Friday, November 4, 2005

Memories of South Africa

Friday, November 4, 2005

In January of 2002 I was lucky enough to visit South Africa on a birding tourism trip sponsored by The South African Tourism department. While there I encountered many unusual and amazing creatures, especially birds. My nominee for "weirdest bird of the trip" goes to the hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) a hammer-headed bird that's most closely related to flamingos, spoonbills, and storks.

Going to a far-off continent with birdlife that's almost totally alien to me was a thrill. It was like starting all over again as a bird watcher. Flipping through an African field guide before the trip, the hamerkop's image leapt out at me. It immediately became one of my quest birds. So I was doubly pleased not only to see a hamerkop, but to be the one that spotted it for our group. We were birding along an inland river with a guide who was well-armed as a precaution against the aggressive Cape buffalo. We'd just seen our first giraffe, when, while scanning a distant wetland edge with my scope, I spied the hamerkop. My moderately crummy digiscoped image does not do the bird justice, but you do get an idea of its weird shape. The hamerkop's nest is a giant, multi-roomed bundle of sticks, placed in the crootch of a large tree. Most hamerkop nests are built with several entrances. Our excellent South African guide, Peter Lawson told us that the hamerkop is an excellent landlord. It builds a condo nest, uses one room for its own family, and lets other birds, snakes and lizards use the other rooms. "SUCH a clevah bahd" Peter said.

I wrote about my South African adventure in the July/August 2002 issue of BWD. We'll re-post the article to the BWD travel section and I'll let you know when it's available.

Zick and I are dreaming of a return to South Africa (she visited in 1994), this time with the kids. We're saving our nickels and dimes...