BeKZN Conservation | Waterbird Count (CWAC) – Summer

22 January 2023

On Sunday 22 January BeKZN participated in the summer Coordinated Waterbird Count (CWAC). We started at the Umgeni Estuary and walked to the end of the Blue Lagoon groyne. Although it was near low tide, there weren’t many sandbanks exposed, and the few gulls and terns we saw were on the seaward side of the sand bar. We did manage to count 17 Water Thick-knees roosting among the debris. The highlight was a Peregrine Falcon perched on a light in the pier walking area, it soon took off, chased and caught a Rock Dove, and returned to the perch to pluck and eat it. 

Peregrine Falcon

There were many Pied and House Crows around, pestering the other birds, especially the raptors. 

A murder of Crows including both Pied and House Crow

We then walked past the model yacht pond to the Athlone bridge, from where we surveyed upriver as far as we could see, as well as the opposite bank. There was a good number of Blacksmith Lapwings (125 in total), Egyptian Geese and fewer Cormorants and herons than usual. Strangely, there were no Little Egret at all. 

The highlight here was a pair of Western Ospreys that came circling over.

Western Osprey

We then went in two cars around to Riverside Road and walked up the Athlone Bridge to scan further upriver. 

Scanning from the Athlone bridge

There wasn’t much more to see but confirmed the numbers we had counted so far. Generally, there were few waders – just 3 Common Sandpipers and 14 Common Greenshank.

Common Sandpiper on the river edge
The sum total of gulls and terns at Umgeni: Kelp Gulls, Grey-headed Gulls and Great Crested Terns
A multitude of Blacksmith Lapwings

We stopped briefly to scan the river from the Connaught Bridge (near the bird park) and added a few more birds, but there were few exposed sandbanks. Thereafter, we headed back to the carpark for refreshments in the midday heat and add up the numbers. 

Cooling off and adding up – Lauren Calenborne

The waterbird species number was only 23 and the waterbird total count was 317, one of the poorest totals for an Umgeni summer count in all the years of doing CWAC. I suspect the lack of suitable mudbanks/sandbanks has a lot to do with the very small wader numbers, but we were also well down on gulls and terns compared to normal.

After this, most of us headed off to the Bayhead Natural Heritage site; fortunately there weren’t too many container trucks on the road. Arriving in the baking heat, we headed off along the trail, but really felt like early explorers in Africa: the trail was so overgrown with shrubs and alien plants that in many places we had to duck low for several metres to make our way through. The coastal grassland that the site is supposed to preserve seems to have been reduced to a few square metres.

Eventually we came out on the beach by the mangroves, with the tide well out, and started to count the large numbers of birds present. 

Busy with the Bayhead count – Lauren Calenborne

We found 12 Little Egrets in a group, making up for their absence from the Umgeni River, 2 Goliath Herons, 7 Pink-backed Pelicans and 2 Fish Eagles

Grey Heron at Bayhead – note uniform grey underwing to distinguish it from Black-headed Heron

There were good numbers of waders, though, with 160 Common Ringed Plovers (the highest total I have counted at Bayhead), 56 Curlew Sandpipers, 45 Common Greenshanks, 18 Blacksmith Lapwings, 2 Grey Plovers and 1 Terek Sandpiper which I only found later looking through the photos. 

A fine collection of Common Ringed Plovers and Curlew Sandpipers

We were also treated to a pair of adult Palmnut Vultures flying around. The tide seemed to come in very quickly, though, and within an hour the mudflats were submerged and the birds gone. 

Palmnut Vulture

The species number was 20 and the total count was 336 birds, a good total for Bayhead compared to recent counts and exceeding our total for the Umgeni River.

By this time, the heat was getting to most people and we headed off. Many thanks to those who braved the conditions to assist and to learn. We hope to see you again at the next count at the end of July.

Written by Steve Davis and all photographs unless otherwise credited Annelie Mynhardt.

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