January 2022

The Waves of Wings

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The Waves of Wings

Kirsten Tinkler
By Kirsten Tinkler
Field Guide

Moody, rain-filled clouds hang heavy on the evening sky, weighed down with the energy of another hot summer’s day. The sun starts her descent behind the Lebombo mountains, casting rosy shadows across the granophyre ridge. Driving up the rocky terrain our ears start filling with a continuous drumming noise. The closer we drive and the beat increases… Electric currents seem to run through the air in a stream of passion and purpose. Small dark silhouettes come briefly into focus as they swiftly dart through the sky, a clue to the noise and for what is to come. We drive on. Chattering and flapping, twerking and twitching, an aerial dance starts to unfold in front of us.

Synchronized chaos bombards our senses as we stumble upon the culprits of the raucous orchestra. An area previously rather empty is now filled with thousands upon thousands of tiny birds, all darting and flying around madly. It’s an intensity I’ve never come across before and looking closer through the tangled mess of knob-thorn thickets the clues unfold. Bounteous numbers of birds are hard at work. The male red-billed quelea are the primary designers, selecting grass stems to weave into an intricate woven basket. Construction can take up to three days with the result resembling a small oval ball with an entrance at the top. With such a complex and delicate work of art, each monogamous pair defend their small nest from other quelea. A fluttering affair as the pair dart around singing and displaying. This theatrical performance of thousands of red-billed quelea will only last a few weeks, as once the young have fledged, the masses will be on the move again. We are so blessed to witness this incredible phenomenon. What a beautiful start to a new year.