For the last 2 years my blogging has been about birding trips, birding spots, holidays etc which has been very rewarding for me – I love recalling some of the great moments and places we have been. Now I believe it’s time to broaden the scope of my ramblings to include my take on particular birds that I have become familiar with over the years.
There are plenty of birding books out there and a number of Apps that make it simple to access a mountain of detail information on every species in your locality, so I will be taking a more informal, down-to-earth look at a random selection of birds, on a regular basis. A sobering thought is that, if I manage to do one species per week, it will take me 16 years to cover the 850-odd “regular” species in Southern Africa (excluding the vagrants that drive twitchers crazy every now and then). By that time I will have had my 84th birthday – if I’m lucky enough to still be around – talk about long-term planning!
Where to start?
I wasn’t sure what species to kick off with, then I had a moment of clarity (happens infrequently when you reach pensioner age) and decided that I would start at the beginning …………… of my birding career. So I went back to my very first records, written into my first copy of Roberts Birds of South Africa, which I purchased during one of our early visits to Kruger National Park. This was around 1978 and it was only about 10 years later that I started listing birds with any regularity – 3 kids growing up and a busy professional career tend to keep you busy and don’t leave time for much else.
The very first bird recorded was noted in the margin of my Roberts : “Woodland Kingfisher, 27 August 1978, seen KNP”. Well it seems I managed to start with an incorrect ID, as the Woodland Kingfishers are migrants that only arrive in Southern Africa from October…… so it was probably a Brown-hooded Kingfisher that I saw that August.
The next one was more likely to be a correct ID, particularly in Kruger, and hard to confuse with any other bird – the note in the margin says “Saddle-billed Stork, 28 August 1978, seen KNP” – so that’s where I am going to start.
- Saddle-billed Stork
- Saalbekooievaar (Afrikaans)
- Kandjendje, Hukuinihlanga (Indigenous)
- Sattelstorch (German)
- Jabiru d’Afrique (French)
- Zadelbekooievaar (Dutch)
- Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis (Scientific)
That scientific name is very long-winded but if you break it down it starts to make sense : the first part is the Genus which is derived from the Greek words “ephippos” for “Saddle” and “rhyncos” for “bill” and refers to the frontal shield which “saddles” the bill. The second part is the species name which in this case is based on where it was discovered
Despite their large size, they are seldom close enough for a finely detailed photo, unless you are lucky enough to come across one near a hide.
Most of my photos have been taken at a fair distance, but I did once get some shots of a pair in flight as they came into land on the river bed just below where we had stopped, near Letaba in Kruger National Park.
Where to find it
This is one species that is almost exclusively found in protected areas such as the National Parks and then only those in the northern parts of Southern Africa. Most likely place to find this species is in Kruger Park, along the larger rivers, such as the Shingwedzi, Letaba and Sabie Rivers. They may also be found in wetlands in savannah areas.
The didtribution map below is from SABAP2
Look …….. and Listen
This is such a stand-out bird that it is unlikely to be confused with any other.
It will be standing on its own or with a partner on the river bed or in the shallows. It stands about 1,2m tall so a 7 year old child is going to be looking it straight in the eye, although it won’t compete on weight, being just 6kgs or so (it’s those long thin legs, you see). Adults have a wingspan of some 2,5m which is as wide as a Smart Car is long. In flight they fly with neck outstretched, like all Storks, compared to Herons which fly with necks drawn in
Most noticeable feature is the massive bill, from which it gets its name and which is bright red with a black “saddle” in the middle. Other than that they are, like most storks, a combination of black and white. Oh, and they have red knees (actually their ankles) and feet , just to make them look really cool
The Saddle-billed Stork is not known to call so don’t bother trying to listen for it!
Conservation status is listed as “Least Concern” on the Red Data list – it is reducing in numbers gradually due to loss of wetland habitat (which affects a lot of species) but is still widespread over most of tropical Africa
Nesting is done on the top of a tall tree – we once came across a nest in Kruger with a young Saddlebill doing short jumps on top of a nest of large twigs, seemingly testing its wings before taking the big plunge – quite comical but very serious if you are a young Stork about to head into the world.
The following photos are of that event but please forgive the poor quality – scanned from negatives taken 25 years ago!
Roberts Birds of Southern Africa