First up, Barbara’s CHAT FROM THE CHAIR:
In the last Oystercatcher I mentioned that Graham and I were on our way to the Tanqua Karoo National Park, which does not seem to be very well known, so I thought I'd give you a short trip report.
The Park is situated on the southern boundary of the Northern Cape with the Roggeveld Escarpment in the East, Cedarburg in the West and Klein Roggeveld in the South. It is just 4 hours drive from Cape Town, north-east of Ceres.
The Park has an impressive bird list with many 'specials' and we managed to identify 101 species. The trip happened shortly after our Raptor course and we identified Greater & Rock Kestrels, Lanner Falcon, Martial, Verreaux's & Booted Eagles, the latter in pale & dark morphs and on the last morning no less than four Black-Chested Snake-Eagles came to say goodbye.
Accommodation consists of a choice of renovated farmhouses scattered around the park and we stayed in three different ones, Paulshoek, Varschfontein & de Zyfer. My favourites were de Zyfer and Varschfontein. De Zyfer is close to reception, with an earth dam with good bird-life and Varschfontein about 40km away, with resident Spotted Eagle Owls and a cement dam in front of the house, which will be ideal for cooling off in summer. A drive up the Roggeveld escarpment via the tortuous Gannaga pass was a scenic highlight.
The cottages are furnished with what reminded us of 'Granny's furniture that nobody wanted’ and are well enough equipped. There is no electricity, a two-plate gas stove, gas fridge/freezer and a 'donkey' for hot water, (if you don't know what that is or how to operate it, better learn before you go!) Firewood for the donkey is supplied. The braai areas are good but you should probably take your own braai-grid. Braaiwood and ice are for sale at the office.
Lots of candles & paraffin lamps are supplied, but if you want to read, take a bright battery-operated lamp and a head torch is always very handy. Next time I think I will take a comfortable camp chair and my own pillow, but for the rest one can manage for a couple of days. It was a wonderful experience and the silence really is deafening!
The next trip we are looking forward to is to Ebb and Flow, which is a great birding spot with good accommodation. Jenny Fynn bravely organized a back-to-back trip and has been kept busy making various changes to accommodate everybody's whims. Thanks Jenny!
Birding Big Day, the annual national birding competition, takes place on Saturday, November 28th and two teams from the Club have entered. There is a new section this year which might interest you, namely a Garden Bird category, for which you have to record all the bird species seen or heard in your garden during a 24-hour period, preferably on the 28 November 2009 but you can also do it during the preceding week. For more information check www.birdlife.org.za or call 011 789 1122.
It might sound like a schlep, as does atlassing to most people, but any information gathered contributes to our knowledge of birds, their movements and distribution.
Being female means that there are areas where I feel uncomfortable doing atlassing on my own. I would welcome company and if there's anyone who would occasionally like to join me for an hour or two's birding, please contact me. (Eds note. Welcome to the world of SABAP2 Barbara! This means that with you, Mike Ford and myself atlassing, we are making a valuable contribution, from our Club, to this initiative.)
Our activities now start slowing down for the rest of the year, with a walk at Vermont, our not to be missed evening meeting on 18th November, the away-trip and our Christmas party and photo competition to look forward to. John will give full details of all these elsewhere in the newsletter.
We already have some great speakers lined up for next year and are busy planning various walks and outings. If you have any ideas or requests, please get in touch with one of the committee members.
FLAGSHIP PROJECT 2009
As you know our ‘Flagship Project’ this year was to improve matters at the hide on the Klein River Lagoon. Ever since the floods of April 2004, which altered the course of the Vogelgat River, the approach path to the hide has been under water for most of the year. Also, the reeds in front of the hide have grown so prolifically that’s its no longer possible to see the Lagoon, and birds, in front of the hide. After the recent late winter rains, even the parking area is under water. As planned, our ‘projects man’, John Saunders, has been monitoring conditions all year. Last month a team from the Committee made a ’final’ on site assessment, which we discussed at last week’s Committee meeting. All things being equal, the decision we have come to is to build a boardwalk from the parking area to the hide, and then another boardwalk from the hide , in a Westerly direction, to a new ‘satellite hide’. We will then have good views of birds in the bay to the West, and in time-as the river changes course- the reeds in front of the existing hide might die back, and we’ll be able to see that stretch of water again. However there is a process: First we have to wait for the water to subside (and remember that in the past 2 years November has been one of our wettest months!) and then we’ll get plans and quotes for the construction of the boardwalks and new hide. We then have to get approval from the Municipality. Then, most importantly, we have to obtain funds for the project-which is way beyond the scope of the Club’s finances. We do have a couple of bodies in mind who might help us in this respect. An exciting project, and we’ll keep you in touch!
Indoor. Two well attended evening meetings to report on. First is Debi’s report on our September meeting:
‘On the 23rd September, Gavin Turner gave the Club a wonderful talk on Antarctica. He and Cynthia travelled from South Africa to Buenos Aires, then on to Ushuaia. After that crossed the Drake Passage, and then sailed down the Antarctic coastline for nearly a week, and then back to Ushuaia.
They travelled on a converted Russian research vessel, which carried about 44 passengers, 10 expedition crew and 20 Russian crew. The main attraction was of course the seabirds, which are drawn to the Antarctic Convergence, whereby the cold, dense fresher water meets warm, more saline surface water. This upwelling supports an abundance of life, spec. Plankton and Southern Ocean Krill.
Gavin showed us some amazing pictures of Pintado Petrels, Southern Giant Petrel, and a Dolphin Gull in full breeding plumage, Wandering, Sooty as well as Black-browed Albatrosses, Skuas etc etc. There were also awe-inspiring photos of the icebergs.
Their first landing was on Aitcho Islands, where they had wonderful sightings, and pictures, of Leopard Seal, Gentoo, King and a Macaroni Penguin. A Leopard Seal weighs about 350 kg! Their next stop was Half Moon Island, an Argentinean base with a very strict code of conduct. No ablutions ashore and even gumboots had to be washed. Here they saw Adele and Chinstrap Penguins, Blue eyed Shag, Antarctic Terns and Weddle Seals. This seal weighs about 450 kg, and is the most southerly mammal to be found.
From there it was on to Deception Island, a derelict Norwegian whaling station, with huge tanks still standing which was used for the whale blubber. The island is a drowned volcano with a narrow entrance, which at least ensured safe anchorage. It was a bit scary to see the pics, as you immediately wonder just how many whales were slaughtered there. Here they could have a quick swim in water of 1 – 2 ‘ C, and take stunning photos of the Gerlache Strait, which is one of the most beautiful and photographed waterways on the peninsula.
From there it was on to Orner Harbour, where they saw a Humpbacked whale, then Cuverville Island where they saw Crabeater seals, as well as Gentoo penguins fishing. At Neko Harbour many passengers could opt to do kayaking, skiing, mountain climbing, etc. Here they saw a Minky Whale, one of the smaller almost dolphin-like whales. They then sailed on to Port Lockroy, a British base open in summer with a curio shop and a post office. Here they found Pale Faced Sheathbills, as well as two Humpbacked whales. After this they travelled via the Lemaire Channel to Hovgaard Island, then Useful Island and the Melchior Islands last of all. They had Christmas Day on Useful Island on the 24th, as the forecast for the 25th was extremely rough seas! On Christmas Day when they had hot Toddy’s and choc-chip cookies Gavin suffered for 2 days afterwards! Here they also saw their first Penguin chicks – the Gentoo’s.
Gavin and Cynthia’s photos were a delight, and even so I imagine cannot do justice to a trip like this. What a life-experience, and thanks to Gavin and Cynthia for sharing it with us.’
And then in October it was time for the Saunders’ presentation on South America and The Easter Islands. Jenny writes as follows:
‘John and Irene Saunders gave a wonderful presentation to the bird club, of their trip to South America on Wed 21st October.
Their travels took them from Sao Paulo on the east coast of Brazil down to the fantastic Iguazu Falls which borders Brazil and Argentine. Then across the Andes by catamaran and bus from Argentine to Chile. The ice capped volcanoes were magnificent. The onward journey down the Northern Fjords of Chile and on to Torres del Paine national park, showed breathtaking pictures of soaring ice blue Glaciers and the impressive Torres del Paine Mountains. There were wonderful pictures of birds and butterflies and the most beautiful falls you can imagine. The kaleidoscope of colours in the S American birds had to be seen to be believed.
Then it was John's turn to take us across to Easter Island. He showed us the mythical wonders of not only nature, but the old statues weighing hundreds of tons, chipped away by stone and moved in mystical ways that no one has yet got to the bottom of!’
Outdoor. One outing took place, and this was to Betty’s Bay. Barbara writes as follows:
‘On Thursday 10th thirteen members were lucky to have good weather for our day outing. We started at Rooiels and worked our way back via Harold Porter gardens and Kleinmond Reserve.
The weather at Rooiels was stunning and the view across False Bay towards Cape Point was absolutely clear. We had brilliant sightings of a Victorin's Warbler - the best most of us have ever had and although Mike heard the Rock-jumpers calling, they unfortunately did not show themselves. Two Verreaux's Eagles settled high up on a cliff and kept a watchful eye on us for the duration of our walk.
At Harold Porter the birds were very vocal, with all three Sunbird species singing their hearts out and a pair of Cape Rock-Thrushes posing for photos.
From there we went to a new area, a nature reserve next to Arabella where Hottentot Buttonquails have been seen. These small, shy birds are very hard to flush and unfortunately we were unsuccessful but still had an hour's good birding there, picking up 18 species for the list, which came to 74 species.’
Our October planned day outing was to De Mond Reserve. But once again the weather got the better of us. We had been in touch with the Reserve, and the Mac Naughts (who were staying at Anniston) very early in the morning and things were looking promising. However by the time nine of us gathered at Fernkloof at 7.30, news from the South was a lot more negative, so the outing had to be abandoned! Another trip to consider for 2010.
Thursday Morning Walks. We actually managed a morning walk in September, and Barbara writes as follows: ‘On Thursday, 3rd September our second attempt to visit Salmonsdam was successful and although the day started out windy, we had pleasant weather and good birding, with a bird list of 55 species.
Seven members set off in two cars and our first special sighting of the day was a displaying Denham's Bustard outside Stanford. The male really does put up a show to attract a mate.
At Salmonsdam we opted to do the walk to the Waterfall and were rewarded by a lovely sighting of 3 Ground Woodpeckers as well as many bush birds.
At the picnic site we had to confine our walk to the grassed area as the roads around were pretty muddy. After welcome hot coffee and a snack we made our way back home and our last birds of the day were a pair of Peregrine Falcons. We watched the female devouring her meal while the poor male patiently waited for scraps from her table.
There are two lessons in the above for the male of the species! ;-) ‘
Our luck with the weather was too good to last! So once again, after a flurry of early morning phone calls, after unpleasant weather set in, our planned October walk in Stanford had to be cancelled. We’ll definitely fit it in some time next year.
Indoor. On Wednesday 18th November, at 8pm, Vernon Head (Chairman of the Cape Bird Club) and Mel Tripp, will be presenting on Tanzania. Those who attended Vernon’s presentation on Venezuela two years ago will remember that this was one of the best ever. So this is something to really look forward to. And more wetting of our appetites for East Africa! Do note the time, 8pm, as we move to ‘summer time’.
On Thursday 10th December it’s our end of year Christmas Party and Photographic Competition.Fernkloof 5pm. Do note the different day, and the time. This is a ‘bring your own affair’; that is bring food to braai, drinks, crockery and glasses, and a chair if you want something more comfortable than the Fernkloof ones. We’ll supply the fires. As earlier advised, we have decided to make our Bird Photo Competition a regular event, co-inciding with the end of year party. Debi will be organising the event, so start sorting out your best bird photos, and submit a maximum of two to Debi, at the start of the party. These should be in the form of 20cm x 15cm prints (that’s 8 inches x 6). So as to ‘level the playing field,’ please don’t include photos of caged birds, or ‘birds in the hand’. Similarly, all please stick to the same size print. Mount these on a background sheet of paper, with your name on the reverse, and a title/caption of the photo in front. And again, remember the emphasis in this competition is on interesting bird photographs, not technically perfect ones!
As we move into 2010, we’re delighted to announce that our first speaker of this auspicious year will be our old friend, Nico Myburgh. Nico is the doyen of bird photographers, and an Hon Life Member of our Club. Not only does he always show superb photos, but they are accompanied by a very amusing, and insightful commentary. His topic will be advised closer to the time. Fernkloof Hall, 8pm on Wednesday 20th January.
It’s a long way off, but please diarise now that our Club’s Annual General Meeting will be held on Wednesday 17th February, at 7pm. We revert to 7pm, to allow time for socialising over a drink and snacks after the meeting.
Outdoor. Just to confirm that our next away outing is the ‘back to back’ outing to Ebb and Flow at the Wilderness. The trip is fully booked. The first leg is on the 19th to 21st when Mike Ford will be leading the trip, and Jenny organising the accommodation and meals. The second leg is on 23rd to 25th November. Sheelagh and I will be organising and leading this trip. Full detail to follow from Jenny and Sheelagh.
No out door activities in December, but come January we’ve got something different on offer! Mike Ford will be holding a ringing demonstration outside Fernkloof Hall between 6 and 8am on Thursday 14th January. Come along as early as you can to see what this mysterious activity is all about!
Our February outdoor activity is our annual Mini Birding Big Day. This is the 12 hour event from 6am to 6pm, to be held on Sunday 21st February. Teams of four members compete to see how many birds they can identify, in the 12 hours, within a circle with a radius of 50km. It’s quite a way off still, but diarise, and think of putting together a team. Full details in the end of year Oystercatcher.
Thursday Morning Walks. The last walk for 2009 will be on Thursday 5th November. We’ll be walking along the Vermont Coastal Path, meeting at the Jan Rabie Tidal Pool at 8am. To find the parking area, coming from Hermanus, turn left at Onrus Trading, and travel down Vermont Ave to the sea. Turn left, go about 200 metres, and the Pool is signposted to the right. Always a pleasant stroll, and last weekend Sheelagh and I were treated to the sight of several whales just beyond the kelp. We’ll drive to Vermont Pan afterwards, to see what birdlife’s around, and marvel at the current depth of the Pan!
No walk planned for January. Our February Thursday morning walk is on 4th February. Details in the next Oystercatcher.
We welcome the following new members who have joined the Club over the past two months:
Craig and Sue Holmes, Harry Lucas. We wish you a long and happy association with our Club.
SOS-Save Our Seabirds Festival. This event was run during the week commencing 12th October. It was organised by BirdLifeSA and the Dept of Environmental Affairs, in association with the Two Oceans Aquarium. It had as its aim, raising awareness of the plight of seabirds on the one had, and on the other celebrating some successes in this regard. So the week saw a series of presentations, seminars, and other events. Barbara and Graham, and Sheelagh and I attended the Gala Evening Festival on the Friday. This was held in the Shark Tank at the Aquarium; where the backdrop to the talks was a huge tank, where large sharks, turtles, rays, and other fish cruised past while the evening proceeded. Quite fascinating! Inter alia, Ross Wanless, who spoke to our Club earlier this year, elaborated on some of the achievements of the Albatross Task Force and other initiatives. Barry Rose received a BLSA ‘Owl Award’ for his outstanding contribution to bird conservation, and the culmination was the handing over of a major sponsorship by the Plastics Federation to the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute to launch the Marine Important Bird Areas Research project. A most worthwhile evening. Great to know there are so many people out there doing so much for conservation. As part of the week, on the Saturday and Sunday morning, birding trips were organised to Robben Island. Sheelagh and I went on the Sunday trip. Lovely sunny weather, but a strong South Easter, so very choppy seas. But in the new 300 seater Sikhululekile ferry, it was a smooth crossing, taking 22 minutes. On the island, the 20 birders split into two groups, guided by Bruce Dyer and Mario Leshora, who were excellent, as we drove around the island in two vehicles, looking for the ‘specials’, and birds in general. Not the usual historic island tour (although we did see all of the village, prison etc.) but concentrating on birds, and the habitats. There are two specials: The Common Peacock – because it is ‘wild’ there and nowhere else in SA it is ‘tickable’ there. We saw one, although we heard plenty others. And the Chukar Partridge-introduced to Southern Africa in the last century. It has now died out everywhere, except on Robben Island. Before our sighting that day, Bruce estimated the population on the island at 14. We were then lucky enough to get great views of a female, and 8 small chicks among the houses! This took the population up to 22, so we saw 40% of the Southern African population of Chukar Partridges! A very striking bird. We got a total bird list of just over 30. Apart from these ‘specials’, the most striking were close up views of Crowned Cormorants. I even managed to atlas the Island as part of the SABAP2 initiative! Then back to the V&A Waterfront, with magnificent views of Table Mountain. A great trip!
350-24-24 Bird Photo Challenge.
A couple of weeks ago Barbara e-mailed members about this challenge. The Photo Challenge was part of the 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action on 24th October. (The 350 representing the number of parts of carbon dioxide per million in the atmosphere, above which level dangerous climate change is probable.) BirdLifeSA saw this as an opportunity to raise the profile of South Africa’s amazing avifauna, to photograph birds on the 24th, and present a mosaic on a website of these images of 350 of our species. The project was most successful, with 170 photographers countrywide participating, and 365 species photographed. If you want to see the end result of this imaginative initiative, have a look at the glorious mosaic of birds onhttp://birdingafrica.com
, with more on the ‘Overflow’ section. Barbara and I participated, each submitting a number of photos. Unfortunately, technical difficulties in submitting the photos in time precluded our photos from being included in the main mosaic. But Barbara’s photo of a Cape Rock Thrush, and mine of a Yellow Bishop, made it to the Overflow!
TRIPS AND SIGHTINGS
Mike Mac Naught writes as follows about their recent ‘2wd Winter Migration’:
‘For the past six years Helen and I have set off during May/June to explore the four corners of our country – and at times to venture into our neighbouring territories. As we do not own a 4x4, we use our trusty Nissan Almeira, mostly towing our caravan but occasionally with just a tent. We do not as a rule book anywhere, but simply wander along on a roughly planned route – an extremely flexible system which allows us to deviate or stop over as we long as we wish. This year we set off eastwards along the coast on what turned out to be a marathon 59 day, 10206 km journey.
We left Hermanus at the end of April in pouring rain. Fortunately this abated before our first stop in Plett and we enjoyed good weather thereafter. We travelled through the Eastern Cape, the Transkei and on to KZN, birding as we went. Stopping over for a brief stay with our children in Hillcrest, we visited a raptor rehabilitation centre near Camperdown – a really worthwhile stop with free flying birds such as Lanner Falcon. Fish Eagle, Pale Chanting Goshawk and a couple of owls amongst others. Also a fascinating days outing on a narrow gauge steam train running though some beautiful countryside at Ixopo.
We then moved on to Umlalazi in Zululand, home to specials such as the Palmnut Vulture and Mangrove Kingfisher. We were the only campers (as was the case with many of our stops) and were greeted enthusiastically each morning as we sat enjoying our coffee, by a couple of Wooly-Necked Storks who wanted to share our rusks!
On then via Hluhluwe Game Reserve – Red-Billled Oxpeckers, Little Bee-Eaters and a lifer – Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin - through Swaziland and Badplaas to the lovely Forever Resort campsite at Palabora. Here we stocked up with food for our 23 day stay in Kruger – Helen said she had never before bought so much food in one go. I didn’t want to run out of beer and wine either so stocked up too. The poor caravan was sagging!
We had a wonderful time in the Park, staying in camps at Punda Maria, Shingwedzi, Letaba, Skukuza, Crocodile Bridge and a final couple of nights at Berg en Dal. The far northern area of Pafuri with its magnificent riverside trees produced some real specials. With the help of Frank, the resident ranger at the picnic site, we saw birds such as Yellow-Breasted Apalis, Mocking Cliff-Chat, African Yellow White-Eye and Grey-Backed Camaroptera. Some of the other birds seen in the Reserve included raptors such as Brown and Black-Breasted Snake Eagles, Martial and African Hawk Eagles, and even a Lizard Buzzard. Vultures were well represented too with White-Backed, White-Faced, Hooded and Lappet-Faced in evidence. We were also fortunate to see virtually all the animals with the exception of Wild Dogs. Loads of elephant, buffalo, rhino etc. Also great views of the cats mostly by ourselves.
On this occasion we did in fact book for our stay in the park. Fortunately as it turned out because the campsites were full of pensioners in Caravans, Motorhomes and tents!
We then left our caravan in Nelspruit and with camping gear and a tent packed in the car, we headed for Mozambique. Absolute chaos at the border – took us 4 hours to get through! Helen then had to drive because my license had expired in May and although I had applied for a new one and had a receipt, the actual license had not arrived by the time we left home. The receipt was OK for SA but we did not want to take a chance in Moz. She was a little stressed to begin with, as some of the roads were badly potholed, but in the end all was well!
We only stayed at two places on the coast – Bilene and Tofo – as the other roads were too sandy for the car. Birding in Bilene was a bit limited due to strong winds, but we did pick up a couple of specials – Woodwards Batis and Scarlet- Chested Sunbirds.
The beach at Tofo was lovely. A small fishing village with no shops, just the market with fresh fish, prawns, fruit and veggies. We stayed in a very basic reed hut for five days amongst thousands of palm trees.
We went to Inhambane a couple of times – hired a dhow one day – just us and a crew of four and sailed to the trading town of Maxixe, where we had lunch before sailing back. There were flamingoes on the sandbanks and a few curlews. We did however find a lifer; Mosque Swallows perched on the telephone wires in front of – appropriately - a Mosque!
On our return to Nelspruit we paid a visit to the Jane Goodall chimpanzee rehabilitation center. Heart rendering to hear of the cruelty metered out to these intelligent primates, but good to see how happy they now appear to be.
We then began the long journey home via Wakkerstroom, Golden Gate National Park, Gariep Dam and finally Oudtshoorn.
We arrived back in Hermanus to cold, wet and windy winter weather.
For the record – we identified 260 species of birds. Not bad we thought for winter.’
Not much to report under this heading. But Graham Palmer had cracking views of a Cape Rock-jumper in the mountains above Voelklip. And Mike Ford reported an uncommon sighting in our area: three White-Backed Ducks on the small dam along the Kaarwyderskraal Rd. Do remember to report your sightings to Debi:email@example.com
Finally, a summary of the next three months Club activities:
- Thurs 5th Nov. Morning walk Vermont. Jan Rabie Pool Vermont 8am
- Weds 18th Nov. Vernon Head and Mel Tripp. Tanzania. Fernkloof Hall 8pm
- 19th-21st and 23rd -25th Nov. Away outing Ebb ‘n Flow. Fully booked. Details to follow
- Thurs 10th Dec. Xmas Party and Photo Comp. Fernkloof 5pm
- Thurs 14th Jan. Ringing Demo. Fernkloof 6-8am
- Weds 20th Dec. Nico Myburgh. Fernkloof Hall 8pm
- Thurs 4th Feb. Morning Walk. Details to follow
- Weds 17th Feb. AGM. Fernkloof Hall 7pm. (Note earlier time)
- Sun 21st Feb. Mini Birding Big Day. Details in next Oystercatcher
Club Address: PO Box 208, Hermanus, 7200
Hermanus Bird Club Committee:
Barbara Palmer (Chairperson) 028-314-1167
Mike Ford (Secretary) 028-316-4790
Lee Burman (Treasurer and Environment) 028-312-3011
John Bowman (Newsletter Editor and Public Affairs) 028-316-4815
Jenny Fynn (Outings) 028-313-1361
John Saunders (Projects) 028-314-0543
Debi Thomson (Catering and Sales) 028-312-3410