Zandvlei Nature Reserve

21 January 2018 – by Graham Pringle

African Reed Warbler. Zandvlei. Photograph by Jenny Wentzel
African Reed Warbler. Zandvlei. Photograph by Jenny Wentzel

After a few days of intense heat and Gale-force winds it was a great relief to arrive at Zandvlei on Sunday morning with no wind at all and slightly overcast conditions. By prior arrangement with the Reserve Management the gate was opened at 07h30 and long before the starting time of 08h00 the car park was overflowing! The turnout was really great with 32 Birders arriving, including six visitors from the Somerset West Bird Club and one member from the Tygerberg Bird Club. Quite a number of those present had not previously visited Zandvlei Nature Reserve. Because of the large number, and the fact that on most of the paths one could only walk in single file, we decided to split into two loose groups with John Magner leading the second one – he had brought his 2-way radios and so we could be in contact in need.

Even before leaving the car park we had sighted at least a dozen different birds including a Black-crowned Night Heron flying overhead and the pair of Black-shouldered Kites who have nested in the Pine tree at the gate for the past couple of years. In addition, with the favourable weather conditions, there were large numbers of Swallows, mainly Barn but also Greater-striped and White-throated, and Swifts which included African Black, White-rumped, Little and Alpine.

First port of call was the canal adjacent to Marina da Gama, which is often well populated by water birds, but with the lack of rain the canal is not flowing and is fairly polluted and stagnant, and apart from a Pied Kingfisher and Common Moorhen there was not a lot to see.

Leaving the canal and following the path towards the Lookout Deck we encountered very little on the ground but overhead there were African Darters, Reed Cormorants, Little Egrets and Spur-winged Geese as well as the Barn Swallows and Swifts. Lesser Swamp Warbler and Little Rush Warbler were also heard calling. 

The Lookout Deck was a bit more productive with Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls, Red-knobbed Coot, Swift and Common Terns, Black-winged Stilts, Three-banded Plover, Cape Teal, Great-crested Grebe and Blacksmith Lapwing all being sighted.

Between the Lookout and Skirpus Hide there were a number of African Darters and Reed Cormorants on the dead trees on the Vlei edge and a pair of Karoo Prinias gave us a very confiding and vocal display!

Overhead we saw a Yellow-billed Kite and a second Black-crowned Night Heron.

Beyond the Skirpus Hide there is a large reed bed and in it and on the surrounding trees were at least a dozen Little Egrets which were also numerous on the edge of the Vlei. In the river section of the Vlei we had excellent views of a pair of Great-crested Grebes as well as a Grey Heron, three African Spoonbills, Yellow-billed Duck and Little Grebe. There were also a couple of Common Terns diving and a Caspian Tern doing the same.

The Salt Marsh Hide Pan was completely dry and totally unproductive. The Centre Pan, on the other hand, still has quite a lot of water and here there were a great number of Pied Avocets (abnormal to past years), Cape teal, Black-winged Stilts, Three-banded Plovers and a Grey Heron.

Just as we were leaving the Wetland area we noticed a Warbler in some tall reeds picking insects off a spider web and it looked different to the usual Lesser Swamp Warbler that we are used to seeing. We managed to get a couple of photographs of the bird and after some debate a little later on decided that it could well be an African Reed Warbler. This identification was later confirmed after the photographs had been forwarded to a knowledgeable Birder for clarification. This was a really good find and I’m sure a first for a number of those present.

One group visited the new hide on the edge of the Centre Pan but nothing new was seen. We then collected our refreshments from the vehicles and moved to a nearby shady picnic area to go through the morning’s events and list the birds seen. After a most enjoyable morning, with great company and good weather we ended up with a very creditable total of 69 species, exactly the same as last year but in different climatic conditions. Best sighting, for me, was the African Reed Warbler.

My special thanks to John Magner for his valuable help and input on the Outing, to the Zandvlei Nature Reserve Management for arranging access and most importantly to the Club Members and Visitors who supported the Outing.

Graham Pringle