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Blacksmith Plover

65 Years of Klinking in the Western Cape

Les Underhill
Animal Demography Unit

  Blacksmith Plover
Photo Dieter Oschadleus
Blacksmith Plover

On 26 September 1939, a klinking call alerted Professor Gerry Broekhuysen to the presence of a single Blacksmith Plover at Zeekoeivlei, near the club house of the yacht club. Thus 26 September 2004 is the 65th anniversary of the first sighting of the Blacksmith Plover in the Western Cape.

Gerry Broekhuysen's bird had disappeared by the following day. This was one of the first records of this species anywhere south of the Orange River. In a large data collection of bird data for the Western Cape, made between 1982 and 1986, the Blacksmith Plover was the eighth most frequently encountered bird species. Its metallic klink klink klink is one of the characteristic bird calls of open places of the Western Cape. So it is hard to believe that this species was encountered in this area for the first time in 1939.

It was next seen seven years later, in October 1946, in Milnerton, and in the following year the first nest was found, at Eersterivier, on the Cape Flats, on 29 August 1947. Gerry Broekhuysen and Jack MacLeod, who reported this first nest, commented: "As the species has now been found breeding it is very likely that it will stay and that its numbers for the neighbourhood of Cape Town will gradually increase. It will be interesting to follow the future behaviour of this species." Their prediction of a gradual increase was certainly correct, but it is unlikely that they could have envisaged that, within 40 years, it would increase to become the eighth most frequently encountered species in the region!

About 10 years after the first breeding record, Professor KRL Hall undertook a review of the records of Blacksmith Plover in the region. All the early records were from vleis. He estimated that the maximum number in 1958 in the Greater Cape Town region was 150 birds. At this time, regular counts of waterbirds were being made at most of the vleis in the region, and he was confident that "no large flock is likely to have been overlooked in 1958, the bird being so conspicuous both in plumage and call-notes."

Hall has a graph showing the number of nests recorded in the vicinity of Cape Town each year. Until 1954, no more than three nests were found in a year. In both 1955 and 1956, five nests were found. In 1957 the count was eight, with a sharp increase to 21 recorded nests in 1958. Hall argued that the increase cannot be argued away as simply a consequence of better observers, but was a genuine increase. For example, the number of nests at the Athlone Sewage Works, a site that had been carefully watched, doubled in 1958 from the total for the previous three years. So it seems that 1958 was an important year in the evolution of the population in the Western Cape.

From 1958 onwards, the rapid range expansion and the remarkable increase in abundance of the Blacksmith Plover in the Western Cape are incredibly poorly documented. We have no insight into how the Blacksmith Plover went from 150 birds in 1958 to being present on 69% of the 9300 birdlists submitted for the bird atlas project of the Cape Bird Club in the mid 1980s. The nest record cards, the bird ringing files, and other databases curated at the Avian Demography Unit will be the best starting point for doing this detective work. At some point in this period, the Blacksmith Plover discovered it was not limited to the damp habitats such as the vleis to which it was initially confined in the Western Cape. It moved into relatively dry habitats such as sportsfields, golf courses and pastures, which were traditionally owned by Crowned Plovers. It is quite likely that Crowned Plovers are being quietly ousted by Blacksmith Plovers from these places.

The 65th anniversary of the arrival of the Blacksmith Plover to the Cape Peninsula provides a reminder that bird distributions are not static, but are on the move. There is a continuous need to monitor bird populations, and to monitor as many species as possible, because the nature and direction of changes are unpredictable, as are the interactions between species that occur.

Bibliography

  • Broekhuysen, G.J. 1942. Two rare plovers recorded from the neighbourhood of Cape Town. Ostrich 13: 44-47.
  • Broekhuysen, G.J. & MacLeod, J.G.R. 1948. Breeding record of the Blacksmith Plover Hoplopterus armatus for the neighbourhood of Cape Town. Ostrich 19: 237-239.
  • Hall, K.R.L. 1959. A study of the Blacksmith Plover Holopterus armatus in the Cape Town area: I. Distribution and breeding data. Ostrich 30: 117-126.