Saasveld and birds.

I have been chatting to people a lot about birding lately. I haven't done much birding, although I hope that will change soon. My boys start school tomorrow and I am rather free.

On Sunday I'm planning to have a meeting with a bunch of people now inspired by my declaration to do a Namibia birding big year. I don't know how to do it...well, I know that I will keep a list of all the birds I see in Namibia and try to see a lot, and post it to the Internet so that you can read about it....but anyway, I'll be telling them how to do it. So, it's a bit of fun. I'll set up some blogs or something and help them be able to post their lists and birding anecdotes. I'll see later where it all goes. Should be a bit of fun.

But my reason for wanting to post is just about the shear fun of going through one's life-list years down the line. I have been spending just a little time each day typing up a few of my sightings. The notebook that I keep my life-list in is rather limited, and so the notes I took were But I did make some sort of note about each bird, and also recorded when I saw it and where I saw it. Just that little bit of information is SO interesting to look through years down the line.

I am busy now with a lot of the birding I did while I was a student at Saasveld. Saasveld was an amazing place. The campus is huge, with a two kilometer drive in. There is a large peace of indigenous forest right in the middle of the place. And then from there there are various bits of Pine plantations and Afromontane Forests. Higher up the hills there are patches of Fynbos, some if it really interesting stuff. And then down towards Wilderness you get into coastal scrub, lagoons and estuaries and riverine vegetation. And then, of course, the ocean. I started my life list on the 29th of October 1995 (I don't have to look it up.) And for a while I went birding mad. If you look at my list, you see some days I was birding in the southern cape,and the next in Cape town, then out to Dehoop Nature Reserve. I was all over the place. If I didn't have money (or if my car was broken) then I rode a bike. I would cycle many weekends down to Wilderness, spend time at the Malachite bird hide down there. I would take my books and think I was studying. I didn't do much studying. I saw lots of birds.

At one time we lived in a house in the forest called Gwariebos. We stayed there for a year. It was a bunch of people who loved nature, loved fitness, loved hiking. We talked about adventure and we had adventure. We were sort of misfits in Saasveld. Saasveld was a large land management campus for the PE Technikon. There was Agriculture, Forestry, and Nature Conservation. The foresters ruled the was only a forestry collage for most of it's existence. The Agric guys were mainly farmers kids. Most of the Forestry and Agric guys where large guys (not to many ladies) and it was somewhat of a rough place. On the weekends a lot of these big guys would drink themselves flat.

We did party...we were students, but we did other things. We ran half-marathons and cycled from George to Cape Town, hiked, climbed, swam in the forest lakes and we really became fanatical about nature. And I mostly watched birds. It is staggering now to look back and think how much birding I did in 1996/97. A lot. Some if it was with friends, like Shem and Meiring, but often on my own. I learned a lot from the other guys, many of them were much better birders than I was. I really enjoyed that time.

One sighting really takes me back to that time. On the 9th of June, 1996, I saw my first Narina Trogon. I was in an area where these birds were probably rather common. But they are rather tricky. In the mature Afromontane forests these birds would sit high up on branches, often facing away from the birder way down below. When you are in these forests birding, you spend a lot of time craning your neck. And when looking for this bird, you do it more than most. So, you have a sore neck and look up at the tree tops. Now, just other side of the canopy (all birders reading this already know what I am talking about,) is the daylight outside the forest. These stupid birds (or clever...of course) sit right there. And they are dark green. And they don't move. And look away from you. In those large forests where they are the most numerous, you don't see them.

It was exams, I guess mid year exams (since it was June). Brian, my room mate, had the window. I was in the far corner, where his escaped snakes were fond of hiding. His desk looked out at a peace of forest, and you guessed already..on this day he just looked up and a beautiful Narina Trogon was sitting there in plain view, in a Pine tree.

That sums up so much of what birding is all about to me. I love being out in Africa's great game destinations and have been lucky enough to have seen a number of them. I have seen a herd of elephants with over 300 animals in Tsavo, I have seen a leopard in the dunes on Namib Rand Nature Reserve. I've seen lions sitting on elephant carcases. A Cape Fur Seal giving birth. Lots of special things. I have seen lions, cheetah, leopard, African Wild Dog, Elephant, Buffalo, both of the African Rhino species and many others, while on foot. But it's birding that can make me look up at the trees in my garden and have similar feelings about a Sunbird.

Have you ahd anything like that? Share some of those of moments in the comments.
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Meiring Borcherds said...

Vern you are still my inspiration mate... I remember these times well and actually feel sad that I am not there doing that right now.

How we forget to live and respect live and all its pleasures even if it is sitting at the Malachite bird hide...

Hope our kinds will be as privileged as we have been to see the world and all its wonders...

Namib Naturalist said...

Yes. Stupid bunch of friends we are. We dreamed of heading out all over the world and doing interesting things...and we all did. Now we are so spread out we can't even go out birding together.

I don't feel that 'inspirational' at the moment, but back then I was a little mad. At school it was fitness, and somehow birding crept in there at Saasveld..90% because of you [talking to Meiring]. And then later it went over to guiding and training. Now I just inspire my kids, but for the time being that's enough for me.

I am most proud of the some 25 rangers/guides that I trained or who worked under me. That was where to 'inspire' was part of my job. And I just my being slightly fanatical.

Maybe I should start doing 'Motivational birding' :) Any takers?