From a young age, birding has always grabbed my attention.
I fondly remember sitting out on my grandparent’s patio with a set of binoculars gazing out over the garden, identifying the birds and their many calls as they fluttered on by.
Summer in particular always brought a sense of excitement. Several species begin to develop their breeding plumages and the gradual arrival of the migrants over the next few months bring a great deal of vibrant colours to the countryside.
This is no different at Londolozi. The dry season has left the landscape rather dull and grey and I am looking forward to watching the change over the next few months. While we haven’t quite had any substantial rain yet, a few migrant birds have already started to return. Walhberg’s Eagles, Red Breasted Swallows and Common Sandpipers, to name a few, are already seen on a daily basis but there are few species of which I am awaiting patiently for; one that I still have actually never seen and here’s to hoping that changes this summer.
Here are my top seven migrants I am anticipating seeing (some have actually arrived already):
I have already mentioned the burst of colours that arrive with several of the migrant species and on that note, it’s quite hard to look past the European Bee-eater. These non-breeding migrants (albeit breeding pairs have rarely been seen in the region) have already started to catch our eyes as their flocks swoop over the open crests catching insects on the wing. These pastel-coloured birds make the long journey down from Europe and tend to arrive mid- to late October and hang around until late February or early March.
A bird that is more often heard and rather seldom actually seen is the Red-Chested Cuckoo. Of course the entire cuckoo family are set to return in summer, each bringing with them their own habits of brood parasitism, but I chose the Red-Chested variety as it has one of the most recognisable calls of the summer months and always brings back fond memories of long summer holidays and Christmas time. As is usually the case, I have still not seen one yet this summer but have heard their calls echoing through the dense riverine thickets.
Possibly one of the most impressive migrants to reach Londolozi is the Amur Falcon. Recognised as having the longest migratory route of any raptor, Amur Falcons arrive in Southern Africa from as far away as north-eastern Asia (as far away as east Russia!). For a rather diminutive bird of prey, that is an impressive journey to undertake. Having still not been seen this season at Londolozi, we can assume that the flocks of these falcons are already making their steady way across the Indian Ocean with the promise of a more secure food supply here in the form of termite emergences which are due to explode with the onset of the rainy season.
I’ve added the Grey-headed Kingfisher to the list in the hope that my luck may be turned around this summer as I am yet to see one. Along with the half-collared kingfisher, the grey-headed is far less common than the other kingfisher species which occur in the area. Off the top of my head I can only recall a handful of sightings of this elusive bird over the past two years. They aren’t considered common in the region though which puts my mind at ease. According to the Roberts Bird App., they tend to stick to areas of higher rainfall than what we experience at Londolozi, so here’s to hoping we get decent rainfall this summer along with a few grey-headed kingfishers visiting the area.
Another bird that introduces an injection of bright colour to our landscape around this time is the Broad-Billed Roller. Despite its striking colour, it’s a bird that we don’t often seen and any sighting of one is considered a notable one. We have been lucky enough in the past to have had a couple of nesting pairs on the reserve which gave us the special opportunity to see them on a more consistent basis. Last summer, while working out of Tree Camp, we also found a single roller that would return to roost on the exact same branch every night just above the pathway between Tree Camp and Varty Camp. While there was recently one spotted in camp a few days ago, the same branch still remains empty at night but I will continue to check it over the next few weeks in the hope that the same bird will return.
African Pygmy Kingfisher
I’ve added another kingfisher to the list purely because they are one of my favourite families of birds. They always manage to catch one’s eye and are often – but not always – found in beautiful riverine thickets close to water. Of all the species though, the electric blue and rusty orange of the diminutive African Pygmy Kingfisher is one of my best. Prior to writing this post, the arrival of these birds hadn’t crossed my mind until one darted past me in front of the Granite Camp deck one morning and perched on the thin stem of a common reed grass. As with several of the kingfisher species, despite their name the pygmy kingfisher does not feed on fish and prefers small invertebrates, lizards and occasionally frogs.
The second raptor on the list and final bird that I have included is the Lesser Kestrel. These small birds of prey are considered to be vulnerable world wide with roughly 50 000 remaining in the wild. We should expect their arrival to Londolozi to be rather soon but the bulk of their activity in this area is usually more towards the mid-to-late summer, during which they gorge themselves on insects and small rodents in order to build up a sufficient energy reserve for their long journey back north over the Mediterranean into western Asia and Europe.
With around 60 species of birds due to return to Londolozi over the summer, this time of year is always an exciting period for birders and a great opportunity to tick off those final species for the year if they weren’t yet seen in the earlier summer months.