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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

How my passion for birding took flight

Updated: May 29

This blog was written by Phoebe Gordon, a Bushwise Professional Field Guide student. Each student takes a turn as camp manager, and writing a blog is part of the experience.

3 min read

It seems there is some sort of addictive component associated with the South African bush. Something in the air, an almost tangible narcotic, that evokes this intense sense of passion and appreciation. I’ve seen it too. This industry is built on those who relish waking up in the early hours, who happily drive in 40 degree days, who tirelessly strive to satisfy guests and who only go to bed when all the work around the lodge is done. Their work ethic is unbelievable, and from a distance, seems almost a bout of insanity.

I nearly verged on such insanity in the past week. The dreaded birding week. Don’t get me wrong, I love the odd bird now and then. Watching a little wren hop around or admiring the beauty of a regal eagle is an awesome experience. They are an intrinsic part of almost every ecosystem, from the penguins huddled on the sub zero plains of Antarctica to the smallest hummingbirds in the Amazon Rainforest. As a general nature lover, I can appreciate their beauty and importance, and in all honesty, I tried very hard to be interested. But learning to recognise 127 bird calls and 200 birds by sight, in a mere seven days, was quite the challenge. 

I can highlight some of the difficulties:

  • They all look the same.

  • They all sound the same.

In that week, I was not the positive guide who happily got up at 4:30 to go on a drive. Through exhaustion, I found it difficult to appreciate the birds – we were doing two 3-hour game drives a day, plus socialising, plus camp duties, and the remaining time was for studying. And it wasn’t even enjoyable information. But I had a test to pass, so I persevered; listening to the same squawk on repeat, or trying to see if a starling had red or black eyes. I couldn’t understand those around me that adored it – I even started wondering if some just have a genetic predisposition for birding.

It was only on the Thursday, two days before the test, that I suddenly realised that I was enjoying it. I was excited to see if I could identify the birds on drive, or see one that I hadn’t seen before.

And, just like that, I was hooked. I had transitioned, seemingly overnight, into a birder.

I ordered a new pair of binoculars, and the latest version of Robert's bird book. I wrote line after line on behaviours of the different species, and the minute differences that make all of them unique. Some examples:

  • The fiscal shrike will impale insects on the thorns of a specific tree in his territory, to exhibit his hunting skills as a method of impressing females.

  • White-backed vulture pairs will stay together for their entire lives.

  • Little swifts are almost exclusively airborne, and will only ever land for annual breeding purposes.

  • The oldest southern ground hornbill lived for 60 years.

  • The heaviest sociable weavers nest ever found weighed over 7 tonnes.

  • African harrier hawks have double jointed knees, to allow them to enter the holes of other birds to eat their eggs.

  • Ostriches can run at speeds of up to 70 km/hr.

  • Due to the muscle structure within their oesophagus, flamingos are only able to feed with their heads upside-down.

I’m not going to say I’m an expert – far from it – but I am proud to say that I have developed a love of birding. 

I’ve come to realise that there is no secret ingredient in the food, or intoxicating chemical in the air, that compels people to return to the bush day after day, year after year. It isn’t even an inbuilt gene that means that some people adore birds or not. It is the pure nature itself that is so addictive, and the desire to understand the processes behind it, that are the driving forces. The raw experience, the unlimited things to learn, the intrigue of what we may never know. 

Things are only ever boring if you don’t understand them.

Want to explore your passion for bird watching? Join a Bushwise program today and get ready to soar. 




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