Ed’s letter: Greenish pigeon, lekker plumage, red bits

Posted by Justin Fox on 23 May 2018

Knysna Turaco Image: stock

We were in Grade Six. Both of us were intrepid explorers. James Blomerus and I built model aeroplanes after school, frequented the secret corners of Newlands Forest and had a common interest in World War II. It was December hols and James invited me to join his family at Great Brak River on the Garden Route. Our days were filled with brave adventures, such as canoeing, bodysurfing, tormenting James’s younger sister and shooting Nazi soldiers.

However, that glorious summer holiday was significant for a quite different reason. Birds. James had an old, battered Roberts Birds book and one afternoon we borrowed his father’s binoculars and retired to the dune forest. James knew everything about ornithology and could easily tell the difference between a dove and a pigeon, even without the book. It was comforting to be in such good hands.

Once we’d grown accustomed to the columned darkness of the forest, we began spotting our first fowl. There were sunbirds and waxbills, robin-chats and boubous. Roberts proved a clumsy tome and we had trouble identifying the flighty denizens. Nonetheless, I was instantly hooked on this curious form of hunting. In our hands was a treasure map of sorts. Towards the end of our First Bird Hunt, we glimpsed a thing of rare magnificence that stopped us dead in our tracks. Quick: the book! Greenish pigeon, lekker plumage, red bits. Loerie, must be a loerie! It was a Knysna turaco and we were smitten.

Subsequent national-park holidays intensified my avian interest. A journey to Botswana with my parents was pivotal. Our guide on that four-day camping trip through the Okavango was a devoted twitcher. His careful list-making of sightings prompted me to do the same. His devotion to birds brought me to an understanding of how we can enhance our enjoyment of any journey by focusing on birds.

I was recently barging in the south of France with my friend John Maytham. The journey was supposed to be all about croissants, chateaux and Champagne. But there was John, ticking off his list of redstarts, warblers, serins and harriers, perhaps even a rare Bonelli’s eagle. Although John is a lunatic-fringe twitcher (and will easily spend an entire holiday, and savings, chasing a skittish rufescent sap-sucking booby), the idea of making birds a part of travel is a fine one.

Incidentally, 2018 is the Year of the Bird. It marks the centenary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most important bird-protection law ever passed in the US. The statute made it unlawful (without a waiver) to kill or sell more than 800 species. In the years since its enactment, the act has saved millions, perhaps billions, of birds. As Thomas Lovejoy, biologist and godfather of biodiversity, once said: ‘If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.’ (Visit act.audubon.org for more info.)

It is thus appropriate that our feathered friends flit through the pages of this issue. Feast your eyes on the beautiful images submitted from around the world for the 2018 Bird Photographer of the Year competition (page 64). Our Getaway Gallery finalists have also produced some classic bird shots this month (page 34). If you’re inspired to go to Dullstroom (page 117), the Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre captivates visitors with its avian displays, including Rooney the secretary bird that spars with rubber snakes. If you’re lucky, you might end up with a spotted eagle owl perched on your head. Now what, I ask you, could be more thrilling than that?

Enjoy this issue.

This month’s contributors

Melanie van Zyl – Namibia, page 88

Although she’s leaving the Getaway offices after five-and-a-half years on the team, Melanie will still explore the best of Southern Africa (and hopefully further) as a freelance travel writer, destination photographer and professional camper, bringing her best trips and tips to these pages. For this issue, she rediscovered her hometown, Joburg, and mapped out the ultimate road trip in the Namib Desert. Follow her adventures at melanievanzyl.com.

Matthew Sterne – KZN South Coast, page 50

Matthew is a perpetual daydreamer and spends much of his time staring out of windows, thinking of strange travel plans and working on an ode to roadside pies (‘Oh, tasty pastry, screw biosafety, give me your gravy’). At school, his mental wanderlust irritated teachers, but now he just claims he’s thinking about his next story, the latest of which appears in this issue – a road trip down the South Coast, where bunny chows and the soulful sounds of Vuma FM powered his journey.

Welcome Lishivha – Joburg, page 82

After a Jozi jazz assignment, our multimedia journalist now calls himself an ex-Capetonian. He fell in love with Joburg’s social scene and packed his bags at the end of last year to heed the call of its music and lights. The City of Gold is now his home, so you’ll find him out gallivanting on the streets. His non-fiction piece, Site Visits, about Joburg’s queer spaces, is shortlisted for this year’s Gerald Kraak anthology. For this issue of Getaway, he keeps his exploration to one street.

Narina Exelby – Barcelona, page 96

Narina is based in a fishing village in Bali’s far west (yes, it’s true). Out there, life is simple and wine is almost impossible to find. And so, when she travelled to Barcelona late last year, she made sure to sample cava (Catalonia’s version of sparkling wine) whenever she could. She also battled to adjust to the tourist crowds, causing her to jump from bus to bus to find neighbourhoods travellers rarely visit. Read her story to see where her backstreet wanderings led her.

This story first appeared in the June 2018 issue of Getaway magazine.

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