Spring has sprung here at Londolozi. We have had our first rains; frogs are crocking away; the odd tortoise has been seen and temperatures are rising. Although these are all clear indications of the arrival of spring, there is something else that many of us get excited about the most. The return of migratory birds and the commencement of many birds’ breeding season and the transformation from the dull, drab winter plumage to a much brighter colourful plumage.
Birds from all over Africa and Europe have begun to make their way south towards Southern Africa in response mostly to the shortening day length and change in temperatures. Summer at Londolozi means rain, lush greenery and an abundance of insect life and it is this that provides an abundance of food for the mostly insectivorous migratory birds. Summertime is the perfect opportunity for many animals to breed, these birds are no exception and it is now that we see the transitioning of most males into their breeding plumage.
With a bird species list of 850 odd in southern Africa and 185 of these being migratory, it is a twitcher’s dream to visit in the summer. A twitcher is a person that is an avid birder and travels to places in search of specific birds to see and add to their life list. Throughout the day from sunrise to sunset, there is a constant hum in the bush with all these birds calling away trying to attract a mate or chase off any intruders. Our senses are on overdrive throughout. Something you should definitely come visit us to experience if you haven’t already.
The return of all these birds makes the bush feel alive but it’s three birds in particular that give me that summer feeling.
The Woodland Kingfisher for me holds the biggest presence when they arrive back in Southern Africa from Northern to Central Africa. Southern Africa is their summer breeding ground and courtship begins soon after their arrival. During this time their call can be heard resonating throughout the entire bushveld. It is evidently the call of summer. They spread their wings and make a loud trilling song, kri-trrrrrrrr, descending and fading. Their iridescent blue feathers and relaxed nature allows you to view and photograph them with relative ease. The guiding team always has an internal competition for who can be the first one to see a Woodland Kingfisher each time they return. We await their arrival in anticipation.
The Diederik Cuckoo.
This was the first birdcall I was able to recognize on my own and I think it’s because of that, whenever I see or hear it, I get a sense of nostalgia. Like most cuckoos, this bird is often heard and seldom seen. It is a beautiful green and white bird that will catch anyone’s eye when it shows itself. They often find refuge in and around camp, allowing us to listen out for their distinctive call during the course of the day. It sounds like it’s saying its name when it calls ‘Dee-dee-dee-Diederik” a donkey bridge we used while training. Cuckoos are fascinating birds and the ones we see here at Londolozi are all migratory, having travelled thousands of kilometres to arrive here. The Diederik Cuckoo is an inter-African Migrant meaning that it spent the winter months in central or northern Africa where it was warmer and insects were more abundant. After travelling back to their summer home, the Diederik Cuckoo normally parasitises a number of weaver species. This means that the female sneaks in to lay its eggs in the weaver host’s nest. The weaver then raises the eggs of the cuckoo believing that they are it’s own. So when next on safari, and you see a bunch of weavers be sure to scan the thicket lines as there might be a sneaky Diederik Cuckoo waiting for its opportunity.
Although weavers don’t usually migrate, it’s their breeding plumage and constant activity that makes them one of my summer favourites. During the winter, they conserve energy and do not need to attract a mate, this, therefore, does not require them to be dawned in beautiful colours. The colourful plumage requires energy to create and draws unwanted attention from danger. As a result, they shift into more drab neutral colours of browns and greys. Waiting for the rains and abundance of food that accompanies it before spurring on the breeding season and energy expenditure in attracting a mate through their breeding plumage and incredible nest-building abilities.
The males are the ones to construct the nests, and won’t stop until a suitable mate accepts his nest and courtship is secure. It is a challenging time for the males, as they could spend hours and hours building the nests only to be rejected a number of times. If the nest is not accepted he will tear it down and start again. A reality that the males live with, but it creates awesome viewing over the next couple of months. I can spend hours at the causeway watching these amazing architects weaving their nests.
These are just some of the wonderful birds that will be frequently viewed at Londolozi in the next couple of months. The rains bring many more amazing creatures that I can’t wait to view.