I’m a huge fan of the Flight of the Conchords since before they got their HBO series. The fact they’re from Wellington just makes it better. My favourite episode of their last series was the one where Jemaine sleeps with an Australian woman. So many funny lines which I won’t repeat lest I offend any Australians (they can watch the episode for that), and some things in there that I’m not sure Americans would get. One thing which cracked me up was when there’s a shot of Brett lying in bed, reading a book titled “Native Animals of New Zealand.” It’s quite a big book, so I’m at a loss to know what is in it. Does our one and only native mammal, a small bat, count?
So you’d think that coming from a country where there are no native animals that I would have paid more attention to birds. But I haven’t really. They’re there, I love the sound of the tui in my trees outside my window, or the morepork at night, but generally give birds little thought. Indigo Bunting got me thinking and writing about birds a year or so ago, but that was a one-off, or so I thought. Planning our trip to Africa, I never even thought about birds. A passing thought to flamingos, but when we decided to go to South Africa not Tanzania I thought flamingos were out of the question. So we arrived at our first game reserve focussed on the animals we would see. But in our jeep we found one serious birdwatcher (from California), another (from St Louis, Missouri) who really liked birds, and a ranger who was very knowledgeable. So our jeep stopped as often for various birds as we did for elephants, warthogs, or hyenas. I loved this. I started taking photographs of these birds, both great and small. Vultures were fascinating, marooned in their trees in the morning until the sun warmed the earth and the thermals started rising. We saw a number of eagles, including the less common bataleur. The vultures watch these low-flyers, and wait to see when the bataleurs swoop to a kill before they bother to come down from their very lofty heights. Owls watched us soberly from their perches.
The bird-brained francolin were ever present, running along the tracks in front of the jeep, and were not great fans of flying. My heart leapt into my mouth regularly, thinking one was doomed, only to see it figure out, at the last minute, that if it ran to the side the jeep wouldn’t crush it. As our jeep bumped along the dirt tracks in the reserve, hornbills would race along past us. The red hornbills in particular looked primitive, a bit like cartoon characters, unfinished birds, I called them. They also hopped comically around on the lawn at our lodge, and a yellow beaked hornbill posed obligingly for me in the trees outside our cottage. A real treat one day was rounding a corner and coming across a flock of guinea fowl. These bush chickens (common to those of you in Vermont obviously) were a treat to see, and I loved their colours.
There were some beautiful birds flying around us, some with bright colours such as the starling (starlings in New Zealand are dull brown boring birds), or the lilac-breasted roller, which has beautiful teal wings. Getting a photograph of the roller in flight sadly proved impossible, but we did see it go through its mating ritual, from where it gets its name, soaring to a great height then falling and rolling through the air, showing off to the females.
Then, on our train trip from Pretoria to Cape Town, we even passed a lake with about 20,000 flamingoes. I was thrilled!
So at our second lodge, I was a little disappointed to find that birds were no longer a focus. There seemed to be fewer birds too, except for water birds and the oxpeckers. The latter were everywhere – on the backs of the zebra, the necks of the giraffe, and all over the buffalo. And of course, on the backs of the rhinoceros hanging out at the airstrip one morning.
Which brings me back to the Conchords. I couldn’t get this song out of my head.
“They call me the Rhymenoceros,
not because I’m fat or the birds on my back
but because I’m horny,
PS. I promise this is the last of my African “what I did on my holiday” postings.