I must admit, it irritates me a little when people say that birds don't read guides. Because guides are based on birds' movements. The chicken or egg scenario here is definitely bird and then only book.
But let's leave it at that.
Gymnogenes have been present in Gauteng for donkeys years now. I saw one just the other day circling over Bryanston and a week or so later one came flying over me along the Moreleta greenbelt in the East of Pretoria.
The Lammergeier sighting in Fochville is certainly interesting, but can it be verified? Sorry I am very skeptical of these things, purely because of my own mistakes I make till this day. On Tuesday I was looking at an Ovambo Sparrowhawk in its nest. I was about to walk away from it when my 9 year old daughter asked me if I was sure that it was an Ovambo Sparrowhawk, because she saw a long bill. I was like of course it is one! It is is sitting in an Ovambo Sparrowhawk nest, so its got to be one. I took the bins from her and low and behold a Hadeda Ibis came into view.
Obviously taking over the Ovambo Sparrowhawk nest. Assumption is the mother of all stuffups!
Yes, you are quite right, some awesome birds have pitched up in recent times. Very interesting as you said. But I have two views on that.
1. Extreme weather conditions, yearly, blows in some vagrants, such as what was the case with the Black Skimmer in Cape Town. A hurricane off the coast of Northern USA blew this thing 1000's of kilometers off course and into Ireland, where it was present for a day. Obviously this bird was confused and decided to do what it was supposed to do and started moving south as they would do normally on the other side of the Atlantic at this time of the year. If one calculated the amount of days the Black Skimmer was seen later in the Cape, one can very well argue that it was the same bird that was seen in Ireland taking the speed it flies.
Now as I said, extreme weather conditions is nothing new. In 2000 floods were caused in Kruger by a cyclone and the same again happened last year, so I cannot even blame something like global warming even though evidence exists that global warming is a reality. As an interesting example, in 2000 no one heard or read of scarce birds in Kruger, but last year there were numerous reports of pelagic birds that got blown into Kruger from Mozambique. Why is this the case?
Was there just no vagrant species to report in 2000? Or did we just have the amount of birders with the amount of knowledge and the technology that we have now? My opinion is the latter. There are far more clued up birders out there now than even a year ago. And word gets around much faster than a couple of years ago when you would read in the African Birds and Birding magazine of a rarity 2 months down the line!
2. I will stick my neck out now and say that Little Crake is not a new species to our country. Given the shy nature of crakes in general and the fewer birders in previous years, it has just not been noticed before. Take Baillon's Crake for instance. Previously people would go ballistic over a sighting of a Baillon's! Now they are picked up left, right and centre. I can guarantee you that there aren't more of them out there. Birders have just become better in recent years. And I think the SABAP project have a lot to do with that. I spoke to Etienne Marais at Mkhombo dam the other day. He said that the type of birding one do with SABAP is what you need to get these tricky birds. I agree with him. SABAP birding produced an African Skimmer in Carletonville earlier this year for instance. In 2008 SABAP birding produced a Franklin's Gull
in the middle of Centurion!!! Previously birders would've just scanned over these birds and assume them to be something else more ordinary. And together with that, now all of a sudden we almost expect to see these strange things!
Rob Geddes have seen Spotted Crake at Mkhombo dam for years. It was just never reported until the one we picked up there in 2010.
3. Competitions and challenges amongst birders such as our Gauteng challenge also spurred on birders to look with more purpose and venture into new areas to find something to challenge the rest of the group with.
I think a combination of more birders, better birders, better reporting and venturing into new areas is what makes more rarities pitch up in the country.