Birding on Wedderwill, Autumn/Winter 2013

The change of the seasons here always comes as something of a surprise for me, having been born and brought up in Britain, because with our Mediterranean type climate and closeness to the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans the effect of the weather can cause some quite dramatic changes from day to day, swiftly moving from summer to winter with a speed that still amazes me after all these years, but the advantages of this climate far outweigh the disadvantages, let me tell you. But quite apart from us humans, the effect is equally dramatic on our birdlife… you can almost hear the migrant birds say to themselves, “…if this is what we can expect, we’re off to warmer climes!”

All the migrants have left us and the Palearctic migrants are busily breeding in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas those migrants who breed here are taking a break in Central and North Africa, because that’s where there is food for them. The drive to pass on their genes is a major force for all life on Earth and for the birds that stay behind you will find that there are some who will breed throughout the year, Egyptian Geese for example can have three broods a year and you can nearly always find that there are goslings on one of our dams, or there is a gander noisily proclaiming his right to a dam or even a section of it closely followed by the goose, shouting at intruders flying over in language that sounds anything but ladylike!

There are three kinds of migrant, Palearctic, tropical and altitudinal, the first two I have already mentioned, but altitudinal? Some birds will move to warmer areas during the Highveld harsh winters and come down closer to the coast, although generally this doesn’t apply here in the Western Cape, because of the barrier of the Karoo semi-desert where they can pick up little food on migration, so that they are more likely to move to the Lowveld, KZN or the Eastern Cape.

The nectar feeding birds, primarily the Sunbirds and Sugarbirds are starting to build their nests as the Proteas and other Fynbos flowers are breaking bud, nectar being the primary source of nourishment for their offspring until Spring and the insects are more prolific. If you have ever watched a Malachite or Southern Sunbird hawking for insects in late winter, it will probably be to feed their hungry brood.

Because the conditions on Wedderwill have progressively changed from a seriously alien-invaded area to the re-establishment of montane Fynbos with some Rhenosterbos fragments here and there, and with the addition of both vineyards and a semi-suburban environment with our domestic gardens, we have lost some birds and gained others; for example, with the removal of so much of the dense alien species from the farm, the Dusky Flycatcher is not seen any more although it was fairly common twelve or more years ago. On the other hand the Southern Grey-headed Sparrow is to be found in a number of places around the farm where they were never seen a few years ago. I regularly saw Bar-throated Apalis and Laughing Dove in the past, but in these last few years they haven’t been seen at all; Cattle Egrets have become regular visitors, particularly in the early winter. As ever the only constant in life is change! Now we have Forked-tail Drongos breeding on the farm and it’s not so many years since they were never seen in the Western Cape, being largely confined to the Lowveld in the far north-east of the country, maybe they are feeling the effect of climate change even more than we are. They can’t move any further South or West for that matter! The noisiest and most obvious of birds that have ‘migrated’ from the north-east is the ubiquitous Hadeda Ibis which probe our lawns for insects and sit on the pine windbreaks, clattering off them when disturbed, with the inevitable “ha-ha-hadeda”.

Wedderwill is a wonderful place to see nature, not just birds but animals as well. Of the carnivores, both Caracal and Leopard are regular visitors and we have often have photographs taken by camera-traps set up on paths in the veld, with their spoor being found imprinted in the mud on a number of paths. Baboons, duiker, grysbok, porcupine and steenbok have been photographed by the camera-traps. A female leopard has produced a number of cubs behind the winery and has left evidence of her presence for several years and there has been no need to cull the Springbok on the Sir Lowry’s River Reserve as there is a picture of a Caracal with a bokkie in its jaws, taken close to the Summer House last year, so wildlife abounds on Wedderwill… keep your eyes peeled!

Max Ellwood


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