My atlasing trip last week included time spent in Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve, which lies on the southern side of the dam of the same name and is an easy 40 minutes drive east of Pretoria
Before reaching the reserve entrance, I had spent time recording species in the habitats that I was not expecting to find inside the reserve and had a pleasing list of 30 species by the time I reached the entrance, a number of which I had found at a bridge crossing the Bronkhorst Spruit on a quiet side road.
On entering the reserve I passed a few herds of antelope enjoying the long grassveld habitat of the dam surrounds before heading to the dam’s shoreline, which I knew from previous visits was ideal habitat for waders – or shorebirds as some prefer to call them.
Waders are notoriously challenging to identify in the early stages of birding, but time is on your side in this wonderful hobby/pastime, which usually becomes the dominant one for the rest of your life once you’ve got into it. As you progress and have more opportunities to watch waders in action, you learn to look for certain features and identification becomes easier, making you wonder why you battled so much in the beginning.
Here are the waders and a few other birds that I came across as I drove slowly as close to the shoreline of the dam as I could – I had to divert here and there to avoid disturbing the fishermen who also enjoy this environment ….
Ruff Philomachus pugnax (Kemphaan)
Ruffs fall into the wader family known as the Calidrids, breeding at Arctic latitudes and migrating to southern Africa during the austral summer. There would be no difficulty identifying Ruffs during the breeding season, as they take on a spectacular breeding plumage, but we see them in southern Africa in their drab non-breeding state, looking like many of the other waders. One of the most numerous summer waders
What to look for :
- Size medium (M : 29-32cm F 22-26 cm)
- Medium length bill, slightly drooping
- Longish, usually orange legs
- Scaled appearance on back
- White feathers at bill base
Sanderling Calidris alba (Drietoonstrandloper)
Sanderlings also belong to the Calidrids family, breeding in, and migrating from, Siberia and Greenland to southern Africa, where they arrive from September. Inland records are quite scarce as most head to coastal beaches, but Bronkhorstspruit Dam has seen some records of this species on an intermittent basis. This was the only one I saw during my visit and is only the 4th record for the pentad, out of 170 cards
What to look for :
- Size : Small (18-21 cm)
- Distinctive light colouring separates the Sanderling from most other waders
- Short, stout bill
- Dark shoulder patch (hidden by white feathers in my photo)
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula (Ringnekstrandkiewiet)
The first of the “Small Plovers”, this palaearctic migrant flies up to an amazing 18,000 kms from its breeding grounds to southern Africa
What to look for :
- Size : Small (17-19 cm)
- Relatively easy to identify with its broad black breast band contrasting with the white collar
- Very short, stubby bill
- Orange legs
Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris (Driebandstrandkiewiet)
The second of the “Small Plovers”, this is a common freshwater wader in southern Africa, where it also breeds
What to look for :
- Size : Small (17-18 cm)
- Distinctive with its double breast band and red eye-ring
- Bobs up and down in animated fashion
Little Stint Calidris minuta (Kleinstrandloper)
This smallest of waders always makes me think of an old gent in a faded brown overcoat – they habitually walk about with head bowed which, along with their small size, makes them easy to pick out among a group of waders. The Little Stint is a Palaearctic migrant. those arriving in South Africa from September are thought to breed in northern Europe
What to Look for :
- Size : Very Small (12-14 cm)
- Short, fine-tipped dark bill
- Bowed posture while wading
Some of the other birds occupying the shallow wading areas and margins of the dam that I came across –
Grey-headed Gull Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus (Gryskopmeeu)
This fairly common inland Gull had been attracted to the shallows by a dead fish on which it was scavenging.
One of the easiest Gulls to identify inland as it is usually the only one. At the coast one has to be a bit more judicious in arriving at an ID – the Hartlaub’s Gull is of similar size and general appearance so a more detailed look will show the differences
Juveniles are there for the sole purpose of confusing birders, or so it seems – they often look so different that it’s easy to imagine it may be a completely different species
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Witbaardsterretjie
A small flock of Whiskered Terns were resting at the dam’s edge – any terns seen inland are likely to be one of two species – this one and the White-winged Tern. They can be difficult to distinguish in flight, but resting like this it is a fairly easy ID
This one decided to stretch its wings then flew off, showing off the beauty of the feathers that make up the wings and tail
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia (Reusesterretjie)
My favourite Tern was nearby, on its own – the Caspian Tern is the largest tern (at 51 cm) in the region and is a breeding resident. Apart from its size, the standout feature is its large red dagger-like bill.
And these two waterbirds make it onto this post simply by sticking close to the shoreline, allowing me to get reasonable images as I studied the waders
Cape Shoveler Anas smithii (Kaapse slopeend)
Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata (Geelbekeend)
To end off – a mystery wader at water’s edge – extremely large and well feathered – definitely not a Stint……
7 thoughts on “It’s a Shore Thing”
Your photographs are a joy to see and I find the ‘pointers’ you give re the ID of the birds interesting.
Thank you for the encouraging comment – as always
Hi Don. Thank you for share your observations with me! Hope you and your family are well and healthy, after the pandemic!!
All the best from Cuba
Ernesto Reyes Birding and Nature Photography Tours
Great to hear from you Ernesto and glad to be able to share my observations. We are all doing well with hopefully the worst of the pandemic behind us. I still treasure the couple of days spent with you in Cuba and the amazing bird and other sightings you showed us. All the best to you and the family
Great shorebirds and lovely photos once again. I simply can’t imagine what that last one could be 🙂
Glad you like them – still pondering that last one – all I can think of is a Giant flightless Plover …..