The side-effects of pursuing the hobby of birdwatching are many and varied – observation skills are honed as you gaze intently into a bush for signs of movement apart from the wind blowing through the leaves, hearing is tuned in to faint chirpings in a distant field and focussing ability is intensified as you peer at the wing markings of a raptor soaring effortlessly overhead, mocking your earth-bound status. But the most beneficial of all is the return to silence in nature, an opportunity to disconnect from the world of hustle and bustle and reconnect with your inner voice. The voice that asks, ‘Why are you still standing in the hot sun after two hours, making funny swishing noises that you think makes you sound like the bird you are expecting to fly onto the branch in front of you and pose for a perfect picture?’ or ‘Why have you travelled 300km to look for a bird that may not come out from the thick reeds lining this random stretch of river when it may be just around the next corner?’
These are questions that pass through the minds of twitchers, that niche group of birders who chase after rarities in a manner inexplicable to those not at all interested in such activities. A rarity is a bird that has appeared in a location where it is either seldom recorded or has never been seen before, sometimes thousands of kilometres from its normal habitat, and birders who want to add as many birds to their life lists without actually getting onto a plane leap into their cars and speed off within minutes or hours of getting the notification of a sighting. You can judge the level of importance of the rarity by who is the first to leave home for the twitch (usually indicated by an extended period of inactivity on social media) and who make up the first group to post photos of the bird. This is a sign to pack the cameras and binoculars, coffee and snacks, all-weather gear and a generous amount of patience and endurance, with an ability to take disappointment. Many a twitch is unsuccessful even by a small margin, and this is where the appreciation of your surroundings without purpose comes to the fore! Twitchers are known to spend days staring into empty fields.
The last few months saw a proliferation of rarities in the Western Cape, and I was fortunate enough to have many of them right in my own garden as well as nearby areas. Perhaps so many new sightings is related to the extensive lockdown, where people are becoming more aware of what is just outside their windows, or exercising in places they may never have gone to before simply to get out and about, and hence there are more eyes on the sky, so to speak. As Spring settles in, the prospect of sudden unexpected road trips becomes very enticing!
Here are some of my successful twitches: