Tuesday 12 May 2015

Distracted by birds in South Africa - Megan Shersby

Distracted by birds in South Africa, by Megan Shersby

In the last few years, I have been to South Africa a couple times. Whilst I went there for mammalian purposes (studying the behaviour of zebras and then dwarf mongooses), I couldn’t help but be astounded by the beauty and diversity of the birds I saw there.
My favourite of the small birds had to be the Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis). With roughly the same size and shape as our familiar House Sparrows, their chest is emblazoned with a fantastic powder blue colouration. Going around in flocks (again, similar to our House Sparrows), they provided small bursts of colour amongst the brown trees of the dry season.

Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis)
 At the time of writing, I have not yet seen a kingfisher in the UK. A pretty shocking and shameful absence in my list, and I’ve made it a resolution for 2015 to see one here. However, despite this glaring omission, I have seen a number of kingfishers in South Africa, and they were just lovely birds. I can’t decide whether I prefer the Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata) or the Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis). Both are beautiful birds and it was fantastic to watch them fishing. Now I’m hoping to see a British kingfisher!
Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata)
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Another bird that has a special place in my memory is the Crested Barbet (Trachyphonus vaillantii)! I saw it first on my zebra-watching visit, when we managed to catch one in a mist net. What stunning plumage, and such a character! On my return to South Africa to study dwarf mongooses, I saw this species often. I remember one particular time when I sitting by one of the tree refuges, waiting for the dwarf mongooses to awaken. It was a cloudy day so the mongooses were having bit of a lie-in and I was attempting to plough my way through Les Miserables on my Kindle (a difficult task at the best of times). A Crested Barbet alighted in a tree nearby and we watched each other for a good while, curiousity abounding on both sides and the clicking of my camera filling the silence between us.
Crested Barbet (Trachyponus vaillantii) 
Whilst I didn’t see this next bird very often, my favourite bird photo from South Africa is of this species. It’s the Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus), a myriad of soft pastel colours – cream, beige, blue and of course, lilac on its breast. This particular individual struck a fantastic pose within the sun-dappled branches, its eye framed within a beam of sunlight as it cocked its head to look at us. Thinking anthropomorphically, it almost looks like it is frowning a little at us, as if to ask “Well? What are you doing?”
Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)
Where to start with the birds of prey – there were owls, hawks, buzzards and vultures galore. Annoyingly they were often very far above me, and many of my blurry photos don’t even qualify as record shots, so most still remain unidentified. There is one distinct memory I have of a much closer encounter with a bird of prey. This day wasn’t much different from any other day out with the dwarf mongooses. They got up, they groomed each other and they set off for the day of foraging. However, partway through the day, they were foraging close to one of their refuges, when suddenly an alarm call rang out and they dived into the nearby safety. A fraction of a second later, an enormous bird appeared, swooping down by the refuge, a mere couple of metres from me. Then in a blink, it was gone again. I’d had no time to move, or react in any way; it was all over before I could register what was happening! Luckily (for the mongooses), the bird had missed and the group
eventually resumed their foraging. To this day, I still don’t know what bird species it was, but I know that I’ll have the blurred memory of it forever.
African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus) 

Naturally, I couldn’t include all the bird species that I saw in South Africa, the previously mentioned birds are just a small fraction of the variety.

- Megan Shersby 
Want to read more on Megan's adventures in South Africa? Then CLICK HERE!


Megan Shersby is an aspiring naturalist and science [particularly nature] communicator. She is currently based in Dorset, working as a Seasonal Assistant for Dorset Wildlife Trust at two of their centres. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore the natural world, and can usually be found in nature reserve examining the local wildlife. If that fails, look for the nearest moth trap, as she’ll probably be peering into its depths for the latest catch. You can follow her on Twitter at: @MeganShersby, or via her blog at:mshersby.wordpress.com

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