It was with great elation, intrigue and no shortage of skepticism that the news of a Pel’s Fishing Owl taking residence at a Newlands home endowed with a Koi Pond hit the Cape Town birding community.
For those of you that don’t know, the closest Pels fishing owl habitat is in Zululand about 1300 km away and the last unconfirmed sighting of the bird around Cape Town was at Cape Point in the 1940′s!
Trevor Hardaker’s postings and pictures had us all, even those who have already seen the ‘hulking Ginga’, yearning for a peek. Unfortunately, the bird did not comply for the masses, and moved on leaving many Cape Town birders wondering how far away from Newlands it would wander.
One of the ‘hopefuls’ was Peter Borchert, founder of Africa Geographic. Much to the amusement of fellow birders the Pel’s Fishing Owl has eluded him all over Africa.
How ironic it would have been after all my attempts to see the bird in its prime habitat, if I was to see it here in Cape Town, literally in my back yard. Together with about 50 others I sat in the garden of the Duggan family whose fishpond and forest-like garden had provided the owl with shelter and sustenance. The Duggan’s home opens out onto a broad deck area and they had even thoughtfully set out all their garden chairs for their self-invited guests. The atmosphere was almost theatre-like as people waited, waited and waited with great anticipation. The curtain went up but despite an entertaining supporting act by two vocal hadedas the main attraction failed to oblige. Oh well …
Then a fortnight later, and 4.7 kms further down the peninsula as the crow flies, the cry went out again. This time, the bird was sighted at the Spanish Consulate in Constantia. Within minutes of hearing about it, tools were downed, cars boarded, binoculars and cameras arranged en route, and Peter was ushered through the motions of his second twitch chase, finally clenching his nemesis bird a few kilometers from his office chair.
Talk about an arm chair tick!!
Elation summed up the facial expressions of everyone we met at the sighting, a contained sense of Fiesta was mutely brewing among all attending. The excitement was palpable. Unfortunately, as dusk set the owl flew off, and the search for those that could not make it, started once again.
Soo…we now know that there is a Pel’s Fishing Owl somewhere in Constantia and I would not be too surprised if this weekend many Constantia neighbours become used to the sight of people wandering aimlessly, binoculars on their chest, looking into space and scanning the many a garden trees.
A huge thank you, on behalf of those who went to both the Duggans (Newlands) and The Spanish Consul Ignacio and his wife Raquel – who tirelessly operated the gate opener all afternoon, so generously opening up their property to all and sundry and having their evening routine thrown out the window for the period that visitations lasted.
Their hospitality and friendliness has gone a long way to make this twitch a great experience.
Below is a letter that the Spanish Consul wrote to me yesterday about the flocking of the ‘Pelsey Pilgrims’:
Thank you for your letter.
Rachel and myself were only too pleased to open the gates of the Spanish Consulate gardens to the extraordinary community of ornithologists in Cape Town.
All of whom were exquisitely behaved and mannered.
Should the owl return to our garden the doors shall be opened again for all those that wish to view and photograph it.
Thank you very much for the pictures,
Cónsul General de España
Ciudad del Cabo
Consulado General de España
Cape Town 8001