A group of experienced birders paid the Greater St Francis area a visit to ascertain what birds were in the area, and in particular which intra- African migrants and those from Europe had arrived. They were ecstatic about the number of species seen in one day. Perfect weather added to the success of the day as birds were out and about, calling loudly and many were displaying breeding behaviour or proudly showing off their young.
This is the time of the year for visiting species to fly to Southern Africa, to spend time here in our warm climate (some breeding) and all stocking up on just the right food for the return journey.
Apart from finding several migrants, such as cuckoos, Barn Swallows, Steppe Buzzard, and many waders on the Kromme River, the most exciting sightings of the day were endangered Denham’s Bustards, White-bellied Korhaan (which are notoriously difficult to spot) and Blue Crane. This is a prime area for these three species and visiting birders from all over the country, and indeed the world, make a point of coming here to find these birds.
Denham’s Bustard taken just before the visit by Gregg Darling
Fortunately we were able to witness a wonderful courtship dance between a pair of Blue Cranes next to a small pond at the Grassmere turnoff. Both individuals jumped up and down with their wings extended, gracefully floating down to the ground after each jump. One then picked up a tuft of grass, or some other object, and tossed it into the air while the other watched.
Blue Crane starting his courtship dance. Photo by Peter Bosman
The mating display by the diminutive Red-capped Lark along farm roads had never been witnessed by any of the party, and all were very experienced birders. The male strutted along with his tail spread and stuck in the air, then jumped up every now and then. The female merely ignored him, no matter how he performed. Amusing to watch!
Raptors are always exciting to see and for Andy Nixon (Vice-Chairman of BirdLife Eastern Cape) the most notable raptor sighting was a magnificent juvenile Martial Eagle spreading its enormous wings and cruising from one tree to another, then perching there for all to see and photograph. These birds are usually just a speck in the sky as they normally fly so high.
Another raptor which caused quite a stir was a Booted Eagle, not commonly encountered in the area. It has white “landing lights”, white patches near where the wings are attached to the body. The more common, but still impressive raptors were African Fish-Eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Jackal Buzzard and Steppe Buzzard (having flown in from Europe or Siberia).
Mark Winslow, a birder out here from the United Kingdom, was equally impressed and delighted with the birds encountered, some of which he had not seen on his many previous visits to South Africa. Water birds such a White-backed Duck, Whiskered Tern, and Black Crake encountered on dams and ponds were new to him.
The Kromme River produced a number of migrants and everyone was delighted to note the arrival of these little birds that had flown thousands of kilometres from the North to get here for our Summer: Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Sanderling and Common Whimbrel. A few hundred terns gathered on the sand and took off every now and then (just on a whim) to flutter like white petals in the sky just for a few minutes before landing on the sand again to preen.
The visit ended off at the Cape St Francis Lighthouse to observe Cape Gannet flying in huge skeins across the sea, and in contrast, the diminutive Kittlitz’s Plovers which breed at Seal Point.
We are fortunate to have such a wide variety of habits: bush, river, farmland and sea to nourish our birds and to keep birders coming to see them.
Thank you Yvonne Bosman for an interesting article.