“I borrow moonlight for this journey of a million miles” – Saikuku
Winter is coming. The cold has set in and food is scarce. Yet there is excitement in the air. From South-central Europe, Asia minor, Russia and Iran large flocks of European Rollers are gathering in preparation to migrate. Two definite areas are set as destinations; one being South Africa’s lowveld where they arrive around mid-December and their brilliant blue plumage and tendency for catching large grasshoppers allows us hours of incredible bird viewing.
This is just one of the roughly estimated 185 bird species that migrate between Africa, Asia and Europe. Our lowveld summer attracts a host of species from around the world, and during that time the bush is alive with song and flashes of feathers in all directions. Tangible excitement runs through the ranging team when the first Woodland Kingfisher sounds off its iconic cry indicating the start of summer. It even reaches the point that bets get placed as to the exact date of their arrival. A season never goes amiss without someone sneakily playing a recording of the call and watching in hilarity as the rangers all bundle outside to catch a glimpse of the first Woodland Kingfisher and argue over who guessed the correct date.
In his book, Beat About the Bush Birds, Trevor Carnaby describes migration as “a predictable seasonal movement to and from a single destination once in a calendar year”. The main reason they do this is to increase their survival chances as resources diminish and competition increases. In other words, they chase summer around the world, which seems like a pretty good tactic to me.
Migration is a fascinating phenomenon that still holds many unanswered questions. The fact that birds can make their way across the world and in some species such as the Walbergs Eagle, find the exact same nest year after year is utterly mind blowing! It is believed that birds have an incredible internal compass, which sets them on the correct path and this is then maintained mainly by astrocues (the sun and stars). Wind, sounds, smells and topography and prominent land features all contribute to migratory birds reaching their destination.
Today marks International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). Initiated in 2006 it aims to create global awareness about the need to protect key habitats for migratory birds. A day like this gives us the opportunity to become mindful about the impact we have on this planet and the consequences of that impact. Our ideas of progress are often so distorted that we start to lose sight of the magic. Although our summer has come to an end and all our visitors have already moved off, it means that many of them are making their way back to warmer climates that may be exactly where you are! Take some time out in your day to see if you can spot any of these birds in your area or in nearby nature conservancies
Where are you from and do you know which migrant birds visit your home?
Written by: Andrea Campbell, Londolozi Land Care Assistant