Redefining Plett Rage
African Birdlife|May/June 2021
The call I received from my friend Alastair at 06h00 on a Friday at the start of our year-end holiday was inevitable during the advancing second wave of Covid-19 cases, but it was one I had hoped to avoid. His entire family had just tested positive for the virus and we had just given his son, Alec, a lift from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay to join us for a few days of holiday. Alec qualified uncomfortably as a close contact, having spent eight hours in the car with us and then slept in the same dorm room as all my kids for two nights.
Michael Buckham

A 06h05 wake-up for Alec was a rude arousal for a teenager, but we had to get him off for a test as soon as possible. His eyes widened as he quickly realised that his holiday was about to be cruelly abbreviated. As expected, the test came back positive and suddenly, along with Alec’s, our busy plans changed dramatically. We would be in isolation for the next five days while we sat out the incubation period before we could be tested.

My mind raced (unnecessarily, I guess, as I really had nowhere to go) until it dawned on me that our five days of isolation would dovetail perfectly with a five-day full protocol SABAP2 atlas card.

So I went birding. There couldn’t have been a better place to do it. The Plett pentad (as I call it) is the birdiest in the Western Cape. And that is an official statistic, as it had the highest single SABAP2 atlas card submission count of 174 species for a five-day period. It was something I knew well, after learning of the record-breaking Western Cape card set by Pretoria resident Pieter Verster in 2018, as he blitzed the pentad while on holiday in Plett with his wife Janelle. The locals were shocked at the time, as he bettered the existing Plett pentad record total by an astonishing 35 species. When Pieter bashes a pentad there are usually no half measures – he is the joint national record-holder (with 247 in pentad 2520_3150 near Crocodile Bridge) and the recently crowned Eastern Cape record-holder with an outrageous 201 species in the Kei Mouth pentad (coinciding nicely with the Sooty Gull twitch).

Although I have never met Pieter in person, we engage regularly on WhatsApp about bird stuff and he and I had another very recent connection. While I was on day four of my Plett pentad bash I was horrified to learn that he had pushed me out of my ninth place in the 2020 Wider Cape Town 150km Challenge as he chased down a vagrant White-backed Vulture for his 329th species of the year, overtaking my 328 proudly accumulated total. I was out of the challenge area for the rest of the year and there would be no retribution for me. Pieter ultimately finished three ahead of me on 331 species. I had let the Western Cape contingent down as a Gauteng resident edged ahead of me. It was at that moment as I sat in my car having logged my 162nd species (a Sanderling, very scarcely recorded in this pentad), that I knew I had no option but to beat Pieter’s record and reclaim what should be rightfully owned by a Western Cape resident.

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