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Who would have thought that birding could be life threatening? And not just through ultimatums from irate spouses who are sick of you disappearing into the bush with your binoculars every weekend.

Geoff could simply not resist taking just one more photograph of a co-operative little Barred Owlet in Talamati camp of the Kruger National Park during this past weekend’s Kruger Birding Weekend. He was packed up and ready to head on his way back home but felt compelled to see if the posing little owl was still around so that he could add a few more photographs to the 356 pics he had already taken of it. Of course it was on a photogenic perch so he slowly crept closer, taking photos as he went. Just one step closer and ZAP, he felt something attach itself to his shin. Looking down, he saw a two metre long Boomslang chewing on him! Geoff jumped, and slapped the snake off his leg before taking the final few photos of the little owl. He then calmly sat down, washed the venom off his leg. He considered his options and decided that because it was probably a Boomslang bite where the venom acts slowly, he would have time to drive the six hours back to JHB.

On arrival at the hospital, doctors could not believe that it was a Boomslang that bit him because Boomslang bites are so rare – usually only reported by snake handlers. However, after tests confirmed that his blood was not clotting, doctors started with treatment. Geoff is still in the Mill Park hospital and is now getting itchy feet to get out of bed and find some more birds. On average, only one Boomslang bite a year is recorded for the whole of Southern Africa. So, in a warped sense, Geoff is a very lucky birder – not many of us will be able to compete with his ‘scary birding’ story.

Seriously, chat to any birder and he will have some ‘war stories’ about the snake he saw while searching for the Angola Pitta or the rhino that charged the vehicle in Mkuze the day they say the Pink-throated Twinspots. The day will always be remembered by the birds that they saw, and a twitcher will start a story by saying ‘Well, on the day we saw the Black-fronted Bush-Shrike in Magoebaskloof ..’ and a story filled with heroics and danger will follow. I can hear Geoff at the dinner party already, ‘There was this fantastic little Barred Owlet in Talamati Camp’

Maybe it is a good idea to look down from time to time when you are birding so you can live to tell the tale.

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