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Virtual African Birdfair 2020 - The Great Online Migration

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

I don’t know about you, but I love a road trip. A road trip is a lot more than just a destination you are going to - instead, it’s an opportunity to celebrate every single moment of the journey, soaking up the experience, and spending time with the special people that you are with.

In 2017 I had an opportunity to do a road trip with some special people – not just any road trip – but a birding road trip planned around the African Bird Fair, which was taking place at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Johannesburg.

The car was packed, a lot of ‘padkos’ was prepared to snack on, the road trip playlist was loaded, and we headed off with memories to be made.

We arrived in Johannesburg late on Friday afternoon, and after a good dinner, we headed to bed excited about the day that lay ahead.

We arrived at the Walter Sisulu Gardens as early as we could - the air was still crisp, and the exhibitors were still putting their finishing touches on their stalls. After a good cappuccino and a quick walk around, the day kicked off with a talk by one of my favourite birding authors, Faansie Peacock. The talk was humorous, and he kept the audience hanging on every single word that he said. Straight after his talk, I went to his stand and I spent some time drooling at the stunning artwork that he was selling and bought a signed copy of his stunning LBJ book.

I took a walk around the stalls and managed to connect with a lot of the people that I had been interacting with on social media. The stalls offered everything that a birder needed. We ended up spending a little more money than we had planned to spend – but we walked away with smiles on our faces.

Verreaux’s Eagle photographed at Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Verreaux’s Eagle | Ernest Porter

Swarovski had one of their stunning scopes set on the Verreaux’s Eagles – which allowed one to gaze at these majestic creatures through top-quality optics. I did a walk up the mountain with John Kinghorn and Toni Geddes at probably the worst time in the day, but I managed to get a lifer – a drab yet energetic Fairy Flycatcher.

We spent nearly the whole day at the Bird Fair, and we were blown away with the entire experience – people, birds, equipment, and some good food to top it all off.

With the Covid-19 Pandemic, so much has changed regarding how we do life, with many using the term ‘a new normal’. A few months ago, I started to see people asking on the Birdlife South Africa Facebook group how the Bird Fair would be done in light of the pandemic and the strict South African social distancing rules. As an outsider, the prospects for the 2020 Bird Fair did not look good.

Just recently, after much planning and deliberation, Birdlife South Africa announced that this year’s Bird Fair would be going online.

This, in many ways, will change the experience of the Bird Fair for this year – no longer would a road trip be needed for out of town folk, no longer would walks be done in the gardens, and a lot of other things will just be different. But in light of the COVID situation, Birdlife South Africa had no choice – they had to respond to the ‘new normal’.