Most committed birders know how difficult forest birding can be – the dense vegetation, tiny birds (by comparison) and limited view is enough to drive anyone crazy. Overgrown paths, usually involving steep hikes means new muscles start hurting. Most surprisingly will be those ‘unused’ neck and arm muscles from holding bino’s in awkward positions for extended periods of time and in all different directions – including directly above! Forest birding does become greatly easier once you can I.D. birds species by call – which allows you to search for specific species instead of being overwhelmed by the chorus of bird songs coming from all directions, however this isn’t an easy feat for the novice or even established birders. So what keeps birders coming back for more? Forest birding is incredibly rewarding. It’s usually much cooler in the warmer months, and therefore the birds (and the birder) are more active for longer after dawn. You are surrounded by the most surreal and enchanting setting, and it’s simply a case of quality over quantity. Almost every bird seen can be a ‘special’ (a general term for a rare, or rarely seen species of bird).
Although forest birding can be a challenge, these few simple tricks will help you to regain your composure after a few frustrating “It’s gone, nevermind” moments. Firstly, the best way to bird in a forest is to walk and stop often. Listen for ‘bird parties’ (a term used to describe a number of different species seeming to following each other), and point your bino’s in that direction. Be patient and be quiet. You will be surprised at how the forest comes alive once you stop and stand still. Secondly, you must have patience. First time forest birders – I would highly recommend not taking a camera with. Use your binos, allow your eyes to adjust to a search technique, get your “ticks” and try again with a camera next time. Big lenses and quick movements whilst slinging a pair of binos, a bird book and a monopod is not always the best way to remain calm! Lastly, remember to look around…in the hunt for a new species or rare bird, we can sometimes forget the truly beautfiful environment surrounding us, often with lots of other animal species such as bushbuck, duiker (grey and red), porcupine, vervet and samango monkeys (depending on location) and even caracal and leopard!
Four amazing forest birding sites of note in Limpopo and Mpumalanga would be Mogoebaskloof (Woodbush drive), Mariepskop Nature Reserve. Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve and Mount Sheba Nature reserve.