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Summer is welcomed towards the end of each year by the serene sounds and action-filled displays of returning migratory birds. There are a great array colours on display in the air during this time as these vibrant birds take flight across the blue sky. It is quite a sight to behold, and it is even more exciting to challenge oneself and see how many of these bird species can be identified in one day. On Shambala, we delight ourselves in taking part in the Birding Big Day hosted by Birdlife SA every year. On this day, people across the country get the opportunity to take part in a research initiative in establishing the distribution of various bird species across South Africa, and that contributes to conservation. The main aim of this day is for people to see how many different species of birds they can identify in their direct area, of about 50 kms, in a period of 24 hours. It is quite a fun and exciting day as teams are formed across the country, creating a sense of competition amongst them as to who can spot the most species. The results from this day then give good indication of the range and distribution of different species of birds in southern Africa. The Shambala Greenbuls were registered as a team to represent the reserve, whereby we, as the Rangers on the reserve, were the members in the team tasked with spotting as many birds as we could. We found this to be a great initiative and took to the trees to try and find some unique and appealing birds. We set out at dawn, and as the sun was rising we managed to spot quite a few generally common birds like the Dark-Capped Bulbul, Crested Barbet, Red-breasted Swallow and Cape-turtle Dove.
Crested BarbetWe then decided to make our way to a Dam on the Northern side of the reserve to see what interesting bird activity we could find there. We were not disappointed, as when we approached the waterhole we managed to see a large bird known as a Hammerkop standing in the water. This peculiar looking bird has a head shaped like a hammer, hence the Afrikaans name “Hammerkop” which translates to “Hammer-head”. The diet of this bird predominantly consists of frogs, and its nest has an interesting structure. Their nests are quite large at about 1.5 metres wide. They build them on big trees where they use a lot of materials like wood and steel objects, which can sometimes be artificial and is strange to find in a nest, things like spoons and jewellery that get washed up in rivers. We had quite a nice view of this bird as it flew across the dam.
HammerkopWe then continued to the southern part of the reserve trying to spot more species in the woodlands. Stopping to scan the trees, we were able to add the Fawn-coloured Lark, White-crested helmetshrike, Grey-backed Carmoroptera and a Paradise Flycatcher. Perching on one of the tree tops, we managed to spot a fascinating African Harrier Hawk! This is quite a large raptor with yellow markings on the face and beak, having a large wing span that allows it to glide effortlessly through the air in search of prey like snakes, rodents and even other birds.
African Harrier HawkAs we drove on we crossed a wide river that was flowing rapidly as a result of the recent rains in the area. With lush vegetation growing on the banks of the river and plenty of biodiversity around, we knew this would be a key area in adding more birds to our ever expanding list. As we sat scanning the area using our binoculars we heard a squeak of a small bird flying by. We turned to see what it was, and as luck would have it, it was the ever so beautiful Malachite Kingfisher. This strikingly colourful bird was sitting perched on a rock in its orange-purple coloured coat, using peripheral vision to spot potential prey in the water. As we watched in awe and excitement to add it to our list, it suddenly took flight and swooped across the water to catch insects on the water surface. It was a stunning sight to see this amazing swift movement, as this interesting little bird is the second smallest of all the Kingfishers, and it is quite a rare sight to see.
Malachite KingfisherAs the sun was setting, our successful birding day was coming to an end, and we concluded with a few night birds such as the Spotted-Eagle Owl, Fiery-Necked Night Jar, as well as the Spotted Thick-knee. These additions brought our species count for the day to a grand total of 129 different species. We found it to be a respectable total and it was quite a good feeling to know that we contributed positively to conservation and identifying areas of distribution of rare bird species. We had a sense of accomplishment and achievement, and in the process we had great experiences in the sightings we had of some rare and beautiful birds. We encourage anyone and everyone to come and view these appealing birds on Shambala. Ranger Given Mulaudzi Assisted by Ranger Sean Jones Shambala Private Game Reserve