23 – 24 March 2013 – wanderings on the west coast…
We had received news of a Red-necked Phalarope that had been seen at the beginning of the month in Velddrif and, since we still needed this one for our challenge list, we decided to spend the weekend up on the west coast to see if we could find it. We were joined by Keir and Alouise Lynch and their son, Cian, and we booked ourselves a cottage at Kuifkopvisvanger Guest Farm on the southern bank of the Berg River for Saturday night.
Since the Lynches had slept over at our place on Friday evening, we were able to get away fairly early on Saturday morning and, after a quick breakfast stop along the way, we found ourselves hitting the farm roads between Vredenburg and Stompneusbaai at what, in theory, should have been a good time for birding. We were hoping to track down Cape Long-billed Lark, a species that the Lynches had yet to see, but the only problem was that the weather was not on our side. We were faced with totally overcast conditions and strong winds which made birding and photography quite tough. We also spent longer than we should have working the area and, although we located many Large-billed and Red-capped Larks, there was no sign of our target species, not even a single call! At least there were some reasonable distractions like an obliging Rock Kestrel, many Capped Wheatears and a few Grey Tits and Sickle-winged Chats and a surprise group of Namaqua Sandgrouse, not a common species in this part of the world.
Eventually, we decided to give it up as a bad job and continued north to Velddrif. After picking up some lunch in town and heading down to the river mouth for a little while, we eventually headed over to the farm and booked into our accommodation. It was clean and neat and, apart from the small design flaw of one room leading off the other (which doesn’t work all that well when there are separate families involved…!), it was pretty comfortable too.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the salt pans on the farm where the phalarope had been seen, but conditions were tough for wader watching and we were unable to relocate the bird. Most of the common species were present and, even although conditions were not great, we still took a few photos.
We timed the tides to be back at our chalet to start the braai fire and spend time scanning the opening mudflats from the comfort of our stoep. There were still plenty of migratory waders around and, although we spent quite a bit of time scanning through them, it was just the usual suspects and nothing out of the ordinary. The best species was probably a Eurasian Curlew and several Bar-tailed Godwits, not exactly rarities, but still nice to see from the comfort of your stoep…:)
Early on Sunday morning, we headed back into the salt pans and spent the next few hours working carefully through them. At least we had lost the overcast skies today, but the wind was still there. Most of the same species as yesterday were seen and, with the good light, we took some time to concentrate on photographing some of them. Still no phalarope though – it was destined to be another challenge dip for now.
By 10:30am or so, we were checking out and proceeded back to the farmlands to look for the lark again. The wind was not helping but, eventually, we managed to locate a single bird that, although distant, provided reasonable views. Great, finally the Lynches can tick this one! A single Ant-eating Chat in this area was also an uncommon bird for this part of the west coast.
We then headed into Langebaan, picked up a take away lunch and then moved on to Seeberg in the West Coast National Park. We were hoping to find Little Tern, another species that the Lynches still needed. Fortunately, this one was a little easier to locate and we had a single individual battling in the wind in front of the hide for quite some time although it never once landed to get a view of it on the ground. Still, the views were more than good enough for a tick…:) A final stop at Abrahamskraal had us frustrated as we had African Rails (another species that they wanted) calling from the reeds in front of us but that just would not show itself. By now, the wind was really howling, so I suppose it was to be expected that the bird would not emerge from cover…! Although we never managed to find all of our targets for the weekend (mostly due to the horrible weather conditions), it was still great to get out and spend some time on the west coast looking at waders. You just never know what you might find if you just put in the time…:)