BeKZN Conservation |Winter CWAC Count

23 July 2023

The bar at the mouth of the Umgeni River

On Sunday, 23 July 2023, the BirdLife eThekwini KZN winter Coordinated Waterbird count (CWAC) was done at the Umgeni River and Durban Bayhead by a small group led by Steve Davis. The weather was perfect, although a little windy towards the end. We started off at Umgeni River mouth, where the tide was on the way out, with a strong current through the mouth. There was a small group of Greater Yellow-billed Terns roosting there, and only a single gull. 

Roosting Swift Terns
Little Egret at a stormwater outfall in the mouth

There were no other shorebirds, apart from Blacksmith Lapwings. We were intrigued by a single Cape Cormorant fishing in the outflowing stream, being carried down and then flying back up again. Unfortunately, there were also plenty of House Crows around, competing with the Pied Crows. We then walked along the south bank to the Athlone Bridge, watching several Cape Cormorants fishing in the model yacht pond, to our surprise. There were more Cape Cormorants roosting on the piers of the previous Athlone bridge – more of them than the freshwater cormorants.  

Cape Cormorants in the model yacht pond  

There were quite a few birds roosting on the sandbank next to Windsor Park golf course, but mostly Blacksmith Lapwings and Egyptian Geese. There was one overwintering Common Sandpiper as usual. 

Steve counting birds among the litter  

After we counted all we could from here, we drove around to the Umgeni Bird Park and surveyed the river from the Connaught bridge. We picked up a few more species: African Fish Eagle, Striated Heron, Pied Kingfisher and a single Mangrove Kingfisher that sat on a branch for a few seconds before hiding away. In the end we counted 219 waterbirds of 24 species, one of our lowest ever winter counts, possibly because of the very few gulls, terns, lapwings and Sacred Ibis compared to other years. Some of us then moved onto the Durban Bayhead Natural Heritage site, where we arrived to find extensive mudflats (got the tide right) but masses of plastic pollution as usual.  

Litter at Durban Bayhead

 With the aid of the telescope, we scanned the mudflats and found a few Common Greenshank and Eurasian Whimbrel, as well as a couple of Common Terns, all uncommon in Durban in winter. There was a small group of Cape Cormorants here as well, together with some White-breasted Cormorants.  There was some excitement when a group of six Pink-backed Pelicans arrived to feed, followed shortly by two Western Ospreys that came to hunt. One caught a fish but chose a distant log on which to eat it.  

Fly-by of an Osprey

Surprisingly there were no gulls, but a good number of Blacksmith Lapwings and Little Egrets.  

Little Egrets are always such fun 

The tide then came in and covered the sandbanks quickly, so we called it a day, with a total count of 143 waterbirds of 24 species, one of our best ever winter counts here. 

Counting distant birds 

Thanks to all the helpers who came along, Anneli Mynhardt, Peter Farrington, Corinna Pieterse, Virginia Cameron and Carryn Smith. Corinna even managed to get some lifers. 

Some other birds seen during the count:

Text by Steve Davis and photos by Anneli Mynhardt

Leave a Reply