Hello Hermanus Birders. Well here we are, at the start of another year. A very special year for South Africa-2010! Hope you are all enjoying the holiday season, and managing to fit in some birding activities as well. As usual, things are fairly quiet as far as club activities go as we ease in to the New Year, although there are some in January, and the pace starts hotting up in February-as elaborated on below. And, hopefully, we can now depend on the weather not to disrupt our activities!
First up, is Barbara’s ‘CHAT FROM THE CHAIR’:
I was listening to Bob Hill going through his list of the 10 best things about Summer in Hermanus on our own radio station Whale Coast FM (96.00) the other morning.
A couple of his points caught my attention: the average age of Hermanus drops radically because of all the young people visiting; the older people seem to be rejuvenated and there are so many proud Grandparents around!
I think this holds true of a lot of HBC members! It is a known fact that there's a shift from the year-round club meetings, dinner parties with & visits to friends, to being at home with your family for the Festive Season. I hope yours has been special and precious and that you got to spend quality time with your loved ones.
Another of Bob's '10 Best' was the fact that it gets light early and that got me thinking that one could be out birding and back by the time the family wakes up. My 10 favourite Overberg birds, in no particular order, are Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Grassbird, Oystercatcher, Cape Rock-thrush, Blue Crane, Cape Siskin, the Penguins at Stony Point and on a good day Cape Rock-jumper and Victorin's Warbler at Rooi Els.
One of these mornings I just might go out birding instead of making breakfast!
We hope you have enjoyed your birding year and that one of your new year's resolutions is to be a very active birder during 2010! The committee is certainly busy planning all sorts of exciting walks & outings for next year.
Enjoy this edition of The Oystercatcher, read all about our outing to Wilderness, participation in Birding Big Day and recent evening meetings.
Enjoy the rest of the Festive Season and have a wonderful, happy 2010!
Indoor. Another very well attended evening meeting was held in November:
Members were treated to what many regarded as one of the best presentations we’ve ever had. The presentation was on Tanzania, and featured a ’double act’ by Vernon Head (Chair of The Cape Bird Club), and Mel Tripp. The two of them combined beautifully in putting across an interesting, entertaining and amusing presentation.
The presentation was based on a sixteen day trip undertaken in June 2008. Along with Vernon and Mel, other distinguished birders on the trip included Ian Sinclair-arguably South Africa’s ‘best birder’. So it was a high powered contingent, and this came through in terms of the vast number of ‘special’ birds they were able to find, and photograph.
Tanzania has an area of about 937000 Sq Kms, and has a bird list of 1108, so ranks as one of the most bird populated countries in Africa, and also hosts no less than 25 endemics. One of the reasons for this diversity of species is the country’s situation in the Great Rift Valley, and the resultant diversity of habitats.
Space here does not permit doing justice to their presentation. So what follows is but a brief summary:
They started in the Mikumi National Park, where the first ‘lifer’ was the very striking Superb Starling. They also got 12 Hornbills in the Reserve! Then on to the Udzungwa Mountain National Park where Ian contracted malaria, which was to ‘bug’ him for the rest of the trip .Then it was the Amani Nature Reserve, followed by the Mongo Tea Estate. Here they experienced the wonder of getting 11 ‘lifers’ in one tree! On to the Western Usambaras, savannah habitat, where among the fascinating species they saw were Bar-Tailed Trogon, Usambara Nightjar, Red and Yellow Barbet, and Purple Grenadier Waxbill.
Then they travelled to the Tarangire National Park, an area of grassland and acacias. One of the non-birding features there is the highest density of elephants in the world. One wandered into their camp, and Vernon had a delightful cameo of Mel photographing an elephant, through the front of his tent, at VERY close quarters! Next was the famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Crater. 16km wide by 600m deep, featuring a microcosm of African habitats. As such the Crater should have been one of the highlights of their trip. However here they hit tourists-having largely been in much less visited reserves. After being part of a queue of 52 vehicles to see one Cheetah, they named it Ngoronhorror Crater!
Then on the Southern Serengeti for more birding highlights, including the Blue-Capped Cordonbleu and Silverbird. Finally, they went to the Athi Plains and Arusha National Park. Here they ticked off a number of Larks-including Beesley’s Lark, where they took the first photo ever of this species. On to Dar es Salaam and home, with a glimpse of Kilimanjaro in the distance from their aircraft.
Frequently during the presentation, Vernon and Mel commented on frogs and insects they saw, and photographed. So it was fitting that when leaving Fernkloof Hall, they should see a frog under one of the vehicles, which initially they thought was a Leopard Toad. Much excitement as Vernon crawled under the vehicle as it moved from one wheel arch to another. Only to turn out to be an ‘ordinary toad’!
A wonderful presentation! And one which further whetted the appetites of several members who are planning on visiting Tanzania over the next couple of years.
Our December evening meeting, as has become traditional, took the form of our end of year Christmas Braai and Bird Photo Competition. About 70 members enjoyed another typical, convivial Club function. Good food was enjoyed with plentiful wine, in great company, and we were blessed with perfect weather! Thanks to John Groenewald for providing the extra gas braai, and to Terry Demmer for transporting it. During the evening, members’ entries in the Photo Competition were submitted and put on the wall for scrutiny, and judging by those present. A good number of members participated, and the standard of photos entered gets better every time. (This was the third running of the Competion). Thanks to Barbara and Mike Ford for doing the organising of the Competition. As far as the results go: In third place was Anne Philip for her delightful ‘Circle of Friends’ photo of a group of birds at Rondevlei, Wilderness. Runner up was Cynthia Turner, with her wonderful close up photo (‘How’s this one Fellows?’) of a Pied Kingfisher with a fish in its beak. And the winner was Gavin Turner (who was runner up last year) for his photo of a Cape White-eye, feeding its young. (‘Grubb’s up!’) A really great set of photos, and a reflection of the growing skills of our members who are involved in bird photography. Another great Club event!
Below are photos of the winners: Gavin in the middle, flanked by Anne on the left and
Cynthia, and then Gavin’s winning photo.
Outdoor. One outdoor activity took place during the past two months. This was our ‘back to back’ outing to the Wilderness
Mike Ford writes as follows about the first of these outings, from 19th to 22nd November:
‘The first of two consecutive groups of 25 members settled in at the Wilderness Ebb ’n Flow camp with some trepidation, as the Southeaster had been howling at full throttle for three days leading up to our arrival. However, Mother Nature was merciful, and both first and second groups enjoyed magnificent weather and some very good birding.
The campsite itself provided excellent birding, with Knysna Touracos in constant attendance, and sightings of both Olive and Knysna woodpeckers. Over the reeds, the resident African Marsh Harrier displayed its hunting skills each morning, and the Black Crakes scurried along the reed edges, providing brief but clear views.
The area is blessed with many interesting walking trails through riverine forest and along river edges, and members were rewarded with sightings of forest specials such as Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Black-headed Oriole, Olive Bush-shrike and many others. A morning trip 15kms inland to the Woodville indigenous forest produced some interesting species such as Black Cuckoo, Forest Canary and Terrestrial Brownbul as well as a Mole Snake and a Boomslang!
The other habitats that provided some interest were the string of lakes and their hides, from which many interesting waterfowl were viewed.
The evening braais produced the usual high standard of food, plus highly amusing impromptu entertainment provided by Grant McLaughlin, Hugh Frangs and Mick Fynn.
Altogether a rousing success, with 131 species recorded and a jolly good time had by all.’
The second group of 25 were at Ebb ‘n Flow from 23rd to 26th November. Mike Ford had very helpfully left a note of what their various birding walks had yielded, as well as their bird list. This proved invaluable, and also had the effect of producing a sort of ‘Birding Big Day’ approach to our birding there. As is the nature of things among some of our Club members, knowing that the first group had recorded 131 species, we HAD to improve on this, even without Mike to lead us! This was actually a good thing, as it meant we had to work very hard at finding the birds. As much of our birding was in forests, where knowing the calls is essential, Sheelagh and I were on a very steep learning curve -familiarizing ourselves as far as possible with the calls of the birds we were likely to hear and see. This certainly paid off, as many of the ‘specials’ we saw, were tracked down via their calls. Some of these we will never forget. These included the African Emerald Cuckoo, where all in our group enjoyed cracking views, the Scaly-throated Honeyguide-both of these were ‘lifers’ for all who saw them- and Green Wood-Hoopoes , which responded very readily to my PDA. Another special seen by most, and a lifer, was the Red-necked Spurfowl. On the other hand, although we heard it on several occasions, we were disappointed at not seeing the Narina Trogon.
In the end, it was ‘mission accomplished’ as our group ticked 134 species, collectively! But thanks to Mike for his valuable notes. Interestingly, Mike subsequently did an analysis of the combined list of birds seen by both groups, and this revealed an ‘eclectic total’ for the two groups of 153 species. 109 were seen by both groups, and 44 by one group or the other.
Having our outing spread over three days , meant that we could do the walks at quite a leisurely pace, and still give participants ‘free time’ to enjoy the attractions of the area. And when we saw something interesting on our walks, we could pause to absorb. Thus we enjoyed looking at nests, with parent birds in attendance, of African Dusky Flycatchers, African Paradise Flycatchers, Sombre Greenbuls, and Fork Tailed Drongos.
We were also fortunate to enjoy generally good weather-apart from a brief shower one evening. And it goes without saying that the evening braais were great! We are certainly maintaining the high standard of cuisine to which we’ve become accustomed at these outings.
BirdLife SA’s Birding Big Day 2009 was held on November 28th. Barbara writes as follows:’ HBC entered 3 teams, namely Hermanus Harriers with Mike Ford as captain and Mike MacNaught, Lee and myself making up the rest of the team. The Northcliff Neddickeys was led by Peter Dagg and the team members were Marie Dagg and Ray & Elaine Towsey. John & Sheelagh Bowman, the Onrus Oystercatchers, entered the SABAP2 category, birding in specific pentads with the information going to the Atlas Project.
This was the 5th year that Hermanus Harriers participated in the 'handicap' category which we won in 2005 with a total of 151 species (a complicated system that has nothing to do with physical or mental handicap!). We wait with bated breath for this year's results as we achieved a club record of 157 species. The wind was blowing a gale at 4:15 Saturday morning and with the lagoon as full as it is and the hide inaccessible, we felt the elements were against us - but 'birding is not for sissies' and we soldiered on. The wind died down and the day turned out absolutely glorious. Our plan was to cut down on previous years' driving and 'milk' each habitat for all it's worth.
Our first surprise of the day happened in Fernkloof when we spotted a juvenile Verreaux's Eagle being mobbed by a Peregrine Falcon. The next bonus bird was a Black Sparrow-hawk flying at 60km an hour across the road in Onrus.
Fisherhaven was especially productive with Oystercatcher, Pelicans, Greater Flamingo & Little Egrets plus, with the use of a scope, curlew, whimbrel, ringed plover and grey plover. With special permission we were able to bird along both Karwyderskraal & Swart River Roads, despite the road-works.
Two more Verreaux's were seen at Rooiels and at Strandfontein we found a second Peregrine Falcon - the first time Mike F was disappointed to see 'another Peregrine' - a Lanner would have been more welcome!
Our best wader-spots of the day were the wetlands at Philippi and Varkenvlei. Evidently I displayed all the characteristics of a true twitcher when I tried to get the rest of the team to spot a pair of Greater Painted-Snipes. It was a lifer for three of us, as were the Fulvous Ducks.
We headed back to the Overberg to pick up as many pasture birds as possible. At 20:30 we were at Mossel River, trying to call up the Fiery-necked Nightjar, when a pair of Brown-hooded Kingfishers responded instead! ‘
Marie Dagg writes as follows about the Northcliff Neddickeys’ day:
‘Northcliff Neddickeys...started out at 5am and finished at 8pm..........Daggs & Towseys enjoyed the day but had quite a few disappointments no African Black Ducks at Harold Porter and hardly any waders at Strandfontein???? as water was so high but did see some amazing ducks there...Didn’t know about Philippi (will go there next week). Highlights were a beautiful pair of Rock Thrush at Rooiels ..........Black Harrier ........Marsh Harrier and on the last lap as we were approaching Shaw’s Pass feeling slightly down as we had failed to find the owls...a Secretary Bird flew by, landed on top of a tree and settled down for the night !!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a sight ......brought smiles to our faces and made the whole day seem worthwhile. Final count 121 (should have been 122 as Mike said we could have included the Fiery Necked Nightjar which we heard all around that park in Fourie Street but unfortunately did not see.................)’
(Ed’s Note: Surprisingly, a month after the event, BirdLife SA have still not been able to finalise results for the handicap section!)
The third Club team, ‘The Onrus Oystercatchers’ entered the new Bird Atlassing category, aimed at expanding the SABAP2 project. This was held over a week, from Saturday 21st to the 28th. As this week co-incided with a trip we were doing to the Eastern Cape and the Wilderness outing, we were able to atlas, and count birds in three ’pentads’: At Amakhala (a delightful new private Reserve adjoining Shamwari), the Wilderness (while we were there on the Club Outing) and at Fernkloof. Our total count across the three pentads was 207, made up of 138 species. Altogether, around the country, 28 teams entered the SABAP2 category of Birding Big Day, and our count of 207 fell in the middle of the records submitted in this category. Another enjoyable birding event and a useful contribution to the Atlassing Project. What made it particularly worthwhile was that this was only the second time the Amakhala pentad had been atlassed.
Below is a picture of the members participating in Birding Big Day at the ‘after party’. From left to right: John and Sheelagh Bowman, Peter and Marie Dagg, Mike Ford, Elaine and Ray Towsey, Barbara Palmer, Lee Burman, and Mike Mac Naught.
Thursday Morning Walks. A very short report! Our scheduled November Vermont walk had to be cancelled on the morning (again!) due to unpleasant, windy, drizzly weather.
2010 Club Subscriptions. Attached please find an ‘invoice’ for Club Subscriptions for 2010.
Due to the necessity to keep the Club on a firm financial footing, these have been increased to R90 for single members and R150 for family members. Subs are due on 31st January 2010. Last year members were very good about paying promptly, with very little follow up required from the Committee. We’d really appreciate it if you would again co-operate in this matter!
Indoor. Our next evening meeting is at Fernkloof Hall at 8pm on Wednesday 20th January. We were scheduled to see a presentation from our old friend, and Hon Life member of our Club, Nico Myburgh. Unfortunately, frail health is now preventing Nico from doing this. I was scheduled to do a presentation later in the year on our recent trip to ‘Bonamza’ (Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia) so will now be doing it in January. Although part of the trip covers fairly rugged 4x4 activity, part also covers areas accessible to ‘ordinary’ vehicles. So the presentation should be of general interest to those wishing to further explore this region.
Next up at 7pm (note the earlier time) on Wednesday the 17th February is the Club’s Annual General Meeting. This is one of the most important Club events of the year, and the Agenda is attached. After the business of the evening we serve snacks and drinks, so it’s another good opportunity to socialise with other members. Do make an effort to attend.
Our evening meeting on Wednesday 17th March, Fernkloof Hall, features Willene van der Merwe, of BirdLife Stellenbosch, who will be doing a presentation on Madagascar. Another interesting country to visit and to bird.
Outdoor. In 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!
Come February its time for our annual Mini Birding Big Day event. This will be held on Sunday February 21st. This event is for teams of four, competing in a circle with a 50km radius, from 6am to 6pm. This time the area will be restricted to the Overberg. Specifically, to a circle with a radius of 50km from the centre of Hermanus. Start thinking of putting your teams together now. Where you can assemble a team, please let Barbara (email@example.com) have details as soon as possible, but at the latest by Sunday 7th February. Where you want us to put you in a team, please let Barbara have your names, as soon as possible, but by that date at the latest. Shortly thereafter Barbara will send the team captains details of their team, the Rules of the Game, and a map. This is the Club's main Competitive event of the year and is always great fun, while helping to hone ones ID-ing skills. And also where to find birds in our area. So the more 'recce-ing' you do beforehand, the better your chances. The Competition is followed by a braai at Fernkloof from 7pm.
On Wednesday 24th February, we’ll have another go at visiting De Mond Reserve, our previous attempt a couple of months ago having been rained off! At this time of the year we should be luckier with the weather. Meet at Fernkloof parking area at 7am to consolidate transport, and bring a picnic lunch. Also along with your binoculars, bring a costume, as the swimming there is usually good.
Away outing March. We’re finalising plans for an away outing during March. Details will be e-mailed in due course.
Thursday Morning Walks. On Thursday 4th Feb, 8am, we’ll be doing a walk as part of our Hemel and Aarde Bird Survey (See ‘Other News’). Details to be advised.
On Thursday 4th March we’ll have another go at 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. We’ll drive to Vermont Pan afterwards, to see what birdlife’s around, and marvel at the current depth of the Pan!
We welcome the following new members who have joined the Club over the past two months:
Margaret Ogston and Barbara Swart. We wish you a long and happy association with our Club.
New Co-opted Committee Member. We are pleased to announce that member Terry Demmer has been co-opted on to our Club’s Committee-mainly to assist with our hide project. We dealt at some length in the last Oystercatcher with our 2009 ‘Flagship Project’, the hide on the Klein Rivier Lagoon. Late November rains have meant that the hide is still nearly surrounded by water, and the reeds very high. So what was already a very challenging project now becomes that much more challenging. Terry brings great practical experience to assist us with this project.
Hemel and Aarde Conservancy Bird Survey. We were recently approached by member Peter Finlayson, on behalf of the Conservancy, with a request to consider doing an initial survey of birds on the farms in the Hemel and Aarde Valley, and monitoring them thereafter. Our Committee consider this a very worthwhile project and have agreed to go ahead, with the project, being spear-headed by Mike Ford. Mike has had a number of meetings with some of the farmers, and he and other Committee members have already started visiting the farms, and recording birdlife there. We understand that doing a survey on this scale is probably a first in South Africa. We will be visiting more of the farms doing bird counts, and our Club will also include some of these visits in our Thursday Morning Walk program. Mike has already produced a preliminary report on the survey, indicating 86 species counted so far. Included in this number were several quite special sightings- such as a Red-chested Flufftail.
Rare Bird Books. You might recall that some time ago I advised members that I had been approached by Marge Hutchison and asked to arrange the sale of a number of rare bird books which had belonged to her late husband. After quite some time I concluded this task, with some books being sold to Club members, and some to a local bookshop. We’d agreed that I could keep 10% of the proceeds as a donation to Club funds, and I’m pleased to report that the Club has, accordingly, benefited to the tune of R291.
Heronry on Vermont Pan. I have commented in recent newsletters on the high water levels in the Pan, meaning few mud flats, and waders. Although there are plenty of Ducks, Coots etc on the water, and White-breasted Cormorants on the Heronry. This high water level came in handy this week, when a fire was raging on top of Vermont Mountain. Two helicopters were in action, drawing water in buckets from the Pan (next to the Heronry), and dumping them on the fires. I managed to get a few pictures of this activity-see the photo below, with the Cormorants, and other waterbirds totally unconcerned at this new arrival!
Not too much to report. Lee Burman has commented on the unusual sight of a pair of Blue Crane chicks in the urban environment of Bosko. These seem to be the young of the Blue Crane pair seen on the golf course in recent months. Co-incidentally I was delighted to see this pair again on the course last week. On the same day, I saw one of the two Spotted Eagle Owl chicks on the rocky outcrop next to the 3rd green on the course-where the parents had their nest. A lovely sighting.
Also, this past week, we saw a Namaqua Dove on the road in front of our house in Vermont. A first for us in the area. Further afield, there have been reports of an African Openbill (Stork) at the Bot River Lagoon, in the vicinity of Arabella. Way out of its recorded range!
Next, a summary of the next three months Club activities:
Thurs 14th Jan. Ringing Demo. Fernkloof. 6-8am
Weds 20th Jan. John Bowman ‘Bonamza’. Fernkloof Hall 8pm
Thurs 4th Feb. Morning Walk. Hemel and Aarde Valley 8am. Details to follow
Weds 17th Feb. AGM. Fernkloof Hall 7pm. (Note earlier time)
Sun 21st Feb. Mini Birding Big Day. 6am-6pm. Send entries to Barbara
Weds 24th Feb. Day outing to De Mond. Fernkloof car park 7am
Thurs 4th March. Morning Walk Vermont. Jan Rabie Pool parking 8am
Weds 17th March. Willene vd Merwe ‘Madagascar’. Fernkloof Hall 8pm
Finally, this will be the last Oystercatcher edited by me, after five years ‘on the job’. As envisaged, when I stepped down as Club Chairman at the last AGM, I continued as editor for a further year. I have thoroughly enjoyed producing the newsletter, and keeping you in touch with the Club’s activities.
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)