Ed’s letter: on falling in love with birds

Posted by A on 23 October 2017

I was 10 when I had my first defining bird experience. I’ll never forget it.

I was sitting in the back of my parents’ beige Volkswagen Passat parked at the side of a beige dirt road in Mkhuze Game Reserve as hot air rolled in through the window. To the right of us was a large lanky black chicken, the object of my father’s rapt attention. It was stalking through scrub. Stalking schmalking, we children thought. Dad’s got distracted.

We’re hungry! Then, kapow! Instead of the chicken, there stood a showgirl, lush jet-black feathers crowning her fierce head. She held her huge wings akimbo, an expression of pure fury on her face, and began to kick her legs like an Irish dancer on speed. Then it was done. A snake slithered down her throat, and was gone. The lanky chicken was back.

‘What is that?!’ we cried. A secretary bird, said my dad smugly, as if he’d known all along we’d be treated to the bush’s finest cancan show. I’ve been hooked on birds ever since.

My dad passed on the baton of nature-love to us kids. I think of it as a game of tag for wild spaces, for what will the world become if we don’t pass it on? There’ll be many more stressed Cape parrots (read this story in our November issue on page 82) and orangutans (page 98) as habitat slowly disappears. Young love for nature is the most enduring and has the best results for conservation. Recently I was at the Tusk Conservation Awards. Five people were nominated; four of them spoke of how their passion started as a result of experiences in their youth.

With this in mind, I suggested introducing Daniel, my friend’s seven-year-old, to Legs, who lives at Eagle Encounters at Spier. This secretary bird also has a whole host of rescue friends I was sure he’d be fascinated by – owls, eagles, hawks, crows. Daniel seemed alarmed as a handler flew a barn owl overhead. He leaned in close to me when she settled on a pole over his head. But I caught an expression of wonder on his face as he looked into her snowy down face. I was sure he was hooked, lined up and about to sink for the wild.

It was time for the coup de grâce. I said, ‘Let’s go look at Legs.’ Here I planned to deliver the startling nugget that a secretary bird kicks with a force five times its body weight (195 newtons to be precise*). Daniel loves a good scientific fact. But he turned to me with a look of exasperation. ‘Sonya!’ he said firmly. ‘Don’t get distracted. Let’s go eat. I’m hungry!’

Enjoy our special ‘green’ issue, with its many gorgeous nature destinations.


4 things to look out for in the November issue

The Ultimate Game of Tag: Spreading Green Wine

There’s something we’ve noticed: since farmers began making eco-friendly wine, their districts are becoming wilder, prettier and lovely to be in. And the good practices are spreading. PLUS find out who this year’s Green Wine Award winners are (page 127).

12 Off-the-grid Campsites

We know you love camping. We know you love being in nature. So we chose these spots that we’re certain you’ll love chilling in. We certainly did. Turn to page 72.


What’s not to love about this island that’s gorgeous, friendly and just a four-hour hop away? Having to think about its sustainability. So we’ve come up with four eco lodges that do the thinking for us (page 90).

The Good-Value Star

Each issue of Getaway has several inexpensive accommodation options, places to stay for under R550 per person (some for less) and that we think offer good value. We’ve marked these with a star.


This month’s contributors

Narina Exelby – Borneo, page 98

Based in South East Asia for the past three, four or possibly five years (island life has a way of making time irrelevant), Narina lives in a bamboo ‘tree house’ on the far west coast of Bali. She’s happy when walking in the region’s rainforests and has unintentionally made a habit of trekking during the height of the rainy season, once spending 13 hours ‘trapped’ in a hammock with her partner. He’s still her favourite person.

Dale Morris – Serengeti, page 66

Dale grew up in London and fled the urban jungle as soon as he was old enough to travel solo. Since then, he has lived in Thailand, Australia, Greece, Nigeria, Ecuador and Costa Rica, finally putting down roots in South Africa (where he lives on the Garden Route with his wife, kids and pet crow). As well as being an award-winning journalist, Dale also leads photographic expeditions all over the globe.

Kati Auld – Zanzibar, page 90

Kati is an anchovy enthusiast, a fairweather runner and a reformed backpacker. We sent her back to the scene of her first adventure, Zanzibar, to look beyond the coconuts and idyllic beaches for eco-friendly projects and places worth travelling for. Beer wasn’t officially part of the assignment, but she managed to get an up-close look at that too.


Janine Stephen – Hogsback, page 82

Yellowwood trees and rare, strange-tongued birds in one misty realm? Editor and writer Janine, who has clocked up hundreds of stories on people and places over the years, remembers bits of Hogsback from a long-ago family holiday when she stood not much higher than a gnome. She was delighted to head back and find out more about the relationship between Cape parrots and South Africa’s national tree.




See more in our November issue.

Get this issue →

Our special green issue features the best off-the-grid campsites, fantastic holiday stays in Wilderness, an affordable jungle trail in Borneo, incredible eco-lodges in Zanzibar and the winners of our Getaway Green Wine Awards!


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