Trip report: World Migratory Bird Day at Fisherhaven and surrounds

This report was kindly provided by Jill Wheater.

This month’s outing coincided with the World Migratory Bird Day – an annual awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. We were mindful of the need to contribute to the count of migratory birds, so it felt like a particularly important outing. 

Despite the blustery weather – holding onto binoculars was quite a feat let alone trying to focus a camera lens – the outing achieved a phenomenal bird count of 95 species! It seems hard to believe that we identified that many birds, literally on our doorstep. Only 7 of those birds were migratory birds but hey, we tried! Anton suggested we go for 100 next time!

The day dawned bright and sunny, still a little chilly as we left Onrus carpark for the Vermont salt pan, but perfect birding weather. Six cars in total, excited at the prospect of a day of birding and you can see we were not disappointed. Flamingos were certainly the most prolific bird of the day but absent at the pan, which was overflowing with water. The pan was full of bird life, and we were rewarded with plenty of cormorants, ducks, coots, large Grey Herons and nesting, Black-crowned Night Herons peeping out of the reeds. What a treat to see so many beautiful herons at such close quarters.

We left the pan and headed for the beaches, taking a detour via the sewage works. Cape Shovelers were seen waddling by the side of the road, Black Crakes and Common Reed Warblers in the reeds, and two graceful Black-headed herons took off towards the mountains. I’m always surprised by the paradox of seeing such diversity of birds near a sewage works.

We drove into Fisherhaven and headed for Flamingo Bay estate and parked at the beach. The view was breath-taking with mountains, sea and beach reflected in the sunlight. This report should be titled “Windy Flamingo day” as we were constantly delighted with flocks of – Greater and Lesser Flamingos – in quite different habitats. At Flamingo Bay – aptly named – there were incredible flocks of flamingos socialising, feeding and generally presenting perfect photo opportunities. Fishermen collecting bait provided a colourful addition to the already perfect landscape. Life here seemed tranquil and serene; a place to momentarily forget the strife happening all over the world. Birding certainly isn’t just about spotting birds; the privilege to spend time in such a beautiful environment is just priceless.

The strong winds did not deter those clicking cameras and the stunning photos bear testimony to the skill of our birding photographers. Add to that list Common Tern, Caspian Tern and Sandwich Tern; Hartlaub’s Gull, Grey-headed Gull and Kelp Gull; African Oystercatcher, Pied Avocet, Kittlitz’s Plover and the Eurasian Whimbrel to name a few.

Proceeding on our drive through Fisherhaven, we encountered a creature of another kind as a very large mole snake decided to cross the road in front of us. Cars slid to a halt and the snake was a little surprised at all the attention and quickly made an exit into a neighbouring garden. No doubt to be surprised later by an innocent resident mowing his lawn!

Dirt road, very large puddles of water and then beach sand meant that a couple of the cars needed to be left behind as we proceeded past the jetty and onto the Fisherhaven beaches. The wind was ruthless, and we could see a long line of Terns sitting patiently, struggling at times to launch themselves into the air. We ploughed through the wet sand to get a better look, holding tightly to binocs and cameras, wondering how these tiny birds even managed to take off. 

After all that effort it was certainly time for a coffee break and as we munched our way through delicious sandwiches, we were entertained by several large flocks of Flamingos. A shower of pink would fill the sky as they took off, surprised by some movement, fly elegantly through the air and then land a few metres along the shoreline, legs and beaks everywhere.

Looking out to the neck of the lagoon and back towards Arabella reminded us of the extent of this water coverage and what a diversity of birds it hosts. Again, the Flamingos were on the beach, among the rocks and this seemed like a rare sight compared to the usual image of the Flamingo in calm blue water.

Reluctantly we left the serenity of the beaches and headed for the Karwyderskraal road, despite knowing a good portion of it was closed. However, we were all officially “residents” and proceeded along the road, finding it to be busier than usual with motorists taking an alternative route to the Hemel en Aarde valley. The drive proved very fruitful with spots of a Rock Kestrel, Karoo Prinia, Cape Canary, Brimstone Canary, Grey-backed Cisticola, Capped Wheatear, Red Chested Cuckoo, Jackal Buzzard along with flocks of Egyptian Geese and Western Cattle Egret. Above our heads flew a Black Sparrowhawk and several Black-winged Kites.

We drove around the closed signs and stopped at the steel bridge, shocked by the extent of damage caused by the recent floods. The houses nestling on the far side of the bridge must have been traumatised as all this destruction was happening around them. But today the warm sun was comforting, a blue crane enjoying himself in the riverbed with Cape Teals swimming around as if everything was normal.

Thanks to Johan for leading the outing, Anton for his constant supply of knowledge and for the sharp eyes of all those experienced birders who spotted the 95 species. 

The list of birds recorded during the counting can be found here.

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