Our Blog and News

31 July 2020

Birds, Birds, Birds!

Ranger Tammy

Hi everyone,

I hope you are all keeping well and staying safe! In today’s blog I am going to be chatting about another of my favourite pastimes – Birding!

Pintailed Whydah

To be quite honest, about four or five years ago, I wasn’t very interested in birding at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love all animals, including birds – actually every aspect of nature – but I just wasn’t really interested in identifying birds. (Identifying birds can be incredibly challenging!)

However, fairly recently – over the last two years or so, I have found it so rewarding to challenge my knowledge. It is such an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you finally manage to correctly identify a bird, which I’m sure a lot of you can relate to.

Birding is most definitely becoming more popular by the day, and I truly can understand why.

Trumpeter Hornbill

As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, if I manage to photograph a bird, that I can’t immediately identify, once I have identified it I suddenly start to notice that particular bird so much more! It makes me wonder how I could possibly not have noticed it before and why I didn’t already know its identity.

When I identify a bird, I don’t stop there – I become engrossed in researching everything about the bird as well. I want to know about its general habits, its call (this takes a lot of time to learn), what environment it prefers and what its nesting and mating habits are? Is it a migrant bird or a resident bird? My mind asks so many questions and I love it! I love that I have the will to challenge myself, to want to learn more than I really need to. (It is probably the Philomath in me! [Philomath definition: a person who enjoys learning new facts and acquiring new knowledge])

At the end of the day this attribute and the resulting knowledge greatly benefits me in my position as a Ranger/Field Guide as I find that I am able to answer more and more of my guest’s questions regarding birds.

Let’s get back to basics for a moment – the main thing that differentiates a bird from other animal species is the fact that they have feathers. They are warm-blooded animals with specialised forelimbs – wings or flippers (penguins) – and their jaw is modified into a beak which has no teeth and lastly, they lay eggs.

Southern Masked Weaver

I find the bone structure of birds to be incredibly interesting. The bone itself is hollow, which is strengthened differently from bird to bird depending on their lifestyle.

As of the year 2020, there is an estimated 10 000 species of birds worldwide of which roughly 850 species are found in South Africa. On Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve we have a documented list, compiled by a local ornithologist, of 286 species of birds that can be found here however, a few “new” species have recently been photographed and will be added to the list once their identities have been confirmed.

I have given myself a personal mission of trying to photograph as many species of birds as I possibly can. I catalogue and keep a list of all the birds that I have personally seen and correctly identified, but I have a separate folder of ALL the bird photographs that I have taken – I must admit there are quite a number of them! I find photographing birds very challenging at times, which makes it all the more fun for me, as birds can be incredibly elusive at times – you need to be in the right place at the right time and you need to be super quick and quiet at the same time.

One of my greatest accomplishments in birding photography was when I managed to photograph a Narina Trogon (Apaloderma narina). These birds may not be incredibly rare as a population, but they are incredibly rare to see and photograph as they are exceptionally secretive. The most you are likely to see is a flash of red above you as the bird flies past overhead. When I managed to photograph my first (and only) Narina Trogon, I was hiking by myself through one of the beautiful indigenous forests here on Inkwenkwezi and I heard the call of a Trogon. I stopped and sat down, waiting with my camera at the ready (set to burst shot) and listened, hoping that it may come closer. I heard the call again, a little farther away and decided to play the Narina Trogon’s call on my phone – just once to see if anything happened. Much to my excitement, after I played the call, a Trogon flew closer and sat on a branch about four meters up, quite close to me. I managed to take a few decent shots while the Trogon studied me, until it ultimately decided that I was of no interest or use to it and it flew off. I was incredibly happy.

Narina Trogon

Another of my photographic accomplishments with birds was managing to capture a Red Faced Mousebird. Mousebirds, in general, can be exceptionally difficult to photograph as they are also incredibly shy birds and like to hide away in nearby shrubs and bushes. I had already been lucky enough to get a few beautiful shots of Speckled Mousebirds while driving out on the game reserve however I was still searching for a Red Faced Mousebird. Although they should be just as common as a Speckled Mousebird I just couldn’t for the life of me find one. Until one day, when I wasn’t even looking for one, this beautiful little bird just sat on a branch about five meters from my Land Rover, I grabbed my camera and managed to get one photograph of the Mousebird before it flew off. It all happened so quickly; I am incredibly pleased with my record shot.

Photographing birds of prey (birds that hunt and feed on other animals) is another challenge that I really enjoy. There is just something about them, their size and power, the angry look on their faces, their sharp beak… they are just beautiful. One of the most common birds of prey that we often see on the reserve is the Jackal Buzzard and, in summer, the Common/Steppe Buzzard as well. A few more that I have been able to photograph is the Western Osprey, a gorgeous Crowned Eagle, the European Honey Buzzard (which is incredibly rare) and a stunning little Rock Kestrel. We have many more species of birds of prey on the reserve which I am hoping to photograph soon.

I also count Sunbirds in the list of my greatest accomplishments when it comes to photographing birds. These beautiful little birds are incredibly fast and easy to miss if you don’t stop and sit in one place waiting for them. The slightest movement scares them off. I battled for months to get a photograph of my first Sunbird, until the Aloes and Strelitzias in the area started flowering, now I find that if I sit/stand still around these flowering plants it enables me to get some awesome shots of the sunbirds.

I have photographed quite a few different bird species on the reserve and I am quite pleased with how well my catalogue of photos is steadily growing. Hopefully one day, with a lot of luck and perseverance, I will have photos of all the bird species here on the reserve. I am sure this will take me a couple of years, but I feel it will really be worth it.

For those of you that do enjoy birding or would like to start birding, I have found a few general guidelines of etiquette and ethics for you to follow that will make your birding experience a lot easier and more pleasant:

  • Always be mindful and considerate of the environment, birds, and other wildlife, as well as of other people that are birding.
  • Be careful not to chase the birds around. Constantly intruding on a bird’s space and causing the same bird to fly off repeatedly can be very detrimental to the bird. You could unnecessarily exhaust the bird making it vulnerable to nearby predators.
  • Be mindful of playing bird calls too often. Playing calls can really help in drawing birds closer to you but it can also confuse them or chase them away. I personally would recommend never playing a call more than three times.
  • If you can see that a bird is in, or on, a nest with eggs or with chicks, make sure to keep your distance. Take photos from far away with a good camera lens or observe from a distance with a pair of binoculars. With some practice, you can take great photos through your binoculars with your cell phone camera if you don’t have a good zoom on your camera.
  • Never trespass on someone’s land, always ask permission to go birding on someone else’s private property.
  • Make sure to keep your phone on silent, birds are extremely sensitive to loud or sudden noises. Especially if you are birding with a group of people. You need to stay as quiet as possible and make sure that you don’t move around too fast, as birds are sensitive to fast and sudden movements as well.
  • You should also try to blend into your environment as much as possible. Birds are unbelievably sensitive to bright colours, specifically white, red, and yellow.

One of the most important things I can leave you with is one of my favourite quotes: “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints.”

Until next week!

Remember to keep well and stay safe!

Warm regards,

Ranger Tammy

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