Building on the success and camaraderie of the previous Birding Big Year in 2021, our group of intrepid birders, the Londolozi Ranging Team both current and past, has once again set their sights on a feathered quest. In the vast expanse of Southern Africa, we set out on a friendly yet intimate battle across the region seeking out as many avian wonders as possible.
Setting the Stage
As the days of the new year slid off the calendar, the anticipation grew, reminiscent of our previous venture. The concept remains simple yet profound – to lay eyes on as many different bird species as possible within the enchanting realms of Southern Africa, throughout the calendar year. The foundation is built on the honesty system; each bird must be seen, not just heard. Exotic pet shops or bird -parks/gardens find no place on our list; only the wild, the free, and the authentic.
Rules of the Game
In the spirit of fair play, we uphold our commitment to genuine sightings. A testament to the integrity of the Londolozi Rangers, there’s no need for elaborate policing. The competition holds no extravagant prizes; instead, the reward lies in the sheer joy of the pursuit along with the obvious bragging rights that accompany the victory.
The Journey Begins
My personal Birding Big Year kicked off amidst the serene landscapes of Greyton in the Western Cape. Nestled in this quaint town, a birding hotspot in its own right, I encountered a plethora of species that won’t grace the skies of Londolozi.
Encounters in the Western Cape
In the Western Cape, my birding journey led me to rare and captivating species. The elegant Blue Crane danced across the landscape, the Cape Sugarbird in amongst the illustrious fynbos, and the Cape Spurfowl scurried around the riverine vegetation in the Cederberg Mountains. The melodious notes of the Cape Robin-Chat resonated through the air, and the iridescent Malachite Sunbird added a splash of colour to the scene. The Karoo Prinia and Karoo Scrub-Robin, adapted to arid environments, revealing the beauty of adaptation. Meanwhile, the elusive Cape Grassbird blended seamlessly with its surroundings.
Venturing Beyond Familiar Territories
As the year 2021 unfolded, it became evident that to stand any chance in this challenge, venturing beyond the familiar landscapes of Londolozi was essential.
Birds are not randomly distributed, each species has a characteristic geographical range, some very small and localised, others enormous and basically worldwide. The distribution patterns are determined largely by habitat boundaries, as many birds are adapted to one particular habitat. Avian biogeography largely mirrors that of the plant communities, which in turn reflects a combination of climatic and soil conditions.
Therefore what we found was our holidays and breaks from work transformed into strategic birding expeditions. The broader the range of habitats we checked off, the higher the likelihood of encountering a greater variety of birds, from the bustling suburban gardens of Johannesburg to the remote Zambezi River Valley.
I expect the same to go for 2024. Now equipped with our camping trailer, I can foresee a few lengthy debates between Samantha and me as to where our next few holidays are going to be. Birding trips are the motivation behind my ideal destinations and I am sure for Samantha it will be coastal, maybe more of a beach holiday. Coming to think of it, camping on the beach could be awesome and I am sure there will be a few birds there too.
Skills and Discoveries
This birding challenge has not only pitted us against each other but has also been a catalyst for personal growth. The entire guiding team has honed their birding skills, transforming birds that once mystified us into familiar friends. The ability to discern faint calls and identify subtle differences in size, shape, and plumage has become second nature.
Bird by bird, we follow each other’s progress through a birding app called Bïndo Birding. It is a really cool social bird listing app for Southern Africa. You can add sightings, curate trip lists, view listing maps and stats, share birding photos, and connect, share and compete with other birders! So the perfect way for us to keep each other in check. If you are interested in birding or in preparation for your trip here, I would recommend downloading it.
Now over the next while, during the Virtual Safaris, I aim to take you along on my birding journey, showcasing as many of the new birds on my list as possible, while still keeping it relevant.
The Winner’s Circle
I have no doubt that as we approach the end of this avian adventure, the competition will be fierce. Who will take home the gold medal in the 2024 Londolozi Birding Big Year? Will Garrett Fitzpatrick retain the title? Only time will tell, but the real triumph lies in the shared moments of birding discovery and the reflective stories to be told around the campfire in years to come.
The journey is far from over. Stay tuned as we continue our 2024 Birding Big Year, a journey where every fluttering wing tells a story.