Capping Off Your Safari

On paper I’m a trip planner, but when I get right down to it I’m a photographer who loves being in Africa. I love snapping a photo of a camouflaged leopard, or capturing the majesty of a herd of elephants on the move. Birds have always been less of a priority—they’re hard for a photographer. They are tiny, far away, and as soon as you have them in focus they fly off. After watching a lot of big game, however, it’s also important to look at the small stuff. Thankfully Botswana’s birds are beautiful, colourful, and in such numbers that even a non-birder like me can’t help but be fascinated by them.

On my latest research trip to Botswana, I was lucky enough to stay at three Great Plains Conservation camps: Selinda Explorers, Zarafa, and Duba Plains. All were fabulous, but the most intriguing part was the birding challenge that the smart people at Great Plains have devised. It’s called the 111 Club; spot 111 birds in three days and you win a cap, as well as “lots of ornithological glory”, in the words of the company itself.

As we stopped by Selinda for a visit, I grabbed the list and started ticking off the birds on the way to Zarafa. I had the first 86 in less than 24 hours; I didn’t realize how much I knew until I started actively looking and crossing them off the list. A few I knew well like the Malachite Kingfisher, a lovely little fella who will actually pose for photos. The Tawney Eagle, not so much—he was looking for dinner and not interested in having his picture taken.

Finding the new birds was an interesting challenge. The last 25 took me a bit longer. The Black Collared Barbet is very pretty, and then there’s the Black Shouldered Kite that hovers while he hunts for food in the grass; he was something else to watch. Eventually the search comes down to grabbing your binoculars and looking through the bush at something small and far away, and then consulting the bird bible and sorting out which one it is. Learning about new birds and checking them off was a fabulous way to really see the nuances of Botswana, and oddly addictive to boot. I still took photographs of the big cats and elephants, but came away with a new appreciation for the birds… and a rather stylish new hat.

Yvonne is one of our African experts, who has never once called herself a birder… until now. Get in touch with us if you’d like to win your own entry into the 111 Club.

Botswana's birds are beautiful, colourful, and in such numbers that even a non-birder like me can't help but be fascinated by them.

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