“Sometimes I think that the point of birdwatching is not the actual seeing of the birds, but the cultivation of patience. Of course, each time we set out, there’s a certain amount of expectation we’ll see something, maybe even a species we’ve never seen before, and that it will fill us with light. But even if we don’t see anything remarkable – and sometimes that happens – we come home filled with light anyway.”
– Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir
There is a difference between birdwatching and birding.
The experts say that if you can recognise a bird by sight then you are a birdwatcher but if you can recognise a bird by sound, behaviour or habitat, if you know how old they are, have binoculars costing more than an arm and a leg and if you travel to see birds, well, then you are a birder.
I’m not a birder; according to the definition of the experts I’m barely a birdwatcher, but there’s something about sitting still watching feathers flapping, listening to beaks babbling, occasionally identifying a sight, a sound and grabbing a bird guide from the pile of bird guides to confirm a species of some sort.
I’m not a birder; according to the definition of experts I’m barely a birdwatcher but if there is one person who is a birder-birdwatcher-and-bird-whisperer then it is Paul Nkhumane from Kurisa Moya.
Paul Nkhumane is not only a BirdLife SA-accredited guide but he is also one of the top five guides in the country, so when I got the opportunity to make the trek all the way up to Limpopo from Port Elizabeth for the launch of the Chevrolet Trailblazer, I just knew I had to add squeeze in some time for birdwatching in Magoebaskloof, especially after reading about it on 2summers’ blog.
I sent an e-mail to Lisa, owner of the Kurisa Moya eco-lodge, and before I knew it I had a time confirmed and Paul’s number saved on my phone under, “Paul the Bird Guy”.
“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
– Robert Lynd
Birdwatching in Magoebaskloof with a Bird Whisperer
With binoculars around his neck – already in birdwatching-mode – Paul picked me up from the hotel I was staying at; right from the start we talked and he exchanged interesting birding facts and snippets of his life and how he became such an avid birder.
Paul’s love for nature – and inevitably birds – runs in the family; he inherited his green heart from his father who worked as a ranger at a big five game reserve in Limpopo where he and his brother would spend multiple school vacations; learning, playing and visiting at the same time. He became a BirdLife SA-accredited guide and started working at Kurisa Moya, well-known for being one of the top bird-watching spots in the area…
That was nine years ago; a lot of birds have come and gone, but to this day, there are still behaviours and sights surprising Paul from Woodbush forest of Magoebaskloof to Limpopo’s grasslands.
A little birdie told me about Woodbush Forest
As I entered Woodbush Forest my heart skipped a proverbial beat; for as long as I can remember the Garden Route’s Outeniqua Forest was my first forest love with its louries, yellowwood giants, streams and ferns.
But it had strong competition.
I went weak in the knees and for a moment I forgot about birds and birdwatching, I forgot about my first forest love and what I came to do in the forest.
I squinted my eyes and filled my lungs with a forest bouquet; bright green, light green, lime green, fern green, forest green, spring green and shamrock green surrounded me from left to right, top to bottom. It was love at first forest sight; I cheated on the Garden Route’s Southern splendour with the Northern Magoebaskloof magnificence without even batting an eyelid. Another path, another shade of green, another fern, another unfaithful skip of a heartbeat under the forest ceiling – no shame, no regrets – just the Woodbush forest and its whispers of evergreen romance in my ear.
For a moment I forgot about birds and birdwatching until Paul stopped in his steps after hearing a bird call; he lifted his binoculars up to his face and my eyes followed as he pointed with his finger.
Woodbush Forest is well-known for the Cape Parrot, Bat Hawk, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Narina Trogon, Green Twinspot, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Knysna Turaco, White-starred Robin, Orange Ground Thrush, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Barratt’s Warbler to name a few.
Birdwatching in the forest is hard and taking photos of the forest birds is even harder; one minute I was hastily trying to locate a bird through the lens and the next minute I just decided to take the advice I so love to give and switched off my camera to just enjoy the party of birds above my head.
Paul handed me his Swarovski binoculars to see the very rare Black-fronted Bush-Shrike and there, with my neck tilted to the back in permanent birdwatching-position, I let out a sigh as I saw the yellow-orange-coloured bird in all its unparalleled glory.
I’m not a birder and according to the definition of experts I’m barely a birdwatcher but I am, forever and always, a lover of all things nature; a nemophilist: fond of forest or forests, a haunter of the woods.
(Sorry for cheating on you Outeniqua forest, you are still special and close to my heart).
5 Tips from Paul Nkhumane for Birdwatching in Magoebaskloof
- Don’t wear any bright colours.
- Early morning is the best time for birdwatching (and then late afternoon).
- Don’t disturb the birds’ natural habitat; stay on the paths to avoid interfering or stepping on eggs or juveniles.
- Be patient.
- If you are a photographer, make sure that you put aside enough time for birdwatching.
More Details on Birdwatching in Magoebaskloof and Kurisa Moya
Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge in Magoebaskloof – about a 3 to 4 hour drive from Johannesburg – boasts two of South Africa’s top bird guides, Paul Nkhumane and David Letsoalo who can take guests out in Magoebaskloof, Polokwane, Tzaneen, Woodbush Forest and Mamabolo Grasslands. Bird tours can be anything from 2 hours to 8 hours and they can tailor-make an outing for you depending on your wish-list.
Rates start from around R600 and Kurisa Moya residents can enjoy discounted rates and no transport fee.
For more information – and for accommodation in Magoebaskloof – please visit www.krm.co.za.
Thank you Lisa and Paul for one unforgettable experience!