Updated: Dec 29, 2020
In response to our rising COVID numbers in South Africa, the president has announced that as a country we will be going onto a Level 3 lock-down until the 15 January. In writing this article, I do not wish to undermine the seriousness of this pandemic in our country with many people having lost loved ones to this disease over the course of the year. I too have seen its tragic effects in the lives of people that I love, and personally know many that have lost their lives.
When the announcement was made, I thought back to a Zululand trip that I did with some friends a few weeks ago to chase after some of the rare birds that had shown up at various spots. We left at 4am and only got home at 10:30pm that night. It was a long day with a few special birds added to my life list (along with a sunburn on the arm that was on the window side of the car). It is days like that that many birders live for – the thrill of the chase – waking up at crazy hours and chasing after special birds. Along with all of this making sure to get the photo and if you are lucky, get a mention in uncle Trevor's rare bird email.
The curfew times have now changed – you are only allowed to leave you house at 6am and you need to be back in by 9pm. What this means is that day trips to these far-flung locations are now out of the equation (or at least a lot harder to do logistically). There are also restrictions in terms of certain parks and nature reserves being closed. I had planned some atlassing in a local nature reserve, which sadly now I am now not able to do. All this means there will possibly be some rare and special birds that will be inaccessible for the next few weeks.
There will be a lot of disappointed birders out there – but with the seriousness of the pandemic I do encourage you to obey the restrictions put in place. No bird is worth risking your life and the lives of your loved ones.
This level 3 lock-down does however provide birders with fresh opportunity to explore and discover birds. The difference is that we will get to spend more time doing local birding and discovering the birds that are on our doorstep.
During the lockdown earlier this year when we were allowed to exercise in our local areas, I used this as an opportunity to do birding walks around the neighbourhood. I got some good exercise (which helped me deal with the growing 'lock-down belly'), while discovering some birds and birding habitats that I did not even know were in our area. So, just maybe this level 3 lock down is an opportunity to slow down and simply enjoy the birds that are all around us. Does it really matter if you do not add another ‘tick’ to your life-list in 2020?
Lock-down birding allows us to:
1) Get to know the birds in our gardens
I have fed the birds in my garden for a while now on my feeders. I get some decent flocks of seedeaters that converge on the seed daily and feast on that which is laid out. My brag bird for the last few years has been the Red-headed Quelea, that for many is still a sought-after bird (I have had a few up-country birders visiting my garden to see this species). While on the level 5 lock-down earlier this year, while we could not leave our homes, I recorded over 60 species in my garden. I looked beyond the feeders that I filled daily, and started to see the birds that were in the trees, that flew over, and even heard the birds that called. I have seen the African Hoopoe many times, but I can still remember how excited I was when one landed in my garden and I was able to add it to my garden list. I was amazed at some of the birds that I was able to see – including a healthy number of raptors. There are probably a lot more birds in your garden than you realise, and this lock-down is the perfect opportunity to grow your garden list.
2) Explore your neighbourhood
The restrictions allow you to take a walk around your neighbourhood see what birds you can see. Earlier this year, I used my Birdlasser App (you could also use Google Earth) to get a satellite view of my neighbo