My Top 10 Twitches and Rare Bird Discoveries

In this blog post I’m going to run through my most memorable twitches and rare bird discovers while out in the field. Some because of the adventure behind it, others because of the bird itself. My first twitch was in early 2012, and in that time I’ve been lucky enough to see many more special birds within the Western Cape. Here are my favourites…

snake_eagle
Immature Black Chested Snake Eagle

10. Black-Chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis)

Date: 27 February 2014
Location: Klipheuwel, Western Cape
Discovered by: Myself

Story: This day I decided to head through to Klipheuwel near Stellenbosch to do some birding along the farmlands there, I didn’t really have any target species and was just looking to hopefully encounter some raptors on a warm summer morning. I had parked alongside the road just before Klipheuwel and I was trying to get visuals on the Cloud Cisticola nearby, while also scanning the sky regularly. I noticed a raptor in the distance that had a different appearance to a Buzzard or a Kite. For those familiar with Snake Eagles, they are quite distinct when flying. I immediately grabbed some photographs and began trying to ID the bird from the back of my camera. It took me a little while to nail down the diagnostics, mostly because the bird was quite young and didn’t have your typical BCSE appearance. What makes this rare bird sighting so great, was that the Black-Chested Snake Eagle had been a long time favourite of mine, with the white wings and two-tone body. Unfortunately this one didn’t have that cracking adult plumage, but it was still a massive achievement for me and one I won’t soon forget.

brown snake eagle
Brown Snake Eagle

9. Brown Snake Eagle (Circaetus cinereus)

Date: 15 February 2017
Location: Helderberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Discovered by: Myself

Story: Almost 3 years after my Black-Chested Snake Eagle sighting I managed to see another member of the Circaetus genus in the form of a Brown Snake Eagle. Similarly to my previous experience, I had went to Helderberg Nature Reserve with no intention of targeting a specific species. Instead it was another regular visit to the Helderberg Nature Reserve with the intention of getting a few bird photographs. I was photographing an African Harrier-Hawk in a nearby tree when I spotted the Snake Eagle moving down the reserve. Firing off a few shots, I managed to see that it was in fact a Brown Snake Eagle, a bird that I had not yet seen before and within my own ‘patch’. I was delighted, as just days earlier one had been seen near Darling and I was contemplating taking on the odds, and trying to find it. Meanwhile, all I had to do was drive 5 minutes from my house.

citrine wagtail in cape town
Harsh crop on the bird across the water

8. Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)

Date: 25 April 2015
Location: Strandfontein Sewage Works, Western Cape
Discovered by: Ethan Kistler

Story: Initially this bird was reported as a Yellow Wagtail via social media, a bird that is quite rare in the Western Cape but has still been seen by a fair amount of people. After I noticed the post I began contemplated twitching the bird, but was on the fence. My car was unreliable and it’s still a 45 minute drive from Somerset West. I ended up chasing it and arriving at Strandfontein only a few hours later, but unfortunately spent ages searching with other birders for the Wagtail, but it had last been seeing flying into a reed bed and not seen since. Upon arriving home empty handed, I began to see people’s posts of the bird which was later picked up again and in fact it was determined to have not been a Yellow Wagtail at all. Instead it was only the 4th Citrine Wagtail recorded within Southern Africa. Needless to say it gave me the push I needed to get in my car and drive again, on the following morning. Once there a large number of twitchers were on the seen and the bird was picked up within a few minutes, the persistence paid off and a second visit managed to save what would have been quite a painful dip. Full story available here.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin

7. Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi)

Date: 2 February 2013
Location: Soetwater, Western Cape
Discovered by: Unknown / Dominic Rollinson

Story: A rare bird report was issued on the 30 January 2013 of a Northern Rockhopper Penguin in moult that had been picked up at Soetwater. I was in Kenilworth that weekend and as such it was quite a reasonable drive to try and see the bird. I arrived in the morning and unlike many other twitches I had gone on, there were surprisingly few people for such an amazing bird. Whether it was because they had already seen it, or because the location was a little less convenient than Strandfontein for example, I am not sure. None the less, we managed to get views of the bird (while not excellent) as it moves between the rocks on the beach. Full story available here

marabou stork
Marabou Stork

6. Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

Date: 5 May 2013
Location: Bredasdorp, Western Cape
Discovered by: Unknown

Story: This twitch very almost never happened. I had been on holiday out at Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve and the plan was to stop off near Bredasdorp on the way back to twitch a Marabou Stork, a regional rarity which was spotted there just prior to our departure. Unfortunately the car I was using (as mine was broken) suffered a flat tire on the way back just outside Swellendam. This meant we had to stick on the N2 for the shortest possible route as we still had over 150km to go using a spare tyre. After arriving home I had posted my disappointment on Facebook, but shortly after received a message from Trevor Hardaker, who had seen my incident and happened to have been twitching the bird the following day, passing through Somerset West on the way there. He offered us a spot with him and Margaret, which I gratefully accepted. It was quite a long drive, especially since I had just come from 250km away the day before, but it was totally worth it. We picked up the bird nearly immediately, and it gave us excellent visuals as it flew over our heads to the opposite field after feeding on a nearby carcass. An amazing bird and a very memorable trip. Full story available here

Tawny Eagle – Upper Wing

5. Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax)

Date: 7 September 2012
Location: Helderberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Discovered by: Myself

Story: I was a regularly visitor to the Helderberg Nature Reserve in 2012, and would go during my lunch breaks. One day I was walking around the now removed pines near the Erinvale fence, when I noticed a large raptor getting mobbed by crows. I didn’t think too much of it, and I was extremely new to birding. But I ran as fast as I could to get close enough to get some images, unfortunately the lighting was terrible and there was quite a lot of heat refraction in the air. Never the less I left the reserve with a few record shots which I later posted to Facebook. It wasn’t long before Trevor Hardaker responded, suggesting that it looked like it could be a Lesser Spotted Eagle, but that it wasn’t conclusive with the image. The next day Trevor was at the reserve, along with a few others looking for the bird to try and get a positive confirmation. Despite the bird not showing up again, we did manage to pick up a Long Crested Eagle in the distance. There remained some varying opinions over the identity of the eagle for the next few weeks, until Tertius Gous and myself were birding in the reserve and we picked it up again. This time we were able to get shots of the upper wings which clinched the ID as a Tawny Eagle. As a massive raptor lover and someone who hasn’t been able to visit the game parks up north, it was an amazing feeling to get this record in my own home patch.

bateleur
Young Bateleur. (Note the colouration of the flight feathers and shape and length of tail)

4. Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus)

Date: 28 June 2015
Location: Kuifkopvisvanger farm, Western Cape
Discovered by: Trevor & Margaret Hardaker and myself

Story: I had joined Trevor and Margaret Hardaker on a twitch for the Lesser Sand Plover at the Seeberg hide in the West Coast National Park. While we were up in that area Trevor was helping me collect some new lifers, and we went through to Kuifkopvisvanger farm to look for waders. On the way back from the pans, Margaret pointed out a raptor up in the sky on our left. None of us thought too much of it as the time, it was against the sun and mostly silhouetted so the initial assumption was probably a Jackal Buzzard. But I think there was something inside us that told us otherwise, perhaps the short tail somewhat noticeable from our distance made us question ourselves. We spent the next 30 minutes or so in the car, I know at least I kept staring at the back of my camera — becoming more convinced that what we had seen was in fact a Bateleur. I fear I may have sounded a little like an over-excited child repeating, “I think this is a Bateleur…” This was in fact only the second ever photographed record in the Western Cape at the time and a crazy record for the province. What’s even better is that it was a provincial bogie bird for Trevor, and he managed to get a now rare new provincial tick. We then picked up a Black Chested Snake Eagle as well as the Lesser Sand Plover before returning home. Full story available here.

snowy-egret-flight
Snowy Egret in flight with strong morning light.

3. Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

Date: 10 June 2015
Location: Black River (Observatory), Western Cape
Discovered by: Dominic and Patrick Rollinson

Story: Only the second ever Southern African record, this Snowy Egret was first reported on the 9 June 2015 and was located along the shores of the Black River near Observatory and Salt River. I had managed to get the morning off with my boss and left early on 10th June to see the bird. Upon arrival there were a few individuals watching the Snowy Egret as it moved mostly between the reeds on the opposite side of the river. I spent some hours waiting for him to give better views, but ended up returning with only record shots. I headed back for a second viewing on the Saturday, where I joined a couple dozen other birders who were obviously unable to get off work during the week. Despite the weather being foggy, the bird was far more obliging! Groups of us twitchers moved up and down along the side of the river, following the movements of the bird. At one point it even flew across the river towards us, landing just feet in front of us. It’s not often you need to move back from a rare bird because your lenses minimum focusing distance is further than the bird is. To most, this bird would not be looked at twice in passing, appearing just like your regular Little Egret to the untrained eye.

Full story of first visit
Full story of second visit

Little Crake at Clovelly
Little Crake at Clovelly

2. Little Crake (Porzana parva)

Date: 22 March 2012
Location: Clovelly, Western Cape
Discovered by: Gillian Barnes

Story: It’s going to be tough to beat this twitch. It happened just shortly after I had started birding and became my first ever successful twitch. I had dipped on a couple before this, but now was the first time I had tasted success from a chase, and what a bird to have that success on! The rare bird alert was sent out on Thursday the 21st March 2012 and I managed to connect with it late in the evening of March 22nd. This Little Crake was the first ever record for the Southern African region, and was way out of range. At the time I hadn’t really socialized with any other birders, but recognized the faces of Facebook contacts among the crowds of people looking at the small bird wading around near the reeds of a small Clovelly pond. It eventually, at that time, became the most twitched bird in the country (607 individuals). It ended up staying for two weeks, before heading up north where it belongs. Full story available here

Temminck's Stint
Temminck’s Stint

1. Temminck’s Stint (Calidris temminckii)

Date: 30 November 2016
Location: Strandfontein Sewage Works, Western Cape
Discovered By: Glynis Bowie

Story: The Temminck’s Stint was a mega twitch and one that I hopped on the day after the alert went out. The bird was actually originally seen on the Saturday prior, but wasn’t thought to be of any particular importance. When Glynis posted the photo on Facebook, I began monitoring the comments and soon noticed a lot of local experts weighing in on the bird. It wasn’t long after that until the rare bird alert went out on the Tuesday evening. I managed to get a half day from my boss and went through the following morning. It may have taken a little time, but the bird was picked up. Just not within an easily viewable distance. What made this twitch number 1 on my list was just the absolute insanity that went on at this twitch regarding the discovery of other rare birds. In the same pan as the Temminck’s, while I was walking past I heard someone shouting “Pectoral Sandpiper!”. A single bird was standing in front of us, along with some Wood Sandpipers, feeding in the shallows. Both Pectoral Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper were lifers for me. Across the road from the pan was another rarity, an American Golden Plover which was sitting near the grass patch of the pan. Ticked! Another lifer and an amazingly productive 3 hour before before heading back to work. I ended up returning a few days later for better photographic opportunities and sightings of the Temminck’s, and it certainly gave them. Full story available here

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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 out looking for birds, trying to find the most mesmerizing landscapes possible, in a sick barrel or chasing thunderstorms.

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