Kenilworth Racecourse Nature Reserve

20 October 2020 – Leader Safiyyah Hattas (KRCA Intern).

A group of twelve hikers met next to the racecourse offices at 8.30 a.m. on the 20th October. The group included a mixture of regular attendees, new members of the club, and a couple who live nearby but are not members of the CBC. For most, it was the first time to walk here.
One of the KRCA interns, Safiyyah Hattas, gave a very interesting introduction before we set off. We were also joined by three learnership students, employed by Nature Connect, formerly CTEET.
As on our last two visits, there were many aerial feeders flying overhead as we walked along a broad, grassy path. However, raptors hardly made an appearance this time round.
A close view of an Amethyst Sunbird was enjoyed by all, especially the new birders. A cisticola displaying in the distance created some interest, with some of the members debating vociferously whether it was not a Grey-backed, rather than the usual Levaillant’s Cisticola.

Equally vociferous was a pair of Blacksmith Lapwings which flew overhead, calling constantly. We assumed there was a nest nearby which they were trying to protect. This question was settled when the Schmidts and I, dawdling at the back, nearly trod on a Blacksmith chick, which Otto estimated was only one or two days old. We then saw a tiny, second chick further back.

Before we had the chance to call the stragglers ahead of us to have a look, the chicks responded to what must have been a warning signal from the parents (“Chips – Humans!”) as they were screeching even more loudly overhead. The balls of fluff on their pipe-cleaner, thin legs ducked into the grass next to the path and completely disappeared from view. The sighting was the highlight, birdwise, of the walk for me.

At the second dam, we looked in vain for the White-backed Duck which had been seen the day before. A single Spur-winged Goose was there and Safiyyah also spotted a Malachite Kingfisher perched on an overhanging branch in the distance. Bokmakierie and Yellow Bishop were added to our list.

I enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm of the three students. It was apparently Day 1 for them at the job – the T-shirts had been issued the day before! They were all equipped with binoculars and field guides (second-hand, but in good condition). They were not familiar with most of the birds which we saw, but it was good to see CBC members showing them how to find their way around their field guides.

On our way back, Safiyyah showed us the two very rare ericas growing in KRCA. This was probably the most memorable part of the walk for most. Erica margaritacea (the Pearl Heath) was flowering, so we could see the tiny white flowers. Safiyyah informed us that the E.margaritacea was endemic to KRCA i.e. it is not growing in the wild anywhere else in the world. We also saw Erica turgida (Kenilworth Heath), which is listed as extinct in the wild. Unfortunately, it is not flowering at this time of year, but it was still incredible to look at this extremely rare plant.

On the final stretch, we added Cape Canary, Cape Weaver and Greater Striped Swallow, with Cape Longclaw as a bonus, bringing the morning’s total to a pleasing 32 species.
A big thank you to Safiyyah for an extremely informative and interesting walk, and to the students who assisted as well.

photographs by Penny Dichmont, Safiyyah Hattas and Otto Schmidt.

Report by Penny Dichmont.