Birding in Sedgefield is birdwatchers’ heaven! An indication of the prolific bird life around us is that all the street names in the village are bird names.
The cry of Africa, the African Fish Eagle summonses you to the estuary to wonder at the endless display of bird life that co-habits this outdoor space with walkers, bikers, photographers, artists, fishermen and cars, apparently unfazed by their proximity.
The resident flocks of guinea fowl are a common sight as they wander throughout Sedgefield's residential areas pecking at tasty morsels from the grassy sidewalks and enjoying sand-baths in its' bare patches. They bed down for the night in the trees and grasses of silent holiday homes. I count seeing them living in the village among us, one of the reasons I enjoy living here.
Any morning in front of our house, out on the lagoon, we can see Yellow-billed Ducks, Little Egrets, and herons - three kinds – the Grey Heron, the Black-headed Heron and the Purple Heron.
There seem to be a pair of Purple Herons always fairly close together and if one is alone, I’ve noticed it being chased away by a larger territorial Black-headed Heron.
A couple of Pied Kingfishers have frequented washed-down tree branches in the estuary for a while and the raucous call of the Giant Kingfisher behind our house somewhere, alerted me to his presence. We saw him hovering over the channel of water close to our road briefly but he flew on even as I made a dash for my camera.
The White Breasted and Cape Cormorants appear in large numbers on the estuary in the morning when we’ve heard the waves pounding on the beach during the night. It seems they retreat to the calmer waters of the lagoon to fish and swim. Black-winged Stilts have been present wading in the shallow water when the river-mouth was closed and the water level was low because of the drought.
Since the recent good rain in June (80mm) they’ve sought shallow water further away from us. I’ve seen Little Grebes(Dab-Chicks) and Crested Grebes in the estuary this summer too (2010) The Lesser Swamp Warbler is always present flitting energetically among the reeds at the water's edge.
I always thrill to see Amethyst and Southern Double–collared Sunbirds dipping into flowering plants like Wild Dagga, various Protea species and Cape Honeysuckle. Southern Boubous, Cape Robins, Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White Eyes, Bar-throated Apalis and countless others forage in garden shrubbery as I walk around the village and along the road to the beach.
Meanwhile the Cape Wagtails strut their jerky stuff in our gardens, and on the streets and incorrigibly beg for cheese from any willing supplier.
African Black-headed Orioles can be heard in the trees, and the Knysna Turaco is seen at bird-tables these days, I think in part because of our very dry summer.
Difficult to see in the forest canopy, I surprised myself one Sunday morning when I caught a clear view of a Knysna Woodpecker, a very pretty and secretive bird - normally you hear it before you see it - as it silently slipped off a branch to investigate a morsel at the base of a tree on Kingfisher Drive as I walked past.
A few times the resident African Harrier Hawk (formerly known as the Gymnogene) a distinctive bird of prey, overall grey in colour with a small pointed head and a bare patch of yellow on its face, has swept low over the trees when I've been outside gardening. The sudden hush of birdsong warned me – it was obvious – as his shadow passed over. Smaller birds know he’s out hunting for food.
There have been plenty of Spoonbills wading around in front of us this autumn, forever shaking their heads regretfully in their predictable sideways motion as they plumb the estuary for aquatic snacks.
Flocks of egrets are always present. There are large numbers of Sacred Ibis and smaller numbers of Glossy Ibis investigating the lagoon banks currently.(July 2010) From time to time the Purple Swamphen emerges from deep in the reeds. Normally quite secretive, they seem to be less so these days.
At night I hear the Spotted Thick-Knees' penetrating calls as they race up and down the road in a way that makes me think of the comic “Road Runner, Beep Beep”. I inevitably get up to watch them as they run in that abrupt start/stop way they have.
I always worry when I hear a car driving fast along Kingfisher Drive late at night, on its way home and they shriek and carry-on as though their homes have been burgled, their shrill calls fading as they fly off into the grasses at the water’s edge.
I haven’t yet found a lifeless Thick-Knee on the road in the morning so they seem to make good their escape and don’t try to mess with motor vehicles.
A pair of Blacksmith Lapwings have successfully raised several batches of chicks right next to the busy main road along the lagoon. They have survived winged predators like seagulls, crows and African Harrier-hawk (Gymnogenes) and even dogs walking their owners! The juveniles look like young ballerinas in tutus when their fine down is caught in sunlight.
Alerted by muffled sounds of their midnight dalliance, we have seen an impressive pair of Cape Eagle-Owls – one perching on the telegraph pole next to our house, the other on our boundary wall - in the late hours(obviously muttering sweet nothings to each other!) We have been very circumspect with our viewing under those circumstances!
Four flycatchers are found in our area, the African Dusky flycatcher that swoops on insects returning to its same perch many times, the Fiscal flycatcher very similar in appearance to the Fiscal Shrike (now Common Fiscal) but it has a much finer bill, the Blue-mantled Crested flycatcher, an all-year-round forest resident, and the spectacular African Paradise flycatcher, a summer visitor in our part of South Africa that frequents treed areas and partial to mature wooded gardens.
A Burchell’s Coucal or two lives in the shrubbery of our neighbour-hood and one morning I saw (for the first time) a pair of drab young birds (so different once they have their glorious chestnut, black and white adult plumage) clumsily manoeuvering themselves around in my lavender bushes (where I often see the adult). They are ungainly birds and the adults fly heavily and as little as possible preferring to hop along branches from one place to another.
I should not forget to mention the endemic African Black Oystercatcher that frequents our shoreline and nests there in protected areas.
Its recovery from "near threatened" is a great success story for these beautiful black birds with their striking orange bills and legs and eye make-up. It is the icon of my website!
Due to climate change no doubt, and weather patterns that are affecting all of us, we have had a number of unusual sightings this year.
Open-billed storks, a secretary bird, long crested eagles – I have seen one of these on several occasions on a fence post, in the smallholdings area of Wilderness heights.
We've also been lucky to have a large flock of Greater Flamingos on the lagoon and at Rondevlei during March and some of April. About 6 spend several weeks on the beach at the river-mouth. These birds are irregular visitors so its always a special treat to have them around!
If you’re just getting started, the great thing about birding is that it can be done virtually anywhere because birds are everywhere! You need a pair of binoculars and a good bird guide such as "Roberts Bird Guide" or the Sasol sponsored "Birds of Southern Africa" by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan, and you're “ready to go”. Ideally the best time for birding is the early morning and then the few hours before sunset.
It’s a good idea to join a local bird club (they’re always happy to have new members) or find an experienced guide to show you the ropes.In Sedgefield we have the well run and attended Lakes Bird Club. Joining a club will speed up your learning curve considerably. In the end though it’s up to you. As you take note of the feathered life around you, they begin to become familiar and you remember their names and you’re on your way.
Furthermore, it broadens your knowledge of the outdoors enormously because all birds have ranges and are found in specific habitats. As you get to know this, you know where to look for them.
When you go into a game reserve, there are only so many animals that you can expect to see in a day but if you have an interest in birds, you can enjoy being out in nature for much longer. When it seems nothing is going on, birding can add another dimension to game-viewing.
It's worth knowing that summer birding is far different from winter birding because we attract a good many summer migrants, some from northern parts of Africa and some as far afield as Europe and Asia.
This adds a lot of pleasure and excitement to summer birding. Cuckoos, raptors, waders, sea-birds, and swallows are among those that fly south to spend summer in our part of the world.
When you look at your bird guide, take note of the maps that indicate where the bird is present, if its not green (a resident), its indicating that the bird's presence is seasonal.
Blue - indicates its a non-breeding migrant and orange - that its a breeding migrant.
Red is the colour for rare and uncommon vagrants. The intensity of the colour indicates species density (how common it is) and the months below the map are the breeding bars that indicate the prevalent breeding times.
So birding is invariably rewarding and although birders almost always set aside time to bird, it is also true that one is always birding if you're a birder!
It's never too late to open your eyes to the bird life around you. It's like entering a magical world of colour and sound and beauty, a world you had never known existed before!
Here is a short list of specific birding places I suggest you might visit.
The idea of the Birdwatcher website was born from a passion and love of God's creation and for such photographers that feel compelled to share with others their intimate view of the natural world captured through their camera lenses.....