birding-aus (Fwd) African Impressions (summing up 2)

Subject: birding-aus (Fwd) African Impressions (summing up 2)
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1999 11:18:52 -0200
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From:          Self <MUSEUM/WVADER>
Subject:       African Impressions (summing up 2)
Date:          Sat, 11 Dec 1999 12:12:55 -0200



Cape Town has a mediterranean type climate, with winter rains and a 
dry and windy spring. It also has an amazingly diverse vegetation: 
the Cape region is one of only a few Vegetation Kingdoms, and the 
variety of flowers is absolutely overwhelming and did absolutely 
overwhelm me: I know little more about flora and vegetation now than 
when I came.So I am in the position that many of my friends place 
themselves in when we discuss birding: you surely don't have to know 
all the species in order to be able to enjoy all the birds! Well no, 
you probably don't, but I am a detail-person at heart, I suppose, and 
it niggled at me all the time, that I could not get a handle at the 
flower diversity. I did so absolutely admire them, though, and of 
course one recognizes many flowers from gardens and house-plants at 
home (Gladiolus, Ixia, Pelargonium, Kniphofia, lots and lots of 
different Oxalis, Malvaceae, and Geranium, etc etc)

        Especially along the west coast, but also at Bontebok tortoises are 
extremely common, also on the roads, and there were also more snakes 
than I have seen in a long time. Lizards scuttled away among the 
rocks or in the sand, and when it rained (esp. along the Garden 
Route, but also on Table Mountain) one could hear a most varied frog 
chorus, often emanating from tiny frogs by European standards.

        Mammals are still pleasantly common, especially "bokkies', the 
various antelopes---I think I saw 21 species altogether during these 
three months. Most diversity also here in the warmer parts in 
Kwazulu-Natal, but also in the Cape Springbok, Bontebok and Grijsbok 
are quite regularly met, and there also other species.
        Common and conspicuous are also mongooses (especially the Grey, but 
I saw also other species) and baboons (Although there are not quite 
so many as signs warning not to feed the baboons). The much more 
attractive Vervet Monkeys don't come into the picture before the 
Eastern Cape.


        Contrary to what is the case with the plants, the diversity of birds 
in the Western cape is clearly substantially less than e.g. in 
Zululand or Natal, and many of the spectacular "typically african' 
birds such as Hornbills, Rollers, Trogons or Louries do not occur at 
all, or just as scattered outposts.

        A day of birding will still quite easily yield some 100 species, a 
lot by Tromsoe standards, but less half from what a big day in the 
North-east would bring. for me that is maybe even an advantage, as it 
is easy to become overwhelmed by too much novelties at one time, esp. 
when you are on your own. Also, I had not had the time to prepare 
properly for this tour, and particularly I had not at all listened to 
tapes of S.African birds (at home I do most of my birding by ear); 
this hampered me considerably, especially in the case of larks, 
pipits, and Cisticola's and some other warblers. Fortunately, I 
picked up some of the rudiments of African bird songs during my 
guided tours of the first 10 days, and that was of great use later 
on. Also, most of the birds do not pose particularly intricate 
identification problems, once well seen

        When I first visited the Cape last January-February, I spent most 
of my time at sea on a trawler, and had excellent possibilities to 
see the rich seabird fauna of the area. This time I stayed ashore, 
and also used little time on shorebirds, many of which are well-known 
Tromsoe species anyway. But the hides at Geelbek in the West Coast 
reserve gave me a wonderful opportunity to study the european waders 
at short range and in fantastic light, and Rondevlei close to Cape 
Town is a treasure for studying freshwater birds, from Malachite 
Kingfishers to Glossy Ibises.

        The Fijnbos, the wonderfully diverse vegetation of much of the Cape 
peninsula and surrounding areas, is so definitely poor in birds, 
although some are spectacular enough, e.g. the Cape Sugarbirds. The 
Strandveld, as e.g. sampled near the Koeberg Nuclear power station, 
has a much richer bird fauna, partly because many of the plants have 
edible fruits, a rarity in the fijnbos. Last Sunday I easily listed 
over 60 species at Koeberg, even though the pan had dried out, and 
waterbirds therefore were in short supply; the most unexpected 
visitors were a couple of Southern Tchagras, a species that acc. to 
the Atlas is not supposed to occur there. And yet they really posed 
for me, so that finally I could see these skulkers at ease and at 
short range.

        Rocky coasts usually are full of cormorants of different species, 
and almost invariable Black Oystercatchers make themselves heard. But 
there are fewer gulls than in Europe, both as individuals and number 
of species. Terns, on the other hand, often rest in large flocks on 
the rocks, while off-shore small flocks of gannets pass.

        The area where I still have most 'unseen" is the dry Karoo. There I 
have the definite impression that I have not discovered the correct 
technique to get the birds to show themselves, and I still wait for 
my first Eremomela's.

        In suburbia, as almost everywhere here, the voices of the various 
doves are the dominant participants in the morning chorus (with many 
persisting also during the heat of noon).I can not remember having 
lived any place where so many different doves and pigeons were so 
dominant. I do not know why this should be so; out in the country 
there are a lot of other seed-eaters competing with the doves, but 
those do not penetrate into town to the same degree, and have not 
adapted so completely to the spoils of the human population.

        The Cape Wagtails have become thoroughly 'domesticated' in town, and 
scavenge together with sparrows at small restaurants, and also the 
Redwinged Starlings are first rates picnic-profit seekers. but the 
Olive Thrushes have not gone the way of the Robin or the European 
Blackbird, and have mainly remained quite jittery, more so in fact 
than the Cape Robin. And the European Chaffinches, that have kept a 
toehold in the cape Town suburbs for many decades, have remained wild 
birds, and are much less tame than e.g. the Dutch Chaffinches, that 
may almost eat out of your hand at open air restaurants.

        Possibly a longer distance to my African experiences will lead to 
somewhat more valuable conclusions tha these rambling remarks, but 
for now this concludes my African Impressions.
        I wish you all happy days, weeks, months, years, centuries and 
millennia ahead, with great birding.

                                                Wim Vader, co S African Museum
                                                Cape Town, 
                                                from 15-XII 
                                                Tromsoe Museum, 9037 Tromsoe
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