Monday, November 8, 2010
All of a twitter...........
By Jules Knocker
The cacophony of bird song in dry country areas is spectacular. If you live in mainly green surrounds, you forget the sheer volume and variety of the various calls from these noisy creatures that are your constant companions from before daybreak to after night fall. Twitcher or not, these birds demand your attention and there is no escape.
It starts pretty early, especially if there is a full moon, with the squeaky bed-spring bird that has decided that the patch just by your tent is the perfect place to let rip. Koki koki koki, getting faster and faster as the Coqui Francolin gets into its stride. Any thoughts of a lie-in are swiftly dismissed, as you awake with a start. Who needs a morning wake up at 6.15 am when these birds will happily do it at 5.30? It seems pretty ironic that this incredibly loud sound emits from such a skulking, shy creature.
Not surprisingly, the tuneless alarm, with no snooze button, gets the others going and soon you are surrounded by Red-eyed Doves (I AM the red-eyed dove), Mourning Doves (wu HOOO wu, wu HOOO wu krrrrrroaw) and all their numerous relatives and friends, full of morning vim and vigour as you stagger to your vehicle, clutching binoculars and peering owlishly through your specs at the scene that greets you: that wonderful, crisp, clear morning air before the African sun has started warming the earth.
In the bush around your car, the Red-billed Buffalo Weavers and the Masked Weavers have got going and are hopping around the trees and the ground below, being very, very busy indeed.
The Red-billed Hornbill sits on a termite mound, peeping gently to the inhabitants within. WuckWuckWuckWuckaWucka. Soon, a brown, furry head pops up out of the hole, scratches itself and heads back to wake the rest of the dwarf mongoose pack. Since, by this stage, you have been awake for more than two hours, you are definitely envious that these smart creatures have such a civilised introduction to the day.
By breakfast time, more of the avifauna are ruffling their feathers, preening and setting out for yet another successful forage. The helmeted guinea fowl chuckle softly, moving onto an alarmed kakakakakakakaaarrrrrrr, fluffing up their billowing, spotted skirts, as they run this way and that, worried at intrusions and eventually settling down to a determined peck.
You are just about to tuck into your bacon and egg sandwich when a loud Screeeeech gives you pause for thought and a brilliant flash of green and orange whistles past into the dense foliage of a nearby baobab. The Orange-bellied Parrot. Much more soothing, but no less dramatic, are the mini-screeches from the small flocks of Yellow-collared Lovebirds, as they flit to and fro, from ground to tree, a spectacularly colourful display of emerald green and sunflower yellow.
No dry season would be complete without the large flocks of Red-billed Quelea. Thousands move as one, flowing in waves, twisting and turning with the leaders. Catch them in the heat of midday coming into drink at the river and the sight is spectacular. The noise from thousands upon thousands of continuous, small chatterings can be almost deafening.
As night falls, the birds all head to their roosts and silence slowly descends as they fall asleep, exhausted from the day’s exertions. Not long after, you do the same. But just as you start floating off, the Pearl-spotted Owlet with its rising peep gets going or the prrrrrp-prrrrrrp of the Scops Owl seeps into your tent along with the wikwikwikuwik of the Slender-tailed Nightjar on the move, gently reminding you that this is their time. Luckily, they have more respect for the sanctity of the night and the gentle hoots will lull you to sleep.
Yet this time, your sleep will be a satisfying one and the extra early wake-up, a pleasure. The best thing about all of this avi-torture is that you soon become an instant bird expert, picking out the loud Haaa Haaa Haaa of the Go-away Bird with the ease of a professional. The calls are so distinctive and individual, that the names will just trip off your tongue, as you point, with knowing smugness, in the direction of the third branch from the top of the small acacia bush on the right, where a Diederik Cuckoo is perched. deedeedeeDEEderick