BeKZN Conservation Activities

CWAC July 2022

On Sunday 31 July, an enthusiastic group of BirdLife Ethekwini KZN members braved the cold and windy weather to do the winter waterbird count (CWAC) at the Umgeni estuary and Durban Bayhead. The overnight rain thankfully abated in time, but some who had registered to attend still chose the warmth of their beds over the potential of some interesting birds. This was the first count we did since the floods earlier this year, which made the count at Umgeni easier, if less productive. We had also missed the winter counts for 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19, and also the summer 2022 count because we were on the Flock to Marion cruise, so some gaps in the data had developed.

Birders braving the weather
Scanning from the Ellis Brown Viaduct

We started next to the model yacht pond on the south bank and walked under the M4 bridge to the mouth, where I was surprised at how much sand has now built up since the floods. There weren’t many birds about – some roosting Swift Terns and Kelp Gulls, but no waders apart from the ever-present Blacksmith Lapwings, and some Grey Herons. Even the usual Water Thick-knees were hiding away. After a brief scan from the Ellis Brown viaduct for anything among the mangroves, we headed up-river to underneath the Athlone bridge, where we could scan the sandbank next to the Windsor Park golf course. There were some more waterbirds around, including a single unseasonal Common Sandpiper that allowed us quite close. but not a lot else. 

Common Sandpiper
Grey Heron

After this, we drove round to the north bank by the Connaught bridge, where there was sewage flowing in a side channel that seemed to be attracting many ibises, including the lone escapee Scarlet Ibis that has been hanging around for a while. Here, we also saw a pair of African Fish Eagle calling, and we also saw one of them dive down from a pylon and catch a fish! In the end we had a count of 212 birds of 23 species, not great for a winter count and our second lowest since 1999, but then again, probably not too bad considering the conditions.

Connaught bridge stake out
Scarlet Ibis escapee
Fish Eagle with sizable catch
Fish Eagle in full cry

After this, some of the group had to leave but the die-hards braved the lorries along Maydon Wharf and made their way to the Bayhead Natural Heritage Site, stopping briefly for some hot coffee on the way. After a brief snack, we strode through the forest that used to be grassland to the edge of the mudflats, at very low tide. As expected, not much was around, but as the afternoon progressed, more arrived: 3 Goliath Herons, 8 Caspian Terns, 1 Cape Cormorant and the usual small group of overwintering Common Greenshank and Common Whimbrel, as well as several Common Terns. Later on, 2 Fish Eagles, 1 Pink-backed Pelican and a small group of Swift Terns arrived as we were about to pack up. This brought the total count to 115 birds of 19 species, seemingly not a good total but probably not too bad either, considering the weather. However, this turned out to be the highest winter count there since 2004. Overall, the bay area did not seem to have suffered any major changes after the floods – just some dead trees on the mudflats, which still seemed to be as productive as usual.

Wading on the mudflats
Goliath Heron
Caspian Tern
Common Whimbrels
Common Tern

Thanks to all those who came out to help – it seems everyone enjoyed the outing and most learnt something. I am hoping that we will get at least as many again for the summer count at the end of January 2023.

African Pied Wagtail 

Written by Steve Davis, all photographs by Annelie Mynhardt

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