Monday morning started like any other, in the office working. But at around 9pm or so I got a Facebook message from a friend. It was a collection of cell phone images of a Starling that was outside her house. She said that it looked like a Red-Winged Starling but without the red under the wings. I’ve seen some Red-Winged Starlings before where it was quite difficult to see the red, and so I passed it off as just a common bird.
She remained convinced it was something else and a few hours later sent some more photos, again – really difficult to tell from the shots. But one of the photos seemed to reflect red from the bird’s eye. Not sure whether this was some other kind of reflection, or the bird’s eye itself I sent her an image of a Cape Glossy Starling and Pale Winged Starling, both of which have colourful eyes. The Red-Winged Starling of course, has black marble-like eyes and wouldn’t expect to see colour. But still, I figured it was likely just a reflection off her window or something.
Fast forward 4 hours, and it’s now late afternoon when she messages me again. “I WAS WRONG! IT HAS A RED EYE”. I told her that I’d be right there and I rushed to my car. I was trying to contact Monique to join, as it would have been a lifer for her, but she wasn’t near her phone and I just wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a false alarm. I was expecting a bust when I left home, but still rushed through the traffic to make it there before sunset.
Upon arriving, Caitlin was standing by her front door, the bird clearly in the tree just outside. I managed to see some occasional flashes of black within the leaves, when it finally showed itself and made it clear that it was definitely not a Red-Winged Starling. It was either a young Cape Glossy Starling or a Black-Bellied Starling, a young bird given the matt black appearance on the body.
The bird eventually flew out from the tree, but ended up flying to a nearby house. I decided to wait and hope it returned, as a garbage truck in the small road was not doing any favours. Fifteen minutes or so later the bird returned, this time perching itself on an open dead tree just left of the one it had been in before. It was now much easier to see and the sun poked through the clouds to reveal the glossy upper wing finish of the bird. It then proceeded to feed from the tree it was in earlier, so clearly food source was not an issue for this individual.
Black-Bellied Starlings do exist in the province, but are seen towards Knysna and the far eastern parts of the province. This is an extremely westerly record for this species and a very great way to get 294 on my provincial list. Just a few kilometers from home, with easy access. I am set up well now to reach my 300th bird during my trip to the Wilderness in 2 weeks, which I am extremely excited for.
Unfortunately the bird has not been seen since Monday evening (at the time of this publication), but the resident of the house is keeping an eye out in case it returns. Thanks to Caitlin Sent for giving the heads up on this individual.