Meet the birds of Rocherpan
The pan is essentially the heart of the reserve and since it is never more than two metres deep at the maximum, it means the sun can penetrate right through the water and provide the perfect warm environment for insects to thrive. This provides an abundant food source for the small birds of the coastal area, where up to 183 different species can be found.
As the pan is seasonal (dry usually from March to June), there are no fish, unlike a permanent wetland and has become an ideal place for some of those water-loving winged creatures.
The next time you want a quiet, relaxing activity, take a drive out to the reserve and enjoy a few hours in the comfort of one of Rocherpan’s bird hides where you’re likely to meet a few of the following feathered guests.
1. Meet the African Hoopoe (Upupa Africana)
The Hoopoe is widely spread across southern Africa, absent only from the most arid parts of the Karoo and desert biomes.
It forages on bare ground or short grass, and favours lawns which it probes with its bill. It also probes and scatters leaves and dry dung in search of insects. The hoopoe often nests in tree holes up to 8m above ground. It lays 4-7 eggs, which are incubated exclusively by the female.
2. Meet the African Purple Swamphen
(Porphyrio madagascariensis).Looking at the image, you’d be forgiven if you thought it should be named the African blue Swamphen, but upon closer inspection you will see some purple plumage which seems to complement the shiny red bill.
The purple swamphen occurs main in sub-Saharan Africa and generally prefers freshwater or brackish ponds, sluggish rivers flanked by reeds and sedges, marshes, swamps and seasonally flooded wetlands.
3. Meet the Black headed heron (Ardea melanocephala)
This is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, common throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. This species usually breeds in the wet season in colonies in trees, reedbeds or cliffs. It builds a bulky stick nest and lays 2–4 eggs. It mainly eats terrestrial insects, supplemented with small mammals, reptiles and birds, doing most of its foraging solitarily. It hunts by slowly and purposefully moving through the grass, rocking its head from side to side; when it spots prey, it freezes and then strikes with its bill.
4. Meet the Black winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
The black-winged stilt, also known as the common stilt or pied stilt is a long-legged wader present in much of southern Africa. It generally prefers inland and coastal wetlands, such as commercial salt pans, flooded fields and flood plains. It mainly eats insects, other invertebrates and fish, doing most of its foraging by locating prey visually before plucking them from the water surface, or by immersing its head in the water while locating prey with touch
5. Meet the Black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
The black-crowned night heron can be seen in many parts of South Africa, excluding the arid areas such as the Karoo. These birds stand still at the water’s edge and wait to ambush prey, mainly at night or early morning. They primarily eat small fish, crustaceans, frogs, aquatic insects, small mammals and small birds. During the day you’ll find them resting in trees or bushes.
6. Meet the Cape Shoveler (Anas smithii)
Naturally, with a name like Cape Shoveler, this bird is very common in the Western Cape and it has been reported that up to 40 nests of Cape Shoveler have been found at Rocherpan in one season, making it a record for any locality worldwide. It feeds mainly on animals, with smaller quantities of plant matter. The female builds the nest, which is a scrape in the ground, filled with leaves and completely surrounded by thick vegetation.
7. Meet the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
This dark wading bird is often easily recognised by its long, down-curved bill. The Glossy Ibis is found on every continent except Antarctica. It feeds in very shallow water and nests in freshwater or brackish wetlands with tall dense stands of emergent vegetation such as reeds, papyrus or rushes and low trees or bushes.
8. Meet the Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
The long, thin neck and legs, and bright colourful plumage makes this bird rather easily distinguishable. Notably, the Greater Flamingo is the largest of the flamingo species, but is also the palest with white to a light pink plumage to contrast with its red shoulder and black tip on the wings.
9. Meet the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Also known as the dabchick, the little grebe is the smallest member of the grebe family. It is a stout little bird and from a distance, they appear to be all black. However, up close you can make out a chestnut brown patch on the side of the neck. In winter, the birds lose this summer plumage and become pale buff on their lower quarters while their back is a dirty brown. Chicks are covered in light grey down and have a distinctive striped head and neck like most young grebes. Grebes do not move very well on land and seldom come ashore except to breed.
10. Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis)
The Sandwich Tern is recognised by its grey upper parts. It also has a yellow-tipped black bill and a shaggy black crest which becomes less extensive in winter with a white crown. Young birds bear grey and brown scalloped plumage on their backs and wings and it nests in a ground scrape and lays one to three eggs. The Sandwich Tern feeds by plunge diving for fish and has been spotted on the beach at Rocherpan. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.