Eurasian Oystercatcher at Langebaan Lagoon, West Coast National Park again

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?

Eurasian Oystercatcher

Thanks Graham.

David Winter

A great site for Chestnut-banded Plovers on the West Coast, Veldrif

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.

reduced Veldrif map1

Map adapted from Google Earth

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

Chestnut-banded Plover (male)

Chestnut-banded Plover a

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.

Dont mess with meDont mess with me1Dont mess with me2

Don’t mess with me…

Chestnut-banded Plover chase

The chase…

David Winter

Betty’s Bay wetland birding

Bettys Bay wetland birding

Grootwit Vlei, Betty’s Bay

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

Kirstenbosch raptor watching notes and directions

At the risk of being monotonous, I visited Kirstenbosch for a third weekend in a row on Saturday 29 January 2011 to see what raptors were around. The start was a bit earlier than usual as I was joined by Callan who was guiding two Birding Africa clients.

Raptor watching kbosch

The vantage point we use to watch raptors is, in my opinion, probably one of the better locations to watch raptors from in Cape Town. I’ve never equaled the 12 species haul that Callan and I notched up in the 90’s at Tokai forest, but over the years we’ve tried Newlands Forest, Cecilia and other locations close to Kirstenbosch and this one seems to be the most consistent.

Raptor Watching Spot reduced

Kirstenbosch raptor watching spot [Image source: Google Earth]

The vantage point is located in the Lubbert’s Gift area of Kirstenbosch and can be a little tricky to find if you don’t know the paths. Essentially you need to get onto the gravel track that runs above the National Botanical Institute buildings towards Newlands Forest. We stand at the point where the road splits [see map above] as this gives you a panoramic view from Wynberg Hill towards Newlands.

Raptor watching2 kbosch

View towards Castle Buttress

A quick thought about timing. If you want a better chance of seeing accipiters then an early start is recommended. On previous raptor-watching sessions, which have generally only started around 10am, accipiters were recorded infrequently. On this visit we recorded African Goshawk (not at Kirstenbosch – Callan had one at Constantia Nek), Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk (2 birds were sparring above Window buttress at about 8:15am) and Black Sparrowhawk all before 9:30am. Of course you can see them any time of the day, but early morning certainly seems to be better for them.

Black Sparrowhawk

Black Sparrowhawk

For buteos and other raptors a later start appears to be better. We generally only start seeing good numbers of buzzards from about 10am until around lunch time. The weather also has a part to play – warm, sunny days are better.

African Harrier Hawk

African Harrier Hawk

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard

Yellow-billed Kite

Yellow-billed Kite

Getting back to Saturday 29 January, the morning started off well with the flurry of accipiters described above and a lone African Harrier Hawk over the car park. Apart from that, raptor numbers were rather low through the morning and the species count was limited to Steppe Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite and fleeting glimpses of a Honey Buzzard over Newlands Forest. I imagine that most Steppe and Honey Buzzards are thinking about heading north right now, but if anyone does visit this raptor watching spot please let me know what you see.

David Winter

Interesting Water Mongoose and Sacred Ibis interaction at Strandfontein Sewage Works

I joined Mike, Brian and Thomas Buckham at Strandfontein on Sunday for a quick visit to the works. We were hoping to bump into the Sand Martin that had been reported the week before, but it was a needle in a haystack affair.

Strandfontein Sewage Works a

Soon after we arrived we bumped into Mel Tripp who pointed out a Water Mongoose in pan P2, a species I’ve only seen once before at Strandfontein (26 December 1991). The mongoose was completely relaxed by our presence, but what was most interesting was how the Sacred Ibis and Cattle Egrets in the pan reacted to it.

Water Mongoose a

Water Mongoose surrounded by birds

Mel noted as he pointed it out to us that the ibis and egrets were following and herding the mongoose as it went about its business. Wherever the animal walked a group of birds would quite literally follow and track its movements.

Water Mongoose b

In the image above the mongoose was moving off only to be followed by a group of ibis. The mongoose seemed quite relaxed and at no point appeared threatened or put-off by its followers. We thought perhaps the birds were just keeping an eye on the mongoose as reference books indicate they eat birds eggs.

Hottentot Teal

P2 was probably the most productive pan of the morning. It turned up a small group of Hottentot Teal and the exposed margins held lots of Little Stints, Common Ringed Plovers, a Greenshank and a single White-winged Black Tern.

Cape Longclaw

Cape Longclaw

African Sacred Ibis

African Sacred Ibis

Strandfontein Sewage Works bird list – 27 March 2011: Cattle Egret, Black-headed Heron, Common Starling, Red-winged Starling, Barn Swallow, Brown-throated Martin, Little Rush Warbler, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cape Canary, Brimstone Canary, African Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Red-eye Dove, Cape Turtle Dove, Hottentot Teal, Cape Teal, Cape Shovellor, Egyptian Goose, African Marsh Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite, Zitting Cisticola, Lesser Swamp Warbler, African Black Swift, Purple Heron, Cape White-eye, Pied Crow, Cape Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, White-necked Raven, Cape Robin-chat, White-winged Black Tern, Little Stint, Common Ringed Plover, Cape Wagtail, Common Greenshank, Black Sparrowhawk, Cape Bulbul, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Blacksmith Plover, Swift Tern, Sandwich Tern, Caspian Tern, Hadeda Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Cape Weaver.

David Winter

More Kirstenbosch raptor watching

Mike Buckham joined me on Saturday (22-01-11) for another raptor watch at Kirstenbosch. The conditions weren’t great with a strong black south-easter (lots of cloud cover over the mountain), but Kirstenbosch was thankfully quite sheltered. We didn’t expect a great raptor tally, particularly because we had 4 children in tow who found stone throwing far more entertaining than discussing the nuances of Forest vs. Steppe Buzzard separation. We did however put them to work with an incentive scheme that offered a wine gum for each raptor spotted. Young eyes are surprisingly sharp, particularly when energised with a bit of sugar…

22 January 2011 Kirstenbsoch

Forest Buzzard

So, despite wind and hyper-active kids we did actually see some raptors. The cloud conditions can actually help photography slightly, particularly for shots against the mountain – see buzzard image above. However, I believe windless, warm days are generally better for encouraging soaring activity.

22 January 2011 Kirstenbsoch1

Black Sparrowhawk

In total we notched up 6 raptors before the wind got the better of us: Booted Eagle (pale phase), Steppe Buzzard, Forest Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite (2 birds did a very close fly-by), Rock Kestrel and finally an immature Black Sparrowhawk (photo above).

David Winter

Kirstenbosch raptor watching

A short raptor watch at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on Saturday 15 January 2011 really turned up the goods. I always feel slightly deprived when a summer passes and I haven’t seen at least one Honey Buzzard on the Cape Peninsula. Last year was one of those where, despite putting in some time at Kirstenbosch and Newlands Forest, no Honeys were recorded.

Kirstenbosch vista1

I’m pleased to report a different state of affairs this year. No sooner than 5 minutes after arriving at Kirstenbosch on Saturday (10:15am) an immature Honey Buzzard caught my attention. I was far from prepared for this early kick-off and only managed to rattle off a couple of shots before my camera’s card was full. Nevertheless, I managed to capture this image, which shows the diagnostic features.

Honey Buzzard1

Honey Buzzard (immature)

I’m amazed how frequently I see African Harrier Hawk in the Southern Suburbs these days. I can still recall painstakingly trying to track my lifer down in the Warmbaths area back in the early 90’s as it was particularly uncommon in the Western Cape at that time. On Saturday I was entertained by two adult birds completing an extensive aerial display that lasted at least 30 minutes. One of the birds would complete a series of consecutive dives and sharp vertical rises, shaking its wings just at the top of each rise, while the other circled below.

African Harrier Hawk displaying

African Harrier Hawks displaying

Roberts reports the following regarding such displays:

In breeding display, 1 (sometimes both) of pair sours high in air, in slow and buoyant flight, usually silent. Sometimes makes shallow undulations with exaggerated wing fluttering. Sometimes male stalls, falls backwards and drops into a dive; may dive on soaring female, who turns onto her back and extends legs so that they briefly tough claws. Such flights average 20 minutes (11 – 33 minutes, n = 10).

In-between soaring Honeys and displaying Harrier Hawks there were a smattering of Steppe Buzzards (probably 5 individual birds in total), a lone Rock Kestrel, a distant Booted Eagle, an immature African Fish Eagle (below) and at least one vocal Forest Buzzard. I was chuffed with the Fish Eagle, it’s only the second time I’ve seen this species at Kirstenbosch and interestingly the last time it was also an immature.

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle (immature)

Forest Buzzard

Forest Buzzard

Thinking the morning couldn’t get any better, whilst photographing a passing buzzard my attention was drawn to a soaring falcon, which struck me by its long-tailed and winged appearance and its dissimilarity with expected falco species. The bird was fairly distant, but I managed to snap a few record shots, which I circulated for comment here earlier this week. Below are two of the images.

Large Falcon kbosch Jan 2011

Large Falcon kbosch1 Jan 2011

My suspicions at the time, and now following input from a variety of raptor experts, is that the bird may have been an Eleonora’s Falcon. Other suggestions from people have included Lanner, Peregrine and European Hobby. Out of interest, John Graham recorded an Eleonora’s Falcon at Kirstenbosch back in 2006 and managed to grab a few shots of the soaring bird. Subsequent to his sighting he created this series of photos, which includes his Kirstenbosch bird on the left and then an Eleonora’s image from the web for comparison.

John Graham Ele Image

John Graham Ele Image 1

John Graham Ele Image 2

I also consulted raptor expert Dick Forsman ( and this was his response:

I can only agree with you, that the bird in the image is a young dark morph Eleonora’s Falcon. The falcon is young because of its prominent white tail-tip and trailing edge to the wing. Identifying it as an Eleonora’s is to push it a bit, as some juv Hobbies can look extremely similar when viewed against the light and in slightly blurred images like this. However, in this case I believe, that what we see is also the actual truth.

So, all in all it was an action-packed morning that produced no less than 8 raptor species. Raptor watching can be a pot-luck affair, but I’ll certainly be putting in some more time this weekend so feel free to join me if you’re keen to catch up with some of the Peninsula’s raptors.

David Winter

Kirstenbosch bird list: Sombre Greenbul, Cape Sugarbird, Swee Waxbill, Cape Canary, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Forest Canary, Steppe Buzzard, Forest Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Rock Kestrel, African Harrier Hawk, African Fish-Eagle, Southern Boubou, Paradise Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Black Saw-wing, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Robin-Chat, Red-winged Starling.

Kirstenbosch raptor watching: any thoughts on this falcon?

While raptor watching at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on Saturday I snapped these poor images of a large falcon. It unfortunately did not hang around and was last seen heading south in the direction of Cecilia Forest. My suspicions, and the opinions of a couple of raptor experts, point towards Eleonora’s Falcon. Does anyone else perhaps have an opinion regarding its identification?

Falcon1 Kirstenbosch Jan 2011

Falcon2 Kirstenbosch Jan 2011

Falcon Kirstenbosch Jan 2011

David Winter

Paarl Bird Sanctuary Birding Notes

Guilty of perhaps not doing as much babysitting as any self-respecting uncle should, I took my budding-birder niece, Rose Mitchell (age 9) off to Paarl Bird Sanctuary recently. To lower the average age even more, Mike Buckham took his equally keen son Thomas and one of his friends.

Rose PBS

The real reason Mike and I were at Paarl was to look for the Green-backed Heron, but it was nice to show the kids some new birds. The heron was rather uncooperative, but it did put in a very brief fly-by. I hadn’t been to Paarl for a few years and was reminded as to what a great reserve it is, particularly for birders who carry a camera.

Common Sandpiper

The Common Sandpipers that frequent the edge of the pans and water channels are usually nice and obliging.

African Black Duck

Not always an easy species to pin down, we were pleasantly surprised to see this African Black Duck in the channel close to the heronry. The nearby Berg River is usually the preferred habitat for this species.

White-faced Duck

White-faced Duck is becoming more regular in the Western Cape.


This male Maccoa Duck gave us a great quivering-tail display.

Common Sandpiper landscape

One last Common Sandpiper photo.

Directions to Paarl Bird Sanctuary

Directions to Paarl Bird Sanctuary.

Paarl Bird Sanctuary bird list: Common Starling, Barn Swallow, African Reed-Warbler, Sacred Ibis, African Darter, Grey-headed Gull, Reed Cormorant, Malachite Kingfisher, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Green-backed Heron, Little Rush-Warbler, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape White-eye, Grey-headed Sparrow, African Harrier Hawk, Jackal Buzzard, White-throated Swallow, Hartlaub’s Gull, Cattle Egret, Cape Wagtail, Little Grebe, Greater Flamingo, White-faced Duck, Maccoa Duck, Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Southern Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, Great-crested Grebe, House Sparrow, Paradise Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Swee Waxbill, Olive Thrush, Cape Canary, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, African Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Hadeda Ibis, Pied Crow, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Robin-chat, Red-winged Starling, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Southern Masked-Weaver

David Winter

White-backed Duck at Strandfontein Sewage Works

White-backed Duck

White-backed Duck

The highlight of my blitz around Strandfontein on Saturday was a pair of White-backed Duck on P1 [map]. They were close to the south bank. I can’t recall seeing White-backed Duck at Strandfontein before, has anyone else seen this pair?

Greater Flamingos

Greater Flamingo

Water levels are high at the moment and bird numbers seemed a bit lower than average. There are however loads of Greater Flamingo around.

Karoo Scrub-Robin

Karoo Scrub-Robin

I don’t always venture into the back pans of Strandfontein, but if one is trying to build a decent list you can add a variety of species such as Karoo Scrub-robin [pictured above], Cape Grassbird, Grey-backed Cisticola and African Reed Warbler in summer.

Strandfontein bird list: Cape Canary, Kelp Gull, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cape White-eye, Karoo Prinia, Common Starling, Great White Pelican, Little Rush-Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, White-breasted Cormorant, Cape Bulbul, Little Grebe, Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Turtle-Dove, Greater Flamingo, Cape Robin-chat, Glossy Ibis, Cape Teal, Southern Pochard, Red-billed Teal, Maccoa Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Cattle Egret, Sacred Ibis, Hartlaub’s Gull, Reed Cormorant, Pied Avocet, Red-knobbed Coot, Blacksmith Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Yellow-billed Duck, African Marsh Harrier, Common Moorhen, Speckled Pigeon, Cape Spurfowl, Little Swift, African Black Swift, Alpine Swift, Swift Tern, Hadeda Ibis, Purple Swamphen, Cape Wagtail, Common Waxbill, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Scrub-robin, Yellow Bishop, Cape Grassbird, White-throated Swallow, African Black Oystercatcher, Grey Heron, Black-shouldered Kite, Brown-throated Martin, White-backed Duck x 2, African Pipit, Pied Crow, Black-headed Heron.

Mammals: Cape Grysbok, Small-grey Mongoose.

David Winter