On 31 January 2021, Anneli and I did the summer Waterbird count (CWAC) at the Umgeni estuary and Durban Bay’s Bayhead Natural Heritage Site. The day started with an early morning thunderstorm, then low cloud over Durban and later it became extremely hot (33 degrees) and very humid. The Umgeni river was flowing very strongly after the heavy rains and even at low tide, there were no sandbanks exposed. The worst of that, though, was all the water hyacinth and plastic bottles being carried down by the river and going out to sea – it was a shocking mess. The birds were consequently present in low numbers, although pelicans were well represented, with both Pink-backed and Great White Pelican fishing among the debris.
There were almost no waders and no terns as there were no sandbanks, although the Blacksmith Lapwings and a flying group of Common Greenshanks added to the numbers. In the end, we ended up scanning the banks from the Blue Lagoon side, trying to find birds among the rubbish.
The total number of birds was 178, the lowest ever summer count, with 19 waterbird species.
Bayhead was even hotter, and we sweated buckets while seeing virtually no waders, despite searching carefully between the piles of plastic waste. The path was also extremely overgrown with alien plants – almost no grassland exists anymore. Some interest arrived in the form of a young African Fish Eagle flying past and a few Goliath Herons were fishing in the distance.
Again, we saw both Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans.
The total count was only 85 birds, also an all-time low for a summer count, with only 13 waterbird species. We met Terry Walls there, who had been birding earlier, and he at least saw a lot more waders, Common Ringed Plover and Curlew Sandpiper being most common, and a Western Osprey, but they were not present in the Natural Heritage Site portion while we were there.
Thereafter, we went round to Wilson’s Wharf, from where an Eurasian Curlew had been reported, but there were too many people around and all the waders were way out on centre bank. Nevertheless, we were pleased to discover an adult Lesser Flamingo feeding on the mud close to the road, as if it was in water. Seemed happy enough, though.
Steve Davis and Anneli Mynhardt