Saturday 3 December 2022
A group of around 30 BEKZN members met at Sappi Stanger at 6am in breezy and overcast conditions, hoping to connect with a few of the local specials as well as the recent ‘Mega’ National rarity that had been seen in the area, in the form of a White Wagtail.
Conditions have changed significantly at the site since the floods and sadly the high-water levels no longer lend themselves to the selection of skulking rallids and waders that the site is so known for, but nevertheless we were soon racking up a large and diverse list of species. Our convoy drove down toward the hide area, stopping off to take in a delightful group of Great White Pelicans on route and adding other species like Black Crake, African Jacana along with various Heron and Cormorant species.
The platforms no longer being in use, we parked at the Sappi staff picnic area and were able to look back toward the hide as well as over the larger pond north of the picnic site. On the hide side were Blue-billed Teal, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers whilst in the river behind the hide, Giant Kingfisher patrolled; Red-faced Cisticola called frequently but remained frustratingly out of view.
The larger north pond held flocks of perched Barn Swallows and Brown-throated Martins with a few Sand Martins hiding within the crowd and on the pond edges, we were able to add Intermediate Egret, StriatedHeron, a single Grey-crowned Crane as well as a selection of the more common waterfowl. We walked slowly along the path toward the pump house and saw a number of interesting new birds for our trip list. A sharp junior birder in the party picked out a male Namaqua Dove, a first for me in the area, and we slowly added birds to our total like Eastern Golden, Thick-billed and distant Brown-throated Weavers, plus a Squacco Heron.
The grey skies were not making distant ID’s any easier as an interesting raptor flew over causing some debate between Osprey, juvenile African Fish and even a suggestion of Black-chested Snake Eagle. The jury is still out on this one and sadly, the poor photo did not help much.
A Whiskered Tern flirted past high over the pond, not sticking around to show off its breeding plumage, but a pair of Black-winged Stilts with three tiny chicks were more obliging.
Some of the party locked onto a single, Black-crowned Night Heron whilst Little Rush Warbler and Lesser Swamp Warbler serenaded us in the background. Onto our breakfast coffee break back at the picnic site where a Spotted Flycatcher joined the festivities allowing for close photographs and ID comparisons vs the more common African Dusky (which we didn’t see).
A Black-throated Wattle-eye called from a nearby broad leaf fig but stayed frustratingly out of view despite intensive searching. Off then to the now famous ‘White Wagtail’ spot but sadly our hero had left a few days earlier and has not returned. Guests were at least rewarded with close up view of Southern Brown-throated Weaver instead.
We then snaked our way back towards the exit, stopping periodically to scan the upper ponds and getting our total to a respectable 95 for the morning; a calling Great Reed Warbler being our last addition. The Van der Meulen family then joined us for a short extension around the back of the ponds, which tested their off-road driving skills in a low sedan; Dad passing with flying colours. It was most enjoyable and we managed to at least show the boys closer views of Purple-banded Sunbird and see waders like Ruff, Little Stint and Common-ringed Plover. Great to see youngsters taking such a keen interest and demonstrating such skill at a young age. I suspect they will be guiding the trips to Sappi before long!
After saying our goodbyes, Ronnie Herr and myself who were partaking in the Birding Big Day 6km challenge, took a drive behind the hide road, toward the coast. After about 1 km, we found ploughed field, which contained Kittlitz’s Plover, African Wattled Lapwing and a dozen or so very confiding Collared Pratincole’s. The birds were following a road grader and taking advantage of the unearthed snacks. These handsome birds are well worth a look if you are in the area and have a vehicle with some clearance. An Osprey flew overhead down river allowing a few pics at which point we headed back to Sappi.
All in all, a very enjoyable morning and thanks to Ronnie Herr for teaming up, the use of his vehicle and to Roger Hogg for the Group picture. As always, thanks to Jenny for the organizing.
Written by Mike O’Donaghue