03 March 2012 – chasing Sand Martins…
With news of a Sand Martin having been fairly reliable at Strandfontein Sewage Works in recent days and, since this was a Western Cape rarity and a species we still needed for our challenge list, it was an easy decision to go after it. We left home early and arrived at the works with glorious early morning light. We went straight to one of the spots where the bird had been reported from and started working through the hirundines there. Careful scanning only produced Barn and White-throated Swallows and some Brown-throated Martins in the flock, but other distractions included the likes of large flocks of Greater Flamingos, Great White Pelicans and a myriad of other waterbirds.
It wasn’t too long before other birders arrived to join in the search, firstly Simon Peile, then John Graham and, eventually Freddie Strauss, joined the party of searchers as well. Moving to another spot which had a large group of swirling hirundines, we worked hard scanning through all of them, but still had no luck. We had also started an atlas list for the pentad, so fortunately, we were also distracted by constantly adding other species to the list, some of which included Southern Double-collared Sunbird, African Fish Eagle and Black Sparrowhawk.
After some time at this spot, we relocated to a third spot where, again, there was a large flock of swallows and martins feeding over one of the pans. We also split up around the pan to cover more ground and, after what seemed like an eternity, Trevor eventually spotted a Sand Martin off in the distance close to where John was. A quick phone call across to John and it didn’t take long before he was on to the bird phoning back to let us know that he had at least 2 individuals near him. We raced over to where he was and quickly found the bird. Photographing it, of course, was a totally different story as these birds are extremely erratic fliers and the biggest challenge is just keeping the subject in the viewfinder, never mind trying to get a good photo of it! Fortunately, after numerous attempts, we were able to walk away with a handful of record shots of the bird which was now good and solidly on our challenge list.
The wind had also started picking up by now and, after leaving the martin, we made a large ditched attempt to add a few more species to our atlas list. We managed to scratch out a few more common species and also got brief views of a Small Grey Mongoose whilst the most interesting bird we found was probably a partially leucistic female Cape Shoveler which was in the company of a “normal” male. This is the first time we have personally observed leucism in this species before.
By mid morning, the temperature had risen, the good light had gone and the wind was really blowing, so we packed up and headed back home very satisfied with our latest addition to the challenge list.