Plovers and other sea-birds near Big Bay, Cape Town.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Rigor Mortis of the Plovers' and Oystercatchers' habitat at Blouberg Strand.


This is the first time in weeks that I had the opportunity to visit the strip of beach between Big Bay and the Horse-Trails near Blouberg Strand, Cape.

The destruction of the Plover habitat that I witnessed there did not surprise me. I have seen this happening over the past year. The only thing that surprised me is the speed at which it is happening.

(Above the same stretch of beach Jan 2008 and Sept 2008)

Will the sea level recede in time for the Plovers to breed again before summer?

Did the end of the Plovers come before most beech-goers knew they were there?

The destruction of the Plovers' habitat is due to a combination of: rapid changes and interference along this strip of beach:

  • 1. The dune stabilization in the form of an artificial strip of natural indigenous vegetation, which offers a buffer between the residential area and the beach. From many points of view, this is a good thing. At least our municipality did not allow the builders to build right onto the beach, as is the case in so many countries. For the Plovers, however, this was only delaying the inevitable. As the sea level rose, there was no place for the stony, above high tide, beach area to develop. This stony area offered a natural camouflage for these shy little beach residents. The Oystercatchers too like the stony, flotsam and jetsum, area for breeding, but they left last year already. We must remember, the main reasons of the dune stabilization efforts are to protect the nearby residential and public areas, and not the nature. Nature conservation was only piggybacked onto this need. Any area that needs artificial watering is not a breeding habitat for birds.

(above the photograph of an Oystercatcher on the same beach May 2008.

Note the beach traffic)

  • 2. Closing the most popular beach in the area (Big Bay) to be replaced by high-rise developments. This resulted in opening a previously natural undisturbed stretch of beach on public demand.
  • 3. The necessity for beach cleanup operations. The area above high water where most of the debris collects happens to be the habitat of the beach breeding birds.
  • 4. The ignorance of the public regarding the habits of Plovers.
  • 5. Lack of interest in the need and survival of birds using this stretch of the beach. No action to protect their area during breeding season.
  • 6. Removal of seaweed that provides camouflage and food to sea (beach) birds.
  • 7. The illegal removal of beach stones for building use.
  • 8. Using the vulnerable breeding area for recreation.
  • 9. Entering the beach through the conservation strip.
  • 10. The future need for more parking along the beachfront will eat even further into the strip if irrigated indigenous vegetation.
  • 11 The requirement of a future firewall between bush land and a residential estate, which has been allowed to border the nature strip, will also impact on the conservation area.
  • 12 Domestic cats from nearby homes can wipe out the whole Plover population who prefer to live on the ground.

It is amazing how the needs of birds are hardly ever mentioned in conservation reports and newsletters in the Cape. It is as if we either take them for granted or are too caught up in the invasion of alien species or the human footprint to remember what it is that we are protecting.

My new camera:

We needed to obtain a camera and laptop that could capture the birds from close by. After putting our pennies together we bought a new camera, only to discover that the camera turned its nose up for my old computer. Now we are back to square one. Our library computers are even older. They use the now obsolete incompatible stiffy-disc technology, so it cannot be used for this work either. I shall visit our computer shop at Bayside to find out if their computers can download my photographs, then I can at least e-mail them to myself. In the meantime, we are developing the photos at the photo shop, and then I scan them into my old relic. I tried to photograph the viewer at the back the new camera, but that did not work either. Last week I tried to scan the viewer of the camera but that did not work at all. There is only one suitable option; a new

computer and it has to be a laptop because mobility is my other need. Until we have everything in place, be patient with the quality of the photographs. Try to see (imagine) the bigger picture - as the conservation departments try to tell us.

My husband showed me an advert of a new computer shop due to open in Milnerton. They have cheap laptops for sale to the first five customers. When he phoned them to confirm, they replied that we would have to sleep outside overnight if we want to qualify. Therefore, that is that! Back to scanning and whatever works.

Visiting the beach 5-9-2008,

We parked on the roadside near the entrance of the Horse-Trails. As we walked along the little path, I noticed the sand dunes in the distance. When we got to the storm-water dam, all we saw was devastation and the debris left behind by the pushing tide. The bird-breeding activity of three weeks ago is gone. There is not a weaver in sight.

( Above the same storm water pool 7 August 2008 and 5 September 2008)

The only bird we saw was a single Moorhen looking for food among pieces of driftwood.

When I reached the beach exit, I noticed how the dunes were eroded, making the shortcut into the previously Plover habitat now the default exit.

As I scanned the beach, with my eyes, to see the condition of the Plover habitat, I noticed that it was replaced by sand. There is no camouflage for the birds. The Plovers to the left and right of the exit is gone. My husband walked ahead, armed with his new camera, and instructions to get close-ups of the Plovers. I lagged behind, with my old camera, because experience tells me that husband and dog will chase any chance I have of photographing the Plovers away. As I stood there trying to accustom my eyes to spotting these little birds, I noticed them flying around. I seldom see them flying. They prefer the ground and running out of the way to flying.

It is then that I noticed the reason for them flying. There was a large dog running and chasing every bird he can see. With the Plovers robbed of their normal camouflage, they are easy to be spotted by dogs that like to chase birds.

When I confronted the dog's owner with a request to stop his dog chasing the Plovers, he looked at me as if I was mad. He said his dog never catches the Plovers and that they only play with his mind.

I being hypersensitive about these birds, of course, thought that I was sure the Plovers were not in a mood for games when they are chased from their habitat.

That was about the story of the Plovers today. I hope it is not the last one. These little birds have nowhere to hide, and people are walking where they used to live and breed. How long will they survive under these conditions?

(Plovers with nowhere to hide)

How long will we still be able to see them here? Are the Plovers becoming endangered around our coastline as so many other bird species are?

People do need a beach where dogs can run loose. Keeping dogs in back yards all the time and on leads when they are in an open place, such as a beach, is cruel. Dogs also need a space to run free at the sea. Perhaps this particular beach should not be one of them. Perhaps this little strip of beach should be preserved for the Oystercatchers and Plovers as an inheritance for generations to come.

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