I popped into Strandfontein Sewage Works on Saturday to try out a new pair of binoculars. I was quite surprised to see that the reed beds around pans P7, P6, P5 and a few others have been cleared. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, and imagine they’ll regrow pretty quickly, but it made approaching some birds quite tricky. Pan P2 was the pick of the pans for the morning as it had both a good number of birds and a variety of species.
Strandfontein Sewage Works bird list for the morning: Karoo Prinia, Cape White-eye, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Canary, Hadeda Ibis, Hartlaub’s Gull, Kelp Gull, White-breasted Cormorant, Malachite Sunbird, Laughing Dove, Grey Heron, Cape Weaver, African Sacred Ibis, Black-shouldered Kite, Little Rush Warbler, Yellow-billed Duck, Blacksmith Lapwing, Cape Wagtail, Western Cattle Egret, Cape Teal, Little Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Pied Crow, Cape Shoveler, Brown-throated Martin, Greater Flamingo, Maccoa Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Starling, Black-winged Stilt, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, Swift Tern, Great White Pelican, Black-headed Heron, Cape Bulbul, Cape Turtle Dove, Helmeted Guineafowl, Grey-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Ringed Plover, African Pipit, Curlew Sandpiper, African Spoonbill, Cape Sparrow, Cape Spurfowl, African Black Oystercatcher, Purple Heron, Little Stint, Barn Swallow, Pied Avocet, Red-billed Teal, Spur-winged Goose, Zitting Cisticola. [Total: 56 species]
One of the things I love about Betty’s Bay is how close you feel to nature when there. Case in point, imagine my surprise last year when I bumped into not one, but a group of six Cape Clawless Otters while walking on beach.
A bogey bird can be a great leveler amongst birders. For those who aren’t familiar with the term it refers to a species that, despite much effort, a birder is just not able to see and add to their list. It doesn’t matter how many rare birds a birder may have on their list, if they haven’t seen a relatively common species it can be a source of great embarrassment and most certainly the root of some focused ribbing (mostly good natured) from mates! I, admittedly, have some spectacular omissions on my list, but this trip to the Tanqua Karoo was to target a bogey bird that a mate, despite having a southern Africa list of well over 840, was missing. Our target for the day was Black-eared Sparrowlark, and recent feedback from trips into the area reported that they were breeding in good numbers on the R355 to Calvinia and the P2250 towards the Tanqua Karoo National Park.
A 4:14am start had us rolling into Karoopoort at about 6:30am after a brief stop en route to see if there were any Cape Clapper Larks displaying close to the road – no such luck, bar a faint whistle in the distance. It must be said, after the wettest Cape winter I can recall for some time, I was also looking forward to some sunshine in the Karoo. We were eager to head straight to the P2250, but bird activity was good along the R355 so we took our time.
What was quite fun were the number of young larks around. I thought this young Red-capped Lark was very striking with its richly coloured upperparts, while two young Large-billed Larks were very comical with their punk hairdos and their insistence of tracing their parent’s every step.
It didn’t take long for the “sparrowlark” call to go up and just like that the bogey bird was in the bag. In true bogey bird fashion, as soon as we had seen our first we started to see them everywhere. We found our first few pairs on the R355, but once we had turned off towards the Tanqua Karoo National Park we flushed birds every few hundred meters.
One thing is for sure, Black-eared Sparrowlark can be a pain to photograph! They spend a lot of their time feeding on the ground and as you approach them they always somehow manage to keep just beyond decent shot distance. If they flush they can then circle you for minutes on end, which makes photography even trickier. I managed to snap a few shots, and in 90% of the photos the birds had their wings folded in a torpedo-like dive, which is probably the point at which they were moving the slowest and I could finally focus on them.
Of interest was this apparent leucistic individual that really stood out.
After we had our fill with the sparrowlarks we headed south towards Skitterykloof. En route we encountered most of the typical Tanqua Karoo regulars including Karoo and TractracChat, KarooKorhaan (flushed and calling), Pale-chantingGoshawk, KarooLark, KarooEremomela, Rufous-earedWarbler, Black-headed Canary, Yellow Canary, Greater and RockKestrel and NamaquaSandgrouse.
Namaqua Sandgrouse flocks were particularly active on this trip. We encountered good numbers of them feeding along the P2250 and active flocks “kelkiewyn’d” overhead throughout the morning.
The birding in Skitterykloof was suprisingly good despite our midday arrival time. As we entered the kloof we were greeted by DuskySunbird, AfricanReedWarbler and a flock of Black-headedCanaries working their way along the cliff face. A stroll up the river valley above the dry dam revealed White-backed Mousebird, Fairy Flycatcher, Bokmakierie and a calling pair of Cinnamon-breasted Warblers. The warblers were wonderfully tame as they worked their way along a cliff face oblivious of our snapping cameras.
With the bogey in the bag and some great birding under our belts we made one last stop at Eierkop before making a dash for Cape Town. Despite the distance, I finished the day feeling that the Tanqua Karoo is very accessible from Cape Town and it should really be a place I visit more often. Although, I should perhaps focus my attention more on finding my own bogey birds closer to home!
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.