Birding in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve
Seeing the big 5 is always exciting but there’s a myriad of other life that abounds in the Timbavati Game Reserve. With over three hundred bird species on the property, we’ve been converting many of our guests into avid birders.
Not surprising then that there was a collective shriek of excitement from the guests on my vehicle, not for a lion or leopard, but instead they were all gasping in awe as a Red-crested Korhaan plummeted to the ground from high in the sky. It’s a mating ritual used by the male bird to attract females. Seeing one in action turned out to be a highlight for our converted birders, despite wonderful sightings of both buffalo and elephant on the same drive.
Another favourite with our guests are the many raptors found in the area. Large powerful hunters soar overhead or perch on trees looking for tasty treats to swoop down on. Both the Brown snake eagle and the Black chested snake eagle have no problem finding their favourite food. Now that the rains have gone and it’s hot again the snakes are out and about.
Handsome black and red Bateleurs fly low down scouring the ground for kills they can scavenge on, their flight pattern distinctive as they sway in the sky reminiscent of a tightrope walker. Much higher in the sky vultures keep an eye on them, knowing that if they swoop down there’s a probably a meal to be shared.
When it comes to sharing meals though, one of the most fascinating species we’ve been lucky to witness is the endangered Ground Hornbill. These small groups catch and give each other tasty treats such as insect, lizards, chameleons and even tortoises.
We’ve seen four of the hornbill family but the most popular by far is the Southern Yellow-billed hornbill, made famous by Zazu in the Lion King. He needs to prove himself a good provider by bringing gifts to his female partner, for once Mrs. Hornbill goes into her nest, a hole in the tree, she’ll be closed in by mud and dung before losing her flight feathers making her completely reliant on him.
The list of interesting behaviour is endless but some birds are simply appreciated for their sheer beauty. The lilac-breasted roller must top this list with its exquisite blue body and lilac breast. Its larger European cousin may lack the colourful breast but is still a sight to behold in its many shades of blue. Another European bird in the beauty contest is the European bee-eater with its green body, yellow throat and blue belly.
And when you’re not seeing them there’s always the chorus of birds to keep us captivated. We continually hear the eerie call of the Grey-headed Bushshrike but never seem to see him. It’s no wonder he’s better known as the “ghost bird”. Again more excitement from our guests when one sharp eyed guest spots one and we all get to see this beautiful green and yellow bird with a grey head that camouflages himself so well amongst the leaves of trees.
Not all birds are so secretive. The black-bellied bustard gave us an inspired show as he stood atop a termite mound and gave his “champagne” call, sounding much like wiping a bottle and then a loud pop just like the cork popping out of a champagne bottle. He couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate day to put on his show as we were heading back to camp to pop a bottle of bubbly in celebration of a guests’ birthday.
This is the beauty of birding, there’s just so much to see, hear and learn. And between all the birding we’re lucky enough to watch herds of elephant and buffalo, catch a glimpse of a leopard or stumble upon fresh lion spoor….you just never know what awaits you in the bush, but you can always count on the birds.