This post is not about lions, so I apologise if the title image is misleading. Lions certainly have their role to play, but are in no ways central to the post’s message.

I had a realisation recently that it’s often the things you think about the least that you miss the most.

When most people feel that yearning for the bush, they’ll long for the leopards, or the incredible sunsets, or post-dinner drinks around the fire.

For me though, it’s the francolins.
I don’t think about them much, yet I see and hear them every day. And as I’ve come to realise, they form an intrinsic link to the joy I feel about working in the bush.

Crested Francolin Jh

These ubiquitous little birds are usually under-appreciated, so common are they. Scurrying out of the way of the Land Rovers as you bowl down the dusty tracks, they are more comical than anything else, although if one sits and spends some time watching them, they can offer marvellous sightings, especially when males are fighting over females.

Crested francolins joust in the morning light.

Yet it is before the sun is even up that they provide the most value. There’s a particular pair of crested francolins that lives in the camp just below my room, whose duet calls cut through the morning air about 30 minutes before my alarm clock, every day without fail. The sun is hardly a suggestion on the eastern sky at this time; we’re talking 05:00 or earlier here (in winter).
Whereas once upon a time I might have resented this impacting on some precious hours of sleep, I have begun to accept that it is these francolins in particular that give the day its start full of optimism.

Nkoveni Female Sunrise Jt

I can almost guarantee that whilst taking this photo, one or more crested francolins would have been calling nearby.

Having grown used to their staccato cries over the past eight years, it feels like there’s something missing if I wake up now without them. In some ways it’s a familiarity thing, but I think far more than that, the calls of any bushveld species always take me back to that euphoria I used to feel on bush trips when I was small.
I remember arriving at the gates of whichever game reserve we might have been visiting and feeling an overwhelming excitement; an anticipation of adventure and possibility. The birds, the animals, the crisp winter dawns spent dunking rusks into steaming cups of hot chocolate; all combined to sow the seed for my love of wild places.

And now somehow, decades later, the simple calls of the francolins outside my door each morning transport me straight back there.

I’ve always liked birds, but I would never have thought that a rather drab little species could tigger something every morning as they reminded me where I am: Happiness.

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

View James's profile


on The Best Alarm Clock in the World

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Marinda Drake

Love francolins. Can’t get used to calling them spurfowl. Their call is such a typical bushveld call. They can be comical to watch. Camping at Balule one (must be a male) always peck the rubber edging.around the solar panel. We think he can see his image and is looking for that other male, runing around the panel and pecking again. It is lovely memories remembering the coffee and rusks waiting for the gate to open. Camping, waiting for the kettle to boil on the gas cooker and listening for the first bird calls is magical.

Joanne Wadsworth

I especially like your storytelling today, James. Whereas you have birds that pipe out their morning alarm for you, I have a bevy of various birds that all sing together very early. It’s almost like my own personal morning symphony. Seems we both have: “Our merry minstrels of the morn” as James Thomson would say.

Mj Bradley

love to wake up to the sound of birds!

Mary Beth Wheeler

Insightful, James. Sometimes it is the little things…

Callum Evans

I love this post, I knew from the instagram post that it was going to be about francolins! I love crested francolins and their calls, not to mention the Natal, Swainson’s and red-billed spurfowls!

James Tyrrell

Hi Callum,
Natal Spurfowls would be second on my alarm clock list.

The call of a Swainson’s is a little too harsh for a nice awakening…

Callum Evans

I haven’t heard swainson’s enough to make a judgement, so I’ll take your word on it! Crested is definitely my favourite too.

Kim Zilles

Oh, so silly me before my first bush visit, thought that these creatures were called Franklins, like Benjamin! One of my very first and fondest memories involved a flock of these females and chicks NOT getting out of the way of the game drive vehicle for at least a mile on the track. Not everything needs to be big 5 to be magical.

James Tyrrell

Hi Kim,

Don’t worry, you’re not the first to mix up Francolin and Franklin 😉

Wendy Macnicol

So agree with what has been written above AND below. Love the Frank O’Lynnes but also so enjoy the Hornbills. The bush wouldn’t be the same without them making themselves heard outside the chalet! They are SUCH characters. Wendy

Paul Da Cruz

On a long drive recently I was thinking about what my 10 most favourite bird calls are; near the top of my list is the Crested Francolin because it is such an evocative call. When you hear it you know you are ‘really in the bush’. To me it is THE call of the Lowveld as the birds are present all year round. There is a Portuguese word “Saudade” which is difficult to translate into English, but means a fond longing for something lovely or beautiful, of a wonderful memory. When I hear a recording of the call, or say on a wildlife programme it makes me have true ‘Saudades’ for one of the best places in the world – the bush of the Lowveld!

James Tyrrell

Hi Paul,

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say!

Denise Vouri

Beautifully written James. Your prose brings back memories of the francolins attempting to wake me but I was so happy to be in the Bushveld once again, I was already awake.

During game drives it was amusing to watch these little birds dart back and forth in front of our vehicle and then suddenly veer off into the brush. Their songs are magical- nothing like it here in SF Bay Area, although I do have the mourning doves outside my window singing their mournful tunes. Only to outdo them are the mockingbirds – comical needless to say.

Thank you for sharing!

James Tyrrell

You’re welcome Denise!

Darlene Knott

Very interesting post! Enjoyed your comments, James, as always!

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