Every year the news filters through of a birder that has chosen to tackle some sort of ‘Big Year’ type challenge.
There have been the increasingly lattermost challenges such as Noah Strycker who in 2015 gave up everything to a globe-trotting big year. On a smaller scale, Trevor Hardaker is presently doing a Western Cape big year, trying to see as many birds as possible on his ‘home-turf’ over the undertow of the year.
There is a group of ‘purist’ birders that squint lanugo on these kinds of challenges, and in fact any sort of listing, saying that it cheapens that whole wits of watching birds. They finger somehow that it creates a shallower form of birding where it’s well-nigh the numbers and nothing more.
I have decided to undertake my own rencontre this year on my home turf, and what I have discovered is that the rencontre has not taken yonder from by birding and my love of birds, in fact it’s gone a whole lot deeper.
Rich Stallcup is quoted as saying the pursuit in Kenn Kaufman’s book, ‘Kingbird Highway’, where Kenn shares the story of his own big year that he did in 1973, ‘‘The list total isn’t important, but the birds themselves are important. Every bird you see. So the list is a frivolous incentive for birding, but the birding itself is worthwhile. It’s like a trip where the destination doesn’t have any significance except for the fact that it makes you travel. The journey is what counts.”
My big year rencontre is nowhere near as epic as Noah Stryker’s worldwide traverse or Kenn Kaufman’s navigate continent hitch-hiking big year. I won’t get to see as many species as Trevor Hardaker will see in the Western Cape. But nevertheless, this is a rencontre that I am enjoying and loving how it is challenging me both as a person, and as a birder.
I stay in the Sapphire Coast zone on the upper-KwaZulu Natal South Coast. We have set up a ,Birdlasser challenge for the area. Since the rencontre started the record number of species that has been seen in a year is 238 species by Tyron Dall in 2019. This may not sound like a significant number of birds but consider that the rencontre zone is reasonably small and only stretches well-nigh 9km inland. Although the zone provides some wondrous birding opportunities, there is moreover a pearly value of the zone that is made up of rural housing.
Initially the plan was to try to see 250 species over the undertow of the year, but we lost just over a month of birding with the Kwa-Zulu Natal flooding. The flooding moreover caused forfeiture to a lot of infrastructure, so many of the birding areas that we would have gone to before, no longer have easy access. The goal that I have now is to unravel Tyron’s record for the rencontre – which is a lot easier to do as he is not taking part in the rencontre himself. I was aiming to see at least 239 species, but Jenny Norman said that I must go for at least 240, as that is a nice wipe number. My gut finger is that the 250 is a little out of reach, but you never know what could turn up in during the year in the area.
My strategy is to imbricate as much of the area, as often as possible, and not just recording random species, but looking to do as many Full Protocol cards for the ,SABAP2 project as possible over the undertow of the year.
I want to share how this rencontre has not only unliable me to see increasingly than 220 species in the rencontre zone so far this year, but moreover how it has unliable me to deepen my journey as a birder. Hopefully this vendible is practical and helps you as a birder.
I am moreover hoping that this rencontre makes a small difference to bird conservation, as I come squatter to squatter with the challenges of things such as habitat loss over the undertow of the year.
The rencontre has ‘three levels’ of birds, and each of these requires a slightly variegated approach.
1. Banker Birds
These are the species that I should scrutinizingly definitely see over the undertow of the year.
How do I work these species out?
Firstly, I yank on my own knowledge. I have birded the zone extensively since 2016 and have a pearly knowledge of what birds are seen on a regular basis. These are birds that I will see without putting in too much effort (well that’s normally the case, but there is unchangingly species or two that can be tricky to find).
Secondly, I use the ,SABAP2 website. I start by making a grouping of all the pentads that are found in the Sapphire Coast Rencontre area, this will create a list of all the species that have been seen over the years in the area. The website noted that 372 species have been recorded in the zone which gives me a starting point to work from. I then go through the list and eliminate birds that I won't list such as Indian Peafowl, as well as species that I don’t think will be seen over the year. An example was a Drakensberg Prinia which I finger is a bit of a ‘sketchy’ record, as it was recorded in 2021 and I don’t recall anyone speaking well-nigh it. My wholesaler birds are any species that have a 10 percent or higher reporting rate for the area. According to the SABAP2 list, 136 species have a 10 percent or higher reporting rate for the area.
These are birds that I finger that I should scrutinizingly definitely get over the undertow of the year.
Some of the birds may require me to visit a unrepealable habitat in the zone or wait for the right season – but with regular atlasing I don’t doubt that I will add these species during the year.
2. The harder to find species
This is where I need to start working a little harder to see species. I still finger that most of the species that have between a 10 and 5 percent reporting rate, I should see during the year. This is where my birding knowledge has had to improve. There are species that are in this subclass that I can get fairly hands considering of local knowledge – I know spots where they can be seen – but there are some that require a little increasingly work.
One of the ways that I grow my knowledge is to speak to other birders in the area. I found out where they have seen species and asked them to let me know if anything special turns up.
The other way, which is a lot increasingly rewarding, is a mixture of local knowledge and spending time studying a species. I will squint at things such as the distribution maps, migration, and habitat to work out where and when the bird could be found in the area. I will try to work out where there would be suitable habitats in the zone to find the bird. An example of this was with the African Wood Owl. It had been recorded before, with only a 0.3 percent reporting rate. I had been birding at Empisini Nature Reserve regularly and thought that it was the right habitat for the bird. I spoke to Jenny Norman who told me that the weightier time to see a Wood Owl was just surpassing the sun came up. Blessing Majoka and I kitted up early one morning in some warm clothes, and without playing a little bit of call-back, three African Wood Owls responded (please note, the call-back was used very sparingly). This was not simply luck, instead it was the result of knowing the habitats found in the zone and looking to find species that could be found in those habitats.
Something that this rencontre has washed-up is making me a lot increasingly enlightened of habitat. I am increasingly enlightened of the habitats that I find myself in and start to think of what could be possible in those places – which leads me to the third and most heady level.
3. Never been seen surpassing Species
It’s unchangingly heady to hear a report of a good bird showing up in the zone and experiencing the thrill of heading out to try and locate it – hoping that it hasn’t flown away. But there is nothing increasingly rewarding than finding something yourself. The Rare Bird emails that Trevor Haraker sends out are proof that there is unchangingly the possibility of something special turning up when you are out birding. The increasingly you get out and bird, the increasingly endangerment you have of seeing something special (although all the birds that we see are special in their own way).
I haven’t been lucky unbearable to find a rarity in my zone yet, but I have managed to find a few special species as I have been out birding. An example is a few years when I discovered a small flock of White-fronted bee-eaters, and although this is by no ways a rare species, it was a first for our zone and it was a little remoter south than it is normally found. I was not plane an experienced birder at the time, I was just persistent well-nigh getting out as often as possible and birding.
One of the ways that I squint to position myself with the weightier chances of seeing new species for the Sapphire Coast zone is to go to habitats that lend themselves to special/out-of-range/rare birds showing up. I have a water treatment works that I try to visit as often as I can – I am unchangingly hoping to pick up a special wader species withal the sides of the water. Tyron Dall and myself managed to see a Southern Pochard there a few years when – which as far as I recall was a new species for the area.
I moreover try to visit the waterfront at the mouth of the Illovo Estuary as often as possible, although I don’t enjoy the long walk on the beach, this then provides a location for potential new species. This is the same place that the possible Christmas Island Frigatebird was seen older this year by two up-country birders, but sadly plane though it is in my own pentad I dipped on the bird! I moreover try to visit places that are conducive for variegated species in variegated seasons. An example is that I visited reserves with forests in them during winter, hoping to pick up some of the robin species.
The other way is probably the most enjoyable and it starts with a field guide and a bit of a dream. As a bird in variegated locations and see variegated species, I start to get a mental image of the habitats that they are found in. An example would be seeing African Black Duck in variegated rivers as I go out and bird. I will start to see the types of rivers and where they are seen in those rivers – this all goes into my memory wall and gives me a frame of reference for birding in my own area. When I see a species, I moreover try to note their behaviors – not only which habitat they are in, but what they are doing in that habitat.
As a page through my field guide, I note the distribution maps that are given – and start to imagine what could be seen in the rencontre area. There may be a species range that extends over the rencontre zone that has never been seen in the zone before, or they may be a species whose range is just outside of the rencontre area. I then read up as I can well-nigh these species, trying to understand them as weightier as I can. I expressly take note of the habitat that they are found in and any migration information that is relevant.
If I have seen the species surpassing I try to remember where I have seen it before. What habitat was it found in? What upland was I at when I saw it? I then take the knowledge that I have uninventive from the typesetting well-nigh the bird and put it together with any previous wits with the bird if I have had it and try to yank on my local knowledge of the rencontre area. I ask myself; ‘Where is there habitat in the zone in which the bird could possibly be found?’.
On a personal note, the one down-side to my tideway is that often my atlasing is unjust towards pentads where there are species that I would want to see – but I still finger that the data that is submitted carries value.
I saw a recent post of someone who had seen a bird in a place that I knew well on the KwaZulu Natal North Coast. As excited as I was that the person had seen the bird, my mind immediately started to tick over and try to work out where there could be possible habitat and favorable conditions for the bird in my area. I am pretty confident that the species will be seen in our zone at some time.
Once I have washed-up all this research I now start to plan to go out and try to locate those species. Many of them won’t be found (in fact most of them won’t be located), but there will be that special moment when research and fate come together, and I will find the species I have been looking for.
So, this is my plan of wade to hopefully see 240 species in the Sapphire Coast this year. The good thing, however, is that plane if I fall short of my target, this rencontre has definitely taken me deeper as a birder. It has unliable me to discover the wonderful world of birds in a way that I have not washed-up previously, and no matter the outcome, I will come out as a largest birder at the end of the year.
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Kenn Kaufman. Kingbird Highway : The Biggest Year in the Life of an Lattermost Birder. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2006.