February 2023

Fais comme l’oiseau

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Fais comme l’oiseau

A lilac breasted roller in flight. The colour blue that we see is produced by the structure of the feathers, made up of keratin that reflect specific wavelengths of light. Only yellow and red feathers get their colour from actual pigments, called carotenoids, that are found in the food of birds.

The title of a French song by Michel Fugain happened to play on my Apple playlist as I’m sat in front of my computer conceptualising my journal story, and inspired me to write about birds.

The opening verse goes like this :

Fais comme l’oiseau (Act like a bird)

Ca vit d’air pur et d’eau fraîche, un oiseau (It lives on pure air and fresh water, a bird)

D’un peu de chasse et de pêche, un oiseau (On a bit of hunting and fishing, a bird)

Mais jamais rien de l’empêche, l’oiseau (But nothing ever stops it, the bird)

D’aller plus haut (Of going higher)

I find telling stories so much easier than writing them. This year has been one of the most difficult of my life, as I lost my dear father on the 6th of January and have been dealing with the grief. Being in Nature and appreciating all the things that Papa loved about Africa has helped me a lot over these last three weeks.

In 2019, pushed by a friend, I started recording all the birds I would see in a year and it has given me much joy, exploring beautiful wilderness areas that have taken me off the beaten track in order to look for rare and elusive birds.

On the 1st of January the guiding team starts afresh to observe and record all species of birds we see at Singita Sabi Sand for the year, and so far for 2023 we are on 177 species. In previous years we had about 220 species for the month of January, but we still have plenty of time to try and reach our ultimate goal of 300 species. In order to make the list, birds can be recognized by sight or call.

It’s funny how many guests I have met over the years mention that they are not interested in birds, but after seeing how beautiful they are start to appreciate watching them. What often happens when one is birding is that we tend to slow down, appreciate the little things and often get to see some great game by having the vehicle engine switch off and being more in tune with our surroundings.

We are blessed in southern Africa to have over 993 species recorded. In the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve we currently have 409 species.

Summer is a wonderful time for birding as we have an influx of birds from Africa, Asia and Europe that spend summer here. Some breed and others just enjoy the warmer weather and make full use of the abundance of food available. More than 100 migratory birds species have been recorded in southern Africa according to Birdlife South Africa, of which 44 are palearctic migrants from Europe, Asia, northern Africa and the northern and central parts of the Arabian peninsula) and 35 intra African migrant species have been recorded in South Africa. 

The variety of colours, shape, size is truly remarkable, ranging from the secretive grey penduline tit weighing in at 6,5 grams to the heaviest bird in the world the common ostrich weighing up to 100 kilos.

Along the Sand River beautiful kingfishers and bee-eaters can be seen perched on branches. There are 86 species of kingfishers worldwide, 18 species in Africa, and South Africa has 10 species. We are fortunate to see nine species at Singita, five of which are insectivorous whilst four feed mainly on fish, crabs, frogs and aquatic invertebrates.

Birding can also be frustrating at times as once you are able to identify a bird by sight a whole new set of skills is required to recognize the call. You can then spend time trying to identify tracks, nests and feathers – there are so many ways to keep growing and mastering a skill.

Marc Eschenlohr
By Marc Eschenlohr
Senior Field Guide