Every year in November birders from across South Africa get together and try to identify as many birds as they can within a 24 hour period. The competition is organised by BirdLifeSA and the results are used to establish which birds occur where, as well as other information about numbers and distribution of rare birds.
At Kapama we have some especially good sightings, particularly of the big cats. But we also have a huge variety of birds here. So on the 27th of November tracker Vusi Nkosi, ranger Jordan Jacobson and I set out to see how many of the birds we could find.
While many people find the birds intimidating and think that they are hard to identify, once you break it down they become much easier to recognise. Once you exclude those that don’t occur in your area, you can then narrow it down further by looking at which family they belong to. From there you can look at the sizes. This should then leave you with a handful of birds to sort through. By this process of elimination you can identify many birds quite simply. Another big clue to the different species is to listen out for their calls. Interestingly many of the more drab, shy and seldom seen birds have quite distinctive calls that offer instant identification to any avid birder. Again, with the calls there is a huge variety and it can seem overwhelming. How could you possibly identify a bird from just a few notes? And you can’t even see it? Well if you think about it, how many songs can you identify just from the first few notes? Even songs you may never have heard for years.
In the end, using both sight and sound we were able to identify 154 different bird species. Most of these species we were able to see simply driving around, while some we found walking along the Klaserie River. Unfortunately, even though we looked for a few “special” birds we were unable to find them. Those on the “specials” list included the Pel’s Fishing Owl, Narina Trogon and the White Backed Night Heron. These birds are lifers for many birders and even for the guides who are out here every day.
Next year we hope to improve on these numbers and even though we came first in our category for birds we should be able to find at least 50 more species, and get past the 200 mark.
Mike Kirkman – Senior Ranger, Kapama Karula