Twitchers in a flutter over bird

Mega bird Temmincks Stint

An ordinary looking bird, going about its business eating insects and other small invertebrates, is unaware of the stir it is creating.

It all began around 10.30am on Saturday November 26.

Edgemead twitcher Glynis Bowie spotted the wader at the eastern edge of Pan P1 at Strandfontein sewage works. Three days later she posted her picture on Facebook, hoping for help to identify it.

The following day it was confirmed and Trevor Hardaker, who has 915 bird sightings, posted the mega alert on the Southern African Rare Bird News (SARBN).

“I can’t believe that I am typing this,” wrote the twitcher.

“There has been a confirmed record of a single individual Temminck’s Stint. If it is still around, it is going to cause absolute mayhem with lots of people arriving to see this rarity-fest!!”

It’s the third time a Temminck’s Stint has been spotted in South Africa and the seventh time in Southern Africa.

Six days later, on Monday morning, 600 people had recorded seeing it. Trevor also wrote that with many pairs of experienced eyes scouring the area more alerts would come through, and they did.

Later that day, Thursday November 29, he posted back of camera shots of an American Golden Plover found on Pan P2 and a Red-Necked Phalarope found by Mike Buckham and reported by Cliff Dorse.

On Thursday December 1, Cliff spotted a Western Yellow Wagtail flying across the causeway between pans P1 and P2, another out of range bird. And it didn’t stop there – during last week there was a Pectoral Sandpiper, a Sand Martin and an African Jacana holding territory on Pan P5.

Over the weekend there was a non-stop trail of vehicles with people coming from up the West Coast, northern suburbs and even Grabouw.

Southfield twitcher Karen Powell clocked up the Temminck as number 402 and the American Golden Plover at 403.

She has been birding for about seven years and of the 403 birds in Southern Africa her rarity list is 27 rarities or out of range birds, 10 of these have been seen at Strandfontein.

“The stint is a real treat as it’s a very rare sighting due to its range and Strandfontein is a real gem of a birding spot,” she said.

A Hong Kong birder might have crossed flight paths with Deona Andrag of Bellville as they both made a beeline from the airport to Strandfontein for the rarity feast.

Deona, who returned from Oman, said it was terrible being in the middle of a desert and hearing about all the unusual birds.

Warren May and Glynn Allard of Claremont described themselves as birding nerds.

“You can tell we’re beginners because we’re the ones with field guides,” laughed Warren.

They got into birding two years ago when they came to Cape Town from KwaZulu-Natal.

“But it really took off when we got binoculars, they’re indispensable,” he said.

At Pan 5, Marietha Foord of Durbanville was photographing the African Jacana, tucked in between reeds.

In the car Jonathan Lloyd of Table View said they usually go birding at Intaka Island at Century City but ventured to the sewage works to tick off the numerous feathered visitors.

He said this jacana is not normally seen here but is common in Zululand although an individual has been seen before at Rietvlei. With them were Jan and Freda Prinsloo.

Asked about the feast of so many out of habitat birds, Professor Peter Ryan of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology said it is most likely because there are more people looking rather than an increase in the number of rarities.

“If anything, long-distance migrants are becoming less common, so on average we should be seeing fewer, not more. But you could argue that global change is causing more birds to get lost on their migrations …” he said.

However, Shelly Marx, a Hout Bay birder who has clocked up over 500 wader sightings, believes it is because the pans have been rehabilitated.

Shelly had visited Strandfontein three times since the news broke about all the bird sightings.

She said birds may get picked up in storms and blown off course.

She was there on Sunday with husband Bo Marx who said birding is a nice hobby as it gets people out in nature.

Trevor says birds do get blown off course but he believes there are more waders visiting the pans because of good management.

Site co-ordinator for the Strandfontein birding area, which has now been incorporated into False Bay Nature Reserve, Erica Essig, (now Brink), missed out on all the visitors over the weekend because she was getting married.

Strandfontein sewage works is managed by the City of Cape Town.

As the website says: “Although the uninitiated will often turn up their noses at the idea of voluntarily visiting a sewage farm, such places are often exceptionally rich in birdlife.

“This is especially true of the extensive Strandfontein sewage works, arguably the best waterbird locality close to Cape Town, whose existence is under threat from a new motorway. The abundant and diverse birdlife makes it an ideal destination for the beginner and serious twitcher alike, and it is possible to see more than 80 species on a summer morning.

A major advantage is the opportunity to bird from the comfort and security of your car, which can be used as a moving hide.

The vast network of reed-fringed pans which radiate out from the sewage plant buildings is connected by good gravel roads, but beware of occasionally treacherous sandy patches, especially along the southern coastal road.

* The Temminck Stint’s (Calidris temminckii) common name and Latin binomial commemorate the Dutch naturalist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.

At 13.5 to 15cm length, the Temminck’s Stint is similar in size to the little stint (Calidris minuta) but shorter legged and longer winged.

The legs are yellow and the outer tail feathers white, in contrast to little stint’s dark legs and grey outer tail feathers.

They have a distinctive mouse-like feeding behaviour, creeping steadily along the edges of pools.

They mostly eat insects and other small invertebrates.