Bradley Dicks, one of our guides at Morukuru Family – is a passionate photographer and a dedicated bird watcher. We sat down with him and found out more about the wealth of bird life in the Madikwe and how to get the most out of your birding safari experience.
Guests are spoilt for choice when it comes to birdlife – the Madikwe reserve is home to over 350 species. What is your favourite bird and why?
I am going to be very boring on this one and say the common Fork-tailed Drongo due to it’s ability to mimic other bird calls and it’s “rebel like” behaviour. An amazing little bird with the heart of a lion.
With regards to photography it will have to be without a doubt the Lilac-breasted roller, purely for its beautiful coloration and the fact that it affords the viewer amazing photographic opportunities.
The Lilac-breasted Roller is a bird with quite a reputation – beautifully coloured with a green head, lilac throat and breast, a blue belly and even brighter blue wing feathers. This must be one of the bird watching highlights for any visitor … what are the best places and times to spot this specimen?
You will usually find them utilizing high vantage points such as trees, poles and fences from which they will spot their prey (typically insects, lizards, amphibians and even small birds). You will generally see them throughout the day, however the early mornings are a great time to see them as they often sit in a dead tree soaking up the morning sun and looking for their next meal. This is a great time to photograph them as the lighting is usually perfect.
Both male and female lilac- breasted rollers have the same colouration – is this unusual for birds in the Madikwe – can you name any other species where this also occurs?
Female birds generally have a dull natural coloration as they will spend quite some time nesting and need to be camouflaged to avoid predation. Generally speaking, only female birds that nest in holes in a tree or in protected nests will have bright colors. The males, however are vibrantly colored to attract mates. Charles Darwin developed a theory on natural selection which explains this concept. In Madikwe, you will find quite a few different birds with similar coloration, namely: The Rollers, The Hornbills, The Barbets and Bee-eaters and African Hoopoe. What makes birding so fascinating is that birds also change their plumage during breeding season and immature birds also have different plumage.
Which other vibrantly hued birds can guests look forward to?
Wow, there are so many but a few of the more common ones would be the Hornbills (Zazu from the Lion King), Crimson-breasted Shrike, Crested and Acacia Pied Barbets, All of the Bee Eaters, Starlings, Weavers, Rollers and Kingfishers. Some of my favorites would include the African Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Cuckoos and Sunbirds.
Village Indigo Bird
Raptors are abundant in the Madikwe – tell us which ones guests are likely to see and share your tips on finding and photographing these.
I would say that some of the more common raptors would have to include the Black-shouldered Kite, African Hawk Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Martial Eagle, Common (Steppe) Buzzard, Pale Chanting Goshawk and the African Fish Eagle
Tell us about your most thrilling and unexpected sighting of a raptor
I had British guests at the time and had just been in a sighting of male lions for which we had to drive through some sickle bush (a vehicles worst nightmare, as it contains very tough spines which puncture game viewer tyres) and subsequently we had a flat tyre. My tracker and I were off the vehicle busy changing the tyre and the guests pointed out a Brown Snake Eagle which decided to perch itself on the branch of a tree a mere 5m away from the vehicle. As we were all having a good look at this magnificent specimen, it decided to fly away spreading its massive 1.5m – 1.8m wing span. I have never been so close to this beautiful raptor and the guests where in awe of what they had just witnessed.
Owls are part of the raptor family – which types can be spotted
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl, African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Western Barn Owl
Southern White-faced Owl
The largest flying bird in the world is the the Kori Bustard and luckily for visitors to Morukuru these can be spotted in the Madikwe – is it rare to see these in flight?
It is not rare but uncommon. Kori Bustards are not often seen flying as they generally spend most of their time on the ground. Flying is used mainly as a mechanism of moving short distances but mostly to escape predation.
The rare yellow form of the Crimson-Breasted Shrike has been recorded every so often. This extremely rare species gets rangers and trackers excited – have you had the thrill of spotting this beauty?
I unfortunately have not. It is most definitely on my bucket list. A good friend of mine has had the opportunity and showed me photographic evidence (which is important) of both species in the same tree at the same time.
Do you use a reference book for you birding – and if so which of the most recognised – Roberts, Newmans or Sasol – do you prefer and why?
I most definitely do. I currently use Roberts App and the Sasol book. The Roberts App is very well laid out and easy to find what you are looking for. I also use the Sasol book to compare information as not every book tells the same story.
What about apps and other digital resources?
I use the Roberts App religiously as it has everything laid out in a very logical manner. The App also has a few features to keep track of your progress and compare similar birds. It is an amazing resource for the avid birder and I would feel lost without it.
We think the following the following quote sums up how best to approach birdwatching: “Binoculars, and a hawk-like vigilance, reduce the disadvantage of myopic human vision.” (The Peregrine: The Hill of Summer Diaries: The Complete Works of J. A. Baker). Which binoculars do you carry with you – and is there a special story behind them?
I currently use Nikon Aculon 10×50. They are a very good all-rounder with rubber armoring to prevent damage from bumps and drops. There is no real story behind them I’m afraid.
Every season is different in the reserve – which are your favourite birding months and why?
The wet, summer months (October to March) are always the best for birding as you will get to see the migrant species; however the winter months are also great as we have a vast amount of resident species as well.
African Wattled Lapwing
There is a popular saying that goes: Good birders don’t wear white! Do you agree with this…and what do you recommend guests wear for a birding expedition?
I don’t think it will make too much difference in the bigger scheme of things, but I suppose if you really want to creep up on a bird to get that “perfect shot” it could possibly have an effect. The general rule of thumb is always try and adapt to your surroundings. I would say that wearing natural, earthy colors is best.