Paradise for bird lovers

South Africa has the greatest variety of avian species on the entire continent of Africa and you’ll find almost 400 of them in Nambiti.

The best time to bring your binoculars is between October and March, when the migratory birds return to mate with the birds who stayed at home.

That said, there’s a wondrous array of birds to see all year round from the
Handsome and stately Martial Eagle to the tiny Common Waxbill which weighs….wait for it…. just a quarter of an ounce.

Nambiti’s unique topography gives it great scenic and ecological diversity. The reserve enjoys magnificent vistas, wide-open plains, river valleys and towering rocky hillsides with a multitude of microhabitats.

Each habitat attracts different birds: Cisticolas, Larks, Pipits and Waxbills can be seen in temperate grasslands, while more arid parts attract Lapwings and Coursers. Intra-African migrant birds such as the River Warbler and the African Pitta are drawn to the tangled thicket that transforms into a lush green haven after the first November rains. Lanner Falcons nest high in the cliffs and the rare Cape Vultures visit the reserve from their nests in the Drakensburg Mountains.

You’ll also find plenty of LBJs - little brown jobs - out on the open grasslands. South Africa has around a hundred LBJ species - Larks, Pipets, Shrikes, Widows and Wydahs who feed mainly on insects and seeds. Keen ornithologists will delight in distinguishing one LBJ from another though, once mating season gets underway, male LBJs transform themselves quite spectacularly.

Take the Long-tailed Widowbird, for example. Only the red epaulets normally distinguish it from the female, but when he’s ready to mate, the male’s plumage, courtship display and flight patterns change completely as he seeks to fertilise as many females as he can. The male will sit on a fence post, displaying his tail feathers, then adopts a slow, low, “rowing” flight pattern to impress and attract the ladies.

The Long-tailed Paradise Whydah and the Southern Red Bishop are two other LBJs whose males and carry out complex courtship rituals in their quest to look cool and attractive.

Beautiful Blue Cranes can be found in Nambiti’s arid grasslands as well as its cultivated pastures and wetland fringes, where they roost in shallow waters for a panoramic view of any approaching predators. The Blue Crane eats practically anything - roots, seeds, bulbs, caterpillars, and even frogs. Their loud, guttural pre-dawn kraaaaarrrk calls, heard from mid-October, signal that the Blue Cranes have returned from their migration and are ready to start breeding. This involves the males indulging in some elaborate dance routines to attract a lifelong mate. Once a male and a female decide they like each other, they both jump up and down together, throwing objects, wings outstretched and heads held high. Mating takes place about a fortnight later and the female will lay two eggs and raise one chick after an incubation period of around a month. During this time, both the male and the female incubate the eggs. The Blue Crane is super-sensitive to any approach while nesting and can only be observed from at least 100 metres away.

There are hundreds of other flying, nesting and mating adventures for you to see and savour. Since Nambiti is a paradise for bird lovers, every day will feature a bird of paradise.