Birding in habitats around Cape Town in autumn - Apr 2010

Hi all,

I did a few tours in the past 2 weeks around the Cape. Birds calling or displaying was a rarity and birding skills and tricks to lure them out had to be used often.

A half day habitat run was fairly easy with bird parties being around but not calling.

Kirstenbosch was still good in the early morning with plenty of Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds very active and visible. Photo opportunities were good as displaying birds were tame and had other things on their minds.

Cape Sugarbirds were really scarce and one wonders if they are already breeding! Black and Alpine Swifts were still visible over the gardens, maybe they are moving through on their way north. The Spotted Eagle Owls have moved to their winter home so maybe our rain is due soon or does the day length advise them when to move? For a change the Sombre Green-bulls were eating berries on the outside of the trees and gave good visuals instead of giving calls from inside the trees as were Cape Bulbuls! Forest and Cape Canaries were quietly eating seeds from the fynbos and were very approachable.

The coastal run to Blouberg had a host of species such as with Hartlaub's Gull, Caspian and Swift Terns and White-breasted Cormorants and Greenshank at Milnerton. Sunset Beach pan had a surprise in that an African Snipe was feeding in the open without any cover for meters, strange maybe the food was good! Yellow-billed and White-backed Duck, Cape Shoveller, Purple Swamphen and Dabchick at Dolphin Beach complemented the aerial display of Greater-striped Swallow and Rock and Brown-throated Martins. One wonders where the "resident" Great-crested Grebe has moved off to? Kittlitz's and Black-smith Plovers seemed to like the mowed lawns on the beach front and have moved in, strange how they like suburbia. My usual path to the seaside ending at a freshwater pond had a number of coastal scrub birds.

Just add water as the saying goes and there they were! The walk down to the sea had Bar-throated Apalis, Karoo Prinia, Long-billed Crombek, Karoo Scrub-robin, Yellow and White-throated Canaries moving about close to the path. A few White-backed Mousebirds were sunning themselves and warming their tummies after feeding on fresh leaves thus aiding digestion. At the reed bed Cape and Masked Weaver were "swizzling" away getting ready for the new breeding season, some were already well dressed! Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers were not as vocal as normal but made their presence known. Crowned and Cape Cormorants were preening on the rocks at Melkbos with a number of African Black Oystercatchers "screaming" at each other. In the washed up kelp besides the normal Ruddy Turnstone and White-fronted Plover was a surprise of Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and Sanderling. Normally we associate them with sandy patches not washed up kelp. Cape Gannets were fairly close in shore diving from the heights to the fish that the Cormorants on the rocks had already enjoyed. Great to see them after their absence.

An isolated pan on the R27 with its associated boxwood scrub had another unusual bird, namely Brimstone Canary mixed with White-throated and Cape Canaries and Cape Sparrows. All seemed to be feeding on berries in the bitou and boxwood. Strange to see the Brimstone so far away from fynbos but always a bulky yet impressive Canary to see.

The farmlands had a lone Jackal Buzzard scanning the now empty stubble wheat fields, denuded of rodents by the now gone Yellow-billed Kites and Steppe Buzzards. The resident pair of Blue Cranes stood majestically on the hillside, and the "meowing" Cape Longclaws, African Pipits and Capped Wheatears holding their own in the still dry fields.

Another trip had us moving up the West Coast to Tinie Versveld Wild Flower Reserve a short walk had us looking at Cloud's and Le Vaillant's Cisticolas showing the structure and size difference. It's amazing how the Cloud's drops into the short grass in front of you AND disappears! The area was too dry for African Snipe but the small dam had Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveller and Cape Teal with a lone Three-banded Plover patrolling the shoreline. Pied Starlings were chattering in the long grass next to the road, not a bad looking Starling when seen in the sunlight and a few pairs of Cape Longclaw were also feeding there. No Black Harrier or Secretary Bird this time, maybe they move to "greener" pastures?

A bypass of the West Coast National Park to the "lark and chat" areas and also a call on the tern roost, had our first coastal grey form of the Karoo Lark and Red-capped and Large-billed Larks all calling "lightly" from the now really dry scrub. A lone Sickle-winged Chat was a new one for this dirt road but showed the tail pattern well when sitting on the post close to the road. At last a Black Harrier did some quartering close which also disturbed the resident Southern Black Korhaan into giving it's raucous raspy call. Really spoils a majestic bird this call. On to the tern roost at JakobsBaai and well worth a visit as we encountered Grey Tit, Cape Francolin and Cape Bunting near the houses. The terns were roosting on the rocks close to shore and scanning produced Swift, Sandwich, a lone Common and a number of newly arrived in their breeding plumaged Antarctic Terns. Really a neat bird!

A late afternoon call at Seeberg hide in WCNP had some stunning breeding plumaged waders. Red Knot (can see where the name comes from!), Grey Plover (more like a good looking Black-smith Lapwing), Sanderling, Little Stint, Common Ringed Plover and White-fronted Plovers were all in their best dress.

A lone Bar-tailed Godwit was still around, wonder if it is not staying for the winter? But all the other larger waders were not in evidence. A walk back to the car had Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler and Cape Penduline do a fly past with a covey of Grey-winged Francolin preening quietly next to the road. On the drive out of the park at 7pm had us frantically trying to id 2 nightjars in the road. Just as we stopped they would fly ahead and no definite id could be got, probably Rufous-cheeked!

Thanks to Birdwatch Cape for some of the tours.

Brian Vanderwalt