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Bird Listing at Gubu Dam in Winter
Where do all the birds go in winter?
Bird listing- Gubu Dam in winter.13-6-13.
As a volunteer “Citizen Scientist” I work in drawing up bird lists in four different “Pentads” in South Africa. A pentad is a 5’x 5’ area (about 9 km square) and the whole country has been divided up in this way using 1:50 000 topographic maps. This data is then collected by over 1000 volunteers like myself and is then sent in to the University of Cape Town where it is used for research into the ever changing distribution of the 950 bird species that are found in this part of the world.
Gubu Dam is situated about 100 km from where I live in East London and is in the Amatola Mountains near the town of Stutterheim. It lies at about 1000m above sea level and so is considerably colder than East London. The dam of 124ha is a prime fly-fishing venue for trout and I have a small row boat that I leave at the dam and use for fishing and also for birding. I try to get out to Gubu about 4 times a year but somehow it is difficult to get away due to the normal pressure of life. This week I managed to make the journey and today was my birding time.
As it is winter every bird identified is a valuable find as many of the usual ones have left because of the cold. Many birds migrate either on a regional basis or even on a continental one. Some of the birds like the Red Chested Cuckoo often seen at Gubu in the summer actually spend our winter in the Northern Hemisphere and is an Inter- African migrant. It is amazing to know that that some birds like Terns actually fly over 10.000km on a seasonal basis and are continental migrators. Many however simply move regionally from the colder high lying areas to the warmer areas near the coast.
The European Honey Buzzard that sometimes visits South Africa actually nests and breeds in Europe. Unfortunately they are hunted mercilessly in the Mediterranian Countries as they cross into Europe along favorite migratory routes.
As I started my first hour of birding at 8.00 this morning I was excited to see a group of Red-necked Francolin making their way to the water for an early morning drink. They are often heard but seldom seen. Then I was delighted to see large flocks of Yellow-rumped Widowbirds and Common Waxbill in the thick vegetation near the dam, foraging for food. We never see the Widowbirds in East London and also seldom a large flock of Common Waxbill.
A pair of Egyptian Geese honked their way over the dam and in the distance I could hear the African Fish Eagle calling. After an hour I had listed a fairly good 22 birds, including the beautiful Black-headed Oriole. After the mandatory two hours I had seen or heard 27 birds. The Little Grebe (also called Dabchick) did not seem to be worried about the Cape Otter that was swimming by also looking for breakfast.
The ever present Stone Chat posed for a picture. In Afrikaans it is called a “Bontrokkie” which translated means “colorful dress”. Often the Afrikaans names are very descriptive.
The highlight of the birding was perhaps the pair of Jackal Buzzard in a tree near the end of my journey and the yellow and grey Cape Canary that may be a first for my list in this area. I was also surprised to see a group of African Black Swift that have obviously decided to over winter in the area, something that my bird field guide confirmed was possible.
So bird listing is not only about what you see but also those that are missing. Obvious by their absence are the Olive Thrush, Hadeda Ibis, Blacksmith Lapwing and the striking Grey Crowned Crane, all regional migrators. The Grey Crowned Crane is called a “Mahem” in Afrikaans because of its call described as "Mah-hem" in the guide book. Once you have heared it you will never forget it. Perhaps somewhere in warmer areas another birder is recording the arrival of these birds, more evidence for migration patterns.
Tomorrow before returning to East London I may be able to add a few more to the list and hopefully get to 30. Yes, I did catch a 44cm Rainbow Trout and it made an excellent lunch.