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Roberts No 247
By Pompie Burger
Reading an article written some years ago by well-known ornithologist Tony Williams on Namibia’s coastal birds, I realised that these good-looking little plovers were of the most commonly seen seabirds at the coast. Even more amazing was the fact that I hadn’t seen a single one yet. I mentioned this in my book Birds of Namibia, and very soon after its publication, Mark Boorman and Sandra Dantu told me they would widen my horizons as far as seabirds were concerned, especially regarding the Chestnuts.
Indeed, a trip with Mark to the salt works just outside Swakopmund did just that. Suddenly I was able to identify a Common Redshank, an uncommon migrant according to Roberts Birds of Southern Africa. It just goes to show – you’re never too old to learn. We even saw a baby Chestnut, which looked very much like five feathers stuck together. Mark assured me it was indeed a Chestnut chick.
Of all the small coastal LBJs, the Chestnut-banded Plover is probably one of the more handsome ones. Regarded as a near-threatened species, these birds are referred to as nomadic migrants, as they move around in response to water and food availability. Their habitat – the rather specialised saltpans, whether man-made or natural – is probably why I’d been missing out on them. So if you’re looking for Chestnuts, the saltpans near Swakopmund and Walvis Bay or Sandwich Harbour are where to go. Although the distribution maps tell a different story, they occur all along Namibia’s coast, and at the Etosha Pan when it holds water.
Unfortunately little is known about the movements of these birds; it is suspected that migration from the coast to the Makgadikgadi Pans takes place, but most of their movements seem to be nomadic. Their food consists of crustaceans and the small insects found so specifically in these saltpans. Chestnuts feed in a typical run-stop-search fashion.
Thanks to Mark I now know that these small birds do indeed exist.
About the author:
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles.
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.
This article appeared in the Feb/March 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.