Birding – for some people that means craning you head back trying to find some LBJ (little brown job) among the dense vegetation of a bush or a tree that everyone else is raving about and which you only see as it flies away. In South Africa there are at least 6 birds you may only see on safari. None of them are under 14 cms. And none of them are brown.
The tallest of the six, the ostrich, is over 2.75 m and weighs 137kgs! One kick from its 39 to 53cm long, two-toed, the clawed foot can kill a human or a potential predator, like a lion. It can also run at nearly 70 km per hour.
Next is the Secretary bird. Standing 1.2m tall with a 2.1m wingspan, a bright orange featherless eagle-like face, and black-tipped, quill feathers ‘tucked behind their ears’ which when spread look like a crown, this snake killing bird is also no LBJ.
South Africa is home to 12 000 of the 30 000-world population of Grey-crowned cranes. They stand 1 m tall with a 2m wingspan, weigh 3.5kgs and love to dance. Their most striking physical feature is their colouring. At first the grey and white feels subdued, until one spots the unique yellow crown of feathers, the yellow streak on their wings, their black patched face and the red inflatable sack on their chin. They usually flock in large numbers.
The next two birds are so brightly coloured they’re impossible to miss. It’s almost as if they rolled on the painter Van Gogh’s palette! Both the Lilac-breasted roller and the Malachite kingfisher are iridescent in their fuschias, purples, cobalt blues, malachite and electric greens, and turquoises. The Malachite kingfisher also has a long, scarlet beak. The Lilac breasted roller is, for a ‘small’ bird an impressive 38 cms in length and indulges in a dramatic aerial courtship including spiralling kamikaze-style dives towards the ground. The Malachite kingfisher stands 14cms.
The 6th bird is a little more subdued in its colouring, if you can call brilliant yellow and black with pinkish legs subdued. Standing over 14cms tall the Masked Weaver bird is best known for its striking ‘Christmas ornament’ style nests, built by the males, hanging off the very edge of thin branches and usually hanging over water.
Stomping around in the bush looking for these elusive creatures may not be your cup of tea, which is why a safari which includes well-crafted0 hides is such a pleasure. Neither the birds nor the larger species of wildlife, even elephants know you’re there. The wildlife comes to you. The chance to spend time in a hide also provides the opportunity to slow down, feel the rhythm and pace of the African bush, to hear its sounds, breath in its scent, watch as the game of life plays out in front of you in a way it doesn’t during a game drive. It allows you to find peace in the wilderness.