Terning heads: a visitor from the storm
By Duncan Guy 29m ago
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Durban – Cyclone Eloise may not have blasted Durban and surrounds, but it is believed to have influenced a couple of feathered friends to come down for a visit.
Birders from all corners of South Africa flocked to the eMdloti Lagoon after word got around that a bird rarely seen in South Africa, whose home is further up the cyclone’s path, had visited KZN shores.
A white-cheeked tern was first spotted by birders on board a boat out at sea.
Then, birder Bart Fokkens experienced a highlight of his twitching life when, acting on partner Heather Wilson’s advice, he looked out for a dark bird among a flock of lighter terns.
“I messaged her and she replied ‘find the dark one’.”
Once he had put word out on birding chat groups, his kindred spirits flocked to eMdloti Lagoon from all corners of the country to get a sight of the white-cheeked tern, last seen in South Africa in 1991.
Among them was David Hoddinott who was relieved the curfew had just been relaxed to make a 4am departure from home in Pietermaritzburg possible.
Much of the time the rare visitors offered its fans was during a 25 to 35-knot wind, which made photography a challenge, said Fokkens.
Then the little fellow was gone. The white-cheeked tern, known to science as Sterna repressa, is indigenous to the coastal areas of Kenya, the Red Sea and Horn of Africa as well as all the way from the Persian Gulf to Western India. It eats invertebrates and small fish.
Bird guide Ian Gordon, from Monzi, near St Lucia, said a client had come up from the Eastern Cape, missed out on seeing the white-cheeked tern but fortuitously ended up with four “lifers” under her belt: a green barbet, which occurs only in the Ngoye Forest, a sooty falcon, a sooty tern and a white-backed knight heron.
A lifer is a bird species that an individual birder sees and positively identifies for the first time.
According to birders, Cyclone Eloise brought some unusual visitors inland, among them a greater frigate bird in the Free State, far away from the coast of East Africa where its vast marine habitat touches the continent.
The Independent on Saturday