OF WADERS, TERNS, FROGS AND TOADS – a West Coast interlude

Having decided on a purely self-indulgent birding day I set off early yesterday for Eland’s Bay with superior views of the Baird’s Sandpiper foremost in mind and the possibility of a Sooty Tern sighting as an added inducement.

My time restricted attempt to secure good views of the Baird’s was adversely affected last week by a desperately annoying late afternoon sun angle, coupled to the fact that the bird was not foraging about where it was supposed to be, resulting in a scoped sighting at a distance as opposed to an up front and personal view just across the fence at tunnel two !

In this latter regard yesterday’s attempt was most successful and extended views in the soft morning light were enjoyed as the Baird’s stitched its way back and forth in close proximity along with a goodly mix of resident sandplovers and migrant waders for comparative evaluation.

Add to this clear views of a male Painted Snipe sunning and preening itself at the northern end of the pan and the day for me was certainly off to a good start with a steady stream of typical Strandveld ‘ticks’ taken along the way.

Shortly afterwards I arrived at the designated Sooty Tern site with my beach umbrella and deck chair in hand along with a strong sense of self-determination to pick up on the target bird even if the quest took the rest of the day. On arrival around 200 Common Terns in adult and juvenile plumage were present, along with a sprinkling of Swift Terns and the odd Sandwich Tern mixed in with cormorants and oystercatchers on the southern fringe. Clearly the roost was filling up fast as terns streamed back to shore in increasing numbers from the fishing grounds.

On the face of it I felt confident that the anticipated ‘hit’ was imminent as the light was good and the terns were wheeling about the roost at regular intervals in excellent light making it easy to pick out anything aberrant joining the flock.

As the morning wore on, and refreshment levels in my ice box became depleted, so it started to dawn on me that the hoped for big event was unlikely to happen as the thousand plus terns now clearly in evidence seemed finally settled and relaxed minus the Sooty…. So at this juncture I decided to set off in search of fish & chips and a cold beer in the town as my next priority…

On my return to the tern site I met Barry Street and Pat McGuiness following their successful run up to the salt pan in search of the Baird’s. They confirmed a no change tern situation following an earlier scan of the roost and decided to set off for CT – a half day plus away by Landy !

In spite of this uninspiring update, I decided to stick it out until late afternoon, but this was not to be following a sudden change in the weather and the arrival of steady rain from the south and a progressive increase in wind velocity.  Clearly the wet weather was here to stay and I too took to the R27 south stopping between heavy showers for a stretch and cup of coffee alongside an expanse of pristine coastal fynbos to the north of Rocher Pan.

This stop proved to be a most memorable experience that had nothing to do with birding. All around every frog and toad in the immediate area had sprung out of torpor to join the expanding chorus line in response to the sudden change in the weather. The din was pronounced and quite varied as the various species tuned into the occasion in the mistaken belief that spring or whatever had sprung in their testosterone besotted minds… It was like an impromptu orchestra with different forms of musical instruments striking up all round me as one response triggered another within the species mix. Over the years as an amateur frogger I have tracked down the odd amphibian, and enjoy the presence of resident clicking frogs around my pond, but never before have I been treated to an amphibian overture of such magnitude !

It was an absolutely delightful interlude and so unexpected as a wildlife bonus that it more than compensated for the long drive north for the Sooty that simply wasn’t meant to be on the day. Even so the less than intensive bird count along the R27 was 124. Not too shabby given the time and attention devoted to the two mega targets at Eland’s Bay.

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