Season two of the SA20 cricket tournament is underway: packed stadiums, beer snakes, overpriced food, Mexican waves, and exciting cricket on the field. The tournament, with its star-studded lineups, including many of the world's leading cricket players, has quickly become one of the biggest T20 tournaments in the world.
But as a birder, sometimes the most exciting action is not on the field but above it.
Before I delve into the T20, let me rewind and share my greatest moment at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium.
On Friday, the 2nd of March 2018, I was in the North Stand at the stadium, watching Australia give South Africa a 'hiding' in the first test match of the series. This was two games before the infamous 'sandpapergate' incident (read more about that here). I was sitting in the middle of the touring Australian cricket fans, holding back tears due to my team's performance on the pitch. However, a ray of light shone into the darkness that had engulfed me. Just a few seats in front of me, one of the Aussie fans was paging through a book that caught my eye - a Southern African bird field guide!
Just as nervous as a sober guy trying to get a girl's number at a singles bar, I was working out how to chat with this guy. I mean, this guy was not your normal Aussie fan. He was a 'cut above.' A higher evolved level of humanity. He was a birder! Eventually, my moment came. I noticed he was paging through some pages and struggling to identify a raptor that was flying above the stadium. Just like a know-it-all bird snob, I proudly edged closer and told him that the bird he was looking at was a 'Yellow-billed Kite.' The ice was broken. We ended up having a good chat about birding in South Africa and Australia.
As I said, sometimes the most exciting action is not on the field but above it, especially when South Africa plays badly on the field.
So here are my four birding highlights I have had while watching SA20 cricket:
1. African Harrier-Hawk (gymnogene) - This happened last year; I can't recall at which match. I always pack my trusty Vortex binoculars when I go to the cricket, which helps both for watching the cricket and for identifying birds. I saw a big bird that I realized was a raptor flying above the stadium. I lost it for a while as it flew behind the roof over the stand I was sitting on. After a few minutes, it started to show again and landed on one of the floodlight pylons. I was quite excited when I saw that it was a stunning African Harrier-Hawk! It spent quite a bit of time perched high above the stadium watching the action on the field.
2. Pink-backed Pelican - On the 11th of January, Durban Super Giants (DSG) took on MI Cape Town (MICT) in a rain-shortened match. DSG ended up winning the match on the Duckworth Lewis equation after Heinrich Klaasen scored a cracking 85 runs off only 35 balls! As a birder, the highlight of the evening was two pairs of Pink-backed Pelicans soaring above the stadium (or maybe one pair flying over a few times). These are not uncommon species, but it is always exciting to see these chunky flying machines soaring above you.
3. Black Sparrowhawk and Peregrine Falcon - On Sunday, the 28th of January, DSG played against Paarl Royals. This top-of-the-table clash, which promised to be a juicy encounter, sadly ended up being a one-sided game. Once again, Klaasen scored a 50, this time off only 17 balls! He was aided by Matthew Breetzke, the young Eastern Cape batsman, who scored 78 runs off 43 balls. The action in the skies continued during the game, with not one but two raptor encounters. Flying high above Klaasen's sixes, the Rock Doves (feral pigeons) were not enjoying the game. They were flying around in a frantic frenzy, first being chased by a dashing Peregrine Falcon and later by a slightly slower Black Sparrowhawk. There was no evidence of kills in the sky, but Paarl Royals were 'killed' on the field, scoring only 83 runs!
4. Yellow-billed Kite - Once again at the DSG/Paarl Royals game, late in the afternoon, there was a low flyover by a Yellow-billed Kite. The kite, on the lookout for a late afternoon snack, seemed to be hanging on the invisible winds that swirled through the stadium. Although this may not have been a rare species, it was still special to see this powerful raptor soaring only a few meters above the excited crowd. I am always fascinated by how nature and our day-to-day lives connect in so many ways.
As birders, we never really stop birding. Whatever environment we find ourselves in, we end up looking for birds around us.
This is the beauty of birds - they are all around us. Most of the people who were packed into the stadium had no idea of the bird life that chose to coexist with them. Even amid the busyness of life, birds connect us with a quieter world. A world that runs at a different pace. They offer us hope for a better world. An escape. As they connect with our world, they provide us with the opportunity to connect to the world they live in.
Let us know in the comments about the best bird you have seen in a sports stadium.