For any aspiring guide, a sound knowledge of the birdlife found in their area of operation is of paramount importance. Sure, guests come from far and wide to witness the splendor of Africa’s mammalian occupants but these can sometimes be elusive. Birds however can be found around almost every corner and anyone in this industry will tell you that birding plays a massive role in filling in the gaps between sightings of the marquis animals. Many a quiet drive has been saved by a guide’s ability to educate his guests in the wonders and diversity of the avian kingdom.
For the past week, the students of Bushwise Field Guides have had binoculars glued to their eyes, scanning every inch of the veld for a flicker of wing or flash of colour. Thanks to the brief deluge of rain in the last week, the bird activity has exploded and despite many migrants already departing in light of the recent drought like disgruntled holiday makers, the stragglers and year round residents have put on quite a show!
The week has brought with it well over 100 different species ranging from apalises to waxbills with almost every colour of the rainbow accounted for. There are few things that can rival the beauty of the shimmering purple iridescence of the Violet Backed Starling or the delicate beauty of the diminutive Malachite Kingfisher. Identifying by sight is only half of the story however. Early mornings in the bush are filled with the sound of an avian orchestra, with more levels than any top ensemble. From the bassy booms of the Verreaux Eagle Owl to the almost inaudible sopranos of some of the tiny passerines, the student’s ears were subjected to a symphonic onslaught.
Estranged faces from the Land Rovers have been commonplace this week and judging by some of the expressions, many were reaching breaking point! Birding can be intimidating to the newcomer (not to mention incredibly frustrating!) but it is also hugely satisfying once the fundamentals are in place. The challenge to check off one more lifer and add one more tick to the list before heading home becomes addictive and it fueled a very competitive edge in the students as the different groups battled for avian dominance! By the end of the week, all 3 groups had eclipsed the century of birds for their lists and arguments still rage as to the winner!
All in all it has been a great week and many students are new avid birders. With over 150 birds on the list that they are expected to know by the end of the course, repetition is key and we look forward to watching them blossom into true ‘twitchers’ as the weeks roll on!
Special mention must also go to Megan Loftie-Eaton from the Animal Demography Unit who took time out of her busy schedule to spend time with students explaining the principles of Citizen Science whereby any amateur birder can help the conservation effort!
Until next time
Ben and the Bushwise Team!