Finally I managed to successfully twitch a rare species! Just for a bit of a back story, last year I dipped on a Cape Vulture that was spotted not far from me in Strand. On that day, as soon as I got the rare bird report e-mail from Trevor Hardakar about the sighting I took an early lunch at work and rushed home to get my camera and then headed to Harmony Park where it had been seen just an hour earlier. When I got to the gate I spoke to a woman at the front desk who was aware of the bird, likely due to the twitchers that were visiting it earlier, she informed me that the bird had flown off about 10 minutes earlier, note that I arrived there just an hour after the alert went out, and was too late.
This time the bird in question was a lot more accommodating. Trevor Hardaker sent out a rare bird report late on Thursday afternoon saying that he had confirmed the presence of a Little Crake at Clovelly in Fish Hoek. I will admit that my knowledge of foreign birds in weak so I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be twitching but it was made clear that this was the first sighting of a Little Crake in South Africa and only the second record of one being seen south of the equator. Already I had figured that this was a good target and that I must make an effort to head out that way, which is about 50 kilometers from my place in Somerset West.
Come Friday morning there were updates streaming in and photos starting to show up on my facebook timeline, it was clear that this was a big deal and birders from all over the country were already mentioning booking their flights. I was extremely scared of having another Cape Vulture case where I arrive just after it departs, so I spoke to my boss and organized to work through lunch on Friday (the day after the initial finding). At 3pm I rushed home and got my stuff and headed off to Fish Hoek. I arrived about an hour later, and struggling to find the right turn off was guided by another birder who was driving there himself.
I parked up a side street as all the parking directly opposite the small pond had already been taken, there were already about 20 to 30 people around the pond, and soon felt very emasculated with my Sigma 50-500mm standing next to some of the big guns of glass, dwarfing my setup. It took a few minutes before she (the Little Crake) finally showed, peeking curiously out from the reeds. It definitely wasn’t an easy task getting into position for a decent photograph as the pond sides were pretty crowded, eventually I settled for a spot over Trevor Hardaker’s shoulder and then waited… I was there for about 30 minutes and she made 2 or 3 periods of decent visibility when she was brave enough to creep out from the reeds a bit. The light wasn’t the best, but the positioning with reeds in the foreground often blocking the view allowed for only very marginal photographs on my behalf, but I had done it… I had successfully twitched my first noteworthy bird, a mega that will likely be remembered for a long time by majority of South African twitchers.
Over that weekend and the following week birders from around the country came to see the rarity which had by this point already been discussed on local radio stations and had pieces printed on it in the local papers, quite a little super star. It seemed as though all the birders I know made an effort to visit the Little Crake at least once, but many went back for seconds, and in some cases thirds.
She remained in the same small pond area and showed well for a week and a half before finally departing on the evening of the 3rd April. By this time though, it was reported that the Little Crake had up to 600 visitors. While I am quite new to birding, it has been said that this could be the largest twitching event that South Africa has seen, and I am completely stoked that I managed to be a part of it.
For some birding is about watching a favourite animal of theirs, for others it is about the science and for others it is about being part of a rare event. For me it’s definitely about rarity in combination with a love for nature and my collective nature. I am looking forward to the next rare bird to be within chasing distance.