Tuesday 4 February 2014

Intaka Island, Cape Town, Jan 2014

This year will bring lots of new sites and experiences to Redgannet. As a handicap in the 10,000 Birds year lists, I can only count birds that are seen from new places or from sites that have not previously featured in Redgannet. I consulted eBird’s Hotspot Explorer for some ideas for a visit to Cape Town and found a small marsh surrounded by a large retail and social complex to the northeast of the city at Google Earth ref; 33 53 17.40S 18 30 48.19E. The complex is known as Century City and the marsh, which is hemmed in by a canal, is Intaka Island.

“When development of Century City began in 1996, the 250 hectare area was largely covered by invasive alien vegetation and degraded wetlands”.

The award-winning Intaka Island is now 16 hectares of multi-purpose nature area, home to 212 species of indigenous plants and 120 species of bird. By the time I arrived from the airport and sorted a parking permit (Clampers operate in the area. See below), it was noon on a hot, hot day.

A path leads out from the visitor Centre and I chose to start to the left for a clock-wise circuit. Small open areas of water have been cut into the reeds and each was edged with Red-knobbed Coot. The first patch is overlooked by a small verandah at the Visitor Centre and a Purple Heron stalked the shallow water. After a short walk, the sound of gushing water caused me to lean out over the balustrade of the boardwalk to see what was going on. Water is pumped in from the canal system and squirts out from a long spreader bar. This kick-starts a filtration system that maintains the quality of water around the complex. The water filters through four stages before seeping back into the canal system.

On a Friday afternoon, the marsh was very quiet and I made my way round slowly, noting Yellow-billed Duck, Common Waxbill and lots of Red-eyed DoveI soon came to a lake. Out on the open water, a couple of Cape Shoveler floated in the gentle breeze, Long-tailed Cormorants fished and a small flock of Hartlaub’s Gulls kept up a raucous screeching.

A pair of hides sit back to back, one giving views across the open water of the lake, the other looking across the flooded meadow that is the final, fine filtration stage. Dead branches have been carefully placed around the hides and the birds readily use them as perches. A Long-tailed Cormorant posed right in front of the Meadow Hide. Another birdwatcher was already in place and had been enjoying some exciting kingfisher action shortly before I arrived, so I sat to wait and see what might happen. It was pleasant to sit out the heat of the early afternoon in the airy hide. 

A Lesser Swamp-warbler picked through the reeds and a Long-tailed Cormorant fished through the floating weeds in front of the hide. I dropped around the corner for a quick look at the other hide by the lake and was almost immediately called back by Pat, the other birder, as a pair of Pied Kingfishers had just flown in to the Meadow Hide.

Pat explained how to differentiate between the sexes and it seemed that both of the birds were females. After a short while, a male flew in with a fish and passed it to the female on his right to the accompaniment of much squawking from both sides. 

Was he an adult with two female young, or was he trying to impress a potential mate? Thoughts on a postcard please. Pat suggested that the belt at mid-belly (his masculine indicator) was not very distinctive and that he may still be quite young. He continued to fish in the flooded meadow, but plunged from a standing start on the dead branches rather than hovering and diving.

At the Lake Hide, Pat pointed out a Malachite Kingfisher on a man-made structure in the lake. African Darters fished in front of the hide and the Cape Shovelers had now drifted onto the near bank where they joined Egyptian Goose, Blacksmith Lapwing and a Black-headed Heron.

The hides have been placed so that the Meadow hide is best positioned for morning light and the Lake Hide comes into its own in the afternoon. As the afternoon began to cool, I ventured from the shade of the hide and quickly found myself back at the Visitor Centre where a White-throated Swallow rested for a moment in the reeds. There was a pair that kept returning to the underside of the building and may have had a nest there.

I still had plenty of time, so made another circuit. This time a Little Bittern flushed from the reeds and a weaver made me reach for the field guide. I think it was a female or young Pintailed Whydah and got support for that when a breeding male stopped close by.
There is another section comprising about half of the reserve that is seasonally wet and is mostly designed as a sanctuary for Fynbos species of plant that are endemic to the area and potentially threatened as Cape Town spreads. I didn’t explore this area, but returned to the Lake Hide to watch a Long-tailed Cormorant which had caught a frog and spent ages subduing it and jockeying it into position before swallowing it headfirst.

 Bird list for Intaka Island; 30

Egyptian Goose 5, Yellow-billed Duck 20, Cape Shoveler 2, Cape Francolin 2, Little Grebe 1, White-breasted Cormorant 12, Long-tailed Cormorant 25, African Darter 6, Great White Pelican 11, Little Bittern 1, Grey Heron 1, Black-headed Heron 1, Purple Heron 3, Black-crowned Night-Heron 2, Red-knobbed Coot 45, Eurasian Moorhen 5, Blacksmith Plover 15, Hartlaub’s Gull 7, Speckled Pigeon 1, Red-eyed Dove 30, Ring-necked Dove 1, Laughing Dove 15, White-rumped Swift 3, Malachite Kingfisher 1, Pied Kingfisher 3, Pied Crow 8, White-throated Swallow 3, Greater Striped-Swallow 1, Cape Bulbul 1, Lesser Swamp-warbler 1, Karoo Prinia 3, Cape Robin-chat 1, European Starling 6, Red-winged Starling 3, Southern Double-collared Sunbird 1, Cape Wagtail 12, Cape Sparrow 4, Cape Weaver 4, Red Bishop 8, Common Waxbill 25, Pin-tailed Whydah 3.

Visit the dedicated African Page for more posts from Cape Town, including Strandfontein, Betty’s Bay and of course, Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens

Birding, Birdwatching in Cape Town, South Africa.

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