Yellow Wagtail still at Strandfontein Sewage Works

Per Holmen reports that the Yellow Wagtail was still present at Strandfontein Sewage Works yesterday. Below is his original note from Cape Birdnet and one of his cracking photos of the bird:

I just got back from Caprivi (trip report will shortly follow) yesterday and realized I have a lot of Western Cape catching up to do. I went to Strandfontein today and found the Yellow Wagtail on the road between P2 and P3.

Yellow Wagtail by Per Holmen1

Per also spotted a young Cape Gannet in P2. I wonder if the recent strong winds haven’t forced the poor thing to take a breather. The photo below reminds me of a strange record from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in the early 90’s. I received a frantic call from Kirstenbosch head office one morning about a “waterbird” on top of one of the office buildings. I rushed to the scene expecting to find a Gypo or the likes, but rather was presented with a young and rather tired Cape Gannet!

Cape Gannet Juvenile by Per Holmen1

Thanks Per for submitting the note and photos.

David Winter

Good numbers of Hottentot Teal at Strandfontein Sewage Works

Hottentot Teal is by no means a rarity in the Western Cape, but I would say it’s certainly uncommon to rare. Numerous birders have been reporting good numbers of these teal from Strandfontein recently. I quickly snapped the photo below when I was looking for the Yellow Wagtail.

Hottentot Teal Strandfontein1

For those not familiar with Strandfontein or Hottentot Teal you can find them in the bottom corner of P5. Up to 15 birds have been seen at once – I counted at least 12 last Friday. I’ve only ever encountered these birds in small numbers (2- 3 individuals) in the Western Cape, I wonder if they’re on the increase or is this just a good year for them?

Hottentot Teal Map1

I had a quick squiz at the SABAP2 website about Hottentot Teal, particularly the SABAP1 text, which included a reference from the Bird Atlas of the South Western Cape:

It is rare in the southwestern Cape Province (Hockey et al. 1989) and it occurs only sparsely in the rest of the Cape Provinces.

Below is the latest draft distribution map for Hottentot Teal from SABAP2. The red squares reflect SABAP2 distribution for Hottentot Teal, the grey squares SABAP1 distribution and the green squares SABAP2 coverage. I’m no statistician, but this map doesn’t appear to show any significant change. I guess one really needs to drill down into the numbers to tease anything useful out.

Hottentot Teal SABAP2 map

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

David Winter

Yellow Wagtail photo from Strandfontein by Patrick Cardwell

Below is the photo that Patrick Cardwell took of the Yellow Wagtail yesterday evening.

Yellow Wagtail Strandfontein Patrick Cardwell

Yellow Wagtail by Patrick Cardwell

There are many subspecies of Yellow Wagtail – Patrick thinks this bird is Motacilla flava beema. I unfortunately don’t have any books at hand, but Wiki has this to say:

M. f. beema (Sykes, 1832) – Sykes’ Wagtail.
Like flava but head lighter gray, ears washed white; sexes often similar.Breeding: North of lutea, E to Ladakh area. Winter: Indian subcontinent, also E Africa and adjacent Arabia.

Thanks Patrick for posting this superb image!

David Winter

Yellow Wagtail at Strandfontein Sewage Works

Patrick Cardwell posted a report on Cape Birdnet this morning about seeing a male Yellow Wagtail at Strandfontein yesterday afternoon. Here’s a snippet from his message:

Male in breeding plumage on ash track between P1 & P2 at Strandfontein yesterday afternoon. Bird quite tame and most accommodating from a photographic point of view.

I popped down quickly at lunch time today and the bird was still present, although quite skittish. Below are a few record shots that I managed to take.

Yellow Wagtail Strandfontein a

Yellow Wagtail Strandfontein c

As Patrick mentioned, the bird is on the road between P1 and P2 – take a look here if you don’t know where these pans are. Below is a more detailed map of where I saw the bird.

Yellow Wagtail Map1

I don’t have a book at hand – any thoughts on what race this bird is?

David Winter

Birding in Cape Town: Strandfontein Sewage Works

Arguably the best birding spot in Cape Town, Strandfontein Sewage Works is a must-visit site. The focused birder could notch up 100 species in a day, but the relatively small area also lends itself to a quick “whip-around” for the more time-strapped. Located on the north-western edge of False Bay it can be a little tricky to find if you’re not familiar with the area. The map below gives you a basic idea of how to get there.

Strandfontein directions1

The network of roads around the sewage works can be a litte confusing so I’ve highlighted the route that I like to drive. Beware of some of the sand roads that hug Baden Powell Drive in the south. It’s easy to get stuck here and there’s also a Kelp Gull nesting colony that must be avoided.

Strandfontein layout route reduced

I spent an hour birding at Strandfontein on Saturday evening last week and notched up 40 species without too much effort. The birding is sometimes dependent on the water levels – bird numbers can be significantly higher when the levels are low with exposed mud and roosting islands. I didn’t explore every pan, but there didn’t appear to be too much exposed mud around. Pan S3, which is completely overgrown with hyacinth, does have a small exposed area (see bottom right photo) at the moment where there was a collection of waterfowl and Great White Pelicans. My favourite shot for the evening was this African Marsh Harrier – it’s not the best of images, but the sea in the background with the pan and reedbed is so distinctly Strandfontein.

African Marsh Harrier

The highlight of the visit was certainly the 8 African Openbills that were feeding along the Zeekoevlei entrance road [read here for details], but a close second was watching a Purple Heron swallow a large Vlei rat [read here for details].

Blacksmith LapwingLittle GrebeCape Gull

Non-birders find it hard to believe me that there are flamingoes in Cape Town, but Strandfontein is a very reliable spot for Greater Flamingo and although rare, Lessers have been recorded as well.

Great Flamingo

My list for the evening included: Pied Crow, Red-winged Starling, African Openbill, Fan-tailed Cisticola, White-breasted Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, Barn Swallow, White-throated Swallow, Speckled Pigeon, Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Cape Shovellor, Little Grebe, Blacksmith Plover, Great White Pelican, Purple Heron, Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, African Darter, Swift Tern, Great Flamingo, African Marsh Harrier, Spur-winged Goose, Cattle Egret, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt, Grey Heron, Cape Wagtail, Cape Robin Chat, Common Starling, Yellow-billed Duck, Purple Swamphen, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Little Rush Warbler, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Cape Francolin, Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Bulbul, Reed Cormorant.

Black-headed HeronCape TealsWhite Pelican Scene

My plan is to slowly update this post with each visit to Strandfontein. Feel free to add notes about recent sightings in the comments section below.

David Winter

Would you care for some sludge with that, sir?

A quick visit to Strandfontein sewage works on Saturday evening resulted in these photos of a Purple Heron trying to swallow a rather large Vlei Rat [I stand corrected here, but this is what I think it is – can anyone confirm?].

Purple Heron vlei rate

Swallowing a rodent this size is clearly not easy so the heron spent about 15 minutes dipping the rat into the “water” (actually a cocktail of sludge and other unmentionables) to aid swallowing.

Purple Heron vlei rate1

After several dunkings and a few swallow attempts it was finally ingested.

Purple heron cropped1

A quick search revealed similar images, but with a Grey Heron and a rabbit. The link mentions that the prey is dunked in the water to drown it. Drowning may be a result, with mammals anyway, but I feel the real reason is to aid the swallowing process. Any comments or thoughts on this?

More African Openbills at Strandfontein Sewage Works

African Openbills by Margaret Maciver

Margaret Maciver has spotted 8 African Openbills at the entrance to Strandfontein Sewage Works. Here’s her original note from Cape Bird Net:

This morning around 10am I saw 8 Openbilled Storks just before the entrance to Strandfontein. Managed to get all 8 in one photo for proof, but its an awful picture! Up until yesterday there had been seven.

Margaret Maciver