Africa, Birds, Wildlife

Our dirty secret: we think twitching is really rather cool

It took a journey of nearly 2,000 miles before the secret came out. We’d travelled through the Pyrenees, the Atlas Mountains and crossed the Sahara. We’d been impossibly drunk in Marrakech, and crossed a minefield into Mauritania, but we still hadn’t talked about it.  Then, as we were ducking down a back road to the Senegalese border, one of the girls in our vehicle muttered “Actually, I quite like birds…”

Birdwatching safaris in Zambia
Bee Eaters in Zambia (with thanks to our ever-talented friend Katie for the pic)

Somehow being a birdwatcher (or, that rather dodgy-sounding alternative, “twitcher”) still carries a certain stigma. Say you like birds and people assume that while you might be able to wax lyrical about wattled cranes, you probably aren’t all that much fun at parties, and they strongly suspect that you might find it a bit tricky looking members of the opposite sex in the eye. But birds are utterly marvellous.  As we drove through no-man’s land that day, each of the four passengers in our vehicle slowly admitted that twitching was pretty damn cool.

Malachite Kingfisher on a boat safari from Selous Impala Camp
Malachite Kingfisher spotted near Impala Camp in the Selous

The first thing you learn when you go on safari in Africa is that everyday birds aren’t limited to the typical LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs) that frequent British back gardens.  Take a boat safari in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve for instance, and you’ll see the bright blue flash of malachite kingfishers diving in and out of the water, and hear the endless call of fish eagles overhead. I was instantly seduced.

Later, in Kenya’s Meru National Park I watched, traumatised, as a Bateleur Eagle swooped down and took a baby dik-dik (a tiny, impossibly sweet antelope). Later, in Kafue in Zambia and South Africa’s iSimangaliso Wetlands, I met the African Jacana. Better known as the “Jesus Bird”, the blue-headed Jacana seems to actually walk on water. It skiddle-skaddles across the surface at a remarkable, if comedic, speed- who could fail to be impressed? However, my all-time favourite bird is the black egret, which cunningly tricks fish into thinking its night time and floating close to the surface. Perfect timing for a black egret evening snack, though this spoonbill doesn’t seem too impressed…

So- if you do just one thing on your African safari- take your binos, you might just be surprised…