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NEWSLETTER OF THE HERMANUS BIRD CLUB MARCH/APRIL 2009

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Hello Hermanus Birders. Change is in the air! As autumn approaches, the days slowly start shortening, the weather starts cooling a bit, and soon the migrants (including our Club member ‘swallows ’) will start heading North. But meanwhile, over the next month or so, the weather is at its best in the Cape, and similarly, it’s a great time to be out birding. So do it! Change is also in the air at our Club, with a new Chairperson, and a partially new Committee. But all that is good about the Club, and which you love, stays the same. And lots coming up over the coming months, as elaborated on below.
 
Starting with this edition, we will include a new regular feature in our newsletter, ‘Chat from The Chair’. Barbara writes as follows:
 
CHAT FROM THE CHAIR
 
With a new committee in place we are very excited about another year’s birding ahead and have lots of activities planned to keep us busy.
Our outings to West Coast National Park and Red Stone Hills near Oudtshoorn are fully sub-scribed but there will be a few more outings come Springtime.  During the winter months we will continue our regular First-Thursday-of-the-Month walks and we are planning a couple of day outings to birding spots a little bit further away.   Should you have a favourite venue for any of the above, please let us know.  Jenny Fynn will be in charge of Away Outings and I am sure she is going to take us to some interesting new venues.
Mike Ford has taken over the job of Secretary and he has indicated that he will be available to present one of his not to be missed Bird Identification courses, possibly one for Beginners - we will be calling for interested parties to contact us soon.(Eds Note: see separate item)
Welcome onto the Committee, Jenny & Mike.  Your contributions to the Committee and Club will be invaluable.
John Bowman stepped down as Chairman but stayed on the Committee as editor of The Oystercatcher, our Club’s newsletter, which is always filled with information regarding the Club, our activities and birding in general.  Remember if you have any interesting news you are welcome to send it to John.
Unusual sightings can be sent to Debi Thomson, who is also in charge of selling the Birds of Walker Bay booklet and license discs, as well as making sure we have refreshments after our evening meetings.  The Birds of Walker Bay booklet, compiled by Mike Ford, is a very handy book to identify the birding areas around the Overberg and it has a checklist of birds found in the area.
Our flagship project for this year is the Klein River Hide.  John Bowman outlined the problems facing us in his Chairman’s Report and John Saunders, our projects man, will be monitoring the water levels and birding activities, which will be very valuable in our final decision regarding access & visibility.
Lee Burman, our treasurer, will wear a second hat, namely “environmental officer”.  Lee’s knowledge of botany, birds & municipal procedures are invaluable to us.  She will make sure that our Club is registered as an Interested and Affected Party (I&AP) for any development that we feel could be a threat to the environment and of concern to us. A serious threat at present is the future of the Lesser Flamingos at Kamfers Dam near Kimberley. There are only 6 breeding sites in the world of which 4 are in Southern Africa and Kamfers Dam is the only one in South Africa.  If the plight of the flamingos concerns you, please sign the petition on www.savetheflamingo.co.za.  Closer to home the Club is involved in the Kleinrivier Estuary Management Plan and Committee members regularly attend meetings of the Western Cape Birding Forum to keep up to date with the other Clubs in the area.
To Sheelagh Bowman and Mike MacNaught a word of thanks for all your hard work while on the committee.  Enjoy your ‘retirement’ and thank you for indicating that you would be available to help with any task for which we might need.
Welcome to the new members of Hermanus Bird Club!  We hope you will have a long, happy and active association with the Club.  Remember every Thursday morning walk, day outing & away outing is an opportunity to hone your birding skills, as is our annual Mini-Mini-Birding-Big-Day which is held in July. The day is aimed at helping inexperienced and new-to-the-area birders with your identification skills and showing you good birding spots in the area. It is led by experienced birders and is followed by a get-together at Fernkloof.  A fun day not to be missed!
To all our ‘old’ members – we know you will continue to support your Club and all the activities.
Remember “A bad day’s birding still beats a good day’s working”!
Barbara
 
RECENT ACTIVITIES
 
Indoor. 2009 has got off to a great start, with two very interesting evening meetings.
 
It’s probably appropriate to start with the second (February) meeting. This was the Club’s 12th Annual General Meeting. The AGM’s are always the most important Club event of the year, and this year’s was probably even more important than usual, with two changes to the Committee, a new Chairperson, and the launch of our exciting Flagship Project. Barbara has already sent out an e-mail covering most of what happened, and the Chairman’s Statement and AGM minutes have also been e-mailed –the latter two will also be posted to ‘snail-mailers’ But just to summarize: 
We had a well attended AGM, with just over 60 members present. After my Chairman’s Statement, and approval of the Financial Statements (our Club Finances are in very good shape) we went on to the Election of the Committee. Sheelagh Bowman, after 6 years on the Committee, and Mike Mac Naught, after 5 years, ‘retired’, and were heartily thanked by the Club for their years of dedicated ‘service’. In their place, Jenny Fynn, and Mike Ford were elected to the Committee. I announced that while I would continue as a Committee member, after three years I felt it was time to step down from the Chairmanship. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as Chair and have found it most rewarding, but on the one hand it has been incredibly time consuming, and on the other, I do think it’s a good idea to have new blood at the helm of organizations such as ours from time to time, so that we don’t become ‘stale.’ At the Committee meeting the following day, Barbara Palmer was elected as the new Chairperson. I know she will do a fine job in that role, and wish her all the best. Also at the Committee meeting, Office Bearers, and portfolio responsibilities were agreed on. These are listed at the end of this newsletter. 
After the Election, we went on to discuss the Club’s Flagship project for 2009. This is to be improving the access to, and view from, the Bird Hide on the Klein Rivier Lagoon. I went through the Committee’s ideas, and additional input received from Club members. The meeting was then opened for further discussion on the subject. The Committee will discuss the matter further over the coming months (a further ‘site inspection’ has already been held by some of us, in the company of member Brian Ratcliffe, who originally designed the hide). Importantly, it has been agreed to monitor water levels, and the bird population, over the next year or so, before implementing any changes. We’ll keep you informed. After these discussions, the meeting adjourned, and members enjoyed snacks provided by the Committee, and wine from the Club, while chatting to friends, old and new. Altogether, a most constructive and enjoyable evening.
 
Going back to the very well attended January evening meeting, John Saunders writes as follows:
‘For the first club meeting in 2009 we were delighted to have Wolfgang Lange as our presenter. Wolfe’s (as he prefers to be known) background is actually in astronomy. He initiated and organizes the South Peninsula Astronomy club in Fish Hoek and is a lecturer on astronomy and related subjects.
However, on this occasion his lecture to our Bird Club was titled: - Intercontinental Bird Migration
How the "super pilots" find their way using many systems to navigate, one being the stars.
He commenced his talk with a map showing the ‘north to south’ bird migration routes. Much to everyone’s amusement, John Bowman and Debi Thomson were solicited to help unravel a roll of toilet paper all the way round the four walls of the room representing the 4.5 billion year age of our planet Earth. Wolf then explained that life on earth only started during the period representing the last wall of the room and that mankind only came into existence during the last 3 centimetres of the toilet roll.
He went on to explain that the tiny Willow Warbler, weighing only 10 gm’s, (equal to 3 spoonfuls of sugar), migrates every year to South Africa from China returning 6 months later, a distance of over 11,00km’s.
The longest migration is that of the Arctic Tern, from the Artic to the Antarctic.
Bird migration is genetically imprinted in a bird’s make-up and over 50 million swallows, martins and swifts migrate each year. The arctic tundra is where bird migration is believed to have started in the Pleistocene period of Earth’s evolution approximately 1.5 million years ago.
Experiments have been carried out on White Storks where eggs from the nests of birds in the east of Europe were swapped with White Storks from the West. Although storks migrate directly south to Africa normally, in this instance they both travelled in either an Easterly or Westerly direction thus picking up their normal migration route before heading south. 
Changes to the magnetic poles, presently happening on our planet could also affect bird migration.
Studies were carried out whereby birds were kept in dark isolation but introduced to frequently changing star patterns directed on the wall of their funnel-like cage in order to confuse them. Once they were released and after some re-orientation, they seemed to be able to find north and then pick up their normal migration routes.
Wolf was particularly enthused with the fact that studies of bird migration were being made by students from both Palestine and Israel working in harmony on a common goal, a rarity in these days of conflict in the Middle East.
It was a very enjoyable evening with over a hundred members and visitors present.’
 
Outdoor
 
One outdoor activity (other than the Thursday walk) held so far this year. This was the 8th running of the Club’s Mini Birding Big Day. As before the aim was for teams of 3 or 4 to see as many species as possible in a circle with a 50km radius, between 6am and 6pm. This time, the circle’s centre point had to be central Hermanus, thus reducing the scope for ‘imaginative’ routes! The event was held in perfect sunny weather this year, the best ever, and a welcome change to some of the challenges we’ve been presented with in the past. Six teams entered, representing 21 members. The winning team this year was the ‘Hooots’  (the Turners and the Bowmans) with a total of 121 species. They were followed by ‘Ford’s Flufftails’ (Mike Ford, Lee Burman, and Hannie Balmer) with 117 species, and then the CD’s (the Daggs and Bob Cameron) with 115. Even the team bringing up the rear, the ‘Tail-Enders’ –who confessed to enjoying a very leisurely day- came in with 95 species. Altogether a most creditable performance, bearing in mind that last year, when there were no restrictions on where you could centre your circle, and some teams went to Strandfontein or Paarl,  the winning score was 133. Barbara did a very useful analysis of the results, showing that the combined list came to no less than 178 species. Great news for birding in our area, considering that last year‘s combined total was 186 species, in a far wider area. Other interesting stats were that 40 species were seen by only one team, and 56 seen by all the teams. As always, the teams enjoyed a most convivial get to-gether and braai at Fernkloof afterwards, where many interesting and amusing tales were told, as team leaders were asked about their best, worst and funniest moments of the day. Too many to mention, but I do know that for our team, the standout memory was the perfect weather we enjoyed at Rooiels-not a breath of wind for the first time ever, and so we were able to add 7 new species, although it was near the end of the day. The only slight negative was that we would really like to see more participants in this, and the Club’s other Birding Days in future. Do look at my comments on this in the Chairman’s Report.
 
We’ve had one aborted Thursday morning walk this year: That was our 5th February walk in Fernkloof. Our November attempt at Fernkloof was washed out, so 26 members turned up, full of enthusiasm. But it was not to be! There was a howling South Easter, so once we had got as far as the kiosk, we decided no self respecting bird would show itself. Some of us walked as far as the waterfall for some exercise, others did a more energetic walk, but a birding walk it wasn’t!  However we did pick up a handful of species, most notably a very confiding pair of Cape Rock-Thrushes outside the Hall. The best views we’ve ever had of them, and ‘lifers’ for some of our new members. We’ll try Fernkloof again later this year.
 
FORTHCOMING ATTRACTIONS
 
Mike Ford has offered to hold a Basic Bird ID Course for our members during May if there is sufficient interest. These courses are always really useful, the last ’Basic’ one held a couple of years ago, getting rave reviews as Mike is such a good ‘teacher’. There will be no charge, other than course materials (about R25). Any members interested in doing the course please get in touch with Mike directly as soon as possible, so he can assess the interest, and fix a date. Mike can be reached on: mikenval@telkomsa.net or 028-3164790.
 
Indoor. Our next evening meting will be held at 8pm on Wednesday 18th March. On this occasion I will be doing a presentation on ‘And an Equator Runs Through It’ based on our recent trip to Ecuador, and the Galapagos.
 
On Wednesday 15th April, our meeting is at 8pm, Fernkloof Hall. Ross Wanless will be giving a presentation with the intriguing title of ‘The Shearwater, the Pig, the Albatross and the Rabbit-Clarion Island Conservation’, about Clarion Island, off Mexico. Sounds fascinating! Ross heads up the Global Seabird Program, so will also be including a bit on the Albatross Task Force. 
 
Then well known birder, and bird guide, Mariana Delport will be presenting to us in May on ‘Gardening for the Birds’. As Garden Birds –with the Cape Robin-Chat as the icon- have been declared the Bird of the Year for 2009, this is a particularly appropropriate topic. Again, 8pm Fernkloof Hall, on Wednesday 20th May. 
 
Outdoor. Two away Outings coming up: From 10th to the 13th March, 28 members will be visiting the West Coast National Park, and surrounding areas, staying at Duinepos. Then on 19th to the 22nd April 24 members will be going to Red Stone Hills, near Oudtshoorn, a new venue for us. This outing has been brought forward by a day, to give participants an opportunity to get back to vote. Both outings are fully booked, with a waiting list. Full details of the arrangement re Duinepos will be sent out shortly, and those in respect of Red Stone Hills, in due course.
 
On Thursday 21st May, we’ve arranged a day outing to Strandfontein. We haven’t been there as a Club for a while, so the visit is long overdue. Always a great birding venue, even when the migrant waders aren’t there-which will be the case. We would really encourage those who haven’t been there before to join us. Time permitting, we’ll visit Rondevlei afterwards. Bring along a packed lunch, as the outing will last most of the day. Meet at 8am at Onrus Trading to consolidate transport.
 
NB Although fuel prices have come down a bit, they are still very high, so do offer to contribute to the drivers’ costs when we ‘consolidate transport.’
 
Thursday Morning Walks. Three walks planned: The first, on 5th March, will be to Elgin Vintners, near the Peregrine Farm Stall. We have added an extra bit to the outing, namely a visit to a private hide on the farm of Jessie Walton on the Highlands Road. Jessie also rehabilitates injured Owls and would be happy to show us the birds in her care at present. (By the way, if you or anyone you know comes across an injured owl, you can contact Jessie on 083-4583790 for advice.) Meet at the Onrus Trading Post at 8:00 to consolidate transport. There is a bit of good gravel road travelling involved. We will first visit Jessie’s hide before proceeding to Elgin Vintners. After our birding walk, members can do some wine tasting and enjoy an art exhibition by bird life artist, Ann Coetzee. We suggest you pack a tea-time snack or support one of the farm stalls along the way. (Timing is such that this walk might ‘cross in the post’ with this newsletter.)
Thursday 2nd April: We have arranged an outing to Platbos, Africa’s Southernmost indigenous forest right on our doorstep, between Grootbos and Flower Valley.  They offered us a reduced entrance fee of R35 per person for 15 or more people.  We do need an indication of numbers and it would be appreciated it if you would let Barbara know if you are interested in going.  The Botanical Society was so impressed with the forest that they visited it 3 times last year!  Meet at the Fernkloof lower parking area at 8am to consolidate transport. www.platbos.co.za
Then on Thursday 7th May, we’ll return to one of our regular haunts, Onrus. Meet at 8am at the Onrus Beach parking area. Always plenty of birdlife to see on this walk, and often something out of the ordinary turns up.
 
OTHER NEWS
 
Barbara writes: ‘It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to one of our newest members, ELWEN VAN SCHOUWEN, who passed away unexpectedly on February 19.th Many of you will remember her as Elwen Morris, one of the soothing voices  of radio in an era gone past. Our heartfelt condolences go to Chris and their sons Adrian and Dominique.’
 
New Members. We’ve enjoyed a really gratifying ‘influx’ of new members into our Club over the past two months. We welcome: Michael and Margaret Dyson, Krister and Delene Ljungqvist, Ian and Dene Nixon, Jane and Pierre Van Niekerk, Andrea and Bernd Seidel, David and Elizabeth Watson, Peter and Geta Finlayson, and Alison Walker-Gray. We wish you a long and happy time with our Club, and look forward to seeing you involved with our Club activities.
 
TRIPS AND SIGHTINGS
 
THE IMPORTANCE OF COUNTING
 
Lee Burman writes as follows: ‘For almost 10 years the Club has been involved in two projects, the results of which are forwarded to the Avian Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town, where they are collated and form part of a national database to monitor the health of certain bird populations.
CWAC (Co-ordinated Waterbird Avifaunal Counts) are undertaken by a few club members quarterly on the Klein River Lagoon.  Numbers of species and individual birds vary tremendously according to the season, water levels and availability of food.
One can be sure of seeing Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveller, Dabchick, Cormorants and Gulls.  Sometimes there are hundreds of Red-knobbed Coot and Greater Flamingo, sometimes none.  For a short time last year we had a single Goliath Heron, towering over our more usual Grey Herons.
Occasionally there is a Blue Crane or two and if we are lucky an African Fish-Eagle might fly by. African Black Oystercatchers are usually to be seen, their numbers fluctuating with the amount of exposed sandbank and occasionally we are visited by Grey Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers and even, recently, by a Bar-tailed Godwit and a small flock of Red Knots.  You never know what might turn up!
CAR is the twice-yearly Co-ordinated Avifaunal Road count where teams are allocated a specific route and count a number of large bird species according to strict rules so as to ensure the integrity of the captured data.  The species counted in the Western Cape include Blue Cranes, White Storks, Denham’s Bustards, Spurwing Geese, Grey headed Herons, Secretary Birds and Black Harriers.  Members from Hermanus Bird Club, with team leader Lee Burman, have been counting the same route for 10 years and have contributed valuable data to the project.  Apart from the serious business of counting and recording the designated species, it is a great fun day's birding as there are usually many other species to be found. Our route, one of 30 in the Overberg, starts at the N2 intersection with the Swartriver Road, on to the Karwyderskraal Road and continues to Caledon through the Hemel & Aarde.  No counting is done on the N2 itself, being regarded as too dangerous.
Blue Crane numbers in the Overberg have increased dramatically since counting first started in 1994, with higher densities normally being recorded in winter, when the cranes gather in large flocks.  Cranes seen along our route have varied from 61 in July 1999 to 150 in January 2009 – with the highest count being 210 in July 2007.  White Storks are normally only seen in summer but are totally absent in some years.  The record was in January 2009 when we counted a total of 83, of which nearly half were at the Karwyderskraal refuse dump – the first time we have recorded them there.’
Anyone interested in joining either of the counts is welcome to contact Lee.
 
SIGHTINGS
 
With the great birding weather we’ve experienced lately, quite a few interesting sightings are being noted. Most interesting is probably the arrival of the Marabou Storks at the Karwyderskraal dump site. A first for our area only two months ago, and since then, numbers have expanded, and up to 15 have recently been seen. 
Tony and Heather Blee report seeing a Karoo Scrub-Robin at Fisherhaven recently-first reports I’ve had of this species in our area.
Anne Philip writes:’ Two weekends back, I was amazed to see an Olive Woodpecker climbing the wooden telephone pole in our garden on a Sunday and taking advantage of the "knots" and/or gouges in that wood.  There he was - extremely busy - poking his beak into these recesses and obviously enjoying what he found there.  Not only did he benefit, but at least four other species were gleaning around him!’
And I’ve noticed that with the reconstruction of the Hermanus Golf Course complete, and vegetation settling down, many species are returning to the course and becoming settled. In recent weeks I’ve noted, inter alia: Bokmakierie and Spotted Thick-Knee, for the first time in ages, a small group of Plain Backed Pipits, several African Hoopoes, a Pied Kingfisher busy fishing over the dam next to the 8th, and most recently, a pair of Blue Cranes- South Africa’s national bird- being seen regularly on the course. First mentioned by member John Woodhouse.
Do keep sending your records of sightings to Debi: debi@lantic.net
 
DIARY
Finally, a summary of the next three months’ Club activities:
Thurs 5th March. Morning Walk. Elgin Vintners. Onrus Trading 8am
10th -13th March. Away Outing Duinepos. Details to follow
Weds 18th March. John Bowman ‘And an Equator Runs Through It’. Fernkloof 8pm
Thurs 2nd April. Morning Walk. Platbos. Fernkloof 8am
Weds 15th April. Ross Wanless. ‘Shearwater, Pig, Rabbit etc.’ Fernkloof 8pm
19th -22nd April. Away Outing Red Stone Hills. Details to follow
Thurs 7th May. Morning Walk. Onrus. Onrus Beach Parking 8am
Weds 20th May. Mariana Delport ‘ Gardening for the Birds’. Fernkloof 8pm
Thurs 21st May. Day Outing Strandfontein. Onrus Trading 8am
 
John Bowman
Editor 
Jldb@icon.co.za
 
Club Address: PO Box 208, Hermanus, 7200
 
Hermanus Bird Club Committee:
  • Barbara Palmer (Chairperson)
  • Mike Ford (Secretary)
  • Lee Burman (Treasurer and Environment)
  • John Bowman (Newsletter Editor and Public Affairs)
  • Jenny Fynn (Outings)
  • John Saunders (Projects)
  • Debi Thomson (Catering and Sales)
  • 028-314-1167
  • 028-316-4790
  • 028-312-3011
  • 028-316-4815
  • 028-313-1361
  • 028-314-0543
  • 028-312-3410
 

















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