Birdwatching is a highly rewarding pastime. But searching for rare bird species is even more of an adrenaline rush. There is something special about having an encounter with a rare bird, the more elusive inhabitants of the wild. Many of us go might not even realize we are in the presence of an infrequent species, but, more often than not, sightings of such birds are based on pure luck. To be a fair there is a degree of skill involved that can be applied to make such sightings become more of a common occurrence. Having a guide book helps a great deal for finding these rarities, and for the more tech-savvy birdwatchers, there are a number of apps that make identification a breeze.
Madikwe Game Reserve is not only famous for its abundance of big game, but for its lesser-known resident and migratory bird species. Elusive residents and migrants who at times get overlooked because of their slim likelihood to be spotted. Fortunately, it’s not impossible to see or even hear them, all it takes is a keen eye to observe and an eager ear to listen.
As far as rarities go in the reserve, the 2013 sighting of a Pectoral Sandpiper might take first prize, a bird that resides in the northern hemisphere and whose appearance sparked interest among the veteran birdwatchers. Then again, another bird which is very seldom seen in these parts is the mysterious African Finfoot, a species that ‘walks on water’ due to its low take-offs over waterbodies. Probably a little more common that the Pectoral Sandpiper, but a bird worth seeking out nonetheless.
The bragging rights for many a Madikwe birder is the rare yellow form of the Crimson-Breasted Shrike which has been recorded every so often. Occasionally seen flitting from tree-to-tree in the reserve, it is an extremely rare morph of the species that gets travellers, rangers and trackers excitable. Raptors can be a tricky to identify for even the most seasoned ‘twitcher’ – but one confirmed rarity is the Long-legged Buzzard, a bird that is reputed to have only been seen here several times in the area since 1895.
Depending where you are in the country, flamingos are hardly a species that many would think to be uncommon. But in Madikwe, sightings of the Greater and Lesser Flamingos are treasured moments. These unmistakable birds are attracted to fertile estuaries where there is enough algae and crustaceans for them to sift through the silt for. Their occasional presence is a welcome sight.
The Blue-cheeked Bee-eater is another species that you’d be lucky to see in Madikwe. This striking bird, with its blue-marked face, black eye stripe and curved bill, resides mostly in sub-tropical and semi-desert regions throughout mostly North Africa, but it has been spotted in the reserve by a fortunate few.
Madikwe’s pristine conditions are favourable for so many birds, over 350 species and counting, excluding once-offs, flukes and strokes of pure luck. Who knows what the next rarity to be spotted will be?