Birds of a feather flock together
As you might gather from the heading, our week was dedicated to birds. Yup birds, birds and more birds for a whole week. Although bird ID’s have featured prevalently on previous drives, this week’s aim was to focus solely on our feathered friends.
All the terms: Crowned, crested, headed, breasted, chested, bellied… And the colours: Scarlett, crimson, cinnamon, emerald, golden, red, purple, green.
Then there are all the calls. Although some might sound similar remembering, them is the tricky bit. If that’s not hard enough, certain species have up to 7 different calls and others have mastered the art of mimicry! Then of course we have the “little brown jobs” just to confuse things further and the fact that they can fly makes it very frustrating.
So now having potentially scared many of you off birding for life – this is why we love them…. Birding is incredibly rewarding and quite a contagious hobby too. Birds never disappoint – you can literally be a ‘birder’ in any surrounding & environment, allowing you to connect to nature no matter what you current living situation. Colours and behaviors astound and there is no better feeling that the excitement surrounding seeing a rarity for the first, second, third time; whilst uninterested passer-bys look to their phones or the ground. You don’t need a huge budget to bird (unless of course you want to work on your provincial or world lists!), you just need a trusty pair of bino’s and a good bird book (and a bit of patience!).
I digress – back to the topic at hand – having a good basic knowledge of birds is vital for us as field guides. Like it or not, there comes days where sightings are non-existing, but you can always rely on that Yellow-Billed Hornbill dust bathing, or those White-back Vultures circling overhead to find their next meal. More often than not, guests are as interested in birds as their guide is – which is why enthusiasm is an important trait as a guide.
Fortunately for our students they are in the capable hands of three ‘bird nerds’, their trainers. The week started off with an all-important lecture covering the theory and a practical slide id session to ensure everyone knows how binoculars and bird books work. Then the challenge was laid down to the groups. Which group can positively identify the most species by the end of the week? Game on!
Tuesday morning was the most productive because every single bird was eligible for the list and the groups made great progress towards their weekly totals. An overall average of about 85 species was identified during the first morning drive. Not bad considering that most of the migrants have not yet returned from their annual migrations. Though things slowed down later in the week, students were able to properly re-enforce their ID skills and some fantastic ‘specials’ were seen – including Greater Painted Snipe, Martial Eagle and Gorgeous Bush Shrike!
We included a sleep out in the middle of the week for Heritage Day and I must admit, the night time temperatures are much more bearable than what they were a month ago! Nothing better than waking up to a chorus of birds as the sun slowly rises. No traffic, no buildings – just you and nature (and about 18 other people doing sleepout with you!).
I’m not sure if it is due to the fact that it is birding week but as per usual, during this week, without looking for them or tracking them, we had some great sightings of elephant, lion, cheetah and leopard. Perhaps a good lesson for us all – the less you worry about the big game, the more readily you see them.
The winning bird total for the week came to an impressive 150 species. Well done to group C, but hats off to all of you for having actively participated in another awesome Bushwise birding week.
The week ended with an optional activity. We did a ‘lekker’ (It is Heritage month after all!) morning walk and had a very nice elephant encounter while they were feeding in the river.
Tomorrow’s birding theory exam will be followed by a slide & call exam in two week’s time. Good luck ladies and gents!
Give it horns…I mean feathers!
Until next time,
Conraad and the Bushwise team
(Thanks To Francois Malan and Jaq Terblanche for their photo contributions to this week’s blog)