By Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa
Down Verlorenvlei-spring-flowers, past the train, we went to see the birds at Lambert’s Bay in August 2010.
Lambert’s Bay is one of the West Coast’s traditional fishing villages morphing into tourist and holiday homes. Our Wild Card got us free entry to Bird Island. Connected to the shore by a causeway - easy for the tourists, not ideal for the birds.
Penguins were made to keep warm while fishing in cold water. Nesting on hot land is hard to do. They used to dig burrows in guano, when there was a layer of guano to dig into. Now they seek shelter from the sun, and their enemies, for their eggs and chicks.
Guano, a Peruvian word, was called White Gold in the 1800s. In 1843 three ships came from Liverpool to collect guano. The first was wrecked, the second turned back, and the third didn’t get a full load. Yet at ten British pounds a ton, it still made a profit! Britain gave Namibia to Germany, keeping the guano islands. Then in the 1950s – artificial fertiliser.
Kelp gulls will steal eggs or chicks from the other birds if you are unkind/careless enough to disturb the parents. They feed on the discards from the potato and fish factories in town. See the red spot on the beak? The chicks peck here, and dinner is delivered. Coming up right now …
Seals were a big problem, terrorising the birds to such an extent that they abandoned the island to them. It is shocking to suddenly recognise those dark shapes on the far rocks, as … seals!
Bird Island is mostly about Cape Gannets. The North Atlantic and Australasia each have their own species of gannet. Ours stretches around the coast of southern Africa, from the Spanish Sahara on the West, to Mozambique on the East. They have also been seen in Kenya, Australia and Scotland.
Since Cape Gannets nest in guano (not collecting material as other birds do) they are tightly packed together. As they fly home, bird’s eye view, they know exactly where their nest is. Frightfully polite when coming home, they circle low, and warn the neighbours and spouse – 15A coming H O M E! A few more circuits, and then, they land. Then again to warn the neighbours – I'm pulling out of the garage now – they skypoint, before leaving for the next shift.
To ease the stress of living on top of the neighbours, pairs practice bill scissoring, a ritual dance.
This colony formed in 1912. Predators coming over the causeway are an ongoing threat to the birds. Young male Cape Fur Seals develop skills at attacking and killing cormorants, penguins and gannets. The threat of an oil spill is ever-present, but unpredictable. Both the Cape Gannet and the African Penguin are in competition with the fishing industry for Sardine and Anchovy. Guano scraping has been discontinued, but human disturbance remains a threat. Please stay on the paths on the island - From Animal Demography Unit at UCT
(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red
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