Next time you explore the Kruger National Park and its famous roads, waterholes, picnic sites and hides, take a few moments to investigate wildlife of a different sort – the feathered kind. But make sure you have a copy of the brand new bird book, Guide to Birds of the Kruger National Park. To make sure you get the most from your next trip, Wild quizzed the authors about birding in SA’s flagship park. Two Wild fans stand a chance to win a copy courtesy of Struik Nature. By Arnold Ras
Ever roamed through the Kruger National Park with a mission to identify as many bird species as you possibly can? With Guide to Birds of the Kruger National Park, the new book by Warwick Tarboton, well-known bird expert and writer, and Peter Ryan, director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, putting a name to each will be a walk, well, in the park!
Guide to Birds of the Kruger National Park features more than 500 bird species that have been recorded in the Kruger Park to date. All species are illustrated with full-colour photos, distribution maps based on actual sightings, and how the park’s geology, vegetation, climate and rainfall influence birds’ distribution.
Wild asked authors Warwick Tarboton and Peter Ryan a few questions:
What makes your new book different from other Kruger bird guides?
WT and PR: The book is geared for both the general visitor to Kruger as well as the more specialist birder. The text provides key information to identify the 400 or so most common species found in Kruger, but also gives some information on their behaviour and biology, particularly where this might aid in clinching the identification. We struck a balance between trying to select diagnostic photographs to aid in identification without losing the visual appeal of the plates. Our aim was to provide a visual celebration of the park’s birds as well as to illustrate the salient identification criteria. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the book are the range maps, which Michelle Tarboton created using the latest bird atlas data. At a glance they give you an accurate idea of each species’ range and likelihood of being seen.
The new book features more than 500 bird species found in the Kruger. Of these, which are some of your favourites to photograph and why?
WT and PR: Always a tough question! Raptors tend to be hard to photograph, because they occur at relatively low densities and are often less approachable than many other birds, so getting a lovely shot of a raptor is particularly rewarding. But getting a great photo of any bird, no matter how common, gives a sense of achievement. Kruger is great for bird photographers, because the birds are fairly habituated to cars, and to people on foot in the camps and picnic sites. Hides such as the one at Lake Panic near Skukuza offer superb opportunities for photographing waterbirds and there is probably nowhere better than in Kruger for photographing vultures attending carcasses. Among our favourites in the book are the saddle-billed storks, photographed near Shingwedzi, that are featured on the front cover.
By getting people interested in birds, we can turn them into more responsible global citizens.
– Peter Ryan
What attracts you to birds?
WT and PR: Birds have a lot going for them – they are more diverse than mammals, and because they tend to use visual and acoustic communication, they are relatively easy to observe and identify. They also occur everywhere – no matter where you find yourself, you always have something to watch. And they are good indicators of habitat quality, so by being aware of birds, you are inevitably made aware of how humans impact biodiversity. By getting people interested in birds, we can turn them into more responsible global citizens.
A lot of people head to Kruger for the Big Five and other impressive mammals. Which birds should be on their tick list?
WT and PR: For most visitors the top birds are likely to be large, spectacular species such as lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, Pel’s fishing owl, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard and ground hornbill. Colourful species also attract attention, such as the purple-crested turaco, various rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers, sunbirds and waxbills. But for the more specialist birder, especially those from South Africa, their top wants are likely to be species not found elsewhere in the country, such as Dickinson’s kestrel, three-banded courser, Böhm’s and mottled spinetails, racket-tailed roller and white-breasted cuckooshrike.
During the book’s production process, did you make any new discoveries?
WT and PR: We put in quite a bit of effort to track down the basis of some of the rarer species that have appeared on previous lists of the park’s birds. We concluded that there was insufficient evidence to include more than 20 species on the formal park list – they are presented as unsubstantiated records at the end of the book. However, new birds continue to be added to the park list, the most recent being a great snipe (a rare vagrant from Europe), unfortunately only reported after the book went to press.
Aside from your brand new guide, of course, what are some essentials for visitors to Kruger to make the most of bird sightings?
WT and PR: A decent pair of binoculars is essential to really appreciate the park’s many birds. A spotting scope is also great to have, although these days many people prefer to carry a telephoto camera to allow them to document their sightings. This is particularly useful if you see something you can’t identify, or if you see something that you think is a rare species for the park, you can get verification from your images.
How to enter
Want to win one of two copies of Guide to Birds of the Kruger National Park, worth R250, compliments of Struik Nature? Email the answer to our simple question before 20 November 2016 to [email protected] (subject line: Kruger guide) and remember to include your full names, postal address and contact details. Wild will randomly select the winners. Winners will be notified via email.
Question: Where is Warwick Tarboton’s recommended hide for photographing waterbirds?
Winners: Wendy Archibald and Vicki Turner