Sometime during the holiday season, we received a complaint that children were throwing stones at a breeding pair of Oyster Catchers at Bushman’s Cove. They were from Grey and their own parents were sitting unconcerned under an umbrella on the beach.
Another day, a tribe of young children was harassing the parents of one of these same chicks at Bushmans Cove. The chick was down at the bottom of the breeding rock and they were trying to call it up again because the tide was coming in fast, when these children started chasing both parents who were calling frantically. The tide was coming in fast but miraculously, both chicks survived and are now fledged and will be leaving soon!
The Oystercatchers Concervation Programme
The African Black Oystercatcher Conservation Programme began in 1997 to monitor numbers and breeding success along this coastline from Cannon Rocks to Kasouga.
There are currently 4 breeding pairs on the east side of the Bushmans River mouth.
Oystercatchers live to 30 years or more and invest a lot of time in rearing their young who are fed by the parents for several months until they leave home. The youngsters generally migrate westwards round the coast and several go all the way to the northern Namibian coast where they remain for a few years before returning to their natal areas 4 or 5 years later when ready to breed. They join the ranks of the” breeders in waiting” in their natal areas and these are the birds one sees roosting on the Kariega and Bushmans estuaries when the tide is high. A few hours after the tide starts going out these birds gather in a circle and, put their heads down together and make a big noise.(cf All Blacks “haka”!) This is a bonding exercise which indicates they will all feed in the same area without conflict. If any unknown bird flies over their feeding domain it will be seen off by the brotherhood with a lot of noise. In our area the reef at Middle Beach is their main feeding ground. Brown mussels are what they feed on.
Breeding success is very low. Two eggs are laid and incubated for 4 weeks. Both eggs hatch, but the survival of both chicks is very unusual. Requirements for a suitable nesting site are very specific. The nesting bird must have good visibility in all directions, must be close to the food supply and must be within reach of safe hiding places for newly hatched chicks. The 3 breeding pairs east of Bushmans mouth have, what would normally be, ideal nesting sites. However, the number of people and above all, uncontrolled dogs at these popular spots such as Shelley beach and Carriage Rock has a devastating impact on breeding success. The breeding season unfortunately coincides exactly with the South African peak holiday season and nothing can be done about that. Oystercatchers can’t change their breeding biology nor can people be kept off the beaches. What CAN be done is for dog owners to be AWARE OF THE BREEDING BIRDS , listen to their frantic calling, and make sure that their dogs are on leads and unable to sniff out and kill the hiding chicks or incubating birds.
I appeal to all visitors to our beaches to watch their dogs at all times and immediately restrain them when they hear the breeding oystercatchers calling vociferously. Terriers and hounds have no difficulty in finding the chicks and owners must be aware of this.