I visited the area again this morning (10 January 2017) and arrived at 06h00. You really miss the best part of the day if you are not out there early and that is especially so for birding. Usual general awareness applies, but I feel completely safe there and have had no reason for any concern in all the years I have birded this area.
Since the Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin I tend to start my trips to Strandfontein by driving down the paved road past all the picnic sites. There is much on offer here with respects to some of the more common birds for this part of Cape Town like Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Crow, Western Cattle Egret, Barn Swallow, Blacksmith Lapwing, Kelp Gull, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Swift Tern, Sandwich Tern, Cape Spurfowl, Hartlaub’s Gull, Greater Flamingo, Common Buzzard, Cape Wagtail, African Pipit, Cape Turtle Dove, African Sacred Ibis, Spur-winged Goose, Brown-throated Martin, Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Southern Red Bishop, Cape Weaver, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, etc. This is also the area that the male Red-backed Shrike was recently seen.
I often spot a Purple Heron flying by in the early mornings along with a myriad of waterfowl heading towards the pans in the mornings.
At the moment highlights along this road are fairly confiding Zitting Cisticola (providing a rare opportunity to photograph them well), and other more difficult birds for the pentad include Amethyst Sunbird, Cape Batis, African Paradise Flycatcher, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Fork-tailed Drongo. The other highlight along this road is the Banded Martins that join the Barn Swallows on trees in the circle near the big parking area along this paved road.
I won’t bore you with the long list of waterfowl and waders currently on offer at the Sewage Works, but rather highlight some of the delightful rarities and scarcities on offer at present. As you approach the circle or wagon-wheel in the centre of the works you notice a small building on your right with a few picnic tables just after it. This area currently has a pair of Water Thick-knee and a Blacksmith Lapwing sitting on three eggs. You will see a cement waterway or furrow going off to the right from here. If you turn right and take the road on the far side of this waterway i.e. not on the picnic tables/building-side, you will eventually have the pan called P1 on your left. A short way along this road there is a track to your left and just after this is where the Temminck’s Stint has been hanging around. You are likely to see people there most mornings at present, or if you are an early bird, you will at least notice where everyone has been parking. The reeds have grown taller since the Temminck’s was first found, but you will notice a small area below the road where a section of reeds has been bent to allow for a better view, as well as an area that has been flattened in front of it, where people have stood. The Temminck’s is often very close to this area, next to a patch of small white flowers on the left.
When looking through this gap created in the first row of reeds you will notice a second row of reeds going off to the right. The Temminck’s spends a lot of time behind this second row of reeds, coming out from the behind them to patches of mud and water with dry sticks protruding through. In this patch of mud and water, behind the second row of reeds, there is an obvious upright stick in the middle and little closer to the reeds and to the right an obvious stick lying at a 45 degree angle to the right. The Temminck’s hangs around in the area between these two sticks, and behind the second row of reeds (close to the road) and sometimes really close by the patch of mud next to the little white flowers on the left. It is extremely relaxed and very reliable in the early mornings for at least an hour and a half. Occasionally, as waders do, they fly off as a group and land elsewhere. Sometimes it is a raptor, or an arriving vehicle, new group of birders arriving or a little wader-on-wader aggression that triggers this. Other times it is very difficult to say what caused the sudden en masse relocation. When they are feeding elsewhere it is often for a couple of hours mid-morning. However, the Stint very reliably returns to this area throughout the day.
The bird is now plumper and sporting signs of breeding plumage so look for a darker bird with copper fringes to the feathers in the wings. The short-looking yellow legs will also help to distinguish it from the Little Stints, which mostly have a lot more white in the face and look longer legged. The belly is a nice clear white with an obvious demarcation where the darker chest ends.
Having spent many hours on many different days watching the bird from early and throughout the morning, I can honestly say that birders are a very friendly and helpful bunch, keen to get new arrivals onto the bird and share in their excitement of a lifer. A few, after arriving mid-morning only to be told the bird was there 5 minutes ago, or has just flown off, tend to alleviate their disappointment by blaming those who have been standing there enjoying good views for the past few hours. Rude remarks about photographers constantly flushing the bird and chasing it away are, at best, greatly exaggerated, but it does make for a better story if you can blame someone with a long lens. This alleviates both your anxiety/disappointment when the bird doesn’t show within 5 minutes of your arrival, as well as your envy wrt the long lenses 😉 🙂 Before I duck for cover, please note that my tongue is firmly in my cheek in this regard. Life is too short to be serious ALL the time.
Other good birds on show at this spot, include Spotted Crake, Red-necked Phalarope, Pectoral Sandpiper and Hottentot Teal (fast becoming a trash bird in the Western Cape).
When standing at the top on the road overlooking this area you will notice a large central clump of reeds further out, with an expanse of water visible on both sides. In the mornings the Phalarope is sometimes visible, especially in the water to the right of these reeds. When it is not here, it has generally relocated to the edge of the P1 wedge furthest from the centre of the wagon-wheel or in its old spot on P2 (on your right as you travel from the cirlce between P2 and P3). This is where it relocated to this morning, after originally hanging out by the Temminck’s site.
To the right of this central patch of reeds and just beyond all the dry twigs is where the Spotted Crake is popping out and having a bath. It was seen at roughly 06h10 and again at 07h05 this morning. Previous sightings were later in the morning I believe, but this bird does not spend a very long time in the open and requires quite a bit of patience. It remains to be seen if the one at Rondevlei (just discovered today) is going to be more obliging. The Pectoral Sandpipers have also frequented the Spotted Crake area on several mornings i.e. the right of the central clump of reeds (further out past all the mud and dry twigs) as you look out from the road above the Temminck’s stint site. Observe the birds carefully as there are Ruff that hang around that corner with them at times.
The American Golden Plover provides perhaps the least satisfactory views of all the rarities at the moment, but with a scope and some patience and especially when they fly, you can pick it out from the 6-8 Pluvialis Plovers that hang around the sand banks of P2 and occasionally the top edge of P1. Since Mid January the bird has started to show golden spangling in plumage and more water in the pan has pushed the bird closer to the edges.
Hope this helps. Happy birding.
ALL IMAGES MICHAEL MASON