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Birding with Nico Myburgh

From Issue No 7

Cape Rockjumper – perky mountain bird


To walk along the upper slopes of the fynbos-covered mountains is a very pleasant experience in itself. But, if you then meet a Rockjumper with its tail fanned out, running up the slopes of the big boulders, then hopping across to the next boulder, calling loudly pee-pee-pee, it becomes a quite unforgettable experience – something you will want to watch again and again.

The Cape Rockjumper (Chaetops frenatus) is a robin-sized bird, beautiful dark rufous in colour, with white tips to its tail feathers and, its most striking feature, a ruby red eye. They are normally found on south-facing slopes from about 1000 metres up. The more rocks strewn around, the better they like it.

However, along the coast from Rooi Els to Pringle Bay they come down to sea level, and you can watch them hopping on the rocks of the inter-tidal zone. There are even a few records of them nesting fifty metres from the sea.

The nest is a biggish rough cup, under a bush, quite often under a stunted palmiet plant. Occasionally it is also in a hole in a rock, much like a rock thrush. The eggs are pure white, without spots, and measure 27,5 mm x 20 mm. It is asually a clutch of two, but occasionally three are laid.

When these birds are feeding their young, you can stand two to three metres away without disturbing them.

One day while photographing at a Rockjumper nest, the great birding expert Jack McCleod was sitting on a rock about 10 metres away, making notes of prey items brought to the chicks. Suddenly Jack shouted, “Get ready, here comes the bird with a ghost frog.” Jack never as a rule got much excited, but now he was jumping up and down on the rock. The bird landed about a metre away on a rock. (That was the first and last time I saw a ghost frog.) Every previous feed it had landed on a rock about 10 cm away, then hopped down to the nest.

Tragically, this time it flew straight into the nest. In a wink the frog was down the chick's throat! No picture.

“Did you get it?” shouted Jack. Then I told him what had happened. I'll rather not repeat here what he said about bird photographers. Imagine a picture of a Rockjumper with a rain ghost frog in its bill!

This all happened above the old Steenbras Railway Station at Sir Lowry’s Pass, just below the signal canon at the old Gantouw Pass. In a valley there you can sometimes hear the ghost frog calling, but to see one is another matter.

This is a very good spot to watch Rockjumpers. It is just a short walk from where you can park your car, but the area falls within a nature reserve and a permit is required. This lovely bird lives in a very beautiful part of the Cape mountains.


The male Rockjumper

The male Rockjumper

Cape Rockjumper chicks waiting to be fed

Three hungry chicks waiting to be fed. The clutch more often consists of two eggs

The female Cape Rockjumper is similar in appearance to the male, but has slightly duller colouring

The female Cape Rockjumper is similar in appearance to the male (top), but has slightly duller colouring

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