Twitching the Yellow Wagtail

Over the last few weekends we have tried to spread our wings a little (so to speak) and it has meant that lifers have become harder to come by for Tommy.  Adam is a recent recruit and he still notches up plenty every time we go out (at his relatively youthful age he tends to forget what he has seen the week before which makes it easier to get him excited with every bird he sees) but for Tommy it has certainly becoming more difficult to please his list chasing habits.

We have covered most of the regular spots (Rondevlei, Strandfontein, Kirstenbosch, Newlands Forest, Greenpoint, West Coast National Park and even as far afield as Paarl) quite thoroughly leaving little prospects for lifers so when I heard news of the Yellow Wagtail at the Crayfish Factory in Scarborough I had a nice Sunday morning outing in the bag for the weekend.

We had missed the Woolly-necked Stork the previous week which I may come to regret as the years go by and my Western Cape list grinds to an even greater halt than it already has but with a demanding day job, a busy social calendar and a young family with school responsibilities, a mid-week twitch just wasn’t possible.  It was pretty inconvenient that it did not stretch its visit to the weekend but you win some and you lose some.

Unfortunately the Yellow Wagtail did not represent a Western Cape bird for me as I saw one at Strandfontein last year but it was a full lifer for Tommy and that was reason enough to haul our way across the southern peninsula.

It was a later start than normal having celebrated a 40th birthday with some good friends the night before so we picked up Tommy’s mate, Alley, at 7:45 and headed south.


It is always nice finding the bird first up when dragging around 3 young kids as it captures their attention straight away and this was one of those moments.  We arrived at the Crayfish Factory on a beautiful, still morning and noticed a fellow birder aiming his camera at the prize subject.  We were fortunate as it had apparently been a little erratic and with much of the multi-coloured debris on the beach it may have presented a little bit of a headache sifting through until finding the yellow gem. 

This was all unnecessary as it was as proud as punch parading on the slipway allowing for a relatively close approach.  The only downside to an immediate “find” is that the camera settings were all a little cock-eyed resulting in me missing most of the shots that I really wanted.  Just when I got my act together it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that it disappeared.


I am slowly realizing that a birding habit over 30 years of my life has made me appreciate those special moments a lot more as I realize how seldom they come along.  For youngsters like Tommy and Adam one feels that they still need plenty more hard yards before they appreciate each sighting as much as I do.  After all, Tommy already has a Golden Pipit on his list so his expectations may be that much higher than mine were at his age.  It meant that the Yellow Wagtail was quickly forgotten and now I needed something to entertain them while I tried to relocate the Wagtail for a few extra shots.  I tried giving them the task of identifying all the birds they could see but that game was quickly up with only a smattering of species on the shoreline.  So it was not long before they were chasing each other around the parking lot as young boys are want to do.

Tommy’s raptor finding habits were brought into action with a Black-shouldered Kite gliding by with intermittent hovering over the dunes.  I have really made the birding too easy for them over the last few weeks pointing out each species while simultaneously naming it.  I decided they all needed a decent challenge.  I refused to tell them what it was and poor Tommy and Alley were beside themselves not actually knowing whether it was a lifer or not.  I had them pick out the key features (small in size, overall grey plumage, white underwings and underparts with “dipped in black paint” wingtips and a penchant for hovering).  They stuffed this knowledge into their porous brains and saved it for later when they had access to a bird book.  I have gotten into a bad habit of leaving the book at home, not needing it for my own purposes but this made their wait for identification even more excruciating.  It was a full 4 hours before we got home and they each pulled out their books and eventually nailed the ID.

It was not only the birds that kept us enthralled.  We had wonderful views of a pod of Heaviside’s Dolphins just off the slipway in the calmness of the bay.  They were slowly arcing their way from the shallows to the deeper water.  It was a fortuitous sighting since I had never seen them close to the Peninsula before.

Fortunately it was not long before the Yellow Wagtail returned to the beach and I managed to get a few more pics before wrapping up a successful excursion.  A 9:30am “wrap-up” meant that we had virtually a full morning left for a bit of time on the beach with the rest of the family where I managed a “full lifer” in the form of a few waves caught on a long board.  They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks but I’m not so sure about that…

2 comments on “Twitching the Yellow Wagtail

  • Marlene Hofmeyr says:

    Hi there Mike, so pleased you had a good time twitching the Yellow Wagtail at the old crayfish factory. No one could have been more surprised than me when I first discovered it in the parking area. My husband had just parked the car to let our 3 dogs out for a run on the beach when I spotted it, so before they could get out, I quickly took some photos. I then called Ann Koeslag just to make sure that it was indeed special enough to post on the net, and you know the rest.
    We still go out there regularly, in fact were there on Tues morning, but there was no sign of him. Congratulations and good luck with your new website, it looks great!

    • Margaret Maciver says:

      You are right, Marlene, he does seem to have gone. I took a friend there about 10 days ago, having found the bird easily twice before, didnt think there would be a problem, but though we spent a lovely windfree afternoon enjoying lots of other birds (nice big Tern roost futher around the rocks) the Wagtail never appeared.


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