Birds of South Africa

In South Africa, it’s easy to get fixated on the large mammals, which are everywhere. You even get baboons running across the motorway and stopping all the traffic.

Baboons on the road

During our three-week trip, we also spotted quite a few amazing birds along the way. Here is a taste of what we saw. All identifications are tentative because I’m no twitcher, and I got most of them from that Internet thing people are talking about.

Here’s a cape weaver I spotted in Plettenberg Bay on the Western Cape. I was on the ground so what you see is real: this bird builds its nest upside-down with the entrance at the bottom. Maybe it’s a Southern Hemisphere thing like the water gurgling the other way down the plughole. How they stop the eggs falling out is anyone’s guess.

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These little fellows (greater blue eared starlings?) were hopping around the café in the Kruger National Park. Living on sandwich crumbs and crisps is obviously preferable to getting your beak dirty whilst ripping off bits of carrion, something which remains popular among many other feathered denizens of the park. They’re as blue as birds in a Disney cartoon.

Starlings

When he’s in distinguished company, this one is known as the Southern yellow-billed hornbill. But behind his back, everyone calls him a “banana bird”:

Southern yellow-billed hornbill

He’s not the only bird packing a fine beak in the depths of the Kruger. Down at ground level, you also come across these southern ground hornbills. Only the males have this distinctive red coloration and wattles. The females are a rather plain black colour. The ladies haven’t decided to make much of an effort evolutionarily speaking, with only these turkeys to play for:

Southern ground hornbillNot all the birds are the sort to peck in the dust for their dinner. Raptors are everywhere, especially in the Kruger, although difficult to snap without one of the bazooka-sized zoom lenses that my fellow tourists hauled around with them. I did managed to capture this African fish eagle on a branch:

African fish eagle

With all this bird life, you would think it would be almost impossible to choose a favourite but there is one that beats all the rest. Yes, it’s the penguins! These are encamped on Boulder Bay near Cape Town. Our guide told us that when he was a kid, he used to go to the beach on Boulder Bay for family picnics. Later, a pair of penguins set up home there and their numbers grew and grew to the extent that now only birds are allowed on the beach, and you have to snap them from a raised walkway.

Penguins of Boulder BayThey may look cute but like everything in South Africa, you have to be careful even around these slow-plodding African penguins (aka Jackass penguins).

Penguin warning sign