New to birding? It’s easy to start enjoying Kruger’s winged wonders if you follow these steps for beginner birders. And Kruger birds – a safari guide is just the book you need on your new journey. By Romi Boom

Birding is arguably the hobby for which the least equipment is required: all you need is a pair of binoculars and a simple field guide. And while any Wild Card park or reserve will provide endless entertainment, the Kruger National Park is an excellent place to indulge in your new pastime. Your field guide is key to figuring out what exactly it is that has caught your eye. Kruger birds – a safari guide by Philip van den Berg is hot off the press and I recommend it for many reasons.

For starters, it’s dedicated to Kruger, so you won’t find pages of birds that are not encountered in the park. Secondly, its small format is perfect for the glove compartment or door pocket in your car. Thirdly, it categorises birds in a straightforward, tongue-in-cheek order. On the Contents page you’ll find chapters on Birds of Prey (the giants, the speedsters, the bird snatchers), Birds at the water (the odd-bills, the submarines), Ground-living birds (aka “wild chickens”) and Birds in trees (aka “insect spies”) – it doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Furthermore, the photography is outstanding, and with full-page photos throughout the book, the visuals are much bigger and more appealing than you’ll find in regular field guides. Many of the photos show the birds doing something characteristic, whether sitting in a thorn tree or pecking at aloes. At the back of the book is a complete photographic index with bird names in English and Afrikaans, as well as a tick box. I suggest you also note where you saw the bird, and enter the date for future reference.

White-backed vultures are the most common in savanna areas. They are aggressive at a carcass and feed mainly on the softer parts. Pictures by Romi Boom

The hooded vulture’s slender bill distinguishes it from other vultures. The hood of white down on the back of the head is diagnostic.

Learning to ID birds

Even before you go on your Kruger trip, keep this little book on hand and flip through it whenever you have a spare moment. At this stage you are simply getting an overall feel for what’s out there. The photos are guaranteed to pique your interest and you should be feeling that your life is going to be better with birds in it.

The next step in your learning curve is to get the jizz of a bird. When avid birders refer to the jizz, they mean the overall impression or appearance of a bird. This you get by looking at features such as size, shape, posture, flying style or other habitual movements, habitat, location and voice. Don’t let yourself be fooled by colouration – many adult birds have a different plumage from juveniles and sub-adults. The jizz will help you figure out which family it belongs to and will be helpful to locate it in your guide.

Brown-hooded kingfishers are common residents in woodlands as well as gardens and parks. To get the jizz, look out for the strong, tapering bill which they use to excavate tunnels in river banks or tree cavities.

For game lovers it’s all about ticking off the Big Five. But now that you’ve adopted birding as a hobby, you’ll have to do one better and aim for Kruger’s Big Six sightings. All of these are magnificent and have found a safe haven in the park: martial eagle, kori bustard, Pel’s fishing owl, lappet-faced vulture, southern ground hornbill and saddle-billed stork. And yes, I saw all of them over a 12-day period in the park this August. Whoop, whoop!

The southern ground hornbill is one of the ground-living birds that forage while walking on the ground. Their status is vulnerable and if you see them in Kruger, you’re lucky indeed – the population in the park is stable but counts only about 250 birds.

One birder wrote that twitching is “equal parts science and poetry, hoots of triumph and quiet reflection, adventures to far-flung corners of the world and discoveries in your own back yard.” Hope you enjoy your adventures and discoveries as much as I have.

 

Kruger birds – a safari guide by Philip van den Berg. HPH Publishing. R245.
The book is available on hphpublishing.co.za – also visit the website for special offers. The book is a companion to the BirdPro Kruger App, which has a comprehensive search function to ID birds, more than 3,000 detailed photos and 900 bird calls. www.birdproapp.com.