It’s a Lion! It’s an Elephant! It’s a … Bird!

Day 65, Grand World Voyage

Thursday, March 9, 2023; Kruger National Park, South Africa.

“Look, it’s a yellow bird!”

“There’s a red bird.”

“It’s Big Bird!”

“I see another red bird through the bush … wait, it’s the elusive Red-Tailed Toyota!”

Who knew there were birds among the elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos of South Africa? Well, I’m sure a lot of people knew, but I can’t say that I had ever thought about it. Until I thumbed through my new illustrated Kruger Park Guide, with its full page of snakes (eek!), two pages of mammals and reptiles, and nine pages of birds.

Swainson’s Spurfowl
Burchell’s Coucal

I’ve never been much of a “birder,” showing no interest when my friends participated in bird-count days when we all lived in New Jersey. I loved seeing the robins in my Dallas backyard announcing the oncoming of spring. And of course, I delighted in the hummingbirds at my Santa Fe condo the last three summers.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

But the birds of Kruger National Park in South Africa were another thing entirely. Harold, our guide, not only knew every one, but he was quick to see even the smallest nestled among the tree branches as we drove through the bush.

Lilac-breasted Roller
Lilac-breasted Roller

None of the eight people in our vehicle could technically be called a birder. Among my sisters, Eloise is a certified master naturalist and knows a lot about everything outside. Elaine took copious notes and identified many of the birds in the handy guide we carried. I just took pictures – nearly 1,000 of the birds alone.

Kori Bustard
Marabou Storks and Hooded Vultures

And let me add, thank goodness for Google. When I can’t identify a bird photo from my guide, Google can usually tell me what it is. Any mistakes here in identification are its fault, naturally.

Magpie Shrike
Long-tailed Paradise Whydah

I’ll add a note here about cameras. Like many, I have transitioned over the years from a film 35-mm (Olympus) camera with heavy lenses to a (Nikon) digital SLR, followed by a (Sony) mirrorless with relatively light interchangeable lenses. As iPhone cameras improved and I took an interest in sketching, I started leaving the other cameras at home, despite the lack of iPhone zoom capabilities.

European Roller
Saddle-billed Storks

Knowing I had a safari booked for this cruise, I wanted a “superzoom” camera that wasn’t too bulky, heavy or expensive. I landed on the Panasonic Lumix FZ80, which “features a long 60x optical zoom range, with an ultra-wide perspective that goes to an extreme 1,200mm when fully zoomed,” according to the reviews.

African Wattled Lapwing

All I know is that it satisfied my desire to really zoom in on animals – and birds. Better cameras would let in more light, focus faster and make me look like a serious photographer. But I’m happy with my choice and its price tag under $400, including an extra battery.

Wahlberg’s Eagle
African Fish-Eagle

Oh yeah, as you may have figured out, that early evening flash of red through the bush was indeed the taillight on a Toyota safari vehicle, so we added the Red-Tailed Toyota to our checklist. Who says we aren’t true birders?