The Cape Bird Club

National Bird Week celebrated  at the West Coast Field Study Centre on the 3rd May 2005

  text by Penny Dichmont (English teacher)

LEAP Maths and Science School visit the Centre.

The senior group listening to Frank Wygold's introduction to Paarden Eiland Wetlands.


As a school we decided to take part in various activities during National Birding Week. Our main event was to take the whole school to the West Coast Field Study Centre in Brooklyn. We arranged to go in the afternoon of Tuesday 3rd May and spend a few hours there, so that the students could observe the birds in a wetland area and draw or write about what they had seen.

photograph by Penny Dichmont

Phumlani Xhali, Sonwabo Tebe, Siminikiwe Shasha, Lulonke Kelepu 
enjoying the sunshine sketching the vlei.


Frank Wygold asked Gavin Lawson (Cape Bird Club) to help show the students around the wetland area. We had a 100% turn-out of the 112 students and travelled in two buses to the centre. Seven LEAP teachers came as well. We were extremely lucky with the weather, as it had been cloudy and cold in the morning, but turned out to be a lovely sunny cool afternoon.

Yolanda Mbambani was keen to see a closer view of the Dabchick.


We split the students into a junior and senior group. The juniors did a short walk, followed by an introductory lecture by Frank, and then settled down in the long, soft grass by the edge of the vlei to draw and write their observations. They seemed to enjoy relaxing and soaking up the sunshine and the sights and sounds of nature.

photograph by Penny Dichmont

Sehle Kehlewu, Wendy Jokazi, Jenet Vice and others getting the feel of the place in the soft grass.


A sketch of a Redknobbed Coot by Kholeka Nkonzo (Grade 10).

A Grade 10 student wrote:

My nice day

I arrived in the bird area
I heard different sounds
of different birds
I smelt a nice fragrance 
coming from a greyish dam.

I sat down near the dam
on a spongy grass,
looking at different birds.
A tall grass whispered softly like this

I saw my favourite birds, coots,
running on top of the water
like boys running in wet soil
producing sounds like this

The sound they make 
when they are relaxing in the water
is kwut-kwut
It sounds similar to its name.

Its forehead looks like a security of the National Bank,
wearing caps with badges in front.
I like the sound they make.

Zolile Mthintso (18).


photograph by Heather Howell

Red Knobbed Coot.


After a short introductory talk from Frank, the Seniors walked to the second wetland area (the southern water body) with Gavin.
 A bonus was the fact that the Centre had fourteen pairs of binoculars, which they could use, since only two of our students have their own binoculars (won on Birding Big day last year). However, they did not see many birds unfortunately. Some students were also shocked at the signs of pollution along the river and discussed ideas with Gavin about helping clean up the area in the future.

Some Grade 11 and 12 students with their teachers.
(L- R) Mr Namufakage, Ndumiso Nkozwana, Dalikhaya Mgoqi, Mr Kloot, Elliot Dyan and Ntandazo Peter.


I noticed that some students were using the little black hardcover notebooks, which Kirsten Louw  (Cape Bird Club and FitzPatrick Institute) had given to the Bird Club when he had visited us the week before. He had shown them his own jottings and sketches and had inspired them to keep their own notebooks. None of us knew that it was almost the last time we would see him. However the ideas he shared are an important part of his legacy to us.

On their return to the vlei near the centre, the five team leaders handed out snacks and juices to their groups, who were beginning to look hot and thirsty.

A highlight of the day was when Ndumisa in Grade 11, a Bird Club committee member, who has taken to birding like a Dabchick to water, spotted a bird on a dead tree in the distance.

photograph by Ann Koeslag

Blackshouldered Kite


He asked me what it was. "That bird over here?" I asked.
"No, not the prinia. The one right at the back."
A quick look in my binocs revealed that it was a Blackshouldered Kite.

A sketch of the Blackshouldered Kite by Dalikhaya Mgoqi (Grade 12).


I called as many of the committee as I could, to come and look, and they were all thrilled - the first time for all of them to see a kite. Later, it obligingly ate its prey, as a handful of the students watched.

photograph by Penny Dichmont

The LEAP Bird Club Committee members Dalikhaya Mgoqi and Ndumiso Nkozwana 
enjoy seeing their first Blackshouldered Kite.


Ndumisa and two Grade 12 Bird Club committee members were keen to get as close as possible and managed to get good views, each with a pair of binoculars. Thembalethu had looked up "Kite" in the index of Newman's, but was querying my diagnosis.
"I don't want to say you are lying, Miss", he said diplomatically, "but the colour is different". I stuck to my guns.

photograph by Penny Dichmont

Bulelwa Thanga, Lungiswa Gwaai and Sive Mkiva were enjoying the sun,
while writing and drawiing.


Fortunately, after a few minutes he realized that he was looking at a Black Kite in his book, and that the Blackshouldered Kite appeared about twenty pages on.
Harmony was restored and my reputation was intact!

(There were also excellent sketchs by Phumulo Noyi, Bandile Mhlola, Thobile Yilo and Phumlani Xhal). 

The next day, another keen Grade 11 boy passed me in the corridor. "Thandisile told me about the kite, Miss Dichmont," he said.
"Didn't you see it?"
"No, I ran to have a look, but it had flown away. He is always telling me about it."
"Oh well, maybe you'll see it next time," I said.
"Yes, I will see it next time!" he said emphatically and walked on with a big grin.


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