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

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

White-fronted Plover (Vaalstrandkiewiet) Charadrius Marginutus

Plover Beach is situated between Big Bay and the Horse Trails at Blouberg (Blaauwberg) Strand, Cape Town, South Africa.

Here the survival of the little Plover birds are presently threatened.

This happened when pristine beaches, bordering a nature reserve, became a public beach, because the most popular public beach along this stretch of coast were sold out to developers.

The Oystercatchers who used to breed in this area, suffered the same fate.

They have left now, and I am not sure if they will return. (They returned 2009 but were unable to reproduce due to the heavy pedestrian traffic on the beach)


* Measurements: About 18 cm long.

* Weight: About 72 grams

* Eyes: Dark brown.

* Bills: Black, straight (fairly broad for their size)

* Extremities: Legs and feet are black or grey.

* Colour: Above light sandy-grey; Below white, sometimes washed pale pinkish buff on breast, (especially in more easterly parts of range)

* Forehead and eyebrow: White,

* Crown: Blackish,

* Collar: White (also on hind neck),

* Black line through eye stops at the ear coverts,

* In flight: Conspicuous white bar on secondaries.

* Tail: Dark with white outer feathers;

* Feet: Do not extend beyond tail.

* (our Blouberg birds have three toes on each feet, and no back toe)

* Immature: Lacks blackish fore-crown; pure white below.

* Chick: Above very pale grey with broken pattern of black down midline of crown and back, below white.

* Song: Voice: Gentle piping wit or twirit on takeoff and in flight.

* Alarm note: Sharp kittup

* Threat note: drawn-out churrr .

* Distribution: Africa South of he Sahara, and Madagascar; in s Africa mainly coastal, but also on bigger rivers — Zambezi and larger tributaries (not Kariba), Limpopo to Tuli Circle, Sabi, Nuanetsi and Lundi Rivers; also Lake Mellwaine, Zimbabwe, n Botswana, Caprivi and Etosha Pan.

* Status: Common resident, may have local movements.

* The numbers of these birds may be declining rapidly, and we need to keep an eye on them, We need to leave an uninterrupted space for their breeding.

* The Blouberg Plovers will be extinct in a few years, as the beach opens to holidaymakers.
This may be the trend at many beaches along the coast.

There may be breeding space for the Cape Plovers near Koeberg nature reserve, though, I have not been to that beach recently, but will go and have a look during Spring.

* Habitat: Sandy shores of marine and larger inland waters (lakes, pans, rivers).

* Habits: Usually in pairs; flocks of up to 100 birds when in not breeding.

* Runs very fast, sideways; usually tucks head into shoulders; forages along waterline, among kelp and other debris, and away from water into dunes. Flies fast and low when disturbed, settles a little way off, bobs and runs. (the bird I watched, darted forward and pecked the food – one peck.)

* Food: Mainly insects; also crustaceans, arachnids, worms, molluscs. (Our birds love to peck at the insects in the seaweed.)

* Breeding: Season: All months on coast.

* Nest: Scrape in sand, gravel or shingle, sometimes lined with small pieces of shell; usually just above high water, sometimes well up from beach or on inland side of coastal dunes; usually next to driftwood, seaweed or other object.

* Clutch: 1-2-3 eggs (usually 2).

* Eggs: Pale putty colour or creamy buff, sparsely marked with fine spots and lines of blackish brown

* Incubation: 26-33 days by both sexes,

* eggs partly covered with sand by parent when disturbed at nest.

* Fledging: 35-38 days, young cared for by both parents.

(Information from Roberts’ birds of Southern Africa)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Introduction to this blog

It was not the plovers that I noticed when I became aware of the plight of coastal birds along this stretch of wild coast that was opened for public recreation.

Within a very short time this quiet beach turned into a major destination for sunbathers, people walking their dogs and fossil collectors.

When the decision was made to turn a major beach, Big Bay, into a high-rise concrete jungle, the closure of the most popular beach along Marine Drive, forced people in search for beach recreation further up the coast. This action caused a major disturbance to sea birds and animals that previously, nearly exclusively, used this section of the shoreline as their territory.

The beach that was previously interrupted occasionally by humans, nearly overnight became a popular resort.

Although this is a popular beach for water sport, the water is mostly too cold for bathers without wet suits. Blouberg also used to be very windy, however the weather also, seems to have changed.

The only people who used this beach were the white-mussel collectors.

That activity in itself added to the food supply for the sea birds.

Today there is no place for birds who rely on the beach for breeding and food. As the beach traffic increases daily, when more and more people move into newly built dwellings, the birds are pushed farther and farther away from their food source and the area that they need for nesting and camouflage.

What will happen to these little birds?

My guess is that their inability to breed and feed regularly will eventually lead to their extinction on this shoreline. Perhaps this is inevitable. They have no bank balance, so they have no right to be here according to human law.

Here, at Blouberg, they remain silent witnesses of how the habits of man impact on nature, without we even being aware of it.

Not even the dogs notice these shy, brave little birds; The beach plovers.

The Oystercatcher suffers the same fate, but they are bigger and quicker on the wing.

When they no longer visit an area, one knows about it. They are visible. Bird lovers miss their disappearances. Yet no-one knows or cares about the plovers. One cannot miss something that never existed.

These feathered, camouflaged, beach dwellers struggle on long after the Oystercatchers left to look for better breeding ground.

The intention of this website is to make people aware of the plight of sea birds, to make them visible.

Doing that I may save a nest, or I may hasten their extinction. At least, hopefully, they will be missed by someone when they are gone. Once you see them and become aware of their existence, one cannot help falling in love with them. They are so special, so vulnerable, so quietly invisible ... like the thoughts in your mind or the feelings in your heart - invisible to the human eye. It is a rare treat to spot one.

They survived this long because no one notice them.

However, at Blouberg, it is because no one knows that they are there that they walk over their breeding ground and that they are driven from their food supply.

It is my hope that people will respect these birds, and perhaps develops a group of local residents who will become the friends or guardians of the plovers between Blouberg and the BCA

Perhaps some school child will take this topic on as a school project. Perhaps then, we will miss them when they are gone.

Perhaps then we can feel sad because Blouberg lost its virginity to the rape by progress.

(The beach in question is the stretch of beach between Big Bay (Blouberg Strand) and the BCA (Blouberg Conservation Area), with a central (temporary) legal access to the beach at "The Horse Trails." There are also many unofficial access routes through the protected nature area.)