Monday, 14 January 2013

2013 - 'The 800 Challenge'

This is the first of, what should be, many more related blogs as the year progresses. For those of you unfamiliar with the birding fraternity generally and with twitchers / listers specifically, the depths we plumb & the lengths we go to see, what most people consider 'just a bird', borders on the abnormal, absurd even..

Our 'office'..

First, some background. Some 8 years ago Alisha & I embarked on a travel journey together which quickly became a love-story; a love of birds. It's difficult to say exactly why but as time passed our hobby swiftly became a passion. If pushed I would offer the following simple explanation: 'There's a latent freedom of spirit in all of us often stifled in the big city. Some people take to the air, scale mountains, dive the depths or find their solace on the race track. We live our freedom vicariously through birds. 

One of the first lessons we learn't was an affirmation of what we already suspected. We had a great deal to learn.. Armed, adequately we thought, with three or four different field guides, a pair of binoculars each and some spending money we ventured into the field. The common species were readily ticked & allocated a place in the listing files and passed over for the more enticing species as yet unseen. The second lesson was more subtle; we had no idea where to find the more uncommon species. Asking for help from the birding community can be trying. If you think jealousy is rife in Hollywood then you haven't had the temerity to claim a bird-list 'higher' than you deserve... ie: given your time spent in the field, contribution to 'The Bird Organisation' and or your propensity to charm the 'experts'. The third lesson we learn't was an affirmation of human nature at its best and its worst. Some 'experts' were a contradiction in terms whilst others were simply outstanding sharing their own experiences, knowledge and information. These are the unsung heroes of our passion and we have and continue to learn a great deal from these people.

Whilst by no means in the upper echelon of the listing community we have, over the years, accumulated a fairly competent list. Of the 960 or so species recorded in the region we've seen 816, photographed 785 and ringed 320 (more on this later). Our provincial lists are perhaps a better reflection of the time we've spent in the field. Our Mpumalanga list of 500 species would be considered decent. Our Limpopo list of 495 and our 'Gauteng and surrounds' list of 425 species is not bad either. We're especially proud of our Kruger list (430 species) where we spend a great deal of our 'disposable' time. So whilst our provincial lists near our home in Johannesburg are considered reasonable, our Southern Africa list falls a little short.

The Southern Africa region, in birding parlance and for listing purposes, traditionally encompasses all of Mozambique south of the Zambezi river, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and the continental shelf off the coasts of South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia. We have steadfastly refused to spend any time in Zimbabwe for our own personal reasons; Alisha is a terrible sailor and like everybody else, juggling time and children has its influence on freedom of movement. By virtue of these facts we haven't spent enough time out at sea as we might have if circumstances were different. 30% of the birds we haven't seen can only be seen out to sea. The Zimbabwe endemics or near-endemics (birds confined to a specific country) we haven't seen either. We hope to change that this year.

So why the '800 Challenge'? Three immediate reasons come to mind. Firstly, we love to travel and we love rural Africa. Spending time in the field feeds our soul. Secondly, our Southern Africa list needs some bolstering.. and thirdly, perhaps most importantly, here's a personal challenge, just for the hell of it, with clearly defined Ts&Cs and definitive time constraints. There are no prizes or commendations which suits us just fine.

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