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 Post subject: Bush Baptist Wild West Waders....would we win? Feb 2012
Unread postPosted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 5:17 pm 
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Legendary Virtual Ranger
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When I signed up for the Wader Bash this weekend with the Honorary Rangers of the West Coast National Park, I had little idea what to expect.

I arrived home knackered 2 hours ago having had a seriously good weekend.

I will tell you about it soon.

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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:48 pm 
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It was not too clever of me to fritter away my half day’s leave and depart just as the weekend rush hour was starting. Before long, I was caught up in it as I slowly made my way up to Melkbos, where the traffic thinned and I was able to speed up.

I arrived at the gates of WCNP at about 16h30, and when I announced that I was there for the Wader Bash, I was ushered in without being asked for a wild card or entry fee.....

At that time of the afternoon, I thought that I might be lucky enough to see something interesting, but only a Steppe Buzzard was having difficulty staying on a gum tree branch in the classic southeaster, while a yellow billed kite enjoyed the challenge in the air.

I arrived at Geelbek (Yellow mouth/bill) centre to be greeted by some smiling Honorary Rangers, who checked me in and handed me my goodie bag. I was also told that my special talent had been noted and I had been allocated the end ‘stable’ to myself!

The stable was converted into a bedroom containing two double bunks and a table. Not great, but I have stayed in worse places. After unloading, I went to the hall and had a cup of coffee, which was available at all times, and met the other ‘contestants’ as they arrived.

Let me digress a bit here, to explain. The Wader Bash is a fun competition (that to me is an antithesis!). A team consists of up to 4 birders and an expert guide. You have 24 hours (18h00 Friday to 18h00 Saturday) to amass as many species as possible, and the team with the most (plausible) wins. The guide’s job is to take you to the most likely spots to see birds at the right time, and to assist with identification, but not to do it for you.

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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 12:47 pm 
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The team I was allocated to consisted of an Australian volunteer who had been in SA for a month or so, a WCNP lady staff member with limited birding experience, a recently arrived from Gauteng lady who had been birding for a year, and me. Oh dear, I am going to be relied on a bit here I thought. Our guide was Keith Harrison, SA’s tern expert.

After the official welcome and rules explanation, we wasted no time in setting off to the old hide, which was quite popular for some reason. I was not difficult to ID the waders after listening carefully to others there..... Keith put the scope on an interesting pair of big brown & white birds and to my delight I added Osprey to my Southern Africa list. I had seen a lovely one in an estuary in Wales in 2010 while visiting Barcud, but that is not SA. We also racked up some species on the wetlands to and from the hide, including what we recorded as a common redshank.

Then we went to Abrahamskraal, the only fresh water ‘pond’ in the park, and picked up some ducks and other usual suspects including black crake. Another of the guides there pointed to the pic of Burchell’s coucal in his bird book, but I scanned every bush unsuccessfully. I have never seen one west of Wilderness, so I was sceptical, but refrained from asking if he has also seen a carmine bee-eater.....

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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 2:36 pm 
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We drove back to Geelbek in the gathering gloom and counted. Forty five. Not bad I thought for 2 hours. I was the only member of our team who would be overnighting in the park, and braaied with ‘the enemy’ to get intelligence’.

There is a prize for the best ‘rarity’ and I was told our redshank was definitely a good bet, but I had taken a pic, and it only took Mel, one of SA’s best, seconds to give me 10 reasons why it was a ruff! Still it was a tick on the list.

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Redshank turned Ruff (seriously cropped)

It was also nice to meet and chat to forumite TonyT, who was the expert guide to a school team.

After the braai, I decided to use the intelligence, and look for marsh owls, which I was told, are often seen along the side of the tar roads at night. It was an easy decision, as I have yet to see one. Well I didn’t, but others (said they) did. After travelling over 10 km and seeing a steenbok and speeding cars, I turned into the access road to Mooimaak, and on the sign was a spotted eagle owl. On the way back, a large black mongoose ran across the road.

I showered, in a pretty good ablution block, and turned in for the night. I heard gentle snoring from my nearest neighbours, so at least they were asleep before the chain saw (so the rumours go) started.

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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:14 pm 
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I could not get back to sleep after 4h50, so I got up at 5h30 and prepared for the day, which was windless and slightly misty. When I ran marathons in the 80s, I could eat at any time of the day or night if I had to, in order not to be hungry on the run. I believe some people have trouble even thinking of eating before a certain time. I ate my cereal and at wandered off to try to find some birds that were waking up.

One of my team members arrived and we tried to pick up woodland species as we walked in the Geelbek area. By the time the rest of the team assembled, we had hoopoe, sunbirds, sparrows, weavers and the like.

We set off to find coastal birds first at Tsaarsbank, and were not disappointed with the cormorants, oystercatchers, penguins and other little chaps. On the way back we got a black harrier and pale chanting goshawk, among others. I didn’t realize that the PCG was a park rarity, although one can see them outside the park. It was said that the blackshouldered kite numbers had dwindled, but we saw plenty. Back at Abrahamskraal, we tried again, but there was nothing new.

We had wanted to be back at the Geelbek hide by 10h00 for the favourable tide, but time ran away from us, and we skipped it. Later reports told us we hadn’t missed anything new. We drove straight to the Zeeberg hide, where we waited for the tide to bring the birds close. Here I picked up 2 lifers, little tern and red knot, lots of both. A large group of bartailed godwits flew in and one guide thought he saw a blacktailed among them, and got quite excited, but it was turned out to be just one of the same gang.

After quite a while, we left for Bottlary, where we had a very long view, with birds at the very end of the scope range, but the heat haze didn’t help. I could not tell if what I saw was a secretary bird or a pole, but since it did not move I gave up on it. When the scores were in we found that at least one team had counted it. By the time Mel arrived, the bird with the red legs we wanted him to ID had disappeared.

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Last edited by Bush Baptist on Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:10 am 
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The drive around Mooimaak proved very fruitful as we were able to spot a lot of arid habitat birds, including the elusive Southern black korhhaan. Once we had seen one, a whole lot more came out of hiding, as did Cape longclaws. Up there I also got my 4th & 5th lifers, grey tit and Cape penduline tit, and we hit 100, which I thought was quite a respectable total.

It was now after 15h00 and some of the team had not prepared well from a snack point of view, so we returned to Geelbek. We stopped about 50 metres from the restaurant to id a raptor that was holding on in the wind to a branch. It was a steppe buzzard, probably the same one I saw yesterday before the competition started, but as we watched, this large whitish raptor emerged just above the tree and flew directly over our heads. “Osprey” shouted Keith, and we watched in awe as we saw it was clutching a large fish in its talons!

A bit later, we set of to walk the 2 km to the two pans nearby, looking for pipits, larks and anything new on the pans. We found a lark and a pipit, but the pans were a bit disappointing, but the highlight of the walk was seeing what we identified as a pair of lesser kestrels (that the rarity committee seemed not to agree with) playing low overhead for at least a minute.

There was still about half an hour before we had to hand in our list, but we were thrilled with our 105, and decided not to walk around the restaurant area looking for another few. Big mistake, as it turned out. Keith bade us farewell, as he had other commitments, and we handed in our list.

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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 3:00 pm 
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The prize giving was held between courses of the wonderful dinner that was provided. After the starter, the ‘wooden spoonists’ were announced. I sat nervously waiting for our team name to be called, :pray: but it wasn’t. The team that propped up the log all received booklets on ‘Better Bird Identification”, and as I later found out, had a total of 79.

Thereafter, we all tucked into the beef stroganoff and/or roast chicken dishes. Next it was the best school team, who thanked Oom Tony, (the forum’s Tony T) for being such a good guide. Well done Oom Tony! :thumbs_up:

When the competition winners were announced, it was a tie! The adjudicator was Professor Phil Hockey, co author of the Sasol bird books, and Head of Ornithology at UCT. A more qualified judge would be hard to find. Phil decided that the best top 5 birds seen would win it, and that both teams had got 106. 106! And we had 105! :wall: The competitive half of me was disappointed that we didn’t go looking around the restaurant in the final half hour for a couple more species, but given the strength of our team, the other half was thrilled that we had come within a whisker of matching some very good teams.

I was surprised when Phil announced that the pale chanting goshawk that most teams saw was chosen as the best ‘rarity’. :whistle: I asked him afterwards about our 2 submissions, firstly the osprey with a fish in its talons, and he replied that ospreys eat fish normally, and then the lesser kestrels, and he was doubtful about them, because they usually are seen in large groups not pairs, and assumed they were rock kestrels. PCGs he said were not usually found in the park although locally fairly common, as were blue crane, also submitted and a contender. :hmz:

After a lovely evening, having done my best to prevent left overs, and having planned ahead for 2 weeks of the beverage people say should be drunk weekly for health reasons, I turned in for the night to the mild sounds of those who had 'planned weeks ahead' and were already asleep.

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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 2:26 pm 
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A photo of some contestents in the field. Spot the author of this thread (no place to hide). For the uninformed BB's the one in the white shirt and black cap.


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 Post subject: Re: Wild West Waders....would we win?
Unread postPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 11:07 am 
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The next thing I knew it was 7h45. I got up and showered and had breakfast. By then it was almost time for the morning’s activity, two presentations.

The first was by Mel & Vernon, two of the province’s most prominent birders. They had been on a trip to the Galapagos and shared an engrossing hour with us. From marine iguanas to tame birds, from scary seal encounters to mudhole ‘trips’, it was very entertaining. The only disappointment was that the only bird that they dipped on was the megatick out of the 40 odd endemics on the islands.

Next was an insight into the number patterns and behaviour of some of the Cape’s coastal birds, presented by Phil. It gave us a wonderful insight into the growth in numbers of the African black oystercatcher in particular. He explained the difference between ‘breeders’ and ‘floaters’, informing us that the populations were only healthy when there were sufficient floaters. The banning of vehicles on SA’s beaches had helped enormously with the increase in some coastal birds.

Pretty soon the weekend was wrapped up with well deserved thank yous and everyone went their own way. I popped into Abrahamskraal on the way out of the park, and just as if to brag, the PCG was on a pole on the main park road.

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