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Autumn Birding in Rooi Els and Jonkershoek

There’s been a bit of a lull with regards to rare birds over the past two weeks, so I haven’t been engaged in any twitching. Instead, I’ve been focusing more on helping Monique gather new species for her life list. Having only started a few months ago, she has quite a few birds to see that are fairly common in the general areas. Our first target was the Cape Rockjumpers at Rooi Els last weekend. I was a little worried, since the fire earlier in the year caused quite extensive vegetation damage, however I had heard of sightings of the birds there a few days prior so I figured we could take the drive and try our luck.

Chasing Rockjumpers in Rooi Else

The morning started off cool and windy, though birds remain a mystery and on some days one can arrive at Rooi Els in perfect conditions and not see anything, while on other days the birds seem happy to hop around in the rain. Thankfully we wouldn’t have to deal with any rain, however the wind was very strong and in turn I was a little skeptical of our odds. Upon arriving at Rooi Els and parking near the gate to the walking trail, I scanned over the rough seas for any signs of pelagic activity.

To my surprise, the sea birds were extremely close in due to the wind. First we saw a Shy Albatross about 50 meters off the coast, followed by White Chinned Petrel and Gannets. The Gannets can often be seen here, but the White Chinned and the Shy were quite interesting sightings, especially due to no storm being present.

white-chinned-petrel
White Chinned Petrel
shy-albatross
Shy Albatross

Braving the wind, we marched forward. Not far down the path we ran into a small group of birders who confirmed that they had just gotten good views on the Rockjumpers further down the path. We headed about 250 meters further, while scanning along the way. The first 15 minutes left us empty handed, but we walked just a few meters off the path and then headed further down, adjacent to the pathway.

Eventually our first sign of movement, a female Cape Rockjumper just a few meters in front of us over the rocks. We got on our haunches and tried to remain as covered as possible by the large rocks in front of us. *Click Click Click*, we fired off multiple shots in bursts as we enjoyed the views of the bird displaying well for us.

It wasn’t 2 minutes before it was joined by a cracking adult male, offering us equally as brilliant views. We remained stationary as the birds fed around us, circling us and allowing us a few different angles to shoot.

male cape rockjumper
Male Cape Rockjumper
female rock jumper
Female Cape Rockjumper
Female Cape Rockjumper
Female Cape Rockjumper
Male Cape Rockjumper
Male Cape Rockjumper

Unfortunately we weren’t able to locate the Sentinal Rock Thrush and Ground Woodpecker which were also present in the area (as they often are), however the wind was now getting quite painful and the temperatures had begun to drop as well, so we decided to take what we had gotten and head back towards the car and return home.

Birding in Jonkershoek

The following weekend we once again decided to head out and hopefully get Monique a few new birds for her list. We had added the Cape Rockjumper the weekend prior, but a bird that Monique really wanted to try find was a Giant Kingfisher. The Giant Kingfisher is one of those birds that can be a bit tricky to find when you’re looking for it, but chances are you’re going to see a lot of them when you’re not looking.

I checked out the Pentads to see which would be our best option, and Jonkershoek area had a reporting rate of near 50% so I decided it would be a nice target. The pentads are fairly large, and it’s hard to know exactly where the bird was seen within the pentad, but I just assumed it to likely be one of the dams within the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. I had birded within the nature reserve once before, way back in 2012 — but hadn’t been back since, and I can’t really justify why not.

African Olive Pigeons
African Olive Pigeons
Karoo Prinia with no tail
Karoo Prinia with no tail

Our morning started off with a clear sky and a hopeful weather forecast, though the temperatures in the morning were rather icy. Once we began our walk in the reserve, we were still covered by the shade of the mountain, and temperatures in the valley left us with our hands in our pockets for much of the first 30 minutes.

Our first bird sighting was a Jackal Buzzard, posted up in a large dead tree near the entrance of the reserve, followed by a group of African Olive Pigeons. These birds are by no means rare, however one doesn’t really see much of them around without heading into some of the mountainous reserves in the area. I actually saw my first one back in 2012 in the same reserve.

We continued to walk along the path, coming across numerous common birds such as Levaillant’s Cisticolas, Swee Waxbills, Cape Robin-Chats, Common Fiscal, Fiscal Flycatchers, Somber Greenbuls etc.

Since our target was the Giant Kingfisher, we first stopped by the large dam on the left of the pathway. We scanned for a while, but unfortunately we only got visuals on a Malachite Kingfisher, on the other side of the dam and far out of photography reach. During our walk, I kept mentioning that the type of habitat we were in would be quite good for Verreaux’s Eagle and that we should keep an eye out just in case.

fiscal flycatcher
Fiscal Flycatcher
Crowned Lapwing
One of the eight Crowned Lapwings

Moving further on, we encountered the same birds and apart from a few of the LBJs moving around in the bushes, we didn’t see much other bird life. One of the birds that we came across was definitely an interesting specimen though, a Karoo Prinia we came across had absolutely no tail feathers. We’re not sure what may have caused this, whether a fight for survival or a defect — but the bird was definitely initially a bit confusing from the back.

We continued to walk and enjoy the sunshine, turning around after about 3 kilometers and then heading back to the car. Just outside of the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve we were passing a large field and said to Monique that we should stop and see if there are any Crowned Lapwing around, as we were earlier talking about how they seemed so few in Somerset West of late. To our astonishment the field had 8 different Crowned Lapwing individuals on it, far more than one usually sees. And even if the population is declining in our area, at least we know somewhere, on some small field — they are prosperous.

Unexpected Verreaux’s

On the way back to Somerset West I decided to give Annandale Road a drive. Located between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, this stretch of road has had a surprisingly good amount of interesting sightings over the years, particularly raptors. We drove through towards Spier side and figured since we were near, we may as well stop and go look at the river for the potential of Giant Kingfisher. I had seen them at Spier in the past, and know they are there — it was just a matter of finding them.

Unfortunately despite quite extensive searching we couldn’t find any signs of the Kingfisher.sparrow

African Marsh Harrier
African Marsh Harrier
verreauxs eagle stellenbosch
Verreaux’s Eagle
Verreaux's Eagle
Verreaux’s Eagle

I told Monique that on the other side of the river is an open field which is often good for raptor watching in the summer, so we headed there and were immediately greeted with a African Marsh Harrier, a bird that I haven’t seen in the area before. The temperatures were now rising fast and so we decided to spend some time in the shade of the large oaks while scanning the skies. Monique then picked up on a bird over the oaks and asked what it was.

After lifting the bins to my eyes I could see that it was in fact an adult Verreaux’s Eagle! What an unusual place for a Verreaux’s, and there were in fact two of them. It flew over our heads and circled a bit, before heading towards the Stellenbosch mountains. We got a bit unlucky with the position of the sun, but they were by far the best views of the species that I have gotten, and a great, and somewhat coincidental addition to her life list.

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Bryn De Kocks

Bryn is a passionate and opinionated antinatalist and naturalist with a love for nature, the ocean, photography, severe weather and music. He spends most of his time looking for new birds within the Western Cape, taking landscape photographs or behind his computer being a nerd.

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