Birding Tours, Cape Recife, Port Elizabeth
Rare Damara Tern, Cape Recife, birding with Alan Tours
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Birding at Cape Recife
18 January 2022

Damara Tern sightings at Cape Receife, Port Elizabeth

I received a call from Amy asking if I could do a birding tour to the Cape Recife peninsula at the southern entrance to Algoa bay, absolutely was my immediate reply.

 We set off, last Tuesday the 18th of Jan. 2022, planning the walk to coincide with the low tide, at the respectable hour of 8 am in the morning. We met at the Pine lodge car park before travelling to the car park at the Cape Recife Lighthouse. Here we started our walk on the sandy beach. First up was a Grey plover feeding on the exposed shallow reef, soon to be joined by a beautiful Common Whimbrel which seemed to be oblivious of our presence.

The brief was to get as many marine species as possible, particularly Terns. I warned that Terns were not my strong point, but she was happy with this saying that we could work through the birds on the apps as we went along. Great news and it got better.

Leaving the exposed reef Amy soon pointed out a tiny tern sheltering amongst the boulders above the high water mark. We photographed the bird not knowing what species it was but noting that it seemed to be a juv. and in need of a good meal as it was not very energetic, fluttering a few meters then settling once again.

Next, we came across a mixed flock of terns spread out on the round, light brown boulders, we got quite close before shooting off a few pics. On closer inspection there were a number of species but the only one I recognized was the Swift tern which I started off by naming incorrectly. Hmmm.

cape recife birding

I turned away from the terns to see a lone figure slowly approaching along the beach. Everything about the figure said, “I mean business”. The tripod like a man bearing a cross, the boots, the putties, and a purposeful stride. I turned back to the ladies saying here comes a professional.

And so it was, Dr. Paul Martin, a prominent figure in the local birding community and a 100% dedicated birder who monitors mostly water birds around Port Elizabeth but travels far and wide monitoring birdlife throughout the country made his way closer to our position.

He was incredibly helpful, setting up his tripod with its spotting scope allowing all of us to take a closer look at the flock of terns on the rocks and best of all identifying each species with absolute ease.

birding at cape recife
black oyster catcher cape recife

Swift terns, some Common terns, Sandwich terns. He mentioned that he had seen the same tiny little tern on the beach mentioned earlier. This he told us was a juv. Damara tern with a ring that he had actually put on earlier in the summer out on the far side of the bay.

I’d earlier seen a large Caspian tern landing just behind a shallow dune and we slowly went in pursuit. Paul had walked on ahead of us looking for more of his obviously favourite little sterretjies (little stars) the Damara terns.

We had just spotted the conspicuous Caspian terns and could see Paul with his tripod set up when he excitedly gestured for us to come over – quickly.

We quickened our pace and soon joined Paul who was pointing out a group of about 9 Damara terns resting on the sand, recently exposed by the low tide. Paul mentioned that these little sea birds are probably the rarest marine birds in South Africa and that we were observing approximately 10% of the entire population at one time right there in front of us.

Paul left us with the little birds, and we got progressively closer, getting some really great shots of them displaying and offering tiny fish to each other.

We went on into the exposed rocky coastline where Amy’s mom spotted a bird that turned out to be a Godwit ( Barred Godwit I presume). Unfortunately, I was unable to see the bird. We went on to get some lovely Ruddy Turnstones mixed with Common ringed Plovers and Sanderlings foraging on the exposed coral worm colonies and of course the bird that everyone comes to expect to find at Cape Recife, the Black Oyster catcher put in a spectacular appearance amongst the orangey brown rocks. A well satisfied visit to our shores and a satisfying morning spent all round on the beach

Words and images by Alan Fogarty