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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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).
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.
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 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 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 (immature)
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.
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.
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.
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?
Margaret Maciver submitted these photos and notes from a recent trip to Kirstenbosch:
“The Swee was totally accidental, as I had been after the African Goshawk that’s been hanging around in the Braille Trail area and he was proving impossible to photograph. Dark, gloomy forest and the minute he sees a person, he’s gone. On the way to see if I could have better luck last Friday, I found a pair of Swee’s also along the Braille Trail, and this male was very obliging.”
I was very chuffed when I found the Goshawk quickly, and for some strange reason, after flying away from me a few times, he came close, almost as though he was checking me out! I did manage a few pictures, but of course the lighting was impossible. However, I was happy with this, it almost felt as though we’d been playing a game for a few weeks and I won
Just a quick note about some birding at Kirstenbosch. To assist with a pentade card (3355_1825 – southern suburbs of Cape Town) for SABAP2 I spent an hour on Sunday evening pottering around the gardens [a full birdlist is at the end of this post].
There are heaps of Orange-breasted Sunbirds in the garden at the moment – the protea section was particularly alive with them. Malachite Sunbird has been on the Kirstenbosch list for years, but only recently (last 5 years?) has this species taken up residence in the protea section. I thought the above photo was quite fun – it’s perhaps a close call in the “looks department” between an OBS and Malachite male, but on this occasion I think this OBS male had the upper hand…
Just a thought, but when last did anyone record Grassbird from the more developed areas of the garden? Are they still present in the wetland below the top car park? I thought I heard one distantly in the protea section, but could not be sure.