After an early morning visit to Ceres, I got home and logged onto my computer, downloading my snow images and getting ready to work on them. Just a few minutes into my work however, a whatsapp message came through of a Eurasian Blackcap photographed in a Durbanville garden just a few minutes earlier. Having just mentioned to Monique how we were in need of another twitch, within minutes I was ready with my keys in hand and waiting for details on the address.
Once the details filtered through, I headed off and picked up Monique on route. We travelled on the speed limit threshold the entire way there, passing through Stellenbosch and then down towards the northern parts of Durbanville. About 2 kilometers out, Monique pointed out a raptor circling above a field. In a rookie move, I put our twitch on hold for two minutes as I got out the car and fired some shots at the distant bird, which was then evidently a Jackal Buzzard. We hopped back in the vehicle and resumed our chase.
Arriving at the house of David and Heather Hall, the birders who had discovered this Blackcap in their back yard at a feeding station, had cars lined up along the sides of the roads. Andrew de blocq had just picked up the bird as we were parking in the road, so our hopes were high. We rushed in, just behind the Buckham family, who had also just arrived to twitch the bird. We were lead to the outside garden, where about 15 birders were already set up. “It was just here 2 minutes ago”, someone said.
“It will be back now, it’s in and out”, someone added afterwards.
Needless to say, it was soon 3 hours later and the bird had not shown itself again. By this time, the dozens of people that had amassed through the day were starting to peel off and head home, admitting defeat. We soon joined them, as the sun dipped behind the horizon and the viewing conditions were not sufficient.
A Second Try – 30 Minutes Late
The Halls had opened up their house once again on the Monday, to allow for those who missed the bird to return in an attempt to twitch it. The garden would be open from 11 until 13:00. I managed to work it out with my boss to work in the time after hours, and took 2 hours off to attempt the twitch. While on route, news had filtered through that the bird had been picked up again, having put in a brief sighting. I arrived, to even more cars than the previous day, now lining the entire street, almost up to the next block.
I sat with dozens of twitchers as we waited, waited and waited some more. Despite having shown in the morning, it would seem that the bird wasn’t going to give us a chance, and soon it was 13:00, no sign of the bird and a lot of disappointed birders heading back home.
A Third Try – Just Missed
The next morning the Halls once again were opening up their home, this time from 10:30 until 15:00, since they weren’t going to be able to let people in on the Wednesday. At this point, I asked my boss for a half day, and the Lynches happened to be heading through as well. Since this bird was already chewing my petrol finances for the month, it was great of Kier and Alouise to allow me to join them on their mission.
We got there just after the gates had opened, the garden once again packed with people. The crowd was seemingly growing each day, as news continued to filter through, while others were still dipping on the bird.
The minutes began to churn and soon it was nearly midday, still with no sign of the bird. Then suddenly I hear a voice behind me to my left…
“There he is!”
This was followed by the sounds of shutters. While I, feeling like I was the only one not on the bird kept looking through the bins trying to get onto it.
“Where is it?”, I anxiously inquired to no one in particular
“There, where by the banana tree, at the edge of the creepers”
Unfortunately there were two banana trees, one on the right and one on the left, and the creepers… Well they spanned the entire wall. I then stood up and rushed towards those standing 2 meters to my left, who all seemingly had visuals. As I got to them, the bird had apparently dipped down out of sights again. I had chosen the wrong banana tree to focus on and was seemingly looking in completely the wrong direction. The bird had only shown for a maximum of 10 seconds, before disappearing.
The good news was that Kier, Alouise, Dom and the Buckham boys had managed to pick it up. The bad news however, was that I didn’t…
Kier and Al were kind enough to wait around for me, giving me some time to try see the bird again if he made another appearance. We waited until 1pm, when we had to call it and head back. The bird never did show up again that day, and a good third or so of people there did not get visuals on it.
This day will probably remain one of the most painful. I’ve never felt so crushed as I did leaving that place, knowing that if I had just been looking a foot or two to the left, I’d have seen the bird. Instead I left with a feeling of loss, a feeling of anger and desperation. A feeling that I never thought I could feel simply from missing a bird, but then again I’d also never tried this hard for a bird before.
I was sure that this was the end, I was going to be unable to get off work again and my petrol finances were certainly not looking good.
The Fourth Day – A Final Attempt
Thursday started off wet and windy, as a cold front passed over the Cape. I knew that I wanted to head back out there to see the bird, but I just didn’t know how I’d manage it and whether it would be worth it. I wasn’t sure if I could take another beating, I was already battered and bruised from three successive failures in a row.
I decided to wait and see what the weather was doing, whether it was going to clear or not. Nick Fordyce had mentioned that he would be heading through again, so I said “fuck it” and decided to go for it. This would be my last attempt, I had no more free time to leave work after this and I could only spend a couple hours there before needing to get back to the office.
I arrived at around 10:45, and entered the gates. The weather had been raining the entire way through Stellenbosch and towards Klipheuwel, but had abated when I reached Durbanville. Conditions were good, the rain and wind would likely have kept the Blackcap quiet, but would likely head out to feed once things cleared up a little bit. As an insect eater, an hour or two after the rains stop is often a great time to catch them feeding.
Tertius Gous, Karen Powell and Nick were waiting outside in the garden watching the area. The rain had thinned out the people a bit, and there was probably only 15 to 25 or so people when I got there. We stood in the overcast conditions and waited, everyone lifting their bins for every bit of movement in the bushes, usually Cape Whit Eyes.
Time eventually began to start running out, when at around 11:50 Tertius made the call. “It’s there, it’s in the trees moving down towards the feeder”
Everyone began to focus and look for movement, I lay my bins on the area and sure enough! Boom! Out popped the Eurasian Blackcap! Not only did it give us views, but it stuck around for at least 40 seconds as it moved down to the feeder, between the different branches and then walked along the wood logging on the outskirts of the grass. It then disappeared back up into the trees. But by this time, I think everyone there had gotten on him.
There were smiles, hugs, high fives all around!
Many of us had been there three or four times without success, but we’d finally nailed the bird and we were elated. The rush of adrenaline and pure satisfaction was amplified by the fact that we had been so unsuccessful prior. Our hands were shaking and the shear joy is enough to almost bring one to tears. I had worked so hard for this bird over the past few days, and it had finally paid off.
I got to see, and tick off an extremely special bird for the country and an unprecedented one for the province.