Colour Me Green, eThekwini

Club outing to the northern eThekwini pentads

An intrepid group of explorers consisting of twelve club members, Jenny Norman, Sheryl Flugel, Elton-John Bartlett, Penny de Vries, Mike du Trevou, Ronnie Herr, Rob McLennan-Smith, Cecily Salmon, Mark Liptrot and Derek Robins joined Nicolette and Ticky Forbes to bird two of the northern pentads in the eThekwini Municipality and contribute to the Colour Me Green, eThekwini club challenge on Saturday 20th March 2021. To find out more about this challenge for 2021 please visit https://blpn.org/cmg21/

Light creeping into the sky as we reached the King Shaka airport turnoff

How did we approach this first atlas trip…

An early start before first light saw everyone gathered at the Sasol garage just outside King Shaka airport. After a quick discussion to confirm protocol, and which groups would go to which pentads, we set off to bird. The idea was to bird for the required minimum of two hours in each pentad and then meet at a picnic site to compare lists and discuss the birds seen.

We were able to divide up with two cars going to each pentad and with three people per vehicle allowing for both comfort and safety. The one group focussed on the pentad immediately west of the airport (2935_3100 marked as Pentad 1 on the map below) which has had only had one full protocol submitted this year. The second group went slightly further west to the next adjacent pentad (2935_3055 marked as Pentad 2 on the map below). This was a ‘virgin’ pentad for this year having had no full protocol cards submitted in 2021 and actually none during 2020.

What habitats did we find there?

The pentads had a complex set of habitat mosaics which included residential and urban settlements interspersed with grassland, bushveld, pans, streams, dams – small and large (Hazelmere), forest and sugar cane as well as timber plantations. Atlassing requires you try to explore all types of habitats and as many areas as possible within a pentad so with everyone ready to explore we set off to do our 2 hour minimum. The best laid plans and all that…

Overall impressions 😊

It was a beautiful sunny morning with clear skies and only a light breeze while we were birding and during our picnic. Despite the glorious day, when we compared notes at the post-atlas picnic, the general impression was that the birding was a bit quiet but a combined list of over 100 species as a result of 4 hours birding suggested that it had been, despite our perceptions of quietness, a very successful exercise. We certainly got to explore some new areas and one of the participants declared that it had been a ‘real adventure‘ to explore new places. The day rolled out like clockwork and all teams literally set watches and left together to explore their assigned pentads and at the agreed end of birding all pulled into the picnic spot at Mount Moreland’s Swallow viewing site literally within seconds of each other.

What birds did we see there?

Both groups were still adding species to their lists as we approached the two-hour minimum atlassing protocol time and so we agreed to extend for a further hour and then two before agreeing to meet for brunch at 10h30. Bird species recorded through the four-hour session included highlights such as African Black Duck, Speckled Pigeons, Black-crowned Tchagra, Dusky Indigobird, European Roller, Knysna Turaco and Violet-backed Starling.

Warblers included Sedge, Great Reed, Little Rush and Lesser Swamp while waterbirds and other water associated species included Red-faced Cisticola, White-faced and Yellow-billed Duck, African Fish Eagle, African Darter, Goliath, Grey and Purple Heron, Water Thick-knee, African Jacana, Pied, Malachite, Brown-hooded and Giant Kingfisher and Reed Cormorant. Two firefinches – African and Redbilled and a host of other bushveld birds kept the list ticking over as we moved through the different habitats within these two pentads.

Three corvids were recorded in the more westerly pentad in quick succession with Pied Crow, White-necked Raven and a surprise sighting of Cape Crow. A pair of White-fronted Bee-eater even put in an appearance.

Even Lifers for some!

Some of the participants even got lifers! One of the early sightings was Great Reed Warbler, a lifer for Penny de Vries and Elton-John Bartlett. Cecily Salmon also scored a handful of new species so this added to the satisfaction of the day.

Its never just about ticking birds

A number of the attendees are also Lepidopterist Society members so the butterflies are never ignored in-between the bird sightings. Mark Liptrot ended with a list of 32 butterfly species with EJ and Nicky getting a butterfly lifer or two as well.

The important take home message

The group managed to submit three full protocol atlas cards with Jenny, Rob and Sheryl submitting an atlas card for Pentad 1 with 85 species. While Jenny and I thought this may not be as high as that pentad should yield when I checked the atlas website this total was actually the highest total since a card submitted by Tim Wood in November 2012. (http://sabap2.birdmap.africa/coverage/province/kwazulu-natal)

Cecily Salmon also submitted a card for Pentad 1 with 60 species and this total was also up with the higher totals for this pentad. The group in Pentad 2 had a combined list of 51 species and this FP card was submitted to SABAP2 by Ronnie Herr (Ronnie’s first atlas card to the SABAP2 programme – well done Ronnie). We ended with a picnic and discussion in the shade at the Mount Moreland Swallow viewing site. Lists and techniques for atlassing were discussed and lists were shared and submitted.

This effort from club members immediately made a difference – the SABAP2 map changed immediately with our Pentad 2 submission being the first time since 2019 data were received for this area. The card submitted for Pentad 1 resulted in this reflecting a change from yellow to orange – two more cards and we turn it green!

I was really proud of the team’s efforts and we all had a complete ball finding surprise wetlands with waterlilies and other fantastic areas as we wound our way in and out of settlements, through cane fields and grassland and back for brunch.

A job really well done to all of you that participated – thank you!

The lists submitted for these two pentads by three atlassers, along with a combined bird list is attached in one excel file to download.

Join us for next month’s club atlas adventure – we don’t know where it will be yet but we hope it will be just as much fun and just as successful!

Nicolette and Ticky Forbes

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jenny says:

    You have both Ring-necked Dove and Cape Turtle Dove on the list – that is the same bird!

    1. Yes you are correct that they are the same bird but this is because the two teams had slightly different language settings chosen on BirdLasser – so the lists are reflective of whatever your settings and Cecily and Ronnie’s settings were. The lists have gone in as they were sent.

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