29 March 2012

Twitching in the Southern Hemisphere

School has been taking over. Needless to say, the whole reason I am in Africa is to go to school, but it has been edging out the rest of my activities. Between my social life and my academic life, birding has started to slip away just like in the states, and beside a Black Goshawk between some of my classes, I have been largely trapped within the confines of Stellenbosch. I was therefore elated to hear that there was a new country record for South Africa located last week - a Little Crake (Porzana parva) - and that it was accessible via public transportation!

Being in the Fynbos, I don't actually get to go out very much to areas that are more aquatic. I have managed a few stops at wetlands and lakes along my drives, but am still extremely lacking when it comes to such water-dependent birds. Since this rare bird was reported in the Silvermine Wetland in Clovelly, I grew excited about what other birds I could see along the way! I headed to Cape Town first by minibus taxi with a friend of mine, and then hopped on the train in downtown to head down the tracks towards Simon's Town. I was not disappointed in my desire to see water birds, as the train passed through the marshes north of Muizenberg and Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Blacksmith Plovers and dozens of egrets flew over the marshes. I even got a lifer from the train - African Marsh-Harrier hunting over the reeds! Already pumped, I jumped off the train at Fish Hoek (or, as my ticket said, Vishoek) and headed up the road to Clovelly. I immediately ran into another birder, who told me he had failed to find the Little Crake that I was seeking and failed to see any other birders in general. I became suspicious that maybe I was in the wrong place, but decided to check the nearby reeds anyway to find out. An extremely close Purple Heron was waiting next to the trail and, while watching a Eurasian Moorhen, my lifer Little Bittern flew out of the reeds and landed right out in the open!
My lifer Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) at the Silvermine Wetlands, Clovelly, South Africa

I continued wandering around the marsh, frustrated with the calls I did not know but delighted by the calls that I was able to track down. Bokmakierie called from the shrubs, Common Waxbills flew by my head, and Pied Crows and Hartlaub's Gulls flew over the marsh. It was not long, either, until I spotted a large group of photographers gathered around a tiny patch of open water. I immediately cut down towards the people and, upon walking up, was immediately greeted by the Little Crake! Not bad for my first rail species in South Africa.
South Africa's first ever Little Crake (Porzana parva) in the Silvermine Wetlands in Clovelly, Western Cape.

I watched the bird and the bird-watchers for a while (scoring yet another lifer in the process!) and then slowly began working my way back to the train so that I would not be stranded far away from Stellenbosch for the night. Considering how cooperative the rail was and how many other good birds were there in the short time that I was there, it was a very good twitch and a very successful afternoon.

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