This day was set to be far more memorable than I had imagined it would be. I woke up, and had to put in for a day’s leave urgently as I had to take care of some things; but I was free until 11:30 in the morning so I figured I would risk my unreliable wheels and try head out to the Cape Farm area. Secretly I was hoping that I would find where the Black Stork reported there earlier in the week had resettled, but I love traveling the Cape Farms area. It’s pure solitude and it feels safe, I like knowing that if I do break down I can simply sit there for a while and watch some birds on the road side.
I left the house at just after 8:00 and passed through Stellenbosch at about 8:20 – by 8:35 I was nearing the Klipheuwel area. I was also targeting White Storks as this species, while common, has been managed to evade me on all my trips to the area, despite them being seen there often. The first half an hour of the trip was quiet, no Buzzards on the road side?! But the temperatures were still increasing. I arrived at one of the farm drive-ways that lead off from the main road and parked there for a while, and began scanning. Sky, Poles, Fence, Grass – Sky, Poles, Fence, Grass…
The first sign of life wasn’t a visual confirmation but an audible one, with a Bokmakierie calling from a nearby fence post. I walked over to where the sound was coming from and saw a single individual calling actively.
Then the skies began to become a bit more active, a couple of Yellow-Billed Kites flew up in the distance – followed by a Juvenile Jackal Buzzard and then a mysterious raptor which was quite dark and large in appearance and had a distinct white band at the top of its tail when viewed from above. This feature is typically found in eagles, and realistically it’s most likely that this individual was a Booted Eagle (possible dark form?) though I don’t think any birders could say conclusively what it is from the shots I managed to get.
Then I saw something light closer to me, soaring above an open field. Immediately I knew it was something different just by how light the underparts were, especially the wings. I ran across the road and tried to get closer and better my shots, and after viewing on the camera screen my initial thoughts were “Oh God, finally?!” – it looked to be a young Black Chested Snake Eagle, a bird that I have longed to see since I began birding and one that I hope to see every time I’m in the field. It only put in a brief appearance, and then darted off in the opposite direction. I got back to the car and started looking on the viewfinder and I was confused because the bird was obviously in some rough shape (feather wise) and knowing how tricky Juvenile African Harrier Hawks can be, I was worried that it may just be that. (I would later however, have access to a field guide and then it became more clear…) This was definitely an Immature Black Chested Snake Eagle, and one is able to separate it from the other options by a few means. Firstly, when zoomed in a lot, I could see hints of a yellow eye – which already nearly clinched the ID. But also telling is that if you look at the fingers of the primary flight feathers you notice that the feathers are a single colour and that the banding on some of the flight feathers only extends to a certain point. Most birds that have banding, will have it extend up the main primaries too – instead of only stretching for a small section. Finally, I had my Snake Eagle!
The day was already made at this point, but at the time I was still worried I may be getting ahead of myself and that it may not be what I thought. So I drove further along Old Malmesbury Road and stopped at another location. This area was also filled with raptor life, I counted 7 Yellow-Billed Kites in the immediate area, along with a few Jackal Buzzards and Steppe Buzzards.
After spending some time in that location, I decided I would head towards the Philadelphia area and see what I can find there. A very scrawny looking Steppe Buzzard awaited me on the corner of the turn off – and the poor guy shat himself when I stopped my car… Literally.
I drove on further, scanning the fields for signs of Storks, Black or White – but not a single sign. I found a patch of trees and stopped my car for some shade. The temperatures were exceeding 30’C already and shade was extremely welcome. Opposite where I had parked a couple of Rock Kestrels flew over the fields – adding another raptor to the list.
After 20 or so minutes, I decided it was time to begin the slow trip back. But not before stopping at a small area of water, where there were one or two waders. And all waders are identical, and any separation that is done is all black magic. Though Trevor Hardaker performed some black magic by identifying it as a Little Stint. It was at this time I also got a Peregrine or possibly a Lanner Falcon flying overhead. The images look more Lanner than it appeared to my eye when there – but I’m sure it was a Peregrine… I think 😉 [Confirmed as a Lanner]
It was then a long ride back home, and despite not seeing any of the Storks, I was still hoping for good news on the raptor sighting.
I was then not even 3 kilometers outside Stellenbosch when finally out the corner of my eye! A White Stork! My car came to an abrupt stop, right next to some road works (guy waving the flag looked very confused) – I snapped a few shots and then got back to being a law abiding traffic citizen.
An excellent couple of hours out in the field, which managed to give me a good few new lifers and additions to the Wider Cape Town Challenge.