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The Bird is the Word

August 14, 2017 | Ian Kalinowsky

African Fish Eagle

Our group was going on Safari to the Kalahari Desert; The Okavango Delta and the Linyanti Marshlands. We had all been on Safaris before and we were very much looking forward to spotting the Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard and Rhinoceros) and the numerous types of antelopes, giraffes, ostriches and everything else that we could possibly experience. What was not on our excitement or anticipation list was birds. We just had not given birds much thought prior to coming on this safari and as we started out on the jeep that early morning they were the farthest thing from our minds. It is not that they weren’t present: we could hear the multiple songs and could see them flitter around in the early dawn light. It is just that birds had not once entered into any of our conversations or into our trains of thought as to what we were going to experience.

Woodland Kingfisher

In looking back, we know it was the influence of the General that changed our way of looking at things and turned us into birders. It was not abrupt but a subtle change. The General was our guide and he would identify a bird by its position on a branch in a tree; he would identify a bird by its song. Or by the way it flew or by its colour. “Birds of Botswana” records 597 species of birds and we think that the General knew them all. In fact, the tests to become a guide in Botswana has a section on birds which requires you to identify the birds by location, colour, song and behaviour – so I can conclude that the General actually did know every single bird in Botswana!

This love for, and the knowledge about, the numerous species of birds became very infectious to our group and we started to pay attention to the birds that were around us. I think it was at that moment, that a different world of observation – of beauty and intricate actions opened to us all. We started to pay more attention to the trees, to the branches, to the sounds around us; to the flashes of colour. And our excitement level increased.

I think that Safari novices focus on the big things whereas those people who have been before start to focus on the extra layers of beauty and action. This is most prevalent in the world of birds. Maybe in our next safari we will find that insects are the next-next layer to focus on! I can’t wait.

Little Bee Eater
Fruit Bat
Northern Red-Billed Hornbill