Summer 2020 CWAC (Waterbird Count)

By Steve Davis with photos by Anneli Mynhardt

26 January was earmarked for the summer waterbird count at the Umgeni estuary and Durban Natural Heritage Site at Bayhead, counts which have been done since 1999. Thanks to extensive advertising and some cajoling, there was a good turnout at the Umgeni Bird Park, with some new members coming along to learn about waterbirds.

Umgeni estuary and beach

As usual, we marched east along the bank, peeping at the river where there were gaps in in the trees and shrubs. As the tide was going out, the sandbanks started revealing themselves and birds started congregating. As we have done on the last couple of counts, we climbed the bank and walked out along the Athlone Bridge where we could look down on the mudflats, with the help of telescopes. There were unusually no terns or gulls, and the most numerous species was Blacksmith Lapwings with a few Greenshanks among them. Fortunately, the birds were not restless, and we soon had everything counted. 

We then went back to the cars and drove around to Blue Lagoon to survey the section from the Athlone Bridge to the sea. Unfortunately, everything was on the north bank, but with the aid of the telescope, we soon discovered several Water Thick-knees and a large flock of Common Ringed Plovers (97) on the mudbanks. We were also pleased to see a couple of White-fronted Plovers, which have been absent from most recent counts here. In the end, we ended up with a count of 305 birds of 24 species, the lowest ever summer count (the highest was 1900 birds in 2002). The largest differences were the very low numbers of gulls and terns compared to previous counts (see graph below).

Durban Bay

Four of us then moved on to Bayhead to be greeted by a very overgrown path, lots of exposed mudbanks and seriously hot sun. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the large number of waders scattered over the area actively feeding, including 56 Common Ringed Plovers, 103 Curlew Sandpipers and 46 Greenshanks. We were also pleased to find a Terek Sandpiper and Swift and Caspian terns, which have been scarce at Bayhead recently, and two Fish Eagles gave us a fly past. Eventually the heat got the better of us and we fled home, but satisfied with the count of 334 birds of 20 species, the best summer total since 2016.

Thanks to all who came out to help and learn – your interest is much appreciated. The next count will be at the end of July – look out for the announcements nearer the time.

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