Earlier this past week we twitched the African Crake at Strandfontein, only to get home and receive another rare bird alert minutes later saying that a Knob-Billed Duck had been spotted just a couple hundred meters away from the Crake. The report came in the late afternoon and we wouldn’t be able to make it back, so we held thumbs for the bird to stay put for a few more days.
Thankfully the bird was still present on the weekend and we managed to make a trip through. It was probably the easiest twitch I’ve encountered, as we drove up towards the entrance gate and saw the cars lined along the road looking at the platforms on P6. Perched right atop, in the center of the leftmost platform stood the young Knob-Billed Duck. The scenery could have been better, as the platform was mostly covered in bird droppings. But other than that, we got some excellent views of the bird without even needing to leave the car. The Knob-Billed Duck is generally found in tropical wetlands in the northern parts of the country, but have been recorded a few times in the Western Cape. The iridescent feathers on the upper parts of the wing, while even distinct in this young individual, become even more brilliant with age.
Since we were already at Strandfontein, we decided to spend some time driving around the pans seeing what else we could come across. Just seconds after passing through the gate, we got a glimpse of a small raptor fly around one of the bushes near the entrance. It took a couple minutes, but we were able to pick it up again — hidden within the foliage. But it was clear that it was a Rufous-Chested Sparrowhawk, a really nice sighting for the reserve. The bird was relaxed as we attempted to get a few photographs from the road side, ensuring to find a clearing in the branches for eye contact.
It was about this time that Trevor Hardaker pulled up, he had been in the reserve since earlier in the morning and his sharing of an image of the Knob-Billed from that morning had been what prompted our decision to race through. Other birders, including some familiar faces pulled up to see the duck but instead found themselves distracted by the Sparrowhawk for a few minutes.
We soon moved on and went to see what we could find on the other pans, first of which was a young Black Headed Heron on the road side, followed by some excellent views of Hottentot Teal out in the open. Crazy to think it took me 4 years of birding before I saw my first Hottentot Teal and now I have seen 6 this year alone, though these birds did give me my best views and photographs.
Moving towards the S-pans we came across a beautiful Black Shouldered Kite sitting in the reeds along the edge of the one pan. While Black Shouldered Kites are common birds, it is surprisingly difficult to get good views of one that isn’t sitting on a man-made object. So we were quite happy to get some photographs of this individual. An African Marsh Harrier flew in just meters away from him, prompting him to leave his perch and chase the larger raptor away (I never quite understand how it works with birds, I’ve even seen Tawny Eagles and Martial Eagles intimidated by a bird a quarter of their size).
Moving through all the roads we came across much of the usual suspects: Cape Shoveller, Cape Teal, Pied Avocet, Great White Pelican, Blacksmith Lapwing, etc.
Our stop at P2 was quite different to the visits of a month ago. The shore which was filled with hundreds of terns on the last visit was confined to Kelp Gulls and some Hartlaubs.
All in all, we had a great time and the Knob-Billed Duck became by 321st species for the province.