During downtime when not driving guests, rangers try get out into the bush and do things we usually wouldn’t be able to do.
From spending extended periods of time trying to find a leopard’s den site or feeding our competitive nature and playing a game of ultimate birding, we manage to keep ourselves entertained one way or another. One overcast morning six rangers, myself included, set out on a drive and soon after leaving camp we decided to play one of these games of ultimate birding. As a fairly competitive person, I was beyond keen to partake!
Basically how the game works is the vehicle is split in two (metaphorically), and the one half of the vehicle plays against the other. 1 point for your team if someone correctly identifies a bird (by sight or by call) and minus 5 points if someone incorrectly identifies a bird.
The winning team is obviously the one with the most points at the end of the drive.
The trick is to try and make spot calls quickly so as to be the first one to get the ID, as once it’s been made, it’s off the table. Ie. you can’t ID the same bird twice. But if you don’t have a good enough look and lose the 5 points, it can be hard to recover…
Six of us in the vehicle meant three vs three; perfect!
Not too far out of camp we found ourselves driving along the Sand River and all of a sudden I saw a glimpse of turquoise blue shimmer between trees… “Brown-Hooded Kingfisher!!” I quickly shouted, a little smugly as well, certain that I had won our team an easy point.
It turns out that I had jumped the gun. Upon further inspection, it was discovered that I was in fact incorrect and had cost my team 5 points… (taking us to -4!). BUT, what it did mean was that I was able to add a new bird to my life list, as could a couple of the others on the vehicle. The bird was in fact the much more seldom seen grey-headed kingfisher. Yes – I took a lot of flack for my mistake then and am happy to take more now…
The grey-headed kingfisher is one of nine kingfisher species found at Londolozi and it forms part of the Halcyon genus – as does the brown-hooded variety. The name comes from the turquoise blue colour on their wings.
The word Halcyon is derived from Greek mythology and describes this beautiful hue of blue. For further reading, a blog post written on the Kingfishers of Londolozi explains how these kingfishers’ genus got its name. It is this striking blue colour that makes kingfishers one of most beautiful families of birds to see.
Naturally, because it was the first time I had seen this species of bird, I read up on them and learned some interesting things. Similar to many insect-eating birds (and more specifically insect-eating kingfishers), the grey-headed is migratory. More specifically they are intra-African breeding migrants that spend their time in Central Africa (North of Zambia up to Sudan and South Arabia) in our winter months from June through to August. They fly at night during their migration and theory suggests that they use the stars to navigate during their journey – something quite amazing. From September onwards, as the days start to get warmer and their source of food becomes more plentiful, some individuals start to migrate down to the North-Eastern extremities of South Africa to set up territories and breed. They are monogamous and territorial, with both the male and female defending and advertising their territory. This meant that throughout the past few summer months we have often seen at least one individual in the very same drainage line. This has made for some great viewing and some very happy guests, some of whom (like me) have been able to add another bird to their life list, and it all started from a rookie mistake in a birding competition!
And so even though my teammates weren’t too chuffed that I had lost us 5 points, the discovery of a fairly rare bird at Londolozi made up for it.
As a guest, sitting in the vehicle at an elevated level, one often has the best vantage point from which to spot things. At times you may see something that looks very much like a lion or leopard (just using these animals as an example…), but you don’t say anything in fear that it’s just a rock or dead tree stump. If there’s one thing you can learn from my mishap is that it’s always worth speaking up in order to take a second look, for you never know what it may actually be!