South Africa

The Kom, Kommetjie

Les Underhill
Animal Demography Unit

  Kommetjie, aerial view
Photo L.G. Underhill, 2000
Aerial view of the village of Kommetjie, looking south. The Kom is the patch of rocks on this side of the lighthouse

The Kom, at Kommetjie on the western coastline of the Cape Peninsula, consists of a sheltered bay almost entirely enclosed by a ridge of boulders. These were once part of a Stone Age fish trap. The Kom is an important roost for terns. When conditions are good, it is one of the best sites on land from which to see seabirds.

In summer, the Kom is utilized by palearctic migrant terns, mainly Common Terns and Sandwich Terns. In winter, it is one of the few places on the mainland where Antarctic Terns can fairly reliably be seen. Swift Terns join the roost here throughout the year.

Seawatching is most productive when a northwest wind is blowing. This wind has on onshore component. Cape Gannets, Whitechinned Petrel and Sooty Shearwater are the most frequently seen species; giant petrels, albatrosses and skuas also occur more regularly when the wind picks up to near gale force. A good spot from which to do seawatching is the nearby lighthouse.

Before the village of Kommetjie became a dormitory suburb for Cape Town and was extensively built up, there were reliable nocturnal roosts of Sanderlings and Curlew Sandpipers on the nearby beaches. Under suitable conditions of the moon and tide, members of the Western Cape Wader Study Group mistnetted these species here and ringed the birds they trapped.

  Kommetjie, aerial view
Photo L.G. Underhill, 2000
Aerial view of the Kom at Kommetjie

A Sanderling ringed at Kommetjie on 11 March 1988 was recovered at its nest on the Taimyr Peninsula in the Siberian tundra on 2 July 1990. The shortest distance over the surface of the earth between ringing and recovery sites is 13 000 km; the bird would have flown a longer distance. This bird is now a specimen in the Zoological Museum of the Moscow State University in Russia. This is only one of two records of South African-ringed Sanderlings on their breeding grounds (the other record is also from the Taimyr Peninsula).

Curlew Sandpipers breed mostly on the Taimyr Peninsula. One, ringed at Kommetjie on 11 January 1980, was recovered a long way farther east on 5 June 1982. This bird holds the record for the easternmost recovery of a South African-ringed Curlew Sandpiper. It was recovered at 135 E, roughly the longitude of Osaka in Japan, and Adelaide in Australia. The direct distance from Kommetjie to the recovery place is 14 595 km. The place of recovery, Verhoyansk, is south of the breeding grounds of the Curlew Sandpiper, and the date of recovery is during the period when birds are still on migration, so it is possible that this bird was heading for a breeding site even farther to the east.