This evening I was doing the daily dog walk. I must confess that a lot of the time this consists of the same route around the Fish Hoek playing field. Often this is a good time to think and I have often done the whole walk and not really registered the fact- other times the walk is the event and I am alive to all that is happening, or so I think.
Around the back of the field there runs the access road for the municipal yard and I was on the stretch from the corner that runs from the Piers Cave path to St Peter’s Church at the end of Nelson Road.
I realized that we had a new member to our entourage; a black, white and grey bird was escorting us down the path. And I thought, I know what bird that it is and I know exactly what it is up to.
Until I thought about it and I realized that I didn’t know what the name of the bird was, and whilst I knew its game (it was leading us away from the nest site) I had no idea where it was leading us away from.
It led us for at least 300m down the road before we eventually took a different route, and I guess that, even though we meant it no harm, it must have felt pretty proud of itself for so successfully leading us away from its nest.
As I continued walking it occurred to me that a lot of the time we think that we know something. We don’t take a test on the subject so it is easy to continue to believe that we do. And yet if questioned we would soon see that we don’t actually fully know half of what we think we do.
When I actually started to quiz myself I had to admit that what I really knew was that the bird that I so confidently identified was, “some kind of a plover.” Very definitive!
What normally happens at this point, and why ignorance persists is that I will think no more of the matter until the next time I am fascinated by such a piece of nature. The interaction is fleeting and so often the thought is displaced by so much other rubbish. By the time I get home I have completely forgotten about what happened and so do not normally look any further, which is a shame, because knowledge does not grow in this way. Apart from anything else its embarrassing that I assume to know the name of a bird that is a common site in the area, let alone knowing too much of its habits and lifestyle.
This time I resolved to do something about it and sat down with my much thumbed Sasol bird book.
Another admission, I have a terrible record of identifying birds using this guide book. Time and time again I look for a bird, find one that fits the description (as I remember it, sometimes hours afterwards) and go ‘a-ha- there it is, it has to be one of those, the lesser spotted hoodidoodi,’ only to read that they are only found in a square kilometer of the Okavango Delta. Every bird I seem to find is either a very rare visitor to the Cape Point area, or I am the worst bird spotter in history.
This time I at least had a starting point, I knew it was a plover, and the colours and markings are distinct enough that even I could find it in the book.
It was a Blacksmith Lapwing (Plover). I promise that if you walk around with your eyes open and go to anywhere on the Cape Point Peninsula other than Longbeach Mall you will have seen one of these birds, and maybe I’m the only one who isn’t in on the joke, and you are all now laughing your self stupid at the auslander.
Either way, the next time you see one you will be able to confidently say, ‘oh look, a Blacksmith Lapwing.’
And there is more- they live in the margins of wetland areas, and the grass land/fields next to them. They are common residents and flock when not breeding. It seems that this is breeding season and this pair definitely has a nest in the grass somewhere in the area that I saw them.
Like all plovers they don’t really have nests, just a scrape in the ground into which they lay their perfectly camouflaged eggs. Been on the floor the eggs are very vulnerable to predators such as snakes and mongoose. So the clever Blacksmith has devised a number of cunning ruses to keep the eggs safe.
First, as mentioned, the eggs are incredibly well camouflaged: this can backfire though, a big danger, especially on more open ground, is that the eggs get trodden on by clumsy animals, like us. This is why certain parts of Longbeach are off limits, as a relative of the Blacksmith Lapwing use the area for nesting.
Secondly, the birds often have dummy nest sites. They even sit on them in the hope that predators are drawn away from the real nest.
Thirdly, the ‘broken wing’ act. From what I have observed the behavior in the Blacksmith is not as advanced as in other plovers, who really do act like their wing is broken. The idea is that a predator will see a damaged bird, which will not be able to fly away, and chases after that instead of finding the eggs. The Plover then skitters away from the nest site, just keeping ahead of the predator; they then make a miraculous recovery and fly off, the predator having hopefully forgotten about the nest. Blacksmith Lapwings seem to just scurry off down the road making a distinctive ting, ting, ting sound, and will pause and wait for you if you seem to be losing interest in them. This little fella went to great lengths to get us away from the area of concern.
And that distinctive noise is how the Blacksmith Lapwing got its name- the ting is supposed to sound like a hammer striking an anvil.