Rare bird sightings intrigue local club members
Four years ago, a pair of Greenwinged Pytilia were recorded on Mooifontein near Graaff-reinet for the first time in the Eastern Cape by Roddy and Jenny Furlong.
Two years ago, avid birders Alan Collett and Rob and Anne Boyd recorded a single male in the Camdeboo Conservancy.
On 31 July this year, Collett - a member of the Graaff-reinet Bird Club - again recorded a pair on Sholto Kroon’s farm, Klipdrift also in the Camdeboo Conservancy.
As the Green-winged Pytilia is a sought-after bird among Eastern Cape birders, a number of people came to see it when the bird - along with numerous young ones - was recorded every time. According to the local bird club, this can only mean that there is a breeding population in the area.
When a discovery like this is made, it immediately raises questions: did they come from elsewhere?
The birds' closest stronghold is just south of Bloemfontein, so, in order for them to get to Graaff-reinet, they would have had to cross the arid Karoo which is not their habitat. There are also no records of them in the Karoo.
Another theory that prevails is that they might have been here in very low numbers for a very long time. It is well known that the Camdeboo Conservancy was badly denuded 100 to 200 years ago and there certainly would not have been grass in that time. These birds need grass seeds to eat and to build their nests. Possibly a small population survived and it has taken this long for them to increase to the point where they are now being spotted. A third scenario is that they are escaped caged birds. This, of course, makes the previous speculations irrelevant, but what is not immaterial is that the current population is thriving regardless of how they came to be here.
Why are they thriving?
The Graaff-reinet Bird Club believes that it is because farmers, such as Sholto Kroon, are managing their veld well and the first thing that happens when the veld is well managed is that the grass cover increases.
It is a classic example of how birds can indicate the health of ecosystems and farmers can benefit the birds with the way they manage their veld.
The White-browed Sparrow-weaver and the Scaly-feathered Finch are another two species that depend on grass and they have also made a reappearance in recent times.
The Green-winged Pytillia