Rare bird spotted along South Africa’s West Coast

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A red-billed oxpecker has been hanging around South Africa’s West Coast in the Koeberg Nature Reserve near Melkbosstrand for just over two months now. It is a mystery how it ended up in this fynbos habitat as red-billed oxpeckers do not occur in the Western Cape, the Free State and most of the arid regions of South Africa.

A small population was introduced in the Eastern Cape, but the nearest population in the Addo Elephant National Park is still more than 700km from Koeberg. “We have had records before, but it is still a very rare bird for the area and a very long way from where it should be,” says Trevor Hardaker of South African Rare Bird News.

Photo: Louis van Wyk

How the red-billed oxpecker ended up in Koeberg?

It is a mystery how the bird ended up just over 50km from Cape Town. Red-billed oxpeckers are generally found in savanna areas with a mix of grassland and trees. “It may have gotten caught up in a storm and blown off course – that is certainly a plausible suggestion.” Hardaker says younger birds sometimes wander off and get lost and then just keep flying in the wrong direction.

Photo: Trevor Hardaker

Spotted and still around

Louis van Wyk, assistant environmental officer at Koeberg Nature Reserve first spotted the bird on March 26, but only officially confirmed it with photos almost a month later.

“The red-billed oxpecker has been a very exciting sighting for us,” says van Wyk. “I first thought my eyes were deceiving me as Koeberg Nature Reserve is very far from their nearest known population.” Van Wyk says he was loading equipment on the back of a vehicle when he first spotted the bird on the back of an eland.

The red-billed oxpecker’s main food source is ticks, so these birds are generally found on buffalo, giraffe, a variety of antelope species and even livestock. Koeberg’s wildlife includes grysbok, steenbok, eland, bontebok, springbok and also zebra to name a few.

Red-billed oxpecker on eland

Photo: Louis van Wyk

Biodiversity corridors

The Koeberg Nature Reserve is within easy reach of the city. It also falls within the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve, making this biodiversity corridor the only one in the world with a nuclear power plant. The private nature reserve was proclaimed in 1991 and offers locals the opportunity to hike and cycle in this green space.

The Dikkop Trail takes hikers through pristine dune strandveld and a stretch along the beach. Hikers can choose between 9.5km, 19.3km and 22.3km. The shorter Grysbok Trail offers options of 2.5km or 5.7km. A section of this short hike takes you along the beach and passes a salt marsh, offering spectacular birding opportunities during the winter months.

There are no costs to enjoy the reserve. Contact the Visitor Centre on +27 21 550 4021 for more information.

Longest staying rarity

Rarities often pop up in unusual, out of range locations. Hardaker says a little blue heron once turned up near Papendorp, a small village 300km from Cape Town along South Africa’s West Coast, and stayed there for about five years before it disappeared. “That must surely be one of the longest stays by any rarity in SA,” Hardaker says.

Written by: René de Klerk

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