Home is where the Hadeda hollers

2010-02-27 00:00

MY rather restless world has brought me to Sabie again, this time to be a real-live gogo — granny to my darling granddaughter from England — but there is always time for the birds.

Have you noticed how the birds love to sing early in the morning, at first light, just when you really do not want to wake up? There are two good reasons for this; the air is clear and uncluttered by the noises of the day, and the insects are cold and unmoving and thus not readily available as tasty snacks. The clear air allows the birds’ messages of either love or “keep-out-of-my-territory” to be heard far and wide; we humans call this the dawn chorus. Not all birdsong is music to our ears — many folk complain about the raucous shout of the Hadeda. Remember that this is the only sound that this delightful bird is capable of making — evolution dictates here and the bird can do nothing about it now. So next time the Hadeda wakes you much earlier than you wish with its harsh cry, think of it as a birdy alarm clock reminding you that there is still time to snuggle under the blankets and enjoy some more snooze before getting up.

I love the call of the Hadeda. It revives memories of coming back from a long walk in the Berg as the evening settled in and the Hadedas were winging their way to their night-time stations, calling greetings and news as they gathered. It is a call that my son in England misses the most; it is the true call of Africa. But I do have a teeny bit of sympathy with the Hadeda-call-haters; outside my bedroom window here in Sabie, at some unearthly hour, a perky little male House Sparrow sends his messages loud and clear for all to hear. You think the Hadeda is unmusical? Well the House Sparrow simply goes “chip-chip-chip” in a monotonous, loud and harsh voice; on and on until my head is sure a hammer is trapped and trying to escape. Getting out of bed becomes the only option — a real pleasure in fact.

Devastating fires a couple of years ago ravaged many of the plantations in this area and the newly-planted areas have lots of seeding grasses. These in turn provide a feast for the rodent population, which in their turn are food for the many different birds of prey in the area.

Nature has many of these cycles: in this case, as the trees shade out the grass, so the rodents will not breed quite so prolifically and many of the rodent-eating eagles will move away to other areas. An enterprising local forester, Robert ­Kgwedi, a keen birder, has constructed and erected “raptor perches”, rather like a telephone pole with a T-piece across the top, and the Steppe Buzzards, Long-crested Eagles, Black-shouldered Kites, Jackal Buzzards and, at night, Spotted Eagle-Owls all take full advantage of these new outlook points. Rodents beware!

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