My first hummingbird

I am a keen amateur birder with a life list of well over 1000 species, seen on two continents (Africa  and Asia).

I recently went on a Nature Travel Birding trip to the South American country of Peru. Having never been to the Americas, let alone gone birdwatching there, I didn’t have a clue of what I was about to experience.

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The trip was incredible, with habitats ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the high Andes (we birded at 4500 metres above sea level!) to the Amazonian rainforest. I added almost 550 species to my life list in under two weeks and had a wonderful time. There was even time to see the magical Inca citadel of Machu Picchu!

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However, the undoubted highlight for me was seeing my first hummingbird ever. I had often watched TV shows about them and seen them in books, but absolutely nothing can prepare you for the exhilaration of seeing your first one with your own eyes.

My first was one was the Purple-collared Woodstar (Myrtis fanny) seen on only the second day of our trip. We were walking in some coastal shrubland just south of the capital city of Lima, and our guide said “Oh look at this beauty!” Barely 5 feet away from us the tiny hummingbird was flying around in its characteristic eye-blindingly fast way, then perching and staring at us, and then buzzing away again at lightning speed. I just stood in awe of this wonderful little creature! It is found only in Peru and Ecuador and is the only species of the genus Myrtis.

I went on to add another 38 species of hummingbirds to my list on the Peru trip(!), but I will never forget my first one!  Written by a Nature Travel Birding Client

Finding the legendary Shoebill

On our latest Nature Travel Birding Safari we spent a morning in the Mabamba Swamp in Uganda searching for one of Africa’s sought after bird species; the Shoebill. The sheer surprise we got when this prehistoric-looking bird flew over us is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our clients had wanted to see this bird for many years and to some the bird is almost something of a myth, so imagine the excitement when one of these giants fly over your boat in the middle of the Mabamba Swamp. Let’s just say we all had the sighting of our lives as the bird landed a mere 20m from us and started preening and eventually fishing for Lungfish. The sheer joy of seeing the bird and the high fives going around the boat after the sighting makes my job as a bird guide for Nature Travel Birding so rewarding.

Shoebill Uganda.jpgWith its massive shoe-like bill, and 1,2m height this bird looks like something from the age of the dinosaurs. In fact the Shoebill is a bird belonging to the group known as the Pelecaniformes and is more closely related to a Pelican than a Stork. These birds are found in Tropical East Africa in large swamps from Sudan to Zambia. They are equipped with a large bill which helps them catch their favourite prey : West African Lungfish.

Shoebills are masters of patience. They will stand in water, large patches of grass, and other hiding places for hours on end. They know that if they wait long enough for the right moment, they will find their next meal. At the right moment, the Shoebill will leap from cover and attack the prey. They lunge forward with their sharp bill and pick up the creature, devouring it whole.

Shoebill 07.jpgWith a life span of 35 years, these birds have been classified as endangered with less than 10,000 birds left. The bird is threatened by hunters, the destruction of their environments by humans, and cultural taboos that lead to them being captured by tribes. Many cultures believe that the birds are taboo and bring about bad luck.

Africa’s legendary bird, the Shoebill, awaits you in Uganda on one of our tours. Our next Uganda tour runs in August 2019, so come and join us in finding this amazing avian gem and many other great birds in the Pearl of Africa – Uganda. We also trek both of the African Great Apes that being the Chimpanzees and Gorillas.

Written by: Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)

Pennant-winged Nightjars in Southern Kruger

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Yes you read that correctly: we have Pennant-winged Nightjars in Southern Kruger, to be more precise very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession.
Most birders will be familiar with this iconic, awe inspiring bird, the Pennant-winged Nightjar, Macrodipteryx vexillarius. The bird is an intra-African breeding migrant that moves down to South Africa from Central and West Africa. Birdwatchers take the annual trip up to Punda Maria rest camp in Kruger in November as this is possibly the best place in South Africa to see the bird.
Imagine the excitement when I woke to hear news that a male had been seen displaying with full pennants very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession, some 2km west of Albasini road(S3). The bird was spotted by Alision Drake from Nkambeni Safari Camp while on a sunset drive. I have had a look into previous records and there are records of the birds been seen around Pretoriuskop Camp and around Shabeni granite Rock. I had to make a plan to see this bird as it’s been a bird that is always such a treat to see and view.
We managed to get a drive to go out on Friday the 17th of November 2018 to see this amazing bird. I felt like a kid in a candy shop due to the excitement. Good distractions on the drive included: Bushveld Pipit, Violet-backed Starling, Cardinal Woodpecker and a female Leopard slinking through the grass with the sun setting behind her. The stuff dreams are made of in my opinion!!
We positioned ourselves on the rock where the male was seen displaying, and after a nervous wait of about 20 minutes, the call came out, “Here it is! Look!” Boy oh boy we were treated to a spectacle with the bird flying overhead, landing on the rock just in front of us and displaying on the rock. This sighting ranks as one of my top bird sighting I have had in my career. To have this elegant, awe inspiring bird flying overhead and in front of you with its full, long pennants on show is an amazing, mind blowing experience that will live with me for a long time. I was so blown away by the sheer size of the bird and how amazing it is I eventually stopped taking photos of the bird and just enjoyed having the bird displaying for us. We had 2 different males displaying for females.
It’s amazing to know that these birds seem to be breeding and are comfortable in Southern Kruger as the habitat in the area is suitable, and just shows how important the Kruger National Park is at protecting habitats for our Birdlife and Wildlife. I am hoping that these birds hang around and that a trip to see these birds might become regular for us in November in Southern Kruger.

Written by: Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)

Of cranes and mountains

I recently ticked off two of my bucket list items when I travelled to magical India on a Nature Travel safari. I saw both the world’s tallest flying bird and the world’s highest mountain range in one trip!

Sarus Crane
The Sarus Crane (Antigone Antigone) is at 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) the world’s tallest flying bird, and was a main contender for title of India’s national bird, eventually losing out to the Indian Peafowl. It is an elegant bird with mainly white-grey colouring and a bright red head, throat and upper neck. It is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is considered sacred by Indian people. It was a magical experience seeing these birds in their natural swampy habitat in Uttar Pradesh, foraging for reptiles and plant matter. It was easy to see why the Sarus Crane is on most lists of India’s most beautiful birds.
Just a day later I was standing next to the road in the small town of Pangot, awestruck as the snow-capped Himalayas loomed large in front of me. The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200 metres (23,600 ft) in elevation! They are inhabited by over 50 million people and are spread across five countries, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau. The mountains are considered sacred by many religions in the area, and has had a profound effect on the cultures of the Indian subcontinent. The sheer majesty of this vast natural wonder was astonishing, and I just stood there for an hour trying to take it all in…

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These two magical experiences were made possible by the team of the Nature Travel group, and can be enjoyed on one of their Nature Travel Birding or Nature Travel Expeditions trips to the diverse country of India.
Written by : Nature Travel Birding client

Finding the most powerful Eagle in Africa

Crowned Eagle 2.jpgAny birder who comes to Africa will know of the Crowned Eagle, Stephanoaetus coronatus.  This mighty bird mainly occurs in our forests in Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia to South Africa and is often seen soaring high above the canopy calling its characteristic kewick-kewick-kewick call. This majestic eagle with its powerful talons preys on small antelope and monkeys and pairs have been documented hunting monkeys cooperatively.
Imagine my excitement when I spotted a juvenile Crowned Eagle along the Sabie River on a recent birding trip in the Kruger National Park with some guests. This was my first sighting in Kruger and the first sighting of the species for our guests on a Nature Travel Birding trip. My heart was pumping and it was amazing to see this normally shy species out in the open for us to admire. We all managed to get cracking views and photos of this amazing bird. It was even more special for one of my guests as he had always wanted to see a Crowned Eagle in the wild. What an exciting and rewarding sighting.
Crowned Eagles are rare in Kruger National Park but are common in the forest plantations just outside the southern part of Kruger and it is believed that birds looking for territory do wander into Kruger National Park on occasion. Why the birds don’t become resident in the Southern part of the park is a mystery as the habitat along the rivers is perfect and prey availability is high. One theory is the competition and pressure from the other large eagles in Kruger, like Martial, Tawny and Fish Eagles.
What is great is to see that the populations of Crowned Eagles are growing as the species is near-threatened and it is great to see juveniles looking for territories and setting up territories to breed.
The joy one gets when looking up into the African sky and seeing a raptor soaring above you is something that every birder should experience and it will stay with you for a long time. Come and experience Africa with us – an amazing adventure awaits!
Written by Nature Travel Guide: Marc Cronje