Monday, January 18, 2010

Western Cape Birding

Sorry to my loyal blog followers for not keeping you updated on South Africa. I tried thinking of a defense but the real explanation is birding. The past week I’ve done quite a bit of birding around the Western Cape accumulating lifers and provincial ticks. Most of my birding has been around the northern suburbs so it was great to go further afield and go after some easy target birds. Here’s the breakdown of my week.

Wednesday - January 13, 2010
Last Wednesday I joined the Tygerberg Bird Club on their weekday outing to the Meerendal Wine Estate outside Durbanville. Roughly 30 birders surveyed the estate accumulating nearly 70 species including my first Maccoa Ducks and Black Sparrowhawk. Other interesting finds include 50 White Storks, two endemic Blue Cranes, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbets and a Pin-tailed Whydah. The Tygerberg Bird Club is a branch of Birdlife South Africa representing the northern suburbs of Cape Town.

Thursday - January 14, 2010
This day was spent doing some target birding around Cape Town with local birder – Gerald Wingate. I've mostly birded the Table View area so it was great to check out new spots and get some easy (and not so easy) lifers out of the way. Our first stop was Dolphin Beach where we quickly picked up two White-backed Ducks among the Yellow-billed Ducks, Cape Shovelers, Red-knobbed Coots, Little and Great Crested Grebes. We continued to the Potsdam Sewage Works where I picked up two more easy birds – Yellow-billed (Intermediate) Egret and Common Sandpiper. It’s probably obvious I haven’t birded Europe yet. Our next stop was the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which covers 528 hectares at the base of Table Mountain. These gardens are great for seeing your typical garden and woodland species such as Sombre Greenbuls, Cape Batis, Southern Double-collared, Malachite and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. My targets were African Olive-Pigeon, Lemon Dove and Spotted Eagle-Owl, though only the latter was present. Spotted Eagle-Owls have successfully nested in the gardens for a while now – usually right off the path. After the gardens we continued to a local birders property where he’s had African Wood-Owls roosting behind his house for the past few years. Within a minute of pulling into the driveway, I was face-to-face with three African Wood-Owls – definitely one of the easiest ticks ever. Our next stop was to look for a local rarity - an African Openbill that’s been hanging around Bergvliet. African Openbills recently invaded South Africa and is an exceptional record for the Western Cape so I'm glad to have ticked it in the province. After a quick stop at Cecilia Forest picking up Chaffinch and Red-breasted Sparrowhawk, we continued to our final stop of the day and one of Cape Town’s most popular birding spots – the Strandfontein Sewage Works. These sewage works are perhaps the best waterbird locality in Cape Town hosting thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, grebes, pelicans, cormorants and flamingos and not to mention my first Swift Terns. I definitely plan to return numerous times to collect data for eBird which is going global this spring.

Kirstenbosch National Gardens

Saturday - January 16, 2010

On Saturday Charles Hesse, Carolina CastaƱo and I visited Intaka Island which is smack dab in the middle of Century City. This massive development took roughly $1.4 billion USD to build and includes residential neighborhoods, entertainment and Africa’s largest mall. To comply with conservation measures, a 16-hectare wetland area was created in the middle of this high-density development. As bad as it seems, the birds appear to be content and Peregrine Falcons even nest on one of the large buildings overlooking the wetlands.

Intaka Island

Nesting Platforms at Intaka

Bird Hide at Intaka

Sunday, January 17, 2010
Yesterday the three of us joined the Cape Bird Club on their outing to the Paarl Sewage Works (see a pattern here?). Paarl is approximately one and a half hours northeast of Cape Town in the heart of the winelands…and Afrikaans culture. The town hosts a monument for the Afrikaans language as well as a museum. It is apparently one of the only towns in South Africa pronounced differently in English and Afrikaans – English, Paarl is pronounced like ‘marl’ and Afrikaans it’s ‘Pair uhl’. The sewage works offered fabulous birding and good numbers – nearly 400 Blacksmith Lapwings and 800 Hartlaub’s Gulls! Some of the highlights include Hottentot Teal, African Fish-Eagle, Booted Eagle and African Harrier-Hawk among others. I also added six birds to my list and a few province ticks.

Informal settlement near Paarl Bird Sanctuary

Monday, January 18, 2010
Today I joined Gerald Wingate with some atlasing for the South Africa Bird Atlas Project near Philadelphia. I know what you’re thinking, wrong Philadelphia. We surveyed one pentad accumulating 75 species, which is quite good for an area of mostly wheat farming. Some of the highlights include Spotted Eagle-Owl, 17 Blue Cranes, Martial Eagle, two Lanner Falcons and a Giant Kingfisher – not to mention good numbers including 1,550 Southern Red Bishops! Although certain habitats don’t look inviting to bird, you would be surprised what you might find. I remember doing breeding bird atlasing around northern Ohio two summers ago and was shocked by the number of Vesper Sparrows in corn fields. If I didn’t survey the corn fields, I would have had no idea Vesper Sparrows were relatively common breeders.

Tomorrow Gerald Wingate and I are heading to West Coast National Park at 5:30am, which reminds me I need to get some sleep!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

African Penguins

The African Penguin, also known as Jackass Penguin due to their donkey-like call, is endemic to Namibia and South Africa. They are the only species of penguin to breed in Africa, mainly on offshore islands. However, since the 1980’s, two populations were established on the mainland due to the decline of predators; the Simon's Town population being the most well-known due to its close proximity to Cape Town and Betty’s Bay (east of Cape Town), which is where I took these photos.

Unfortunately only 10% remain from the estimated 1.5 million back in 1910. Many factors contribute to this substantial decline including egg harvesting for human consumption, commercial fishing and oil pollution. In 2000, an iron-ore tanker sank off Cape Town oiling about 19,000 adult penguins during the height of the most successful breeding year on record. After three months and tens of thousands of volunteers, 91% of the penguins were successfully rehabilitated and released. This was the largest animal rescue in history.

Today this vulnerable species continues to decline. Fortunately, nearly all of the offshore islands are now protected and the mainland populations patrolled. If you ever find yourself in Cape Town, be sure to visit one of the populations and your small fee will go a long ways in helping the conservation of the African Penguins. Many thanks to the South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), which has one of the world’s highest successes rates in saving oiled seabirds.