Ever since I became a birder, visiting wild places has become a far richer experience than I thought possible, because when you start watching birds, you start noticing the other creatures around you besides the big guys.
Birds are not necessarily the first things that spring to mind when one is planning that first safari to Africa. However, soon after arriving here, it becomes obvious that birds are by far the most ubiquitous of all the animals out here, and that there are in fact some breathtaking colours, shapes and sizes to be seen. Let me run you through some of the reasons as to why you shouldn’t get impatient when your guide stops to show you a particular bird…
1 . Many of the species found on Londolozi have striking colours or features that you may not see at home.
For none other than pure appreciation of the wonders of nature, be sure to take some time to look at a lilac-breasted roller or cape glossy starling in the sunlight. A fellow guide recently found a Narina Trogon on Londolozi, close-by to where I was driving. Now I’m sure a large majority of people reading this have never heard of one of those. Don’t worry – neither had my guests. It’s probably because they are so incredibly rare. The guests soon realised why I went to show them the bird though, with its metallic scarlet and green feathers shining when the light catches them. It was also the second one I have ever seen, hence my excitement at the opportunity.
2. Knowing bird behaviour can lead one to other animals or even kills.
Everyone knows that vultures are on the lookout for kills. Watching where vultures are dropping to the ground may indicate where an animal has died or been killed by a predator. However, the bateleur eagle and tawny eagle fly lower than vultures and are often the first to spot kills, with vultures dropping down in response to them. Thus taking the time to investigate an area if one sees a tawny or bateleur eagle perched in a tree may help one find a predator.
3. Birds will often alarm call at the presence of a threat.
Whether this threat is a snake, a mongoose or a leopard, it is always fascinating to see what is irritating a group of birds. The inter-relationships between all the species out here are what make this environment such an interesting and dynamic place to be.
4. By stopping to photograph a bird one is able to appreciate the sounds of nature, the silence and be alerted to animals calls or alarm calls.
Switching off the vehicle’s engine and appreciating the sounds of nature is a refreshing part of being on safari. Often a quick sighting of a woodpecker or a quick attempt at photographing a bee-eater will cause one to turn the engine off just long enough to realise that a herd of impala is alarming frantically just over the hill from you, inaudible over the sound of the engine. Many times have we found the lion or leopard we are searching for because we have taken the time to appreciate the smaller things without the engine running and have heard a lion or leopards territorial call, enabling us to pinpoint exactly where to go and look.
5. Birds have been around for millions of years and have thus developed some incredible adaptations and behaviour.
There are some wonderful symbiotic relationships between birds and animals, or even two different bird species. Read Alex Jordan’s post on one bird species laying its eggs in another species’ nest so that the parents play no role in raising their own offspring. Or watch closely next time you see a herd of zebra or rhino and notice that not only do they have many oxpeckers feeding off the ticks on their bodies, but also an array of birds following them benefiting from flying insects being flushed out of the long grass. Not to mention the complex interactions between dwarf mongooses and fork-tailed drongos…
6. Being in tune with bird calls can potentially save your life.
When walking in the bush, the sound of oxpeckers taking off at close proximity is the equivalent of a burglar alarm in the city. You stop dead in your tracks and carefully scan the area as oxpeckers hang around large game – particularly rhino and buffalo – which are two species you do not want to startle at close-quarters when walking in the bush.
7. Birds can present some fantastic photographic opportunities.
So next time you have aid birders on your vehicle, take some time to appreciate our feathered counterparts. As listed above, there are many benefits to birding other than appreciating them for what they are.
This blog was inspired by avid birder and repeat Londolozi guest, Saul…
100% agree with you there… Once you start birding, even non-wild places take on another element!
That’s part of the reason why Cape Town isn’t half bad!! Still, I’m desperate to get up the bush!!