Coast KZN

18 Jan 2018

Rare bird visitor has twitchers agog

Dave Savides (Zululand Observer) Picture: A superb photo taken by Kevin Westermann of the Lesser Frigatebird in flight in the harbour area

Lesser frigatebird sighting attracts scores of bird watchers to Richards Bay

Naval frigates often attract attention at the Port of Richards Bay, but the sighting over the weekend of a rare Lesser Frigatebird has been even more enthusiastically greeted by the local and national birding community.

Last seen in the Bay some 15 years ago, the sighting generated huge interest, with avid twitchers descending on the area to catch a glimpse of this rare pelagic seabird, which is generally restricted to tropical or sub-tropical regions and rarely flies this far south.

According to local birder and photographer Kevin Westermann, this juvenile specimen was first seen and identified flying in the mouth area of the harbour on 11 January by visiting birder, Alan Bedford-Shaw.

‘It stayed in the area, to the great enjoyment of twitchers who have come from afar to see the bird for the first time in their lives.

‘It was still sighted on Monday, but weather and food supply may force the bird to forage further up the east coast.

‘We are hoping it remains a bit longer for more people to appreciate this entertaining bird.’

Extremely recognisable with its pointed wings and long, scissor-shaped tail, frigatebirds have the largest wing area to body mass ratio, enabling them to soar and dive spectacularly. Its wingspan is around 1.85m.

However, its short legs and unwebbed feet means it is not well designed for walking or for spending time on the water as its plumage is not waterproofed.

While often feeding on flying fish or bait shoals and species such as squid that float on the water’s surface, the frigatebird is noted for harassing other sea birds when they return from feeding.

This forces them to regurgitate their catch, which the frigatebird swoops on and devours before it hits the water.

Among those who witnessed the sighting was local bird buff David Taylor, who from his yacht Alacrity photographed the visitor ‘busily pirating lunch from the bemused local terns and performing fantastic aerobatic manoeuvres’.

Duncan Pritchard of Birdlife SA had this to say: ‘Yip, this is a pretty serious bird – last seen in Richards Bay around 2002 and probably one of just 10 or so sightings in SA ever.

‘It’s a pretty good sighting, and to have decent photos is a double whammy.’
The last time the birding community was this excited was in December 2010 when a rarely seen Golden Pipit drew hundreds of twitchers to the Pongola Nature Reserve.

Also far south of its normal range, the bird had only been previously sighted in South Africa four times in the last century.