This is a summary of my article on Hottentot Buttonquail in the Kouga Mountains, which was published in the September edition of African Birdlife, the official magazine of Birdlife South Africa. I have taken the opportunity to provide additional photos of this poorly described species.
When it comes to Turnix hottentottus, an elusive South African endemic, no-one really seems to know what is going on taxonomically or from a conservation point of view. It is listed as the Black-rumped Buttonquail Turnix nanus by Birdlife International – and is a species of Least Concern. Birdlife South Africa's official checklists from 2011 to 2013 list the species as “Probably Critically Endangered”.
All South Africa's prominent field guides give the Hottentot Buttonquail species status separate to Black-rumped Buttonquail. While it is described by Sinclair and Hockey's Birds of Southern Africa as “Locally Common”, it is described in Roberts 7 as “... rare and highly localised, but may be more common than previously thought”. This is based on a 1994 survey led by Peter Ryan and Phil Hockey at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve which estimated a population of 310-480 birds for the reserve, with density in coastal renosterveld estimated at a bird per 28-44 ha, making it the third most common bird in this habitat type (more common than LeVaillant's Cisticola and Yellow Bishop). This is based on six hours of survey of an area covering 25 hectares.
SABAP2 data reflect only two pentads from the peninsula with incidental records, from one of the most surveyed areas of the Western Cape. In fact – the SABAP2 distribution is one of the sparsest of any of South Africa's terrestrial bird species. At the very least, it may be the sparsest of South Africa's endemic species, with 4 pentads with ad-hoc records, and only listed for four full protocol pentads. In contrast to Ryan and Hockey's study, Mike Fraser's density estimate of 0.004 birds per hectare (data from his 1990 MSc) would mean there are no more 400 bird in the Fynbos biome.
I have encountered this species on or near Blue Hill Nature Reserve on at least 2 occasions which have resulted in the following photographs. However, I should point out that these are only 2 encounters in over a large area which I have walked at least weekly for the roughly the last 2 years.
I would be very interested to hear about any encounters you may have had with the species: please email me at alan dot tk dot lee at gmail dot com.