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History of Birding in Middelburg

The Chairman’s Chirp

In a monthly newsletter dated June 2014 and circulated among members of the Middelburg Bird Club, one of the founder members of the club and avid bird lover, Ken Hattingh, reflects on the history of the Middelburg Bird Club – which now also includes the membership of dozens of Witbank locals.

Below an extract of this newsletter, which is also known as Die Kiewiet or The Plover

KEN’S PERCH – By Ken Hattingh

Middelburg Bird Club

“Soon Alfreda and I will be leaving Middelburg to take up residence in a retirement village in Stellenbosch, after having lived in Middelburg for the past 31 years.

We will miss Middelburg and the bird club, however, we are looking forward to the new challenges that lie ahead.

When we leave, the only remaining founder members of this club, who are still fairly active and living in this area, will be Herman and Zephne Bernitz and Lompies Lombard. I, therefore, think it is an opportune time to reflect on the pats and review some of the past histories of the club.

Lompies was the main motivator in getting the late Basie Breedt to start up a bird club. Basie got the club going in 1987 and served as chairman for the first five years.

I can remember the very first club outing to a game farm in the district. We were a large group led by Herman and Zaphne, who were the only experienced birders at the time and whom we depended on for guidance. The rest of us were complete novices, some did not even have binoculars let alone field guides or any sort of experience, but the enthusiasm was overwhelming and so we soon learned from each other, exchanging whatever little knowledge we had or picked up.

Our mentor was Ulrich Oberprieler from the Johannesburg Zoo, who conducted a number of weekend courses held at Botshabelo, starting from complete beginners and then progressing.

He also accompanied us on our second club weekend outing which was to Berg en Dal in the Kruger Park. Ulrich is still an honorary member of this club.

The first ever ‘Birding Big Day’, organised by BirdLife SA, which was then called ‘South African Ornithological Society (SAOS)’ was in 1988. The Club then entered a teach, which countrywide, managed to raise the highest sum of money as a donation for SAOS. This was due to Basie’s knack of twisting the arm of individuals and companies to make donations.

For this effort, SAOS donated the sum of R400 to the club. We used a portion of this money to buy scrap piping, which we used to build the frame of a bird hide, which we then covered with reeds.

This hide was built at Botshabelo on a site given to the club by management, situated on the banks of the Klein Olifants River just below the Aasvoelkrans.

After completion of the hide, Basie sold the remainder of the pipes to a scrapyard for more than we initially paid for the whole lot. We used this hide regularly for some time until the access road to the hide was lost and the hide fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned.

Each year since 1993, the club has organised a long weekend getaway to some interesting birding venue. For those who may not remember or were not around at the time, this is a reminder of the venues visited: 1993 – KNP Satara, 1994 – KNP Berg en Dal, 1995 – Bonamanzi, 1996 – Bonamanzi, 1997 – Bivak in Limpopo, 1998 – Lake Sibaya, 1999 – KNP Tamboti, 2000 – KNP Letaba, 2001 – Mtunzini, 2002 – Tabazimbi, 2003 – KNP Tamboti, 2004  – Ndumo, 2005 – Mapungubwe, 2006 – Eiland SPA, 2007 – Utrecht Nature Reserve, 2008 – Klein Paradys, 2009 – Swadini, 2010 – Magoebaskloof, 2011 – Richards Bay, 2012 – Klein Kariba and 2013 – Wakkerstroom.

I have always enjoyed the one day monthly outings to some very interesting venues, some of which most of us would never have been to, had it not been arranged by the club. Each of these outings ended off with a pleasant braai, compiling a list of birds sighted during the day. A copy of these lists has always been sent to the relevant landowners and often put to good use by them.

The monthly meetings have always been entertaining, having a wide range of speakers with a variety of topics, some bird related and some not, yet always interesting.

In 2005 the club took quite a knock when the chairman at the time decided to make the club a branch of BirdLife SA as a regional club for the Highveld region, under the name of BirdLife Highveld. Due to poor communicating and organising, this venture ended in confusion and almost caused the total collapse of the club. At the AGM in 2006, it was decided to revert back to being an independent club with Japie van Heerden as chairman. He, however, did not last very long and handed over the reigns to Billy Smith, who has been chairman ever since and has been very successful in keeping the club going.

Besides the club providing entertainment and knowledge to the members, it has also provided a valuable service to beyond the club, by compiling bird lists for various purposes, while some of the members have constantly contributed towards the “Animal Demography Unit (ADU)” and “BirdLife SA” projects as well as many local projects. It has also been instrumental in several Environmental Impact Studies in and around Middelburg.

Club members have regularly provided assistance in the bi-annual ‘Coordinated Water Bird Counts (CWBC)’ at Loskop Dam over the past 14 years.

I am proud to have been part of all these activities and outings and hope that in the future, I will still be able to work towards the betterment of birds and birding in SA.”

More info on the town of Witbank More info on the Highveld and Cosmos area

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