I was recently very fortunate to participate in Birdlife South Africa’s annual Birding Big Day 2018 This event is held country wide and entails identifying as many birds as you can in a 24-hour period using visual confirmation or vocalisation. This is the best time of year to experience this as we have birds from all over the globe descending on Southern Africa to enjoy our warm summer months. Some species like the petite Amur Falcon which is a Palaearctic migrant will fly approximately 11 000 kilometres from as far afield as Siberia to reach our shores.

We started our big day mid-afternoon in the heart of the Timbavati and explored the reserve moving further north as dusk started to fall. We encountered some wonderful bushveld birds in this savannah based biome which included the Black-Crowned-night Heron, White-crowned Lapwing and European Nightjar just to mention a few.

Now a “lifer” in birding terms is a bird that has never been seen or identified before by an individual. I miraculously managed to find three lifers on this first afternoon! These included a Baillon’s Crake, African Skimmers and a pair of Collared Pratincoles - what a promising start!

We overnighted in the Timbavati and planned to leave the reserve by 2h00am to hopefully make it up the magnificent Drakensberg mountain range and explore some of the indigenous forests that cover the lower slopes. When people enquire about how a day of this nature goes and you say we woke up at 2h00am to go look for birds, there is often a blank stare back at you and you can see the person is thinking:“why on earth would you do that!?” However, I can assure you it is well worth it. The variety in habitats between bushveld and mountain is vast and you encounter a completely different range of birdlife.

After a couple of strong coffees we managed to place ourselves in the forest thickets. We were welcomed by calls of Narina Trogan, Knysna Turaco and African Emerald Cuckoo. Dawn was well upon us by 04h30am and the birdlife was incredible in the thick forest vegetation. The cacophony of bird calls was rather daunting but our team captain Nick Squires is a birding genius and he managed to assist us in picking out certain calls and positively identifying them. As we progressed to the mountain top we came across an Olive Woodpecker, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and a Black-fronted Bushshrike.

The view from the mountain top was simply incredible and we were very fortunate with the beautiful, clear, blue skies all around. We managed to find some mountain specials including Malachite Sunbird, Barratt’s Warbler, European Honey Buzzard and even managed to see one of the fastest birds in the world - the Peregrine Falcon - which can attain speeds of up to 300km/hr in aerial pursuits of prey. We continued down the mountain and proceeded to finish our day on the Klaserie River with a total of 238 species of birds identified. This was a new record for our team and I would like to thank Nick Squires, Warren Moore, Cathan Moore (Photographer) and Patrick O’Brien for participating in the day and making it such a success.

So, all I can say is if you were ever considering coming on a birding safari to enjoy some of our feathered friends, this really is a fantastic time of year to do this and truly experience our special part of the world!

Dale Jackson

Bird: Baillon's Crake

Bird: Black Crowned-night Heron

Bird: European Honey Buzzard

Bird: Jackal Buzzard







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