You can become a twitcher on Thursday

 

By John Bowman

Just over a month ago, a story was posted to our website about a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (Rooistert-wipstert), seen at Zeekoevlei, the first time this bird has ever been seen in South Africa.

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The Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (Rooistert-wipstert) at Zeekoevlei, photographed by John Bowman.

Are we twitchers? Well, sort of. Sheelagh and I don’t travel vast distances to tick off new birds, but if we’re in the area where a rarity has been seen, we’ll have a good go at trying to find it.

Luckily we were in Cape Town for a function a few weeks ago, and managed to find the bird quite easily. However, the first time we saw it, in my excitement my photos were terrible. The next day we got it again, but my camera battery was flat.

We were in Cape Town again this last weekend, and I was determined to get a decent photo. This time we had to hunt for about an hour, only being rewarded with brief glimpses of the bird as it flew from tree to tree.

Time was running out to get back to Vermont, so we started leaving. And, lo and behold, quite close to our car, the Scrub Robin suddenly popped up on a low wall next to the road. For a few minutes it hopped between the wall and a bollard, affording decent photo opportunities. What a treat.

Just as a reminder, this bird is a Palearctic migrant. A native of Mediterranean Europe and Asia, it spends its winters in North Africa. This bird, after its holiday there, turned South instead of North, and ended up at Zeekoevlei.

According to SA Rare Birds News, over a thousand birders have visited the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, a couple of hundred from outside the Western Cape, including several Southern African countries. I chatted to folk from Knysna, Limpopo, Durban and Johannesburg on my visits there.

It will probably be around for a few more weeks before it decides to return to North Africa. So those members going on the Strandfontein outing on Thursday 1 September have a very good chance of seeing it. Good luck, hope this whets your appetite.

  • If you want to go on the day outing to Strandfontein and Rondevlei, and stand a chance of becoming a twitcher, be at the Onrust Trading Post on Thursday 1 September for departure at 08:00. Bring your own snacks, drinks and lunch.
  • The Club’s September monthly meeting at the Fernkloof Reserve Hall will be on Wednesday 14 September. That is a week earlier than usual, to avoid clashing with the Hermanus Botanical Society’s annual flower festival the following week. The speaker will be Frank Woodvine of the Botanical Society.

When Mike switched from ringing to banding

 

Club member Mike Ford’s August presentation described his two and a half month stay at the Rio Mesa Research Field Station in the wild canyon lands of southeast Utah, USA, from April to June 2016.

Olivia and Sharpshinned Hawk

Post-graduate assistant Olivia with a Sharpshinned Hawk

His mission was to run the migration ringing station there, with the help of two very willing and likeable post-graduate assistants, Olivia and Travis.

During this period they ringed (“banded”, as it is called in America) over 1,200 birds of 65 different species as these migrants moved through the area on their Spring return journey from Central and South America.

The conditions were very relaxed and not at all stressful, unlike the 24 hour Turkish stations where Mike had worked previously. Ringing took place from dawn until noon, with the rest of the day off, and the team had two days off after each ten day period.

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Mike Ford (right) and party at a delicately balanced rock arch in Canyon Land

During these days off they visited the desert parks of Utah, famous for their spectacular rock formations and canyons, including the unique slot canyons with their very narrow winding crevice trails.

They also spent time birding in the Boulder Mountains, visited Grand Junction on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, and rafted down the mighty Colorado River, where they saw the Bald Eagle, Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Herons, among others.

“One particular sighting as we were driving on the outskirts of Moab town caused huge excitement – a Greater Roadrunner!” Mike said. “It was a special lifer for all of us. All these exciting activities made the stay more like a holiday than a working project, and it was all too soon time to pack up the station and return home via Salt Lake City.”

What should we do about the Quiz?

 

Is the Club’s annual Quiz in July a lost case?

It always goes with soup and sherry. This year wine was added. And everybody seemed to enjoy it.

This year the format was changed. Teams were mixed to form combinations of strong and less strong birders, giving everyone a chance to do well.

To add more excitement, the two local bird clubs each had a team participating in the other’s quiz.

“Despite the changes and the excitement, there was such a disappointing turn-out at our Quiz that I wonder if we should drop it from the calendar,” says Chairman Craig in his latest “Chirp”.  He would love to hear members’ comments.

Read the latest “Chirp”, dealing with this issue, and others,  by clicking the link above.

Banding in Canyon Land on Wednesday

 

The highlight of the Club’s next monthly meeting will be a presentation by Mike Ford on his experiences in the United States during April, May and part of June this year. The title of his talk is “Banding in Canyon Land”.

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The cartoon character Road Runner. Source: Wikipedia

One of the exciting birds that Mike saw there, was the legendary Roadrunner, which is famous for its distinctive appearance, its ability to eat rattlesnakes and its preference for scooting across the American deserts, as popularized in Warner Bros. cartoons.

According to the “Desert USA” website, the roadrunner is a large, black-and-white, mottled ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has strong feet, a long, white-tipped tail and an oversized bill.

It ranges in length from 50 to 60 cm from the tip of its tail to the end of its beak. It is a member of the Cuckoo family (Cuculidae), characterized by feet with 2 forward toes and 2 behind.

Roadrunner

A real Roadrunner. Source: the website “Desert USA”

According to Wikipedia the two characters Wile E. Coyote (also known simply as “The Coyote”) and The Road Runner are opponents in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons.

In the cartoons, Coyote repeatedly attempts to catch and subsequently eat the Road Runner, but is never successful. Coyote, instead of his species’ animal instincts, uses absurdly complex contraptions and elaborate plans to pursue his prey, which always comically backfire with Wile normally getting injured by the slapstick humor.

The characters were created by animation director Chuck Jones in 1948 for Warner Bros.

The meeting, in the Fernkloof Reserve Hall on Wednesday 17 August, begins at 18:00. Wine will be available before the meeting. It will not be sold, but donations are welcome to cover costs.

The day Number One led the Club walk

 

It was a lovely morning in the Elgin Valley – mild sunshine with little wind. Spring was clearly approaching. The birds were chirping, and the birders were chirpy.

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Number One in the Waltons’ house during the birding walk.

Then something strange happened. Out of the blue a man looking exactly like the South African President appeared among the twenty Hermanus Bird Club members enjoying the walk on Jessie and Ian Walton’s farm.

Mike Ford, who led the walk with Jessie, was nowhere to be seen, and the newcomer seemed to have taken over the leadership. Then he disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared. And there was Mike back again, smiling. Someone noticed a discarded ANC T-shirt on a chair.

The walk was a great success. The group identified 58 bird species, which is quite respectable for late winter.

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The breeding pair of Jackal Buzzards (Rooibors-jakkalsvoëls) on their nest. Image by Charles Naudé

One of the highlights was the sight of the breeding pair of Jackal Buzzards (Rooibors-jakkalsvoëls), leaving and returning to their nest in the trees next to the upper dam on the farm.

Their previous nest, on a branch near the water’s edge, had been occupied by squatters, in the form of Egyptian Geese (Kolganse), so they built a new nest higher up, with a better view.

Then there were some Little Bitterns (Kleinrietreiers) at one of the lower dams. And in the sky was a melanistic (all black) Black Sparrowhawk (Swartsperwer), and what is known as a Cape, Elgin or Mystery Buzzard (Kaapse Jakkalsvoël).

Weather looks good for Thursday walk

 

The Club’s August morning walk will be on Ian and Jessie Walton’s farm in the Elgin Valley on Thursday the 4th. At this stage the weather looks promising. A clear sky is forecast, after rain on Wednesday.

The farm, Keurbos Nursery, specialises in indigenous plants and Heritage Roses. But the main attraction from a birding point of view is that Jessie has created a bird-friendly environment on the farm, with dams and bird hides.

The Waltons added part of a neighbouring farm recently, with a log cabin overlooking a dam, where a pair of Jackal Buzzards (Rooibors-jakkalsvoëls) breed regularly.

We meet at the Onrust Trading Post on Thursday at 07:30 to consolidate transport. Bring your own snacks.

The outing will be led by Craig Holmes and Mike Ford.