Another Western Cape Crake

Having recently sat down and put together a “highlights package” of 2012 (see blog here) it was always going to be difficult to get back into the inevitably slightly more mundane birding that is nearby home.  Having been back from the holidays for a few weekends the opportunity to get cameras and binoculars out of the cupboard had been few and far between.

Furthermore, it seemed even more unlikely that I would be doing any birding this weekend as Jeanie was attending a good friend’s fortieth in Jo’burg and I was left in charge.  To make my fatherly responsibilities slightly easier this weekend Jeanie had taken Emma with her and so it was only Tommy, Jack and Adam that would fall under my care.

It sounded easy enough, but Friday ran a little away from me just after Jeanie boarded her flight when a painter’s ladder landed on Tommy’s head whilst waiting for his lift from school and Adam was complaining of his perennial ear infection.  Although Jack had no immediate complaints, meal times were likely to be a challenge anyway.

Tommy’s head injury turned out to be pretty mild, I got some eardrops for Adam and I managed to farm Jack off to his aunt for much of the weekend so mealtimes would be her problem.

I was back in control.

And a very good thing too, as a mail arrived in my inbox on Saturday that there had been a sighting of a Baillon’s Crake at Intaka Island.  This was a very special Western Cape bird and a pretty good bird all round.  My one and only Baillon’s Crake had been more than 10 years ago at Darvill Bird Sanctuary in Pietermaritzburg and Tommy and Adam certainly had not seen one before.  We would definitely be paying a visit to Intaka.

Our first opportunity was on Saturday afternoon and it was well timed too as by the time 4pm rolled around on Saturday I felt that I had perhaps allowed just a fraction too much freedom with the TV remote, particularly for Adam.  You see, Adam has a tendency to become a little “zoned out” in front of the TV and if I do not have back-to-back alternative entertainment arranged for him, the couch will almost certainly swallow him up for extended periods of time.

Whilst spending time with my kids and nieces and nephews during the holidays I realised that the Disney Channel seems to be like the proverbial flame for a moth.  I am pretty convinced that watching more than 5 minutes of the Disney Channel is damaging to your health and the producers should be forced to have a permanent warning at the bottom of the screen just like we see on cigarette boxes.

In fact, I have come up with a trick I play on the younger kids by telling them that I can see their brains oozing out of their ears when they are parked on the couch watching the Disney Channel.  I don’t think they believe me but it sometimes gets them on their feet and heading outdoors just in case there is some truth to my story.

So, when I told Adam about the Baillon’s Crake I was delighted when he told me that he would far rather go to Intaka to look for the Crake than lose all his brains while watching the Disney Channel.

Even though we got out of the house, unfortunately Saturday afternoon was an unsuccessful expedition.  I hadn’t expected a lot as crakes are certainly more active early in the morning, but I was hopeful that a little bit of patience would pay off.  I also figured that you will never see the bird unless you actually give it a try.  And after the thoroughly obliging Little Crake at Clovelly last year nothing was impossible.

No matter, we still had a free Sunday morning to give it our best shot.  I set the alarm for quite early and we arrived at hide number 5 at 6:20am.  We were all amazed that the hide was absolutely packed by the time we arrived.  It seemed as if the Cape Town folk were as keen to see this bird as we were.  In fact, judging by how much seating was available in the hide, we were apparently not keen enough as we should have been there a lot earlier.

I managed to squeeze into one of the remaining seats in the second row and, through the generosity of some of the folk already in the hide, Tommy and Adam secured their spots in the front row.  I had flashbacks of the Collared Flycatcher that I had missed by seconds during December as we were told by everyone in the hide that the crake had already paraded just before we got there.  I started to regret that extra half hour of sleep which we probably didn’t need.

In the shadow of Century City
Lots of lenses

We settled in for a rather lengthy wait but at least we had a few other subjects to photograph whilst we waited.

Black-crowned Night Heron
Purple Heron
Reed Cormorant
Lesser Swamp-warbler

Eventually, after almost an hour and a half of waiting, the beautiful male Baillon’s Crake made its way out of its reedbed and spent no more than 30 or 40 seconds feeding on the margins of the reeds whilst the cameras fired.  I was unfortunately on the wrong side of the hide and therefore only have some very dodgy photos to show for it but at least Tommy managed some from a far better angle.  He was delighted to have pride of place on the blog with his photos.

Baillon’s Crake
Baillon’s Crake – Courtesy of Tommy Buckham

So, after a lengthy wait all we got was a very brief view but it was good enough to add to my Western Cape and Photographic list and certainly good enough to add to Tommy and Adam’s life list.

There was a slight mishap on our way out of Intaka.  We got to the car after meandering around the remaining areas within the reserve and, as I put my foot on the pedal to accelerate out of the parking lot, Adam asked me if I had his binoculars.  A few very deep breaths were needed as I contemplated where on earth his binoculars were because I certainly did not have them.  I muttered a few choice words under my breath and frog-marched Adam back to the hide to retrieve them from where I had expected them to be – sitting on one of the benches amongst all the birders.

This little incident brought back some rather painful memories from my childhood.  When I was about Tommy’s age I spent a day birding in Delta Park with a good mate of mine.  In those days the only binoculars I had access to were my father’s.  I recall that my mate and I paused for lunch under one of the poplar trees and after setting off for some afternoon birding I suddenly realised that something was missing when I reached for the binoculars to look at a bird we had spotted.  I had a moment of sheer panic before sprinting back to our lunch spot only to discover that the binoculars had disappeared from where I had left them.

The rest of the afternoon was a write-off, not only because I didn’t have any binoculars, but more from the deepening pit in my stomach as my pick-up time grew closer.  I had absolutely no idea how I was going to tell my father I had lost his binoculars.  I can’t recall it now but I am pretty sure I got a strong lecture at the beginning of the day about looking after what I had been lent.

Well, it didn’t go so well as I told my father the sad story in the car on the way home.  Hidings were not the usual method of punishment in our family so I had no physical pain to look forward to but, instead, I do recall very clearly (although my parents seem to have forgotten this) that I did not receive a birthday present that year in order to make me think about the error of my ways.  That method seemed to work though as I can still clearly remember waking up on the morning of my birthday with no presents to open.

All I can say is that I am pleased we found Adam’s binoculars and at least he had the presence of mind to check where they were before we had left Intaka as it would not have been a happy end to a very successful Baillon’s Crake twitch.

So, at least the birding year has kicked off with something special and hopefully that sets the trend for the rest of the year.

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