“The “Big 6″?”, you may be asking yourself.
We didn’t accidentally tally up one extra for good measure. There are a number of lists that have arisen throughout the safari industry. This one includes the following:
- Martial Eagle
- Lappet-faced Vulture
- Kori Bustard
- Saddle-billed Stork
- Southern Ground Hornbill
- Pel’s Fishing Owl
The Big 6 birds list was established to rival the Big 5 animals that everyone traditionally aims to see on Safari. It is a group consisting not only of large birds, but individuals that are also striking in appearance and that can be relatively difficult to find.
In addition to the Big 6, we set out on our 10 day adventure to see the traditional Big 5 animals, while ticking off as many bird species as we could, attempting to get photographic evidence of as many as possible. This was no easy task we set ourselves, however we knew we had time, and we felt confident that the wilderness would deliver. And it did!
Our first few drives were slow from a mammal perspective, but our bird count flew through the roof. This is typical of many species counts as one will encounter many of the common individuals quickly, then the rate of new additions slows. Our constant birding did mean that the vehicle was switched off a lot and we were able to hear animals around us that we would otherwise have missed.
During coffee one morning in the northern parts of Londolozi, deep booming calls echoed across the hills close-by. I ran up a small mound behind us and the red throat patch of a Southern ground hornbill caught my eye. Coffee was ditched and we rushed across in the vehicle to get the view and the shots that we needed!
We went for a walk between drives along the Londolozi camp path one day, in an effort to seek out some of the more elusive thicket species in the riverine vegetation. We excitedly passed the 150-bird mark on this walk. Some highlights from the walk were scarlet-chested sunbird and a pair of ashy flycatchers.
Our search for the Kori bustard was successful in the open grasslands. We also ticked off a family of Ostriches that afternoon and many elephants… We did experience a sense of failure though as our search for a cheetah led us to a patch of flattened grass on which the cheetah had slept that morning, with no further sign anywhere around!
We did realise that it was only fair for everyone to not focus entirely on birds. Especially as one of the four guests on the vehicle was not as serious as everyone else about our feathered counterparts. We put in some serious hours in search of lions, and were duly rewarded. Not only did we find the lions we had been searching for, but we also found a lappet-faced vulture! A real rarity, especially as their numbers are dwindling across Southern Africa.
By this stage, we had seen four of the Big 6 birds, and had been lucky enough to see all members of the Big 5 mammals. Two of the Big 6 remained: Pel’s fishing owl, and Saddle-billed stork. We had assumed the stork would be an easy find as a breeding pair had been seen at Finfoot crossing in the Sand River for weeks on end. However, as fate had it, the Sand River had flooded and the storks had flown off for the duration of our challenge.
The Pel’s fishing owl on the other hand… For those of you that are unfamiliar with this species, birders will travel across Africa to major river systems where the birds are known to occur, then still track for days to try and get a single glimpse of one. It’s basically the Holy Grail of Southern African birding. I personally have only ever seen one, and it immediately flew away from us across a river to disappear from sight. I did some research and found out that John and Dave Varty have only ever seen one here at Londolozi. Reports from our distant neighbours in the western Sabi Sands filtered in that there had been sightings along the Sand River in the past few years. We considered as a team that maybe we should take a day trip four hours north to the Olifants River in search of this majestic species. We didn’t end up going…
We were now desperate to tick off the Saddle-Billed Storks. We kept our efforts close to rivers and waterholes as we knew that they are typically found feeding in these areas. One afternoon on our second last day, we had found lion tracks that led towards the open banks of the Sand River. As we emerged from the trees, we couldn’t believe our eyes. We had found them!
Not only had we found the pair of saddle-billed storks, but the pride of lions was lying on the sandy banks of the Sand River in the foreground. Two at once… We must have looked crazy as our whole vehicle was madly photographing the storks, with our backs turned to the pride of lions!
Our tally for the ten days:
- 186 bird species
- Big 5 twice over (including a lifetime goal achieved for one guest – the Big 5 in one game drive)
- Five of the Big 6 birds.