Even the most avid of note-gathering birdwatchers or list-adding twitchers are taken aback at the enormity of birdlife on an African safari. The sheer numbers and diversity of the continent’s feathered friends are simply astounding.
Multi-coloured, every-sized and prolific, thanks to effective national park management, African birdlife is an often overlooked success story. Suffice to say, however much pre-trip information we give, it is difficult to put across how wonderful the safari birdlife is. Until you have witnessed it, the magnificence of the continent’s birdlife is hard to impart, especially as, traditionally, excitement tends to focus on the bigger plains game, dominated by huge herds, big cats and the ‘Big Five’.
In my experience, once on safari, birdlife simply rushes up on you. At every turn there appears yet another fluorescent beak, tail, head or hairdo, enhanced by the great range of local environments that constantly change with differing seasons, rainfall patterns and migration movements. Deserts, forests, jungle, lakes, marshes, wetlands, savannah plains and all manner of coastlines directly impact on the different distributions, behaviours, numbers, families and species of birds.
If you visit Africa, and in particular if you go on safari, you will have countless opportunities to see the diversity of species. From the world’s largest living bird – the Ostrich – to the smallest – Penduline-tit – to the Weavers, the most social of birds. Of the near 10,000 different species of bird, it is estimated there are 2,500 indigenous or migratory species in Africa.
Although at Nomadic Thoughts we do not claim to be experts on bird life, we are definitely more than casual enthusiasts. We often design trips to incorporate the most exciting birding opportunities, preparing East, South and Central African safari itineraries for clients to include a full range of bird species experiences.
As my personal knowledge is relatively limited, I never cease to be amazed when in the company of a knowledgeable guide, or fellow birdwatching safari-goer. Although these photos were taken with my untrained eye, I hope they give some insight into the range of birds on safari. Apart from the penguin shot (which can be found off Cape Point, South Africa) I took all these photos while on safari, travelling between grasslands, flood waters, lakes and open savannahs.
I can remember how I caught each shot whenever I look at the image. More often than not it was by noticing a rustle in a bush, a splash in nearby water or, in the fish eagle’s case, having the feeling of being watched from a high sentry tower. For clients, supported by appropriate Nomadic Thoughts’ guide with their informed local knowledge, the ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’ and ‘when’ soon fall into place.
So pack your binoculars, zoom lens and prepare to explore the African bush with open eyes and impressionable mind. Safari in Africa does not necessarily just mean lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and migration herds. One of nature’s biggest surprises awaits, with the birdlife constant, colourful and colossal.
Footnote: A special thanks to Nacho Yúfera, my most knowledgeable birding friend, for putting me straight on the labeling of the species in these shots. I also wholeheartedly recommend you check out his blog & website – with remarkable collection of wildlife images and nature reports.