Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Southern Africa’s first record of Little Crake

From Adam Riley of Rockjumper Birding Tours
April 2012. Trevor Hardaker, a prominent South African birder and rarity tracker, announced that a Little Crake has been spotted by Gillian Barnes in South Africa, at Clovelly Wetland near Fishhoek, a southern suburb of Cape Town. This is not far from Cape Point, Africa’s most south-westerly point.
On 22 March, the female bird was still at the site, spending her time actively feeding, often right out in the open, and even approaching her admiring fans to within a few yards. Hundreds of birders flew from across South Africa to enjoy this little beauty and she is providing hours of entertainment for birders and non-birders alike (the non-birders seem to also find the birders rather amusing, not sure why…?!).
Clovelly residents are using this opportunity to highlight some of the conservation issues in the area including a recent sewage spill in this wetland and they are to be lauded for their efforts as well as their hospitality to these innumerable visitors!
Not usually seen south of the Sahara – Only once south of equator
So what makes this sighting so special? Little Crakes breed in reed beds from Central Europe westwards to Kazakhstan and western China, migrating southwards to India, the Middle East and North Africa. In Africa, Little Crake is not often reported, but is most frequently encountered in countries north of the Sahara, with Ethiopia producing the bulk of sub-Saharan records. As with many other rallids (crakes, rails etc), Little Crake is usually very secretive, darting off into deep reed beds at the first sign of disturbance, so it is definitely an under-recorded species. Vagrant records come from The Gambia, Senegal, Uganda Kenya and Tanzania, with only one previous record south of the Equator, at Ndola, Northern Zambia in 1980.

So this bird is thousands of miles south of its most southerly known location and even further from its normal range. “Reversed migration” is the most likely reason for its welcomed arrival at Clovelly. This is a genetic abnormality whereby a bird migrates in the opposite direction of where it should be going, in this case south instead of north, due to an impairment of the individual’s “reading” of the Earth’s magnetic fields, (which is what most long-distance migrants use for navigation). 

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