SUMMER IS A POPULAR BIRDING SEASON IN PAFURI, AS THE ARRIVAL OF MIGRANTS ARE A CHANCE TO ADD SOME TICKS TO THAT LIFETIME LIST. WISEMAN IS OUR SPECIALIST BIRD GUIDE, AND THE SOURCE OF ALL WISDOM ON FEATHERED FACTS. I CHATTED WITH HIM ABOUT THE LATEST SIGHTINGS AND DISCOVERED WHY BIRD SPOTTING IS REALLY A YEAR-ROUND ACTIVITY.
WHAT BIRDS IN PARTICULAR DO VISITORS ASK YOU TO FIND?
Wiseman: “One thing people want to see is the racket-tailed roller. It’s a beautiful bird, and you can’t find them anywhere else in South Africa. To be honest they are hard to spot at this time of year as the mopane trees are in leaf, and it’s easier to find the broad-billed rollers, who visit in the wet season, and push the racket-tails away into deep woodland.”
SO, IN FACT THE BEST TIME TO SEE A RACKET-TAILED ROLLER IS WINTER?
Wiseman: “Right, then we find them in the mopane forest. It’s similar to the Pel’s Fishing Owl, they are actually easier to see in winter. I remember early in my guiding career here in the Pafuri area, I had guests from Hoedspruit that were birders and they asked me to show them the Pel’s fishing owl and racket-tailed roller. Happily they came in winter which made it easier. That’s when the Luvuvhu river water is low and clear. The Pel’s fishing owls hunt along the river and perch on lower branches.”
The racket-tail rollers are also more active after the broad-billed rollers leave, and we see them a lot in winter. Anyway, it was a success as we saw the Pel’s from Luvuvhu bridge late in the day, and the guests were so happy, as it was the first time they spotted them.
And the following morning we were in luck to see the racket-tailed roller on top of a white syringa tree around caracal link road going to Lanner Gorge.”
SO WHAT IS SPECIAL AT THIS TIME?
Wiseman: “One thing that is nice to observe is the breeding behavior of hornbills, of which we have about six types here. They breed in summer time during first rains. There’s currently a nest in the ana tree next to tent 3. Before the beginning of the breeding the male brings lots of food to the female as a gift for the female to trust him that he will provide food during the nesting time.
They will choose a natural cavity on a tree and the female will go inside and they help each other to seal the entrance and just leave a small hole where the male will bring food for the female. She will lose her flying and tail feathers to make a nest for the eggs and when they hatch she will lose all her feathers to make the nest even more comfortable for the chicks. When the chicks are half grown the mother will be back to full plumage. The mother and father pair will break the mud so that the female can get out, leave the chicks in the nest and they seal the entrance again. Both male and female will help each other to feed the chicks until they are fully grown.
It’s a risky strategy, as if the male provider gets killed or changes his mind about feeding, the chances of the mother and chicks dying in the nest are high.”
HOW DID YOU BUILD UP YOUR BIRD KNOWLEDGE – LOTS OF TIME IN THE BUSH, RIGHT?
Wiseman: “Yes true, but also with some help from technology! When I was a junior guide, one evening at the boma dinner some guests showed me birding apps on their phones. These have really helped me, especially in learning the sounds. But really the best way to learn is spending time in the bush with experienced experts like Johna.”
JOHNA TURNER? I WOULD LOVE TO DO A TRAIL WITH HIM.
Wiseman: “Yes, you know being out there with Johna is the most amazing thing to do in the bush. I always want to join him because I learn a lot from him. With Johna we take our time, which is what you need to identify the different birds, especially the LBJ.”
LBJ? I DON’T THINK I EVER HEARD OF THOSE.
Wiseman: “You did for sure – little brown jobs! Like cisticola family, camaroptera, pytilia, white-eye, larks… they are often hard to tell apart.”
OH! I LIKE BIRDS BUT I THINK I MIGHT GET BORED LOOKING FOR LBJS.
Wiseman: “No, it’s not all about that. The walks we do are not just about birds, but also the history of Makuleke tribe and medical uses of the trees around Pafuri.”
AS A SPECIALIST, WHEN WOULD YOU TELL BIRDING VISITORS TO COME?
Wiseman: “It’s good all the year, but I can say March and April is when we see lot of birds. All the summer visitors will be around and our water pans have water, with lot of water birds like herons and stocks. They’re my favourite months because it’s the season I saw pelicans and flamingo for the first time.”
Cover Image : Johna Turner
Feature Image : Johna Turner
Image one : Wiseman
Image two : Johna Turner
Image Three : Johna Turner