When we think of migratory birds, one’s mind is automatically directed towards the birds that travel various distances, whether long or short, which are in search of preferable conditions. Sometimes it’s to find conditions more suitable for breeding, safer habitats or better food sources. The theory is that migratory birds ultimately undertake their various journeys to improve their chances of survival. This makes sense as food resources and temperatures decline during the winter. Being the peak of our winter now, all of the migratory birds that we see here should be away and would start to return towards the end of August having fled northwards to warmer climates where life is more abundant.
The European bee-eater is an example of a Palearctic migrant, a bird that undergoes a migration to Africa from Europe or Asia, whilst the familiar woodland kingfishers have flown northwards and settled in equatorial Africa (e.g. Uganda or Kenya), making it an Intra-African migrant.
This winter we have been seeing a significant increase in the number of African Stonechats. Normally we would not expect to see any migrants arriving here during the winter as the migrants are away during this time. This little bird undertakes a different type of migration, one in which it seeks out different altitudes at different times of the year, commonly referred to as an altitudinal migrant. Although the movements of this species of bird elsewhere in its distribution might be different, the individuals we see here at Londolozi have most likely bred in the highveld and areas inland from the Drakensberg plateau, and then migrated down the Drakensberg mountains to the Lowveld in winter months where conditions are less harsh than they might be at higher altitudes.
The Stonechat frequents open grasslands and it is always a welcome surprise to come upon one of these birds anywhere on the reserve. One afternoon while driving through the grasslands in the south-western part of the reserve, we were pleasantly surprised by a pair of stonechats perching proudly on an exposed branch singing. They are monogamous, meaning they form a strong bond between the male and female and are rarely seen far apart. African Stonechats are hard to mistake, especially the males, with their contrasting black and white plumage, merging into a buffy brown breast.
And so even though some species of Palearctic migrants have ventured vast distances away from the grasslands of Londolozi, such as the Amur falcon which on average flies 11 000km in search of favourable conditions, others have done the opposite and chosen to frequent them during the winter months having travelled not nearly as far to do so.
Which migratory bird do you look forward to seeing while at Londolozi?