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Top Three Sightings of 2020

We each give our top three bird sightings from 2020. We would love to know what your best were.

Tyron Dall

3) Peregrine Falcon – Amanzimtoti During the dark days of the Level 5 Lockdown, many of us were forced into watching birds from our houses. In my case I live in a flat, so I didn’t expect to find anything interesting. I had seen a Peregerine once from my house but I didn’t realise they were resident in the area. What I soon discovered was that a pair of them roosted every evening on top of Sweetwaters Flats (which is the tallest apartment buildings around, and about 500m from where I live, but that I have a direct line of sight to) Every now and then I would see them hunting and on a couple of occasions they flew directly over my flat. What was fascinating to watch, was the reactions of the other birds in the area, especially the Red-winged Starlings, Village Weavers and Pigeons. Often they would be the ones that would alert me to the presence of a raptor, as they would get a huge skrik and dart off in different directions. When they did this, it meant one of two things, either it was the Peregerine hunting, or it was the other resident raptor being the Black Sparrowhawk.

Peregrine Falcon -  Amanzimtoti
Peregrine Falcon - Amanzimtoti

2) Short-tailed Pipit – Sani Pass The one thing I have discovered this year, which is something I have always suspected, is that I am not a big twitcher. I don’t get that much joy in having a huge expectation, and then usually driving a great distance to see a rare bird for the sake of a tick. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy it, but it’s not near the top of what I call a good birding experience. So what is? Well the answer to that is the thrill of the unexpected. I recently did a trip to Sani Pass, and one of the first stops we did was at the bottom of the pass and we got out the car and had a bit of a look around. Suddenly I hear my guide Stuart shout saying that’s Short-tailed Pipit flying around (yes white outer tail feathers he excitedly says). Now Short-tailed Pipit to me is honestly a bird I thought I just might never see, owing to the difficulty in locating them. I also didn’t even realise you got them near Sani Pass. Now of course none of the other people saw the birds Stuart was shouting about. But Stuart marked where they had landed in the grassland, and he sent Glen to flush them out. A while later two Short-tailed Pipits ascended from their lair and gave a magnificent display flight for quite some time. To top it all off, one of them landed on a rock in the distance.

1) Pallid Harrier – Mopani area, Kruger National Park Some of why this sighting is my number one of 2020, has not to do with the bird, but about the area. I’m absolutely in love with the Kruger Park, and especially the North. Again it has to do with the unexpected. That day I left Mopani Rest Camp as early as humanly possible and I had the whole day to myself. A whole 12 hours plus of endless opportunities. But it didn’t take 12 hours, it took 12 minutes. Just before the Mopani Camp access road meets the main road was a small wetland. In a tree in the early morning a ghostly figure sat proudly in a small tree. At first I thought maybe a Black-winged Kite. It wasn’t, it was a Harrier, a magnificent male Pallid Harrier. It would leave the tree and do its distinct flappy flight and return to its perch. I sat for a while entertained by its grace. I couldn’t wait to show another car, but sometimes in Kruger that other car doesn’t come and you get that experience all to yourself.

Pallid Harrier - Mopani area - Kruger Park
Pallid Harrier - Mopani area - Kruger Park

Calvin Harris

Enough has been said about what 2020 has been like for all of us. Thankfully we have birding to distract us from the challenges of day to day life during the Covid 19 pandemic. With saying that, this year still managed to produce some great birds, here are just three of mine for the year.

3) Rosy-throated Longclaw - Nibela Peninsula

Before I started birding in earnest and keeping a serious lifelist, I had already (unknowingly) travelled to many birding hotspots. I'm sure there are many birders reading this who could kick themselves when they think back to where they have been and the birds they could have seen. Some of mine include Thailand, Madagascar and Mauritius - I can hear your thoughts whilst you read this........... Another such place I had been to with my wife when we first started dating, was Hluhluwe River Lodge - which as the name suggest borders the Hluhluwe river.