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    Your turn: birding in South Africa

    The March 2014 issue of Birder’s Guide to Travel features an article by Adam Riley titled “South Africa: The Best of the Birding Continent”. Within, Adam shares with us some of the wonderful birding locations (and birds) of his native country. A modern country with robust wine and tourism industries, many find South Africa a pleasure to travel in. 

    Many birders visiting the country find that hiring a guide to manage logistics, to help with (especially aural) ID, and to access the best birding spots is well worth it. When visiting South Africa, there are many tour companies and local guides to choose from, and in 2014 the ABA is offering its members an additional, unique opportunity.

    You may join the author, as well as ABA President Jeffrey A. Gordon and other knowledgable guides on the ABA’s South Africa Safari, which runs from 7–17 October of this year. Profits go to help support local conservation efforts though BirdLife South Africa. You can read more about the Safari here.

    South Africa is a huge and startlingly beautiful country with thousands of birding locations that couldn’t possibly be mentioned in this article. Do you have a favorite birding location in South Africa you’d like to share? An experience you want to tell us about? A comment or question about the article? Please offer them in the comment section, below!

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    Michael Retter
    Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his partner, Matt, in West Lafayette, Indiana. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email listserv for LGBT birders.
    • Frank M

      I went to South Africa for the first time in January 2014 for 18 days with a good friend who had a heart transplant several years ago. We did fine, no problem at all. Definitely one of the best birding trips I have ever taken. Kruger Park was awesome. I was so impressed with the park’s facilities and roads and signage etc; much better than what I have seen in the U.S. At times we hired a local guide which helped substantially. Everything else we did on our own and it was flawless. After Kruger Park we flew to Port Elizabeth and drove to Cape Town from there, after stopping at Karoo NP. Every single place was awesome. The scenery around Cape Town is just spectacular. Birding was great; maybe not as good as Colombia but still it was tremendous. Seeing the mammals was a terrific bonus.

    • Ron B

      Since you asked… I started off birding in South Africa; somewhat late in life in that I didn’t begin until I was 28-29 years old. And I had no intention of becoming a birder that day, it literally just happened.

      We had gone out to Sodwana Bay to camp for the weekend. And we were standing in a semi-open air reception area waiting to check-in when a kingfisher blew past me and smashed into a window and landed at my feet. I scooped up the tiny thing, took it outside and determined it was only stunned (quite unlike the Norwegian Blue). We took some pictures, and after about ten minutes it had perked up and flew off.

      I walked back into the reception area and bought my first field guy, a copy of Newman’s (still one of my all-time favorite guides). I looked up the kingfisher and decided it was a Malachite, my first bird!

      Soon thereafter I bought a cheap pair of binoculars and spent nearly the entire next year birding. I didn’t really start birding per se, it would be more truthful to say it took over my life. It got to where you could mention a bird, and I knew the page number in Newman’s where I would find the plate. I cannot really say I had a favorite destination as they were all great – I was basically forever picking out new locations, going there, and finding what I could.

      My big novice or rookie moment came while in Mosdene Nature Reserve. I met some pro birder and rattled off what I’d seen – e.g. not much – and he was kind to me, but it was all common stuff; I don’t think he’d seen a new bird in five years.

      The seabirds at Lamberts Bay does come to mind as special – great masses of great birds. I should also note that as an American, it pains me that the one gannet species I have not seen is Northern (the capriciousness of birding).

      Of course, as Frank M said, Kruger is awesome; you cannot not talking birding in SA without incorporating Kruger into the discussion. In my opinion, it is one of the most amazing places on the planet. I can’t remember, but I think I ended up making around six trips and I was able to cover the park from north to south. It is all so variable and spectacular; I don’t see how you could ever tire of the park.

      The end of my South African sojourn actually ended a number of years after I returned to the States. During the year I spent birding SA, I saw numerous Malachite Kingfishers as it is a common bird. What became my nemesis was Pygmy Kingfisher, a bird I actively sought without success. About five years after I left SA I happened to pull Newman’s off my bookshelf and a photo dropped out. It was a picture of the Sodwana bird. In an instant I realized my mistake, it was a Pygmy Kingfisher that had smashed into the window. My “first” bird really became my 395th, at least 395th identified!

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