Twitchers at Rietvlei for rare bird sighting

Athina May

The news of a rare spotted cuckoo being sighted at the Rietvlei Wetlands sent scores of birders across the province in a tail-spin as they flocked to Table Bay Nature Reserve to try their luck at getting a glimpse of it.

The bird was first spotted by wildlife photographer Frieda Prinsloo on Thursday February 18.

The great spotted cuckoo is identified by its grey slender body and a yellowish face and upper breast. It has a long tail and is slightly larger than the common cuckoo, being 35cm to 39cm in length.

The cuckoo usually migrates to south-east, south-west Europe and western Asia in summer and spends winters in Africa, so the rarity of spotting the bird out of its usual habitat made it somewhat of a celebrity.

Selwyn Schneider, who was spotted among the thickets in the reserve, looking into the distance with camera in hand, had come out from Constantia, on news of the bird’s appearance.

“I have been here since 11am looking around for the bird. I would like him to sit right in front of me so that I could get a great picture. We’re all looking for it. It’s a rare bird and I’ve never seen it before,” said Mr Schneider.

Wessel de Wet from Century City followed close behind and said he had been looking for approximately an hour.

“I am a birder and I was following the talk about it. I’ve never seen it before. The great spotted cuckoo is bigger than a pigeon. I’ll be coming back again early tomorrow morning to try again,” said Mr De Wet.

Table Bay Nature Reserve biodiversity area manager, Koos Retief, said the bird is the second rare variety which has been spotted on the reserve in the past two months as the common cuckoo was also spotted on the reserve in January.

“We’ve had a few interesting birds being spotted on the reserve. It’s exhilarating, and we keep a list of species observed so it will be added as additional information to our database,” said Mr Retief.

Mr Retief mentioned that birders spend a lot of money chasing their hobby and at the drop of a hat they will fly out to see a bird.

“There has been a spike of visitors to the reserve which raises the profile of the reserve and increases income because they pay to come inside.”

Mr Retief said the bird possibly landed here due to urbanisation as many bird species have expand their range and occupied larger areas than they’re historically used to occupying because of urbanisation.

“You would think development negatively impacts their habitat, but certain species benefit from development.”

City of Cape Town biodiversity co-ordinator, Cliff Dorse, said that the birds are African migrants and possibly landed here due to the droughts being experienced in many parts of the land, or because the bird was off-course.

“It’s a young bird, he might simply be lost. The last spotted cuckoo we saw in the Western Cape was five years ago in Klipheuwel. We delivered two rare cuckoos in two months. The common cuckoo which is also rare and was spotted in the fig trees on Rietvlei in January,” said Mr Dorse.

Ian Farr and Johan Slabbert from Somerset West joined the search and acknowledged that they may have been a bit late to spot the cuckoo.

“We’ve had no luck. It’s a rare bird and I wanted to take a photograph. I’ve seen it before in Kruger Park.

“We watch the news and if a reporter says they’ve spotted this, we go. Johan was here two weeks ago to spot the common cuckoo,” said Mr Farr pointing to his partner in the distance.