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Ken Borland

Archive for the ‘Birding/Wildlife’

Limpokwena Nature Reserve 0

Posted on June 22, 2022 by Ken

An idyllic spot in Limpokwena Nature Reserve, next to the Mogalakwena River.

Birding in the arid north-western reaches of the Limpopo Province is much more profitable when there are rivers around and the Limpokwena Nature Reserve is a case in point.

Situated where the Limpopo and Mogalakwena rivers meet, Limpokwena is like a bushveld oasis in the vast stony plains of Mopane scrub that dominate the region.

The well-equipped lodge area is a place of tremendous tranquility under the fever and sausage trees and, from the reserve entrance to the main camp, there is a road along the Mogalakwena River that provides a foretaste of the marvellous birdlife that is to come.

There are lovely massive trees along this major tributary of the Limpopo, which marks the border between South Africa and – from west to east – Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Mogalakwena starts life as the Nyl River in the eastern Waterberg.

A morning drive along the Mogalakwena River brought something special early on as the bright yellow flash of a Goldenbreasted Bunting flying into a tree next to the river caught my eye, closely followed by a Greyheaded Kingfisher alighting in the same dead branches.

Not far from where I spotted the Greyheaded Kingfisher, an intra-African migrant that is always a good sighting, the road passes a beautiful spot with the Mogalakwena on the one side and a big pond on the other, surrounded by very pleasant riverine forest.

A Malachite Kingfisher, a year-round resident, was catching breakfast in the pond and creating ripples that disturbed the serene reflection of trees and clear blue sky in the water.

A little further on, a handful of Blackfaced Waxbill were feeding on the seeds of the tall grass, that is so prevalent in March in the Limpopo River Valley, and then flying up into the remains of a thorn tree. These typical seed-eaters of the arid west nest in thorn trees.

Blackfaced Waxbill are pretty unobtrusive little birds, the antithesis of the raucous Hadeda Ibis.

But my first sighting of these very familiar birds that are normally quick to announce their presence was of a couple quietly straggling along the river road. Of course I did soon hear noisier Hadedas.

Seeing as though ‘Mogalakwena’ means ‘fierce crocodile’ in the local Tswana language, it was little surprise to spot a rather large one, on a sandbank, well-hidden by some short trees.

Lodge sundowners

Heading back to the lodge, just up the road from that idyllic space, some Vervet Monkeys peered at me naughtily, their heads poking above the long grass. Fortunately they were no trouble at all on this trip.

A sundowner outside my cottage, close to the Mogalakwena and a smaller stream, was called for and, overlooking the stream bed from a slighly elevated vantage point, one gets excellent views of whatever is flying around the riverine forest.

A Tropical Boubou was rather noisy as it settled down for the night in the trees above the firepit and, well after sunset, a Woodland Kingfisher landed in the tree in front of me, calling away; their loud, piercing call is one of the sounds of summer in northern South Africa.

An African Scops Owl also popped in for a visit, giving its characteristic frog or insect-like call (depending on what amphibians or insects sound like in your neck of the woods) – Prrrrruup! – from close quarters.

The smaller stream was a side channel, a dry bed with pools of water after the rains and well-wooded fringes, which is why there was still a fairly new-looking Hamerkop nest in a tree in front of my cottage.

These massive nests are amongst the most remarkable in the Avian kingdom and I did see a few Hamerkop flying in fluttery fashion along both rivers.

The next day a Crested Barbet was investigating holes in the trees in front of the cottage and an Emeraldspotted Wood Dove was pottering around in one of the dry stream beds.

The deck

The lodge have built a deck on the banks of the Mogalakwena River and this is a great spot to look over and along the water.

A Brown Snake Eagle was cruising overhead and a Meyer’s Parrot was clearly visible at the top of a Red Bushwillow, eating the seeds, which are poisonous to livestock but loved by parrots.

A Greenbacked Heron came flying along the full river, which also had a Pied Kingfisher patrolling, and then the dry 35° heat meant it was time to cool off at the swimming pool, which was sparkling most alluringly in the shade of the welcoming trees back at the warm hospitality of the lodge.

An African Fish Eagle was calling and soaring high above the swimming pool and then a single Arrowmarked Babbler flew with great purpose over the pool to join its noisy colleagues who were headed towards the riverine bush.

As one enters Limpokwena, one is struck by the rugged, arid landscape. Thorny trees and Mopane thickets seem to be the only vegetation seen in the heat haze, apart from the Baobabs, scattered amongst the old farms and scratched by the former inhabitants and gouged by the Elephants which currently roam the area, many coming across the Limpopo from the Tuli Block in adjoining Botswana.

As I drove through the gate, a group of Chacma Baboons seemed to be chilled and happy to see me, but my closer approach saw them stampede away, fleeing across the old farmlands.

A Common Myna then came flying across the road towards the Mogalakwena River with nesting material in its beak.

It was not a very promising start.

The Mopaneveld

But it’s not just the riverine areas of Limpokwena that make this such a highly-recommended spot for nature lovers. There is also much to discover in the rocky koppies of this hot and dry region.

When one comes out of the river drive, the road heads westwards straight into the heart of the Mopaneveld. A Jacobin Cuckoo flew across the road and then played a bit of hide-and-seek as I tried to get a decent sighting.

There were numerous Whitebrowed Sparrow Weavers and lots of nests, although many of these are roosting nests. Practically all of them, however, are on the leeward side of the trees, away from the prevaling wind. The most widespread of the Sparrow Weavers is also quite chirpy and bossy.

A family group of White Helmetshrike also flew across the road, chuckling away at their noisy, colonial neighbours.

A big group of Banded Mongoose, 15-20 of them, were also on the road and, with no termitaria in sight, they had probably come down from their shelter in the rocky outcrops, which were dotted with the striking Purple-Pod Cluster-Leaf (Terminalia prunioides). The plum-coloured fruits of this deciduous tree, which is often associated with Mopane, are also loved by parrots.

Giraffe peering over Purple-Pod Cluster-Leaf (Terminalia prunioides)

As the road then turns north and heads gently down towards the Limpopo River, one comes across a clearing in the Mopaneveld, a peaceful bit of open Acacia savanna.

A Giraffe was enjoying browsing in a less-enclosed space, attended to by a Redbilled Oxpecker. Whitefronted Bee-Eaters were sharing a tree with Redbilled Buffalo Weavers and there was also a European Roller in the vicinity. An African Hoopoe and a Glossy Starling were confidently picknicking on the ground next to the road.

The peace was rather shattered, however, when a Namaqua Dove male that was chilling in a tree was dive-bombed by another arriving male!

When I headed out again in the afternoon on my complimentary game drive with host Riley as a wonderful companion – so passionate and interesting about the bush – we started by admiring a Lesser Grey Shrike, which was incredibly dapper in its bright white, grey and black colours.

Soon we were enjoying a herd of African Elephant as a couple of Helmeted Guineafowl went careening down the road at breakneck speed.

We went through that same patch of open Acacia savanna and the Bee-Eater, Hoopoe and Glossy Starling were all still there.

Our destination was Island Camp, and seeing it was one of the highlights of my stay. It would be a dream camping spot for me and anyone else feeling adventurous.

Island Camp is a stunning spot on the Limpopo and you have to cross a high log-bridge over one of the channels of the river to get there. You are basically camping right in the river as there are four rustic tents set up on an actual small, unfenced island in the river famous for both its beauty and danger.

There is a little bench of waterfalls just up the way from the camp which looks a great spot for fishing birds, and the pristine riverine trees, where a Collared Flycatcher had been seen a month earlier, allowed me to add Goldentailed Woodpecker and Spottedbacked Weaver to my list.

Before returning to the Lodge, we popped in at the superb sunken photographic hide. There were a pair of Great Sparrow, which can be locally common but are mostly uncommon in South Africa, on the telephone line approaching the hide and I was delighted when they then came to the water to drink.

Great Sparrow

On my final morning at Limpokwena, a quick scan of the waterhole, that has water pumped into it regularly, at the lodge showed little else than Marsh Terrapins and a Brownhooded Kingfisher in the trees along the dry watercourse running just outside the fence-line.

On the way out of this quite wonderful bit of natural wilderness, a Steppe Buzzard was quietly perched, perhaps also departing, beginning its northward migration as summer came to a perfect end.

Where is Limpokwena Nature Reserve?

Sightings List

Chacma Baboon


Common Myna

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Redeyed Dove

Pied Kingfisher

Plains Zebra

Cape Turtle Dove

Lilacbreasted Roller

Vervet Monkey


Blue Wildebeest

Tropical Boubou

Tree Squirrel

Woodland Kingfisher


Forktailed Drongo

Redbilled Hornbill

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Laughing Dove

Common Warthog

Egyptian Goose

Greyheaded Kingfisher

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Grey Hornbill

Malachite Kingfisher

Grey Heron

Blackeyed Bulbul

Blackfaced Waxbill

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Natal Francolin

African Darter

Hadeda Ibis

Nile Crocodile

African Darter

Longtailed Starling

Jacobin Cuckoo

Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver

White Helmetshrike

Banded Mongoose

Redbilled Quelea

European Bee-Eater

Namaqua Dove


Whitefronted Bee-Eater

Redbilled Buffalo Weaver

European Roller


Redbilled Oxpecker

African Hoopoe

Glossy Starling

Grey Lourie

Greater Kudu

Blackbacked Puffback

Crested Barbet

African Fish Eagle

Arrowmarked Babbler

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Lesser Grey Shrike

African Elephant

Helmeted Guineafowl

Crowned Plover

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Spottedbacked Weaver

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Great Sparrow

Common Duiker

Redbacked Shrike

Blacksmith Plover

Southern Masked Weaver

Brown Snake Eagle

Spotted Flycatcher

Water Dikkop

Meyer’s Parrot

Threebanded Plover

Greenbacked Heron

African Scops Owl

Five-Lined Skink

Marsh Terrapin

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Steppe Buzzard

Marakele National Park 0

Posted on December 23, 2021 by Ken

The spectacular Kransberg towers over the Marakele plains

The amazing thing about the Marakele National Park is you drive through the entrance gate into the Acacia bushveld – areas of dense dry thornbush interspersed with more open grassy or shrubby areas – just over a thousand metres above sea level, seeing arid country specials like Pied Babbler and Great Sparrow; and less than 20 kilometres away you can be in the mountainous vegetation, reminiscent of the Drakensberg, of Lenong Peak, at an altitude of more than 2000 metres.

From the arid woodlands of the western parts of the park, one is transported into a different world of low cloud and windswept grassland with almost alpine vegetation and four different species of Proteas.

There is a viewpoint at the end of the Lenong Drive, making the daunting single-lane mountain pass along a concrete track all the more worthwhile.

We had already seen Cape Vulture, soaring high overhead, the third bird we saw driving through the entrance gate earlier that morning, after bushveld regulars Chinspot Batis and Southern Black Tit.

But apart from stunning scenery, the Lenong viewpoint, at an altitude of 2039m, also provides the most convenient view of the Cape Vulture breeding colony: at about 800 breeding pairs it is one of the largest in the world for this threatened raptor.

It is both a serene and exhilarating sight to see these large scavengers floating and wheeling around the cliffs across a valley to the south-west of the viewpoint.

Just as thrilling was to discover an inquisitive pair of Buffstreaked Chat hopping around the small rocks at our feet. This striking bird is a familiar resident of the more moist Drakensberg grasslands and this population in the Waterberg is isolated.

They were joined by a male Mocking Chat, standing proud with his glossy black plumage glistening in the sun, Cape Rock Thrush and busy Cape and Cinnamonbreasted Rock Buntings on the ground.

But it was the Chats that stole the show and my wife Lauren gave the spot the entirely fitting name of ‘Chatty Corner’.

Mocking Chat

Descending down the mountain, there was still another high-altitude specialist waiting for us in the form of a Striped Pipit, at 1791m above sea level (a.s.l.), which flew off the road and into the grass and rocks alongside.

Red Hartebeest were also enjoying the lengthy highveld grasslands close to the road.

Descending still further down the hairpin bends of Lenong Drive, at 1375m a.s.l., the rocky outcrops and shrubby grassland is ideal habitat for rock thrushes, but it was still unexpected to come across the Short-Toed Rock Thrush, which is apparently only sporadically found in the Waterberg. But there it was with just a hint of white flecking on the forehead and, of course, the blue-grey mask stopping at the throat rather than on the breast as in Sentinel Rock Thrush.

I was relieved to only come across our first Elephant once we had returned to the plains, with their open tree savanna and rich grassland around the wetlands, along with patches of thicker woodland. I have had the misfortune of having to reverse down the steep narrow pass at pace while being chased by one of those behemoths, which is far from a peaceful experience.

Heading back to our rustic but very comfortable thatched chalet at Griffons Bush Camp, one heads back along the base of the very mountains that not so long ago we were summiting.

The thornbush shrubland and deciduous forest, which is rather dry in May, starts to give way to more moist savanna in the shade of the cliffs. Passing through areas with more substantial understorey, I was delighted to see the secretive Coqui Francolin, South Africa’s smallest francolin.

Back at Griffons, we were given a warm welcome by Foxy the tame Meerkat, who doesn’t mind a scratch but does have quite a nip on him!

The broadleaved woodland around Griffons is a good place for bird parties foraging through the canopy and lower down, and seeing White Helmetshrike and Greyheaded Bush Shrike clicking and working their way up from the ground to the crowns of the trees, was a highlight, as was the presence of a Striped Kingfisher.

Sightings List

Chinspot Batis
Southern Black Tit
Cape Vulture
Forktailed Drongo
Blackbacked Puffback
Southern Boubou
Cardinal Woodpecker
Great Sparrow
Crested Barbet
Pied Babbler
Blue Waxbill
Black Flycatcher
Southern Masked Weaver
Blue Wildebeest
Plains Zebra
Yellowbilled Hornbill
Goldenbreasted Bunting
Arrowmarked Babbler
Blackeyed Bulbul
Grey Lourie
Rock Martin
Chacma Baboon
Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting
Buffstreaked Chat

Buffstreaked Chat
Cape Bunting
Cape Rock Thrush
Mocking Chat
Streakyheaded Canary
Striped Pipit
Red Hartebeest
Familiar Chat
Yellowfronted Canary
Short-Toed Rock Thrush
Rattling Cisticola
Striped Kingfisher
Helmeted Guineafowl
White Helmetshrike
African Hoopoe
Coqui Francolin
Greater Kudu
Speckled Mousebird
Yellowthroated Sparrow
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Cape White-Eye
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Glossy Starling

Ndumo Game Reserve 0

Posted on June 03, 2020 by Ken

I’m sure I speak for most birdwatchers when I say it’s funny how the memory of spotting a Lifer is often permanently seared on the brain with the details of the moment immediately springing to mind.

So much so that when I came across this sightings list from a February 2006 trip to Ndumo Game Reserve in northern Zululand, I could immediately picture in my mind’s eye the little loop off the Paphukulu road that goes around a corner and then crosses a dry river bed before going slightly uphill again and returning to the main road.

As one approaches the dried up river, there is a thorn tree on the other side that hangs over the bank and there, in the gathering gloom of dusk, was a massive owl perched on the edge of the branches, surprisingly exposed.

By its large size I was immediately thinking Giant Eagle Owl and a quick squizz through the binoculars confirmed the diagnostic pink eyelids of the bird now known as Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, annoyingly because those French naturalists had nothing to do with the discovery nor naming of the bird.

The Giant Eagle Owl normally spends its days perched inside a leafy tree along a watercourse and they often begin their nightly hunting forays along an open, dry riverbed.

So perhaps my Lifer Giant Eagle Owl was eager to get going with what would have been its ‘breakfast’. For which I was very grateful and shall always remember my first sighting of what is truly a magnificently impressive bird. Not for nothing are they known as the Martial Eagles of the night sky.

The Paphukulu road runs along the south-western border of Ndumo and is always a very interesting drive as the sand forest and dense thorn thicket of the central regions of the reserve grades into dry savanna woodland, a more bushveld type area dominated by Knobthorn Acacias.

On that steamy February day, there were typical savanna woodland birds present like the Eurasian Bee-Eater, Masked Weaver, Redbacked Shrike, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Hoopoe, Little Bee-Eater, Sabota Lark and Crested Francolin.

The boundary fenceposts along the Paphukulu road are always worth keeping an eye on and Pallid Flycatcher, which is found in the Acacia woodlands of Zululand but is replaced by the Marico Flycatcher in that habitat further west, was spotted as well and then further down the road an interesting-looking raptor was seen perched.

It was a medium-sized brown bird, initial thoughts revolving around a Steppe Buzzard, which often perch on these fence poles. But this bird seemed a bit bigger and then, when it turned around to show its underparts they were all-rufous brown with no hint of white on the breast.

It was an immature Jackal Buzzard, which is not often seen in the tropical north-eastern lowveld, but juveniles do sometimes wander over from the escarpment, in this case probably the nearby (less than 100km) Lebombo Mountains.

An immature Steppe Buzzard was seen later on and Sombre Bulbuls also make their way into this area, on the fringes of the thorn thicket.

Icterine Warbler was also seen in the thorn trees close to the Giant Eagle Owl spot, a good sighting because it is scarce in these parts and sparsely distributed in KwaZulu-Natal as a whole.

The next day, on a small track leading to the NRC Picnic Spot, an even more seclusive but much bigger warbler was spotted. The Olivetree Warbler is a very uncommon and often overlooked Mediterranean summer visitor and I managed to get a glimpse of one foraging in a dense grove of acacias.

Heading back from west-to-east on the Paphukulu-Balemhlanga roads, the more open knobthorn woodlands allowed one to tick other typical bushveld gems like African Cuckoo and both the Eurasian and Lilacbreasted Roller.

It’s an under-rated but always good drive. Ndumo is more famous for the Nyamithi Pan and its guided walks.

But on this occasion in mid-summer, the pan was full to the brim, meaning a much lower waterbird count. There were egrets patrolling the shoreline and Wiretailed Swallows flew overhead along with passing groups of Trumpeter Hornbills.

Closer observation of the fringes of the pan, with bushy cover now right up to the edge of the water, provided sightings of Purple and Greenbacked Heron and Water Dikkop. Where there were some muddy edges, Wood Sandpiper was seen.

African Fish Eagles were seen in the Fever Trees on the other side of the pan, while both Pied and Giant Kingfisher were present, and a Hamerkop came yelping past as Hippopotamus frolicked in the water.

The road back from Nyamithi Pan to camp takes one past the reserve’s vulture restaurant, an open patch in which carcasses of deceased large mammals like Giraffe are dumped. There’s almost always something interesting hanging around and occasionally some real specials wander into this area.

On this occasion a Lesser Spotted Eagle, a Palearctic migrant which, given its preference for savanna and open woodland you wouldn’t fancy seeing at Ndumo, was strolling around on the ground. A real raptor special.

A Reedbuck was also pottering around.

The most famous of the Ndumo guided walks is probably North Pongolo, which takes one through the climax riverine forest of the beautiful dark brown river that has flown from Utrecht in Northern Natal, crossed the Lebombo Mountains and is now close to its confluence with the Usutu and its journey to Maputo Bay.

But the fullness of the Nyamithi Pan was a hint to the conditions of the Pongolo floodplain in general and the North Pongolo forest had been flooded and was temporarily off the roster for guided walks.

So instead a guide and I went to Shokwe Pan, an ear-shaped, generally shallower pan nearly seven kilometres long and in the western portion of Ndumo.

This turned out to be an excellent move because we came across, there in the thickets below the majestic Sycamore Fig trees, an African Broadbill, one of the Ndumo specials that is especially challenging to find.

But on this occasion this largely black, grey, brown and white oddity was just sitting on its display perch and allowed us to approach close enough for me to get a photo.

Other typical forest birds seen at Shokwe were Squaretailed Drongo, Collared Sunbird and Blackheaded Oriole, while Samango Monkey were enjoying themselves high in the trees, keeping their distance as they usually do.

A couple of Darter flew over and there were also a few flocks of Whitefaced Duck which passed by.

The route to and from camp, which is in the south-east of the park, to Shokwe takes you right through the centre of Ndumo and the densest, most impenetrable thickets probably anywhere in the country.

Detailed map of Ndumo

Birding is difficult but there are always surprises for the keen-eyed.

On this occasion the biggest surprise was coming around a corner and finding a thorn tree had toppled over and was blocking the road. Refusing to be denied my route through the wonderful sand forest in the middle of the park, prime birdwatching territory and known for the rare birds that are in residence, I was forced to tow the offending tree out of the road with my car!

My determination was partly rewarded with good sightings of Crested Guineafowl, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, Dwarf Mongoose and Scimitarbilled Woodhoopoe, while little pans secluded in the forest provided Woollynecked Stork, Common Sandpiper and Greenspotted Dove.

The woodlands on the southern, hilly side of the park are also rich in birdlife. In the thickets and rank grass under the trees one gets the beautiful Melba Finch busily going about its business, normally with a Rattling Cisticola shouting the odds nearby. Neddicky (especially where there are fallen trees), Bronze Mannikin and Common and Blue Waxbill share this habitat too and Tawnyflanked Prinia is often around as well.

Bleating Warbler prefers thicker cover and will often call from a perch two-to-three metres up a tree. While looking for this secretive little bird, the likes of Paradise, Spotted and Black Flycatchers, Redfaced and Speckled Mousebird, Longbilled Crombec, Brownhooded Kingfisher, Puffback, Blackbellied Starling, Crowned Hornbill, Southern Black Tit and Purplecrested Lourie can also be spotted in the trees.

Searching carefully in the canopies threw up African Green Pigeon and Eurasian Golden Oriole.

Birding around the main camp, set in typical Maputaland woodland, is also good and the highlights from there on this trip were a Lanner Falcon, a regionally threatened bird that happened to fly by, probably heading to nearby grasslands to forage, while I was patiently watching the sky from my camp chair, and a Grey Sunbird, an Important Bird Area trigger species, that popped in for some nectar from the flowering hedge and a drink from a birdbath.

Where is Ndumo Game Reserve?

Sightings List

Blackeyed Bulbul

Blue Wildebeest



Lesser Striped Swallow

Whitebrowed Robin

Kurrichane Thrush

Yelloweyed Canary

Chinspot Batis

Moreau’s Tropical House Gecko


Crowned Hornbill

Southern Black Tit

Eastern Coastal Skink

Redeyed Dove


Melba Finch

Spotted Flycatcher

African Green Pigeon

Rattling Cisticola

Redfaced Mousebird

Black Flycatcher

Common Waxbill

Blue Waxbill


Common Sandpiper

Crested Guineafowl

Orangebreasted Bush Shrike

Hadeda Ibis

Forktailed Drongo

Vervet Monkey

Dwarf Mongoose

Scimitarbilled Woodhoopoe

Woollynecked Stork

Longbilled Crombec

Greenspotted Dove

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Great White Egret

Cattle Egret

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Paradise Flycatcher

Speckled Mousebird

Bleating Warbler


Blackbellied Starling

Wiretailed Swallow

Eurasian Golden Oriole

African Fish Eagle


Purplecrested Lourie

Bronze Mannikin

Pallid Flycatcher

Jackal Buzzard

Sombre Bulbul

Eurasian Bee-Eater

Masked Weaver

Redbacked Shrike

Cardinal Woodpecker

Icterine Warbler

Giant Eagle Owl

African Hoopoe

Little Bee-Eater

Sabota Lark

Crested Francolin

Fierynecked Nightjar

Spotted Dikkop

Scrub Hare

Lanner Falcon

Squaretailed Drongo

Samango Monkey


Whitefaced Duck

Collared Sunbird

African Broadbill

Blackheaded Oriole

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Olivetree Warbler

Southern Boubou

Cape Turtle Dove

Burchell’s Coucal

Plains Zebra

Eurasian Swallow

Steppe Buzzard

African Cuckoo

Eurasian Roller

Red Bishop

Lilacbreasted Roller

Trumpeter Hornbill

Egyptian Goose

Sacred Ibis

Purple Heron

Greenbacked Heron

Water Dikkop

Wood Sandpiper

Pied Kingfisher

Giant Kingfisher



Grey Sunbird

False Bay Coastal Park 0

Posted on April 20, 2020 by Ken

Pied Avocets – Photo by Gwen Stokes

The False Bay Coastal Park, in particular the Strandfontein Sewage Works, is a waterbird mecca and it provides just the right sort of habitat for one of my favourite birds – the Pied Avocet.

Having spent most of my life in KwaZulu-Natal and done most of my birding in lowveld areas, the Pied Avocet is not a run-of-the-mill sighting for me. As the name ‘Pied’ makes clear, this wader features just two colours – black and white – and yet the combination of them is so perfect, so crisply elegant and pleasing to the eye.

Added to this is the sight of their unusual bill – long, thin and upcurved – and their stately comportment, walking slowly through shallow water while swiping right … and left … with their scything bill to capture small crustaceans and insect larvae, which just makes them thoroughly interesting and pleasant to watch.

They have become particularly fond of artificial water bodies, especially saline or nutrient-rich ones. So sewage works have been a particular boon for this species.

And the Strandfontein Sewage Works, which are the central feature of the False Bay Coastal Park, situated between Muizenberg and Mitchell’s Plain, occasionally holds globally significant numbers of Pied Avocet – at times as many as 1% (550) of the African population, thereby qualifying as an Important Bird Area trigger species.

On this visit, on a lovely sunny evening in late March with a fresh breeze blowing, there were discrete handfuls of this nomad on the settling ponds.

With them were Blackwinged Stilts, also a member of the long-legged, long-billed Recurvirostridae family.

There are 20 different pans at Strandfontein, linked by a system of tracks which a normal sedan car can comfortably navigate, except sometimes for those next to Baden Powell Drive which runs right alongside False Bay and the ocean.

The pans have differing water-levels, some of them manually manipulated, which means they provide subtly different habitats – from reedbeds to large expanses of open water, both shallow and deep – and their different features range from artificial roosting platforms to well-vegetated edges, coastal dunes and sand islands.

This promotes a high diversity of species which is why 76 different waterbird and 18 coastal birds have been recorded at Strandfontein. And they are there in their numbers, making it a popular destination for large numbers of birders from all over the country. And every now and then a national rarity pops up; it really does feel like anything is possible on or above the pans or in the Cape Flats Dune Strandveld surrounding them.

My sightings at the end of summer were more mundane, but still enough to whet the appetite for future visits.

The near-endemic, plankton-loving Cape Shoveller can be uncommon elsewhere in South Africa, but is common in the sea-level freshwater wetlands around False Bay, and it was joined by other Anatids in Yellowbilled Duck, Cape Teal and Spurwinged Goose, while Kelp Gulls were common, flying over the coastal dunes and nearby dump site.

Lots of Hadeda and Sacred Ibis were along the fringes of the pans, along with Cattle Egret, Blacksmith Plover, Cape Wagtail and Grey Heron. Redknobbed Coots quietly munched on water weeds, Dabchicks appeared and then disappeared again as they dived underwater, and Whitebreasted Cormorants were standing around drying themselves before contemplating heading off to roost.

Cape Reed Warblers gave their rich, bubbly calls from inside the reedbeds, before one eventually came into view at the top of the stalks. European Swallows owned the skies above the pans.

The grassy areas where one enters the False Bay Coastal Park are also good for birding. A Jackal Buzzard was standing sentry at the entrance before patrolling for rodents in the verges of the tar road.

The road goes along the eastern end of Zeekoevlei, and has picnic sites underneath a row of Eucalyptus trees; a Pied Crow was flying around looking for scraps and even a Small Grey Mongoose came dashing from cover to see what morsels it could find.

The bushier areas mark the beginning of the Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, an endangered vegetation type unique to this area. It is prime habitat for the Cape Grassbird, an endemic skulker that is not often seen despite its long tail, but on this occasion I was sharp enough to be fortunate.

Karoo Prinia is another endemic and a habitat generalist as long as it has some shrubby thickets to dive into when disturbed, and it was spotted on one of the dune ridges close to the Grassbird.

A Blackshouldered Kite perched nearby and kept a beady red eye on proceedings.

Birders are well-advised to watch like a hawk in the False Bay Coastal Park because one will seldom be disappointed given the number of species that frequent this area. And there is always the possibility of spotting a rarity. That’s what I’ll be hoping for next time I’m there.

Sightings List

Jackal Buzzard

Small Grey Mongoose

Spurwinged Goose

Kelp Gull

Blackshouldered Kite

Cape Grassbird

Hadeda Ibis

Karoo Prinia

Pied Crow

Cattle Egret

Blacksmith Plover

Cape Teal

Yellowbilled Duck


Cape Shoveller

Pied Avocet – Photo by Gwen Stokes

Sacred Ibis

European Swallow

Cape Wagtail

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Grey Heron

Pied Avocet

Blackwinged Stilt

Cape Reed Warbler

Redknobbed Coot

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  • Thought of the Day

    Mark 7:8 – “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

    Our foundation must be absolute surrender, devotion and obedience to God, rising from pure love for him. Jesus Christ must be central in all things and his will must take precedence over the will of people, regardless of how well-meaning they may be.

    Surrender yourself unconditionally to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then you will be able to identify what is of man with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Then you will be able to serve – in love! – according to God’s will.

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