Late yesterday afternoon I received an email from the South African Rare Bird alerts, saying that an African Crake had been seen and photographed at Strandfontein on the S3 pan in the afternoon. Unfortunately it was too late for us to leave from Somerset West to try and twitch the bird, so I decided to wait until the Monday morning to see if the bird would again be picked up.
News filtered through on social media early in the morning that the bird was seen, albeit with not the best views — primarily skulking in the bushes along the roadside. It was then my plan to head through at lunch time and try get back to work within my lunch time (an ambition challenge). Further news then came through that the bird would likely be more active in the afternoon, and so I adjusted my plans to head through at 4pm.
About 12:30 and then a post was made about how the bird just gave excellent views and walked across the road. That was all I needed, I told my boss that I’d like to take a half day, and went and grabbed my camera and bins — collecting Monique on the way there.
The African Crake Obliges
We parked to find one other car there, with a single other individual looking for the Crake. He had seen the bird about 20 minutes earlier on the eastern side of the road, but hadn’t seen it since. Shortly after we parked, John Graham also pulled up looking for the bird. We looked for around 5 minutes without any luck, when I then heard a rustle from within the reeds on the western side of the road. I caught a glimpse of the culprit’s back, a small bird walking into the reeds. I was almost certain that it was the African Crake.
Our focus then shifted to that side of the road, and after about 10 minutes we got our first confirmed sight as the bird moved along the water’s edge. We would have been happy with just that, but the bird was truly dedicated to making it worth our time. We watched the tops of the grass for movement, which was the best way of telling the position of the bird, as it moved up the road, all while hidden.
It wasn’t long before we saw it moving closer and closer to the road, edging out into the open. Despite being positioned on the wrong side of the light, we were all extremely excited when the bird made a tentative dart across the road just feet in front of us.
Another person had arrived just before and been positioned perfectly with the light behind them, we were a little jealous. With the African Crake now in the bushes on the east side again, we used this opportunity to better position ourselves on the side of the sun, which proved a great decision when not a minute later the bird moved up out of the bush and gave us excellent views as it slowly edged down, occasionally losing its footing to a few laughs from the onlookers.
The bird continued to show well for us for the next 30-odd minutes, occasionally moving across the road out in the open.
We weren’t sure if we’d even connect with the Crake, so to not only do so — but be given excellent views and photographic opportunities was great. Strandfontein is truly the country’s rarity gold mine, with seemingly never ending sightings a couple times a month. Who knows what may be next…