While on safari, the undoubted attractions are the larger animals. Leopards, lions, elephant and giraffe – the list of the stars who steal all the limelight goes on. But the birds, along with all the other small creatures, are the glue that hold the whole experience together. A bit like the backstage hands who don’t always get the credit but are a vital part to the success of the show. As such, I have decided to showcase a few of the Londolozi regulars below and highlight some interesting facts on each. So on your next trip to Londolozi, when your ranger and tracker head off to follow the tracks of a leopard, pull out your binoculars and bird book and enjoy some of the smaller things on offer (until they find the leopard of course!)
This Tawny Eagle is one of the resident pair in the north of Londolozi. They will feed on anything from termites up to the size of a small antelope, but are also sometimes the first to arrive and start scavenging at kills.
A White Backed Vulture perches on top of a dead knob thorn for his evening roost. Soaring on the thermals at speeds of up to 65km/h and altitudes approaching 3000 feet, they are able to spot any sign of food on the ground below with their exceptional eyesight.
A resident of the thickets, the Bearded Scrub Robin can prove a difficult bird to photograph, although we are fortunate to have quite a few in the staff village – one even nested outside Rich Burman’s front door for the second year in a row, allowing us to watch the progress of the eggs and resulting chicks on a daily basis. As is their habit, they are likely to return to the same spot next year.
If you take the time to look closely enough, some of the smaller birds have amazing colours and behaviour traits. This Jameson’s Fire-Finch displays to females by dancing around on a perch, waving a feather around in his beak to get their attention!
Another one of the smaller seed-eaters with striking colours is the Blue Waxbill. They usually give their presence away with their shrill, high pitched call, and it is only when they are in good light that the true extent of their colours is revealed. As with many birds, the male performs the majority of the nest building – in one observation a male made 42 trips to collect nesting material in one hour!
These are two of a brood of three young African Goshawks that have been hanging around Founders and Granite Camps since leaving their nest. Their parents are a territorial, monogamous pair who preside over the Londolozi Camps. In order to facilitate the creation of a brood such as this, the male will present a meal to the female and then take his chance to mate with her as she starts to feed!
A close up view of one of he Goshawks shows the sharp, hooked beak of a raptor. This particular species feeds mostly on small birds, rodents and bats.
The Grey Heron nesting site has featured a few times on the blog – here one of the adults comes in to land at the nest. This bird is widespread throughout the world and is found as far afield as Japan and China. They share the nest building workload – the male tends to collect the material and the female does the building.
Although this picture was not taken at Londolozi, the Red Billed Quelea’s in question are found here in abundance. Considered to be one of, if not the most, abundant bird on earth, their worldwide population size is estimated to outnumber humans by around 200 to 1. In the Greater Kruger National Park, of which Londolozi is a part, the population is estimated to be in the region of 33 million birds!
A Hammerkop waits patiently at the causeway for any sign of a fish or frog that it can snap up. The name Hammerkop is an Afrikaans name that translates to “hammer head” – an obvious reference to the feathers in his crest. They have an unmistakable nest – an enormous pile of sticks that can be as much as 2m in diameter and 2m tall. Closer to developed areas they can get creative with their nest building material – one nest was found to include wash rags, a feather duster, a bathing costume, a ball of string and a few handkerchiefs, presumably stolen from a nearby clothes line!
A second picture of the same bird illustrates the effect that can be achieved by combining a slow shutter speed with moving water. Here I used a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second. This requires a steady rest and a subject that remains dead still for the duration of the photo. The resulting effect is a sharp bird but blurred water.
After Tom Imrie’s post about new and unusual birds, I have been on the lookout, particularly for the Green Twinspot. Although that still eludes me, Duncan Maclarty and I managed to find this Read Headed Finch. Despite being a common bird further west of us in the drier parts of South Africa, this appears to be a first record for Londolozi. Although not the greatest photo, we knew no-one would believe us without proof of some kind! They tend to not build nests at all, instead using vacated nests of other birds such as weavers, swallows and swifts.
Written and Photographed by David Dampier