How many times have you been on safari? One? Three? Forty? Not yet? If you ever ask an experienced safari-goer how they feel about birds, they’ll probably tell you all about their favorites and those extra special ones they’ve seen over the years. But chances are, they didn’t start out as bird lovers. It seems the more time you spend on safari, the more you’ll come to adore our little feathered friends – if you didn’t already. One reason for this, is that not every day on safari is a ‘big sightings’ day, with cats to photograph and elephants to enjoy – even at Kings Camp! Sometimes the pursuit of big stuff has to naturally take a backseat when birds are abundant and not much else is…
When you devote some of your time on safari to watching birds and picking up on their little quirks and marveling at their beauty and design, you’re bound to fall in love. You may even become one of those people who starts ticking them all off on lists. It’s good fun, trust me!
So this past month, the guiding team at Kings Camp welcomed bird expert Joe Grosel, who ran an exciting three day birding course for us. Not only did we see well over 150 different bird species in our area, but I think we were all surprised at how many exciting new bird facts we learned for the first time on the course, even though we’d all profess to be ‘pretty good’ with our birds.
Extra special sightings we had on the course included a Booted Eagle (which is very rare for the Greater Kruger area) and a Black Kite which can be notoriously difficult to distinguish from its close cousin, the Yellow Billed Kite. For me, I was thrilled with my first ever sightings of the charismatic Olive Tree Warbler and the shy Eurasian Golden Oriole. We also got to see many of our local birds that are common at Kings Camp but rare elsewhere, like the Dusky Lark, Temminck’s Courser and Senegal Lapwing. And for those of you who aren’t quite sold on the idea of pausing to admire birds, our bird course also brought two of this month’s best animal sightings!
As we were watching a group of Blue Waxbills and listening out for an elusive Grey Penduline Tit, a whole herd of impalas suddenly ran at full speed across the road. Impalas don’t run for nothing and we all knew what was coming. Sure enough, one wild dog flashed across the road in hot pursuit. We immediately drove closer to the action. The lone dog had caught an impala ewe and was busy making the kill – proof that wild dogs don’t need a pack to take down an antelope. What they do need a pack for, is to eat that antelope! Within a minute the dog had been joined by the rest of his pack who voraciously ‘wolfed down’ the impala. Their feeding frenzy inevitably attracted a handful of hyenas, and with their arrival, we were treated to one of our most memorable wildlife sightings. All because we’d stopped to try and pick out the shape of a tiny Penduline Tit in a bush. Give birding a try!
One of our other highlights took place in the moment I’d first spotted my Eurasian Golden Oriole. I’d just got its glorious yellow plumage into my binoculars view, when one of the other guides excitedly pointed out that Ntombi, our much loved local leopard was strolling down the road next to us. Her attitude casual as always, we followed her to the riverbed where she drank from a pool right next to us. Again, had we not stopped to investigate a bird party, we’d never have encountered Ntombi that morning.
February has been a great month at Kings Camp, with brilliant wildlife sightings and some much needed rain. But for me, it’s the bird course that really stood out. We can’t wait to share some of our new knowledge with you. So the next time you’re on safari with us, just sit back, relax and let nature reveal whatever it’s going to reveal. I promise you’ll be surprised!
Words and images by Anna Tinker