The Spur-Winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis) is the largest waterfowl occurring in Africa and is named after the spurs on its wings. I spotted many of them flying across the wheat and canola fields as we drove through the Western Cape, but it was on the bank of the Breede River in the Bontebok National Park that I saw this pair of Spur-winged Geese from fairly close-up.
These birds forage in wetlands and moist grasslands, eating grasses, roots and other plant matter. As you can see, they are mainly black, with a white face with a warty red bill, and large white wing patches. Their legs are flesh-coloured.
Driving through the park, one cannot help seeing the rather dark, grey-brown Karoo Scrub-robins (Cercotrichas coryphoeus) perched atop the dry fynbos. I was fortunate to spot this one with a spider in its beak.
A happy surprise awaited me at the reception buildings: the White-throated Swallows (Hirundo albigularis) have arrived – one cannot ask for a surer sign that the season has turned! They are intra-African migrants that breed in South Africa and over-winter in countries such as Zimbabwe and Angola.
These swallows sport a small rufous patch on the forehead and a dark blue breast band which forms a white throat patch.
Sparrows are very common – and thus largely overlooked – birds. We host a pair of Southern Grey-headed Sparrows in our garden and frequently see House Sparrows in the car-park of our local shopping mall. It was thus refreshing to observe a pair of Cape Sparrows (Passer melanurus) in the Bontebok National Park. The males and females look very different: the female has a pale grey head with a diffuse pale crescent. These sparrows usually feed on the ground as they eat seeds, fruit and occasionally insects. This female is eating a tiny flower.
The males have a brighter, more distinctive livery with a distinctive white ‘C’ shape on the side of their heads.
Although these are not the only birds seen in the park, I cannot resist leaving you with a bird that regular readers will be very familiar with from my monthly garden bird reports: the Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra). Why bother with it then, you might ask. The main reason is because these birds, which sport a distinctive white eyebrow and a rufous chest, are undeniably pretty and it was good to see them in a habitat other than my garden.