Birding Without Borders

Day 194: On Safari

A big day for fur and feathers.

July 13, 2015: Kruger National Park, South AfricaToday I saw: Elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, a young lion, crocodiles, jackals, hyenas, warthogs, buffalo, wildebeest, impala, waterbuck, steenbok, bushbuck, kudu, baboons, vervet monkeys, bush babies, two kinds of mongoose, a honey badger, squirrels, a hare, a type of large rat, a genet, and a civet. It was a good day!

At Kruger, you’re not allowed to exit your car lest a lion suddenly leap from the bushes, so tourists drive slowly along the park’s roads, circling like vultures. When someone stops, everyone else stops to see what they’re looking at. Our group adopted this strategy several times today with good results: We stopped next to a couple of cars and a lion walked out of the bushes, then we stopped again at a cluster of vehicles where, it turned out, a large carcass was buried in vultures, hyenas, and jackals like something from a nature documentary. Another passer-by gave us helpful directions on where to find some lounging white rhinos. 

This works both ways, of course. Each time we stopped to check something out, cars would seemingly appear from thin air and stack up behind us. At one point I turned around and there were eight vehicles stopped, everyone peering into the bushes to see what might be lurking there—if only they knew we were looking at a woodpecker, not a lion or a rhino! Martha told us a funny story about how she once pulled to the side of the road in Yellowstone to make a phone call and looked up to find a dozen cars parked alongside. We started flashing our bird field guides out the windows; when people realized we were birdwatching, they’d generally smile, nod, and keep right on moving. I saw one vehicle with a “BIRDWATCHING PLEASE PASS” bumper sticker. A tip of the hat for that idea.

Today is one of those days when I am glad to be a birder. Yes, we saw lots of the classic safari creatures, but so did everyone else. On top of those, we also found a hundred species of fantastic birds! If you seek the obvious stuff, you’ll find it—but if you look for the subtler things, too, you’ll see a lot more. Some of the birds here are spectacular: Southern Ground-Hornbills, Lilac-breasted Rollers, Kori Bustards, Crested Barbets… and can you say “Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starling” five times fast? 

I passed the 3,500 mark early this morning with a Gray Go-away-bird, so named because its irritated catcall sounds like “Go way!” A friend later texted me that she has set the Gray Go-away-bird’s call as her cell phone’s ring tone for her boss. A tip of the hat for that idea, too.

New birds today: 57

Year list: 3555

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