Lower Berg River Outing – 19 November 2017

Mel Tripp

Common Redshank - de Plaat. Photograph by Otto Schmidt
Common Redshank - de Plaat. Photograph by Otto Schmidt

22 eager birders arrived for this outing, old members and some new faces among them.

Simon Fogarty came ‘off the bench’ to assist as leader as the published assistant leader Vernon, could not make it.

Planning of the tides was perfect to start the morning at De Plaat with the low tide.

Many estuary species including palearctic migrant waders were active feeding across the mud flats in the receding tide.

Focusing on the ID features of the waders, which for many are an enigma of grey, brown jobs, and starting with the smallest, Little Stint up to the largest Eurasian Curlew, novices got a good handle on this group of birds.

Sandy Schmidt spotted some ‘long red legs’. Not a Ruff or a Stilt… a national rarity… a Redshank (CRON) and a lifer for some. It is always good to get the excitement levels revved up with a rarity on an outing.

Five species of hirundines hawked insects above us as we stood checking the waders… European Swallow (CRON), White-throated Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Brown-throated Martin and Banded Martin.

We then moved down-stream to a spot to access the northern part of De Plaat and walking along the ‘railway sleepers’ across the marshes, brilliant views of a roosting Purple Heron and more Eurasian Curlew were seen. In the gum trees on the banks, Derek Chalton spotted an Acacia Pied Barbet at the nest.

A drive along Bokkomlaan produced nothing interesting apart from a few Mallard and Domestic Geese that seem to survive on scraps from the now many bars and restaurants that have replaced the old traditional Bokkoms salt dried fish and processing sheds.

After a break and refreshments at the picnic site overlooking the Riviera Hotel mud flats, we headed for the estuary mouth at St Helena Bay. In the past this has been a good site for many large flocks of roosting terns and cormorants on the banks across the river and along the causeway walls, but sadly very few this time.

A pair of Kittlitz’s Plover in the fenced area at the mouth had a recently fledged chick and even performed the ‘broken wing’ distraction display to lure a couple of members away who were getting a bit too close.

Leaving the cool breezes of the coast we headed to the south side of the river to the Kliphoek Salt Pans. Jan Kotze of Kuifkopvisvanger had arranged that we could get into the pans that are now locked with limited access for the public.

This was perhaps the highlight of the outing for those that had not departed earlier, the most brilliant views of Chestnut-banded Plover and so many of them. In a corner of one pan I counted 43 roosting in the dry salt mounds! These pans offer the opportunity to get close to the birds, particularly waders from the comfort of a vehicle for definitive ID for the different features of each species… and air conditioning made the heat and viewing more tolerable. Tom Williams gauge registered 35 degrees at one stage!

Now in the hottest part of the day, mid afternoon, we were done birding, farewells made we departed from Kuifkopvisvanger farm as a Hammerkop flew over (this is a rare bird in this part of the world) and a Black-crowned Night Heron was spotted roosting in a tree. A tally I made of birds seen was 103… not bad for a day and everyone agreed a wonderful day out.

Mel Tripp