I’ve always regarded Familiar Chat as a species found in the upper reaches of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, particularly around Hely Hutchinson dam at the top of Skeleton Gorge, but I recorded it for the second time in the Protea section of the garden on Sunday. I first recorded it here in June 2012 and at the time fired off a quick email to Derrick Longrigg, Author of The Cape Birds Club’s “A Guide to the Birds of Kirstenbosch” (1978) and leader of the monthly bird count in the garden, asking him for his thoughts. Derrick replied with the following:
We recorded the FC in the upper gardens (lawns) first in April 2010, and again in June, August, September and December 2011. We have not seen it yet this year so thanks for your note. Maybe it wanders into the garden from time to time from higher up the mountain.
Another interesting record for this time of year was a single Black Saw-wing flitting over the Dell.
I followed up recent reports of both a Black Tern and Pectoral Sandpiper from Strandfontein Sewage Works on Saturday afternoon. Black Tern is a scarce species in the Western Cape, but is likely somewhat overlooked, and Pectoral Sandpiper seems to be having a bumper season this year. I stand corrected, but in my view Pectoral Sandpiper was a rare vagrant 30 years ago, but more recently with the increase in regular records I’d say its status can be relegated to rare visitor.
I was pretty lucky with the Pectoral – it was the first bird I picked up when scanning the corner of P1 [map]. It shared the pan with Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and a Hottentot Teal.
I wasn’t so lucky with the Black Tern. I scoured all of its reported hangouts, but turned up nothing. There were fantastic numbers of Swift, Common, Sandwich and Caspian Tern in P2, but no obvious “Lake Terns” were around. Given its relative small size it may well have been holed up in the large tern roost on P2. Anyway, I didn’t limit my visit to seeking out the two rare visitors and managed to notch up a respectable list for the afternoon – see list below. Here are a few random snaps from the trip.
Strandfontein Sewage Works bird list for the afternoon:
Pied Crow, Kelp Gull, Speckled Pigeon, Common Fiscal, Common Buzzard, Great White Pelican, Swift Tern, Karoo Prinia, Southern Masked Weaver, Brimstone Canary, Hartlaub`s Gull, White-breasted Cormorant, African Marsh Harrier, Levaillant`s Cisticola, Ring-necked Dove, Cape Bulbul, Little Rush Warbler, Greater Flamingo, Cape Wagtail, Barn Swallow, Cape Teal, Maccoa Duck, Common Moorhen, Southern Red Bishop, Red-knobbed Coot, Brown-throated Martin, Pied Avocet, Glossy Ibis, Reed Cormorant, Common Starling, Hadeda Ibis, African Sacred Ibis, Blacksmith Lapwing, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe, Black-headed Heron, Cape Shoveler, Grey Heron, Pied Avocet, Pectoral Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Cape Longclaw, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sandwich Tern, Caspian Tern, African Black Oystercatcher, Egyptian Goose, Great Crested Grebe, African Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Cape Robin-Chat, Western Cattle Egret, Spotted Thick-knee, African Fish Eagle, Spur-winged Goose, African Purple Swamphen, Ruff.
Although not one of the most rabid western Cape listers, I decided to head out to Klipheuwel on Saturday morning to catch up with the Great-spotted Cuckoo that was found earlier in the week.
The Atlas of the Birds of the Southwestern Cape (Hockey et al, 1989) says this about the species’ status in the region:
Rare summer visitor, no breeding recorded during the atlas period. Recorded from only four localities in the drier areas of the east and north. All records within the period August to December. Normally occurs in savanna habitats and is rare south of the Orange River. The principal brood hosts are crows and starlings: in the eastern Cape the Pied Starling is the main host, and Great-spotted Cuckoos in the SW Cape have been observed inspecting nest holes of this species: may occasionally breed in the region.
The bird at Klipheuwel appears quite at home; it spends a lot of its time in an open field gorging itself on small caterpillars. The bird is a sub-adult – it’s still showing some rusty brown markings in the primaries – visible in the dodgy shot below.
Other species recorded while watching the cuckoo included: Large-billed Lark, Red-capped Lark, Southern-masked Weaver, Cape Weaver, Pied Starling, Hadeda Ibis, African Fish Eagle, Common Starling, Cattle Egret and Cloud Cisticola.
Otto Schmidt, who lives just down the road from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, snapped these images of an Eurasian Honey Buzzard over his house on Saturday 14 January 2012. Honey Buzzards visit the Western Cape annually, but one needs a bit of luck to see them. Kirstenbosch is probably one of the more reliable areas for them [read here for more information about raptor watching in Kirstenbosch]. I would guess, judging by this bird’s underwing and tail pattern, that it’s an adult male.
This individual has started moulting its flight feathers
You can see the scaling on the birds face that protects it from wasp stings
I popped into Kirstenbosch yesterday for a quick walk and was amazed at how confiding two Lemon Doves were in the Dell. The pair kept very close to one another, but on the occasion when they separated one bird would stop foraging and start calling its low hoot until its mate reappeared. Keep an eye out for them.
Rooi Els seems to have surpassed Sir Lowry’s pass as the place to see one of the Cape’s most alluring endemics, Cape Rockjumper. Just an hours drive from Cape Town, Rooi Els and nearby Betty’s Bay are likely the best Cape localities to see the region’s endemic fynbos species.
Rooi Els map adapted from Google Earth image
In the slightly dated Google image above you can see that the area was flattened by a fire a few years ago, but the vegetation is now making a strong recovery, which can make finding Cape Rockjumper tough at times. Directions to the Rooi Els Cape Rockjumper site are simple. When entering the seaside village from a Gordon’s Bay direction, cross the bridge and take the second road to your right. Drive to the end of this road until you reach a gate where you can park. Be sure to park to the side and not block the gate. From here continue walking along the road birding as you go.
Cape Rock-thrush male
Scan the telephone wires for Cape Rock-thrush and watch the protea bushes for Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird. Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola and Cape Grassbird are also common along this stretch.
Cape Sugarbird male
Orange-breasted Sunbird, male
Finding the rockjumpers can be tricky at times. The easiest method is to walk along the jeep track while scanning the rocky slopes and listening for their piping song or more subtle contact calls. They spend most of their time on the ground searching for grubs, but occasionally they hop onto rocks and flutter short distances. They are typically in small groups of three to five birds. For the more energetic a walk up and along the slope can be more productive, but it can be hard going at times as the fynbos is getting denser by the year. The use of playback to attract rockjumpers does not work at Rooi Els (they are “taped-out”) and, if you do choose to use some form of recording, please do so sparingly.
Cape Rockjumper male
Cape Rockjumper male
Cape Rockjumper female
Once you have found the rockjumpers they can actually be quite confiding if approached slowly. I know birders who have had rockjumpers hopping around their feet! It’s easy to think at times that the rockjumpers are not home, but they are always there. You just need to search a bit harder! Other interesting species to look out for in the area include: Verreaux’s Eagle (see map for nest site), Ground Woodpecker (they can be tricky to pin down – listen for their call), Long-billed Pipit (particularly after a fire), Cape Spurfowl, Victorin’s Warbler (particularly on the upper slopes close to the cliffs, but also in the low lying areas on the sea-side of the road), Sentinel Rock-thrush (not on the phone lines like Cape Rock-thrush – look on the lower slopes), Cape Eagle Owl (scarce, but resident).
Enjoy the birding and please feel free to post interesting or recent sightings in the comments section below.
Graham Bull has again seen a Eurasian Oystercatcher at Langebaan Lagoon, West Coast National Park. The bird apparently spends most of its time north of Seeberg hide. I wonder if this is the same bird that Graham reported in January this year?
Mike Buckham and I were keen to track down some Chestnut-banded Plovers on the West Coast earlier this year. We weren’t interested in “speck on the horizon” type views, we wanted them close. Mike, via CapeBirdNet, managed to make contact with the owners of the farm and guest house, Kuifkopvisvanger, which is located on the southern shores of the berg river and is reputably a reliable spot for them.
The guest farm can be contacted on 022 783 0818 and I suggest you phone ahead to make arrangements. The spot was easy to find – see map above – and we weren’t disappointed. We found at least 15 individuals and using our car as a hide we were able to get within about 10 metres of them.
Chestnut-banded Plover (male)
Chestnut-banded Plover (male)
We noted some interesting territorial behaviour while we were snapping these pics. As mentioned, there were at least 15 individual birds, both males and females, and one particular male spent a lot of his time chasing the other males around him. He would flatten his body (perhaps to appear bigger?) and strut around like he owned the place! The shots below were through the wind screen, but you’ll get the idea.
I spent one of the few Easter weekend weather gaps at Grootwit Vlei in Betty’s Bay where the water levels are now low enough to walk around the edges. Apart from the expected Water Thick-knee, African Snipe, Little Egret and Sacred Ibis, of note were three South African Shelduck and a calling African Rail. Both of these species are new additions to my Betty’s Bay bird list. David Winter