The Gullable Tourist
It’s a Heuglin’s Gull that no other twitcher had ever seen on our soil. Except for Anne Williams
Every twitcher dreams of spotting a bird no one else has seen. Anne Williams’ megatick at sleepy Kleinemonde on the
Sunshine Coast changed her life
The birding experts were initially dismissive when Anne Williams reported a foreign gull feeding on the edge of the lagoon at Kleinemonde, a small settlement on the Sunshine Coast, east of Port Alfred.
A fanatical birder, who had honed her twitching skills on an overland adventure from Knysna to Malawi with hubby Clive, Anne nevertheless was unable to identify the stranger
À '' , % foraging in the tranquil Eastern Cape estuary.
She backed up her sighting with photos
¿ Roberts Birds of Southern Africa co-author Tony Tree ventured , * ¿
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Siberia, it set the birding world atwitter.
& % ! ! seen south of Tanzania, where they migrate to escape the harsh Russian winters.
The Rarities Committee arrived from Cape Town to test the veracity of her sighting one weekend, while she was away visiting family, and searched fruitlessly for the stray gull. “I got back the night before they left and met them at the lagoon early the next morning.
3 ¿ not see it, but thankfully the gull appeared and I pointed it out as casually as I could.
“It was a case of reverse migration. It kept going south and ended up here,” says Anne, who was kept busy taking visitors to see the Siberian gull during its four-month sojourn
“I could’ve made a fortune if I charged them,” she remarked to a friend one day – and
¿ passion for the avian creatures in the coastal paradise at Kleinemonde where she lives could
¿ ! this hobby late in life.
Anne started birding after a trip to Kruger National Park, and taught herself to identify
¿ pianist and music teacher, as well as in medical technology, had prepared her well to pay
¿ ! identifying birds.
To become a professional guide, she
4%- - 54 % She - 6 now regularly takes visitors to see the
334 species she’s recorded in the area stretching from the Fish River Mouth to Port Alfred and inland to Bathurst and local game farms. “You can spot a fair number of birds in this area quite easily,” Anne advises birders wanting to build their list of lifers.
And if you add in the rest of the Sunshine Coast west to Alexandria, more than 400 species have been recorded, including many
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South Africa’s seven biomes in this area and ten river estuaries,” points out Sandy Birch of Sunshine Coast Tourism.
The area around Port Alfred is becoming a favoured birding destination, where birdwatchers have the chance of seeing many
¿ elsewhere, thanks to the varied habitats – coast, estuaries, wetlands, riverine and dune forests, valley thicket, grasslands and Eastern Cape fynbos. “The coast, estuaries and wetlands provide excellent feeding grounds for waders, but the richest habitats are savannah and grassland,” says Sandy.
Among the sought-after birds found in the Eastern Cape fynbos are the Black Harrier and the African Marsh Harrier, as well as the Jackal Buzzard, Malachite Sunbird, Greybacked Cisticola and Denham’s Bustard. In other habitats, Brown Scrub Robin,
Barratt’s Warbler, Dark-backed Weaver,
Grey Sunbird, Black-bellied Starling, Blackcrowned Tchagra, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Swee Waxbill with its distinctive red rump, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike and Forest Canary are also favourites with twitchers.
A pair of Knysna Woodpeckers are regulars in Anne’s garden, where a Chorister RobinChat provides a happy soundtrack in contrast to the harsh croak of Knysna Turacos that compete with Trumpeter Hornbills for the fruit of the wild plum (Harpephyllum caffrum).
Her passion for birds extends to rescuing those in distress and she’s played Florence Nightingale to quite a few. One such case was Gracie, an uncommon and vulnerable African Grass Owl that Anne found impaled on a barbed-wire fence.
She spoke to Gracie and calmed her before
untangling Gracie and taking her to a local vet.
Another time Anne helped a Fiscal Flycatcher mom rear her chicks after they fell out of the nest while being harassed by a boomslang. “I placed them in a container and supplied her with meal worms. She did the rest and they still come to beg for worms,” says Anne. “Friends for life.”
Kleinemonde has two river mouths and double the number of birds on its estuaries.
< À we watched a Goliath Heron trawl for titbits among Reed Cormorants, while a Fish Eagle wrestled with a snake it had caught in its talons. We could hear a Grey Sunbird, but it remained tantalisingly hidden from view.
On one of Anne’s popular eco tours from the Riet River mouth to the Three Sisters landmark, we spotted African Black Oystercatchers foraging for mussels while Terek Sandpipers, and Caspian Terns and Little Terns, took advantage of the low tide. Anne told us fascinating tales of shipwrecks, local history and the ecology of this stretch of beach, rich in rock pools to explore.
Joining one of her Bird ’n Breakfast outings at Pomeroy Game and Nature Reserve nearby,
À Honeyguide while strolling through riverine bush. The Mountain Wagtail and Narina
Trogon remained elusive, but we were charmed
, * / mantled Crested Flycatcher.
Other local specials include the secretive
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* = / tailed Godwit and Common Redshank.
Some of Anne’s favourite birding spots on the Sunshine Coast include the Kowie
River horseshoe valley at Waters Meeting Nature Reserve in Bathurst, Ngciyo Pans on the stretch of the R343 outside Kenton (dubbed the ‘poor man’s game drive’), Nyala Valley Game Lodge, Kap River Nature Reserve,
Riet River estuary and the coastal stretch to the Three Sisters landmark.
Varied habitats make it easy to spot birds
¿ + Heuglin’s Gull may be the most unusual visitor to the Sunshine Coast recorded so far – and
¿ - other vagrants are fond of surprising twitchers
- > a Great White Pelican on the Kleinemonde Lagoon, and a Dusky Lark on the road to the lighthouse at Fish River Point.
European Honey Buzzards, Spotted Redshanks and Green Twinspots are some of the other uncommon visitors Anne has ticked locally.
Her biggest regret is missing a Pel’s Fishing Owl photographed on the Kleinemonde East
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– it would have been a lifer to add to her list of 655 species.
“After days of searching for it I had to concede defeat. I was devastated,” she mourns. “Now I need to travel again if I want to add to my list.”
TOP: Riverine forest is one of the habitats explored on Anne’s Bird ‘n Breakfast outings to Pomeroy Game and Nature Reserve near Kleinemonde. ABOVE LEFT: This rather casual attempt of a nest by a Water Thick-knee is on the grounds of Kleinemonde’s...
ABOVE: The impressive Three Sisters rocky headlands on the coast near Kleinemonde attract a variety of birds and plant life. RIGHT: Life on the water beside the Kleinemonde East River means boats and birds aplenty.
LEFT: An Endangered African Black Oystercatcher perches on a cliff at the Three Sisters landmark. BELOW: This giant wild fig tree at Pomeroy Game and Nature Reserve is a magnet for birds such as the Trumpeter Hornbill.
ABOVE: Gracie the African Grass Owl that Anne saved, photographed by Chris Pretorius who cared for her at his rehab centre near Grahamstown until she was well enough to be released. RIGHT: Anne Williams started birding late in life and found her...