2022 finally allowed us some relief from Covid restrictions and we were able to ‘spread our wings’ a little further as birders (pun intended). It almost felt unusual to be able to bird together legally in full cars, walk around without masks on our faces, and to not have any curfews that needed to be kept.
So, with it being nearly a month into the new year (can you believe it?), I decided to put together the ‘Best of South African Birding List’ for 2022. I will look to expand the list with other categories for 2023, but for now this is a good start.
1. Best Birding Event of 2022 – Flock to Marion Cruise
There was only one real contender for this category. BirdLife South Africa pulled off a fantastic experience, with birders from all around the world cruising into the Southern Oceans. We ate too much, laughed, shared lots of stories, and of course did some amazing birding. For those that were on the cruise, Albatross Thursday must surely be one of the greatest days that they would have experienced as a birder. The feeling of hundreds of Wandering Albatrosses soaring around the boat is a memory that I will always remember. There were amazing talks on the boat, providing access to some of the leading voices in the world of birding, including Peter Harrison. I didn’t think that it was possible to get emotional while hearing a talk on birds…well, that was until I heard Peter Harrison sharing his love of albatrosses. Being able to glance at Marion Island at a distance is a privilege that I will never underestimate. I encourage you to support the Mouse Free Marion Project and sponsor a hectare to ensure that these special birds are around for generations to come.
Well done BirdLife South Africa – we are proud to have an organisation of your calibre in our country!
Listen here to Episode 62 of The Birding Life Podcast where we interviewed Peter Harrison
2. Best Bird App of 2022 – Firefinch App
This was one of only two bird apps that were released onto the local market in 2022. The Firefinch team controversially released the app as a subscription model, which met with some resistance from some in the birding community. So, what makes this app worth it? Firstly, the fantastic Faansie Peacock plates. There is a reason that Faansie’s books are some of the most sought-after bird books. He has a way of bringing the ‘cool’ into birding. The app provides a wealth of information that will provide hours of learning for the inquisitive user. They even manage to make learning bird calls fun on the app! With the calls on the app, the learning experience engages with more than just your hearing. You can follow not only the audio, but explanations of the calls, and some fun stories that happened while the recordings were being done. Like all apps, there is a wide variety of high quality bird photos.
So how easy is the app to use? I have always struggled to identify nightjars, on Birding Big Day we did a night drive at Mkuze Game Reserve. The helpful pointers on the app actually made identifying the nightjars that we saw much easier.
So why the monthly subscription? There were regular articles released by Faansie, as well as guest contributors, which means that the app is almost like having a bird magazine in your hand. The app provides both ‘meatier’ articles for more experienced birders, and easier to read articles that even newer birders will enjoy. Yes, the monthly fee may be too expensive for some people, but if you can afford it, it's well worth the investment. To find out more about the Firefinch app click here.
Listen here to Season 6 Episode 5 of The Birding Life Podcast where we find out more about the Firefinch app
3. Best Bird Book of 2022 – ‘Birds of Southern Africa – The Complete Photographic Guide’
Bird book releases were a bit sparse in 2022, but this much anticipated photographic guide gave birders a book to add to their libraries. When one reads the line-up of bird experts that were involved in putting together this book – Burger Cillie, Niel Cillie, Phil Penlington, Trevor Hardaker, and Karin Wiesler, it's easy to see why this would be a ‘must-have’ book for any serious birder. The book packs in almost 2000 high quality photos. Due to the fact some of the country’s best bird photographers' photos were sourced, along with the improvement in the technology in cameras since previous photographic guides we released – this book has definitely set a new benchmark for bird photographic guides. The text is concise and simple enough for even the newest birder to understand, providing all the necessary information that one would need to correctly identify birds in the field. The book provides a simpler way than many other guides of categorizing bird species, which helps to find what you have seen a lot quicker. This book is highly recommended!
Listen here to Season 5 Episode 1 of The Birding Life Podcast where we find out more about the book.
To get your hands on 'Birds of Southern Africa - The Complete Photographic Guide' click here
4. Best Equipment Release of 2022 – Canon EOS R7
Okay I am not going to give all the technical stuff that bird photographers already know, all I can say is that this camera (along with Canon's other mirrorless cameras), have taken bird photography to the next level! I still need to get my hands on one of these cameras (hoping to save for one this year), but from what people that have used the camera have said, the eye tracking on this camera is amazing! This helps to capture sharper images that previously may have been very difficult to take. The camera handles higher ISO with less noise, which is a game changer in low lighting conditions that bird photographers often need to deal with. Best of all the camera sells for under R30000!
Listen here to Season 4 Episode 10 of The Birding Life Podcast where we find out more about the Canon EOS R7
5. Best Rarity of 2022 – Christmas Island Frigatebird
The list of rarities seen in the region in 2022 is pretty impressive – Laughing Gull, Wood Warbler, Eurasian Bittern, Crested Honey Buzzard, White-throated Bee-eater, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Citrine Wagtail, Madagascan Cuckoo, and the White Wagtail (thanks Jandre for help with the list). But the rarity of the year must be the Christmas Island Frigatebird. This bird was way, way, way out of range. As the Firefinch app notes (see I told you it’s a good app), the species only breeds on Christmas Island off the coast of Java. Their foraging range is centred on the Indo-Malayan Archipelago (you know that isn’t my fancy English) – so this bird was way out of its range! It was seen by only two birders – Koos van Dyk and Keelai Fraiser – at Amanzimtoti on the 1st February 2022. What makes me so sad is that this bird – this GIGA-GIGA rarity – was seen in my local pentad and I didn’t get to see it! But what a fantastic addition to the Southern African seabird list!
So there’s the slightly belated ‘Best of 2022’ list – let us know in the comments if you agree with the list. What shouldn’t have made the list and what do you think could have been included? What categories would you like us to add for 2023?