It’s official: red legs are sexy!

Summer CWAC 2017

By Lesley Cornish

It was the 2017 summer CWAC and instead of just going up on the day, Errol and I joined the happy campers at Fish Eagle for the weekend because of Braam Luus’s security system. Another draw was that the Gull-billed Tern had been reported the week before, so it would be a good opportunity to bag that. We rocked up on Friday to the longest grass (yep, full of ticks as we later found out…) I have ever seen at Fish Eagle, and put our tent up in a huge hurry before it started raining. Early the next morning, we dashed out with Graham Nicholls to get to see the island where the tern was reported to roost until about 7.00 am. To our dismay (and not total surprise because the dam was overflowing), the island was nearly submerged because of the higher dam level from the recent rains, and so rather than a nice long expanse on which many terns could roost, a hippo-sized rock was left which could support about three cormorants! Even the Common Sandpiper was not impressed and left!

But we looked at every tern we could find, and apart from some which were too far to see properly (perhaps…) they were all White-wingers with a very few Whiskered Terns, and a Caspian Tern which was pretending to be an African Skimmer.

We chased up a rotting smell and found a Carrion Flower, and in the later afternoon, it really attracted the flies. I was thrilled because I had not seen one before.

We watched the dam for terns…. We saw eight Fulvous Ducks fly past. What a treat!

Errol was getting bored of looking for terns, so we took a slow drive to Sefudi Hide, and after stopping to look at about 16 Amur Falcons flying around, we found a weird insect on the car’s bonnet; I think it’s a Twig Snout Bug.

At Sefudi Hide, we met up with Viv and John Thomé. There was lots of water and it was very overgrown but the Yellow-crowned Bishops appeared to be having fun, with the males buzzing around like large bumble bees.

Then, there was a commotion, and three Red-billed Teals were having a fight in the water.

Eventually, two were chased off, leaving the last to have what looked like a victory bath (very anthropomorphic, I know…), perhaps he was just unruffling his feathers?

But I was worried about missing the Gull-billed Tern, so we went back to the dam, and was amazed by a beautiful Squacco Heron in breeding plumage, and bright red legs!

When we discussed this back at the camp, Francois Swart said he had seen a Black-Crowned Heron also with bright red legs. We later saw a Cattle Egret with bright red legs (the one on the left).

What was going on? We had various theories that night regarding irritation from the pollutants in the dam (I had never seen the water so green) or irritation from ticks??? At home, according to The Herons by James A. Kushlan and James A. Hancock (Oxford’s Bird Families of the World Series), all these herons can have bright red legs (sometimes it is just the feet) when they are courting, and once they are paired, the legs go back to the more usual orange colour. (I wonder if that’s why some rugby players wear red socks?)

Before we returned to camp, we had to watch our friends the baboons, as they came to roost at the quarry. They are always entertaining, and once we saw a youngster pull another off by its tail. This time, they just chased each other around.

Now for the CWAC itself. I had asked Ian Wagstaff for the top end on the wilderness side, hoping for a good chance to see the Gull-billed Tern, and instead, we got very aggressive hippos – three separate groups of them, so we had to be really careful! One male (we assumed) really made sure we knew we were not wanted, and he told us in no uncertain terms to get out of his solar system! (We kept a very healthy distance – the photograph was taken with a long lens!)

Errol was counting Egyptian Geese, and then we flushed out a whole flock, which instead of swimming out into the dam, so they could be conveniently counted, decided to fly out. Mass panic, and with them was a Grey Plover, showing its diagnostic “black armpits”.

Our CWAC was over, apart from adding up all the birds! What a fantastic weekend! It was so good to be back at Bora even if we battled with ticks for the next few days, and did not see that wretched tern . Thanks Ian and Viv, for organising this!

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