The first time we cracked open our brand new “Newman’s Birds of South Africa” book, our moderate knowledge about birds went out the window. We hardly recognized a bird in the book – talk about starting over!
One of our favourite birding locations in South Africa was Oudtshoorn, a town in the Western Cape province along the Garden Route drive (a week-long drive we were doing from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth). Although this area is most widely known for being the “Ostrich capital of the world,” it also offers some pretty good birding.
This was a particularly memorable day in South Africa because we had a one-on-one encounter with Meerkats at the crack of dawn, immediately followed by birding with a local guide. We were extremely fortunate to see the landscape in full colour because we were in South Africa during spring. When walking around, you wouldn’t think there are many birds, but patience and knowledge reveals an abundance of life.
It all started when our guide stopped dead in his tracks, listening intently because he thought he heard a particular bird call–a Double-banded Courser. We know that when a bird guide (who birds every day) gets excited, you need to pay attention! It is a very elusive bird and difficult to spot in tall vegetation so we stood still, held our breath, and eventually captured this image of the courser among the flowering desert landscape. It is one of our favourite avian “captures” in the area!
The Southern Fiscal is also named the jackie hangman or butcher bird due to its habit of impaling its prey on acacia thorns to store the food for later consumption. They hunt small rodents, insects and small birds. Evidence of its latest meal (yes–a small bird) still on its beak…
Ah, the Cape Weaver… we feel sorry for the male Cape Weaver because he spends seven days constructing an intricate nest to impress a potential mate and will then spend several more days attempting to attract a female with calls and displays of prowess (like the one seen below). Once he succeeds he repeats the process and attempts to attract yet another mate (up to seven). He is a very busy bird!!! No wonder he usually does not participate in care of the young!
During the breeding season, the male Southern Red Bishop sings his heart out in hopes of attracting a mate. Similar to the Red-Winged Blackbird of North America, this gregarious male perches on a reed with his chest and flight feathers puffed out competing with the other males in area for attention. Similar to the Cape Weaver, the Southern Red Bishop builds several nests which are then thoroughly scrutinized by the females.
Given that Oudtshoorn is the Ostrich capital of the world, this blog post would not be complete without at least one photo of an Ostrich! We took in the full Ostrich experience while in Oudtshoorn – an Ostrich lunch, an Ostrich farm tour, and an Ostrich ride, saddle and all (which is somewhat scary after you finish laughing at the thought as they are the fastest land bird at 70 km per hour)!
Marcy & Ray Stader