Somerset West Bird Club planned to spend a morning at Rooisand on Saturday, the 17th. Sonja Peacey, who was leading the outing, thought it would be a good idea to ask someone from our Club to join them, and show them around, as it’s on our home territory. John Saunders, our ‘walks and talks man’, was asked, but he was going to be away stargazing.  So we were invited to do the honours. We asked Mike Mac Naught to join us.

On the morning, it was blowing a gale in Vermont, but surprisingly, when we arrived at Rooisand, there was hardly any wind. We were joined by Sonja and 13 other members of their Club. The water level at the hide was even lower than when our Club visited Rooisand in early February. But birds were steadily picked up by the sharp eyed participants. Most of the ‘usual suspects’ were seen. On the way back from the hide we walked along the shore of the vlei, and steadily added new birds to the list, although the wind had now picked up. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the Cape Longclaws. However, the highlight of the morning was early in the walk, when we were fascinated by an interesting interaction between a Western Osprey and a Caspian Tern which was harassing it repeatedly, for whatever reason, right over our heads. We all enjoyed stunning views of this interaction.

We were also able to add a couple of new birds to our Challenge list.

So a good morning was enjoyed by all, several of the visitors not having been to Rooisand before. And our role in the outing was appreciated. A great example of cooperation between Bird Clubs in our region.


John and Sheelagh Bowman

Time for Change


For the past several years the away outings, not to be confused with the Walks and Talks which are looked after by John Saunders, has been in my portfolio.

It is time for a change and for someone with fresh and bright ideas to take on this role and to join the committee.

The role includes the following functions:

  • Identifying good birding venues and establishing if they have enough suitable accommodation and entertainment venues.
  • Communicating with the venue, establishing if it meets the criteria for the outing, negotiating prices, dates when deposits and full payments are to be made.
  • Putting together of the skeleton itinerary to be communicated whilst costing the per head cost. Confirming with the Treasurer that the calculations are correct and that the venture would not lose any money for the club.
  • Arranging with the Blog administrator that the offer be communicated with all members via the blog
  • Fielding all enquiries and managing the list of participants till the group is full – then creating a wait list.
  • Confirm back to the participants whether they are confirmed or waitlisted.
  • Collect either the deposit or full payment – dependent upon the establishment requirements and once the payments are received communicate with the Treasurer and agree. Thereafter the Treasurer will arrange payment.
  • If a deposit only is received then you will need to collect the balance closer to the date and follow the step above.
  • Based on the original skeleton itinerary, a full and final itinerary needs to be created and sent to all participants.
  • Advise the establishment of the names of the participants together with a full rooming list of who will be sharing with whom.
  • Create catering teams with Captains to arrange that starters, salads and starches and desserts are prepared for each evening
  • As we braai each evening the organiser must purchase firelighters, wood and charcoal for each evenings braais
  • Upon arrival at the destination reconfirm with the establishment the rooming arrangement and the venue for the evening braai, ensuring that sufficient tables and chairs are provided and if possible cutlery and crockery so that the participants don’t have to bring these items to the braai area.
  • If there is inclement weather be able to make immediate arrangements to make the best of the situation.
  • Each evening arrange for the fires to be set up and started so that the participants are able to braai at a reasonable hour.
  • On the last night be sure that a comprehensive list of species seen is agreed by all members
  • Before leaving the establishment be sure that there are no outstanding amounts owing by the HBC and if there such amounts, settle them and claim back from the Treasurer.
  • Where necessary reconcile the accounts for the Treasurer.



With more than 200 members, I am sure that there will be several volunteers for this important job!  Ed.

The Challenge goes from a Gallop to a Canter


It was easy to accumulate birds for the Challenge in months one and two, however, the strain is starting to tell and it is getting more and more difficult, if the numbers are anything to go by.  Good news is that we have a new leader, the Lester and Cheryl van Groeningen team, who have 613 species worth 785 points, closely followed by Ronnie Hazell with 626 species worth 772 points.  Then comes Ed Meyer with 411 birds worth 482 points, so there is some scope for catching up.  Lets hope that the final two months see a rush for the finishing line!

Outing to De Hoop


The weather, though overcast, did not result in those who went to De Hoop being downcast.  Spotting waders at De Hoop was part of the fun had by 16 of us.  In total 111 species were counted.

Anne Philip


Travellers of the wind and the curse of nurdles

This is the story about near-magical seabirds that criss-cross the globe, and small, lentil-sized blobs of plastic called nurdles. It is both astounding and worrying, writes DON PINNOCK.


Photo of a Wandering Albatross by Don Pinnock

We live on the lesser part of the planet. Two-thirds of Earth is vast, featureless and, for most people, pretty frightening plains of undulating water. Poking through this liquid skin are islands where millions of seabirds nest – as far away from humans and other predators as they can getSafest are rocky outcrops in the icy high latitudes of the polar regions. Birds like shearwaters, albatrosses, fulmars, kittiwakes, gannets, gillemots and puffins, spend much of their life far from land. But eggs need a safe, stable nest, so the lonely islands are essentially temporary breeding colonies. For this purpose seabirds construct nests or dig burrows where they lay, warm and – when they hatch – feed their scrawny, hungry young. To protect the chicks from raiding gulls and skuas, a breeding pair (many seabird species mate for life) will take turns to go fishing or sit in the nest.

Anybody who’s seen a colony with sometimes hundreds of thousands of nests just beyond pecking distance of each other and heard its mind-numbing cacophony will unfailingly wonder how each bird finds its way back to its nest.

This question became the lifelong pursuit of Gabrielle Nevitt, a professor at the University of California who first visited the Antarctic islands in 1991.

Seabirds like shearwaters belong to a family known at tube-noses because of a pair of exterior nostrils moulded to the upper side of their bills. It was originally thought this oversized snoot helped to disperse salt swallowed while grabbing fish, but Nevitt wondered if it might be meant for what noses are for: smelling.

She soaked absorbent tampons in a variety of fishy-smelling oils and attached them to kites which she flew from the back of a research ship – scientists are inventive people. The kites attracted crowds of petrels and albatrosses. She was ecstatic.

Sniffing around seabird rookeries, she came up with a plausible theory for their homing abilities: each pair and its nest had a particular smell, an aural barcode, and the birds had a phenomenal ability to detect it. The parts of tube-nose brains dealing with smell, it turns out, have six times as many smelling cells as mice with comparable brain size.

But smelly nests didn’t solve a much bigger puzzle. How do seabirds – which range forhundreds of thousands of kilometres and can spend years at sea without coming near land – unerringly find their way back to their nest when they need to breed?

The answer came following a chance meeting with Tim Bates, a chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He was investigating a gas called dimethyl sulphide (DMS) emitted by phytoplankton, the microscopic plants that live on the surface of the ocean.

When damaged, they emit the gas which, it seems, could provide aerosols around which clouds gather. Spraying DMS over large tracts of ocean could create cloud cover to counter global warming, but that’s another story.

Nevitt took off in another direction. Krill, the major food source for many seabirds, eat phytoplankton, producing clouds of DMS. Could shearwaters smell DMS?

Bates had sea maps of DMS concentrations. These coincided with krill concentrations and that’s where seabirds concentrate. Birds like albatrosses and fulmars, which hunt fish exclusively, were also zooming in because fish eat krill and follow krill concentrations. Nevitt had a proverbial ah-ha moment.

Seabirds, we now know, navigate the vast oceans by smell. Nevitt found they could smell one molecule of DMS at a concentration of less than one part per 10-billion.

DMS is undoubtedly not the only thing seabirds can smell. Turbulent coastal waters, upwellings around underwater seamounts, ocean currents all have their characteristic smell if you have the nose for it.

As chicks roam further and further, they build up smell maps that eventually allow them to range across two thirds of the planet and know precisely where they are. When wandering albatrosses leave their natal nest, they may not return to land for four or five years. The open oceans are their home. But at breeding time they never misplace their personal nest. In his book The Seabird’s cry, Adam Nicolson tracks their path in a long but delightful sentence:

“What may be featureless to us, a waste of undifferentiated ocean, is for them rich with distinction and variety, a fissured and wrinkled landscape, dense in patches, thin in others, a rolling olfactory prairie of the desired and the desirable, mottled and unreliable, speckled with life, streaky with pleasures and dangers, marbled and flecked, its riches often hidden and always mobile, but filled with places that are pregnant with life and possibility.”

There is, of course, a problem. There always seems to be one where humans are concerned.

By now most people know about the vast gyres of plastic sea trash in most oceans. But the bottles, crates, nets and bags are just part of the problem. An almost bigger issue are small, lentil-sized colourful plastic pellets called nurdles.

Billions are made each year and those that don’t become products generally end up in the sea. Fish eat the nurdles and sea creatures and birds eat the plastic litter. This has been going on for half a century and is now a planet-wide disaster.

Sorry, it gets worse. Small pieces of plastic, as they decompose, emit clouds of DMS which attracts seabirds. In the plastic soup there are plenty of things that look like krill, cocpoods and fish. Seabird numbers are plummeting and now we know why.

When our descendants look back on the planet-wide plunder we call civilisation, they’ll wonder why we didn’t notice the danger of extruding trillions of tons of plastic junk on to the land and into the sea. Will there still some albatrosses and shearwaters around? We can but hope.       From the Daily Maverick