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.
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.
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.
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.