A Birders Guide to Botswana

© Yellow-billed Storks
Birders can be categorized in as many sections as you can think of. For simplicity I have condensed them into three categories based on data collected from my own experience. There are 'the general wildlife interest birders' who partake in interest of all things natural. For the sake of this debate they are classified as boring as they portray normal behaviour and will not be discussed at all.

By Leigh Kemp

The second category is the 'very interested in birds but not to obsession extent category'. They can show flashes of strangeness but in general are a pretty harmless breed. I was woken by a member of staff at 4.00 am one morning and told that a guest was walking around the camp. I got dressed in a hurry and went searching for the wanderer, thinking that it was the effects of the malaria drug. After a short search I found the lady off in the trees staring up into the top branches.

She was one of a group of Japanese guests who were due to leave that day. With a sense of relief I discovered that she was not suffering any loss of sanity but was only looking for night jars.

She desperately wanted to see one before returning home and as this was her last night in Africa she figured it was now or never. My relief turned to concern when I found out that she had been walking around since 2.00 am, oblivious of the obvious dangers.

An East German biologist out on a 14 day safari only wanted to see mousebirds and stalk-eyed flies. He would sacrifice all the cats for these two species. Unfortunately I could not find him either of the two despite my efforts.

Feathered Obsessions

Then there are 'the twitchers'! So obsessed are they that they forsake all else for even the smallest little tit. I have had the pleasure of escorting some of them around. It can be an intimidating time but I soon learnt that the twitchers either know what they are looking at or will discuss what it is for hours without showing you any interest at all.
I was guiding a group of twitchers at Nxabega in the Okavango Delta and after a long delay in getting them into the vehicle for the afternoon drive on the first day, we spent over 45 minutes in the parking area. First it was the southern boubou then a glossy starling of sorts and finally there was a disagreement on a francolin.
As we were finally pulling away the radio crackled into life to mention a pride of lions on a buffalo kill. Thinking I was going to be showing them something spectacular I turned to them and asked: 'Do you want to go and see lions on a buffalo kill?' 'Not particularly. Only if we are going in that direction'! We eventually went but only because of the chance of seeing the different species of vulture.

I guided a number of Japanese groups on safaris in Botswana and with this came an appreciation for politeness. I can recall the first group I guided because it was the first time I really heard the twisting of the r's and the l's in the way many of them speak English.

Early in the trip we saw one of Botswana's characteristic birds and at the question, 'Mr Leigh what is that beautiful bird?' I looked up and a slow smile spread across my face. This was it! This was the ultimate r and l word. It was the "rirac breasted rorrer" - or, lilac breasted roller!

I feel I need to add another group of birders. There are those who seem to 'hate birds and birders with an all consuming passion'. They have the view that birders waste their valuable safari time by stopping at the smallest movement in a tree or bush. Their slogan is along the old cliché lines, 'The only good bird is a dead bird.'

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