Updated: Oct 1
When the 'birding bug' first bit me I would do anything to add another bird to my list. I looked at people with long life lists and tried to do all that I could to somehow try and catch up with them. What this meant was every Saturday myself and a small group on inexperienced birders would load up the car, drink lots of coffee, pack a library of bird identification books and would drive to all sorts of locations to add to ‘The List’. We had some amazing experiences, the problem was my bank account didn’t enjoy these outings quite as much! In South Africa we have some amazing locations to visit, but the price of petrol really chews into ones budget very fast and leaves huge holes in ones wallet.
As I grew as a birder I started to discover the joy of local birding. This is birding that one does not need to travel to do, one simply travels no more than a few kilometers and birds in the area that they live in. So last year I made a decision that I would bird in the Amanzimtoti area more. What this did do was to open up my eyes to the amazing bird life that was in my area, bird life that I often simply looked over!
One of the highlights for me was a lifer right on my own garden feeders. A small group Red-Billed Quelea decided to come and feed in my garden. There are people that have life lists that are much longer than mine who have still not seen this bird I later discovered that people even travel to add this bird to their list, and there it was in my garden!
Local birding has allowed me the opportunity to be able to stop past areas on the way home from work and spend a few minutes simply seeing what birds are there. I have been able to record amongst others: White-fronted Bee Eaters (out of range), Black –chested Snake Eagle, African Black Oystercatcher, Spotted Ground Thrush, European Roller, European Honey Buzzard, Palm-nut Vultures etc.
As I thought about this, I want to give three reasons why I think we should not only focus on traveling for birds, but also birding local as often as possible:
This is a massive factor for me, unless you have the bank account of Bill Gates, when you have to always travel to see birds it ends up costing a lot. Not only petrol, but food, accommodation, etc. Local birding allows one to bird more often at a fraction of the price. One does not even need to leave their own garden, simply make a cup of coffee and look out the window at what birds are there.
We put together a local team that took part in Big Birding Day 2017 and made a decision that we would use our area as the central point for our days birding. This meant that we would probably not finish as the country’s top team (not something that our level of experience would allow anyway), but rather we would contribute to knowing what bird species are found in our own area, which we felt was far more important (we managed 115 species for the day).
I use the Birdlasser App whenever I bird, and what excites me is that when I bird locally, is that I am contributing to valuable conservation data by identifying what species are found in our area.
Simply adding to ones Bird list is great, but we have seen how local birding actually can impact beyond a list. We have been able through local birding to get other people in our area involved in birding and nature. We simply invite others along to come and be a part of the walks that we do (we use social media to help with this), we have seen an average of 20 people coming on every walk in the last few months that we have done this. We have also been able to educate children on nature and how important it is to look after their environment.
We have also been able to partner with our local tourism organisation (http://www.sapphirecoasttourism.co.za/), which has used birding and the walks to draw tourists, which brings valuable income into our local economy.
Using the Birdlasser Platform we have been able to launch a local birding challenge, the Sapphire Coast Birding Challenge . The goal of this challenge is to encourage people to bird in our local area, and as they record what is seen it allows us to see the bird life that is in our area, We were lucky to get Bargain Books SA on board who have sponsored books that we can give away to help promote the challenge. While taking part in the challenge I was lucky enough to see a Crowned Eagle nest that apart from the challenge I would have never found.
In the long run as people become aware of the amazing bird and birding spots that our area has to offer, I hope that we would be able to create employment around the local tourist industry.
So what has been exciting is to see the impact that we have seen even in a short time.
I still love to travel and discover new places to bird, but local birding has opened a whole new world filled with spectacular birds and a whole lot of new secret birding spots that are avian treasure troves!