Ornithologist Tony Williams and his wife, Zonie were amongst many other 'birders' who swooped to the Rietvlei Wetland Reserve from near and far in the hope to catch a glimpse of a black Skimmer. Picture: Gareth Smit

Cape Town - Avid bird watchers are all headed in one direction – to the Rietvlei Wetland Reserve in the hope of a rare sighting of a black skimmer, never before officially recorded in Africa.

The sighting of the black skimmer (Rynchops niger) near Milnerton, Cape Town, has been a major boost for the reserve after it was photographed during a birding outing. And now bird watchers from across the country are on their way there.

“This is arguably by far the rarest sighting ever recorded at Rietvlei,” Table Bay nature reserve area manager Koos Retief said.

At first, the local bird watcher apparently thought the bird was an African skimmer, more commonly seen here. But once the picture was shown to the park manager, local bird expert Trevor Hardaker was called in to decide.

Hardaker said: “The African skimmer is a smaller and lighter bird which has an orange beak, whereas the black skimmer is larger, with more black feathers, and its beak is also partly black.”

He added that it was a very significant sighting for bird watchers since it provided a rare glimpse of a bird more commonly seen across north and south America. It is assumed the skimmer got caught up in Hurricane Isaac, that has been raging off the coast of the US since August.

“After the skimmer’s arrival in Cape Town, we received word that there was another rare sighting of a skimmer in Ireland. We then took into consideration the flight abilities of the skimmer, and established that the bird in Rietvlei is the same one that was seen in Ireland,” Hardaker said.

l Gate staff have extended the reserve operating hours from sunrise to sunset for the many birders expected. - Weekend Argus