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Open Mic: Wader Quest and the Shorebirds of South Africa

At the Mic: Rick Simpson

Rick Simpson of Newport Pagnell, UK, is a bird guide, illustrator, author of Confessions of a Bird Guide, and a Birdlife Species Champion. 

He previously wrote about Wader Quest at the ABA Blog in Thailand, the UAEFlorida, Washington, California the UK, in South America, and Africa.

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Back in Johannesburg Sue Oertli had one more treat up her sleeve for Wader Quest. She took us to meet a gentleman by the name of ‘Dup’ du Plessis. ‘Dup’ has been monitoring a group of Two-banded Coursers for a number of years and has sadly watched their numbers fall from about seven pairs to the current one pair, which fortunately has a chick. He’s retired, and spends all his days looking after these birds, protecting them from cars, quad-bikes and the like, not to mention children with sling-shots. We were moved by his dedication and joined ‘Dup’ for a short while and got some excellent views of these stunning birds and their chick.

Two-banded Courser, photo by Elis Simpson

Two-banded Courser, photo by Elis Simpson

That evening we delivered a talk to local birders in Johannesburg and raised some more money for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper captive breeding program and the Hooded Plover project and met some very interesting and friendly people there including the current Big Year List holder for southern Africa, Niall Perrins.

We then flew down to Cape Town and drove south to Noordhoek where accommodation had been provided for us as Afton Grove, a lovely place with much bird-life in the garden. Somehow we got lost, though, and ended up in Simon’s Town. Upon checking the map we discovered that an African Penguin colony was close by so, unable to resist, we went for a look. The penguins were there and very approachable, but the bonus for us was that we saw African Black Oystercatcher, the first of the three target species we had remaining in South Africa.

African Black Oystercatcher, photo by Elis Simpson

African Black Oystercatcher, photo by Elis Simpson

The following day we took a day off from Wader Questing and, together with Chris Spengler, the owner of Afton Grove, went birding in the fynbos habitat around False Bay. What a treat! Best bird of the day for me was Cape Sugarbird. After leaving Chris we went north of Cape Town to Table View. Here we met Trevor and Margaret Hardaker, a delightful couple who had agreed to help us find the last of our birds. Trevor, probably better known for organizing fantastic pelagics out of Cape Town, took us along the coast north and we ended up at some salt pans near Velddrif. It was just moments before we had many of our next quest species running all around the vehicle, Chestnut-banded Plover.

Chestnut-collared Plover, photo by Elis Simpson

Chestnut-banded Plover, photo by Elis Simpson

We watched spellbound as these little beauties dashed about catching some of the flies that abounded there. We also saw our first Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers of the trip and although we saw a couple of Three-banded Plovers, somehow they still contrived to be too far away or against the light for decent photography!

Leaving that special place, which later in the year would have wall to wall northern migrant waders in it, we headed for the coast and our last potential species of the trip; White-fronted Plover. We caught up with this bird at a place called Mauritz Bay, eventually getting some good views of them. I was surprised to see them on rocks for the most part, but they also visited the small sandy areas to dig out sand flies. We also added Ruddy Turnstone to the trip list here.

Wader Quest ZA

We were almost done with South Africa, but the following morning Margaret volunteered to take us back to Rooi-Els where we had missed Cape Rockjumper with Chris Spengler. It was a last ditch last morning second chance. It turned out to be a good decision to go there instead of visiting Table Mountain, we saw two rockjumpers. We left Africa later that day feeling very satisfied with the trip.

We saw a total of 29 wader species of which 19 were new for the quest taking our total to 128. We were sponsored by Wader Quest South Africa, namely the Sharland and Oertli families, and we met many wonderful people along the way. If you haven’t been to South Africa, put it on your ‘to do’ list, you’ll not be disappointed!

If you ARE interested in visiting South Africa, join the ABA this fall as we host our first African Safari along with Rockjumper tours! More information is available at the ABA Events page.

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The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]