African Landscapes from South Africa: Ducks and Geese
African Landscapes from South Africa: The Ducks and Geese
Of the 900 plus birds found in Southern Africa, 20 are classified in this order: three - the Northern Pintail, Northern Shovelor and the Garganey - are listed as rare vagrants, while the other 17 are widely distributed and can be seen in most parts of the country on dams and lakes. The Mallard has been introduced from Europe and escapees have produced Feral Populations that are causing problems as they inter breed with the very common Yellow-billed Duck.
The water birds are characterized by their webbed feet and waterproof plumage. They feed by diving under the water or grazing along the sides of dams and lakes, or even in grasslands.
The largest bird in this group is the very common Spur-winged Goose and the smallest, the rare African Pygmy Goose that is only pigeon sized.
Here in the Eastern Cape, 14 of the duck and goose species occur and a visit to the Chintsa Sewerage Works near East London will normally produce sightings of a handful. Water birds are colorful, interesting and fascinating to watch. They usually feed in pairs or groups, either on/under the water or in the grass next to it.
The Yellow-billed Duck,a very common species is probably the easiest to identify by, you guessed it, its bright yellow bill.
Life for bids can be dangerous even on a small pretty wetland dam.While watching a female Red-billed Teal with 9 chicks swimming on the dam at the Gonubie Nature Reserve we were amazed and horrified to see a Cape Otter come out of the reeds and grab one of the chicks; and then there were 8! The mother and the rest of the clan just swam on. Life on the water is not always as tranquil and safe as it looks.
The Spur-winged Goose is a vegetarian and feeds on grass and roots near water or even in farm and grass lands. When arriving at its feeding area, just like the smaller Egyptian Goose, its dark and white colors present an attractive display. While the Spur-wing is reasonably quiet, the Egyptian Geese arrive with a loud honking sound to announce their presence.
Two of my favourite ducks are the White-faced and Fulvous Ducks, usually to be seen sitting on the banks of dams and lakes in small groups. Their beautiful colors and delicate patterns make them a joy to view through one’s binoculars. These birds are also very photogenic.
The Cape, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal are usually seen in the water, diving under the surface or feeding in shallows. The Red-billed Teal is the most common species in the Goose and Duck group. The Hottentot Teal prefers fresh water with floating vegetation. The less common Cape Teal is usually found in salt pans, lagoons and sewage works. While the Hottentot Teal can easily be recognized by its blue bill the others both have red bills.
The very small but beautiful African Pygmy-Goose is found in the N/E parts of the country and prefers quiet water with floating vegetation and when approached shelters among water plants and so can easily be overlooked.
Any visit to the many dams and lakes in the Eastern Cape or elsewhere in Southern Africa will also often produce many other birds that are drawn to water and food sources near it. Sacred Ibis, African Spoon-bill, Common Moorhen, Grebes, Grey-crowned Crane, Blacksmith Lapwing and Flamingoes are some that come to mind. To see the rare Finfoot one needs to scan under the overhanging vegetation along fast flowing rivers. A Malachite or Pied Kingfisher is also likely to make an appearance on any body of water and Water Thick-nee often stand quietly on the water’s edge during the day. If you are lucky you will also see the rather exotic Hammerkop (Hammerhead) or one of the many Herons that are drawn to water. If you travel to the N/E, an Open-billed, Yellow-billed or Saddle-billed Stork makes for exciting viewing.
During the summer months many waders like the Three-ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper and Common Greenshank, to mention just a few, feed along the edges of the dams and lakes; especially where mudflats exist.
In a dry country like South Africa, birds and animals in general are drawn to water. Last year during a morning’s birding along the Shingwedzi River in the Kruger National Park, we managed to list 76 different species of birds. A visit to the Cefane and Chintsa area near East London will usually provide over 50 different birds during a morning birding.
Flying over the water or perched on a nearby tree the common African Fish Eagle is likely to top off your birding experience. Listen for its typical call that indicates to all and sundry that this regal bird commands the waters
References: 1.Roberts, Birds of South Africa:6th Edition.
2. Complete Photographic Field Guide -Birds of Southern Africa: Sinclair and Ryan