberg on the day. Several participants gave feedback on progress with the number of species seen and exciting species recorded on a WhatsApp group.
Unfortunately the weather did not play along and a few teams and individuals withdrew for various reasons largely related to heavy rain in the east and near gale force winds in the west. This clearly had a negative impact on the number of species recorded. I highlight just a few experiences that we believe perfectly illustrate the brilliant birding potential of the Overberg region.
Here are a few of my personal favourites and specials: Riaan reported the BLUE-MANTLED CRESTED FLYCATCHER and several other forest specials from the hugely underrated Witkrans site near Sandbaai. Klipfontein Keep along the Agulhas Plains has developed a reputation for sightings of the FYNBOS BUTTONQUAIL and did not disappoint – a lovely video being produced. The lingering EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER at the Kleinriver estuary caused some excitement as did Sandra’s sighting of a GREATER SAND PLOVER at the Uilenkraal estuary. Jenny logged LITTLE TERNS while hiking the Whale Trail at De Hoop Nature Reserve. Probably one of the best sightings on the day was that of the GREATER PAINTED SNIPE reported by Theanette from a small wetland near Pearly Beach.
The weather was really bad with the result that no boats left Kleinbaai for cruises around Dyer Island or for whale viewing or shark diving excursions. We clearly missed out on several pelagic species due to this. Lester did however report the WHITE-CHINNED PETREL, CAPE GANNET and PARASITIC JAEGER seen from the Bitou lookout point at Vermont. The LITTLE BITTERN, SAND MARTIN and AFRICAN RAIL are just a few of the special species that they recorded at the Hawston sewage works and along the Botvlei.
Pieter forwarded a cracking list of species seen during their visits to the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, the Bontebok National Park and the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Some brilliant species were found at Grootvadersbosch and these included the TERRESTRIAL BROWNBUL, both CUCKOOSHRIKES, WHITE-STARRED ROBIN and both KNYSNA and YELLOW-THROATED WOODLAND WARBLERS, all species not usually expected in the Overberg. Other specials were the LONG-CRESTED EAGLE at Suurbraak and the NAMAQUA SANDGROUSE at De Hoop.
We were very surprised to find a WESTERN OSPREY feeding on prey along the Karwyderskraal road, a substantial distance from both Botvlei and the river. One wonders whether it flies such a distance with its prey to escape the attention of AFRICAN FISH EAGLES. A MARTIAL EAGLE was mobbed by CAPE CROWS along the R43 and we were delighted to find the BROWN-BACKED HONEYBIRD at one of Jessie’s research sites in the Van der Stel Pass. GREATER DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRDS feeding a chick at Greyton should also be mentioned as it seems as if this species is expanding its range ever westwards. Our highlight of the day was undoubtedly finding the GREY TIT in the Greyton district – a first for us in the Overberg.
In the end we managed to record a very impressive 243 species despite trying conditions. Most importantly 55 of the species recorded are endemic or near-endemic to southern Africa – very few areas can boast such a high percentage of endemics. The list of species can be viewed elsewhere on this website. The vast birding potential of the Overberg region is further emphasised if one then looks at just a few ‘dippers’ on the day. The wind was really pumping in the western sections of the region and due to this Coerie and friends missed out on the Bank Cormorant at Stony Point, as well as both the Cape Rockjumper and Sentinel Rock-Thrush at the Rooiels site. The Red Knot and Terek Sandpiper were not located at the Rooisand Nature Reserve and raptors found regularly, but not on the day included the Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk and Cape Vulture. Other species that have been reported on recently that we missed out on included the Spotted Flycatcher, Greater Honeyguide and African Black Swift.
One wonders what can be recorded on a clear windless day in the Overberg. Maybe we will be blessed with such a Birding Big Day sometime in future? I personally believe that more than 300 species should be attainable, weather permitting. As far as the competitions are concerned: Pieter Verster’s team did the best in the 50km radius competition with 168 species recorded and Lester van Groeningen’s team won the 5km radius competition hands-down with an excellent 136 species recorded.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all birders who had participated on the day. It is clearly impossible to mention all the contributions and special species found in a brief report of this nature. Hopefully next year many more members and friends will enjoy such an enjoyable and fun Birding Big Day in the Overberg.
30 November 2021.