Written by Neil Ebedes

On the 26th November last year a very special find was made at one of South Africa’s most popular birding areas – Strandfontein sewage works in Cape Town  –  a Temminck’s Stint!

The Temminck’s Stint. Image by Neil Ebedes.

This was only the seventh time it has been located in Southern Africa and the third in South Africa. Very rare indeed, with breeding ranges in the Arctic and Subarctic latitudes and non-breeding only as far South as Kenya.   

Of interest is that Southern Africa’s ‘tickable’ birds include those from; – Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. So twitchers generally try to visit these countries due to their extraordinary diverse and unique species, and of course the possibility of picking up that rare or vagrant find. Included in our area is the edge of the Continental Shelf, approximately 200 kilometres South of Cape Point. This provides significant ‘pelagic’ opportunities but for many birders remains quite foreign. More about this in a future blog. (Listen for the word “Flock”)

It is appropriate at this point to describe the ‘psychology of a Twitch’ .

It starts with a forum for either ‘breaking news’ or a generalised description of a special bird in a particular area. It could also just be a common bird well outside it’s normal range.

Whatever the case, Twitchers often subscribe to Trevor Hardaker’s rare bird alert group. This has proved so reliable and up to date that birders from across the country rely on it to get them there ASAP. Trevor ensures that this information is disseminated  almost immediately. A ‘find’ must usually be accompanied by a photograph for confirmation but where a bird is just so startling and rare then visits by experts pre-empt any announcements taking place.

This was only the seventh time that the Temminck’s Stint has been located in Southern Africa. Image by Neil Ebedes.

The information to find the bird (“Twitch’) is usually disseminated by co-ords or other reliable methods.  When approaching a ‘Twitch’ it can often be located by the cars or people at the site.  Some do’s and don’ts:

  1. Never drive through a ‘twitch’ – park a respectful distance away
  2. Switch off asap and with all your equipment now ready  (settings in place) approach the ‘twitch’  from the ‘back or side door’
  3. Don’t speak or ask questions and never mention the name of the bird,  this will only drag you down
  4. Someone will start talking to you,  take your ‘banker’ and then move slowly around to improve that shot and to get a better view
  5. Your ‘friend’ (or two) will start giving you info and as newie’s arrive you become the senior

A ‘twitch’ is a life on its own!  Up's (the ticking of a lifer), downs (dipping out on a search), elation and depression, anxiety (the journey to get there especially after a long trip and/or cancelling that important meeting for more immediate things),  goal setting, the usual objective to increase your life total, meeting new people (with likeminded interests) and communications by way of the creation of WhatsApp groups,  Facebook etc etc.

OK - now back to business…

During this period a ‘lifer’, a Gull-billed tern,  made an appearance at Borakalalo National Park near Brits and a Black-tailed Godwit was located at the Mankwe dam in the Pilansberg National Park. The author had seen this Godwit 40 years ago and never photographed it. Our Stint in Cape Town was at a sewage works!

The question was now posed to an experienced birder as to which he would visit given only one choice.

Cape Town was the answer.

We were chasing a bird 12 centimetres long with no definitive features - Faansie Peacock in his book on Waders of Southern  Africa notes  “The dullest, plainest Stint, but ironically the easiest to identify” 

The very rare Temminck’s Stint. Image by Neil Ebedes.

A large group had gathered at the site. The tension was mounting, comments such as “not a zoo you know” and “a bird has wings” were bandied about. Luckily however it was located! It seemed missing during the heat of the day but made exciting appearances in the early morning or evening. It was unperturbed by the large numbers and worked its way within metres of the road at times. This find produced many ‘fist punches’ and certainly added a ‘tick’  to all who visited Strandfontein. At the time of writing this blog it remains on Pan 1 and is currently SA’s 3rd largest twitch ever.

It would be amiss not to mention that a side show at Strandfontein was also playing itself out.  As if the Stint wasn’t enough for visitors an American Golden Plover and a Red-necked Phalarope were concurrently on display. Attractions in their own right but overshadowed by our Asian visitor.

Why do bird watchers still get that ‘silent’ smile?

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