BeKZN Learn in the Field – Bird Calls

Hawaan Nature Reserve – Birding by Ear !

5 june 2022

Its a beautiful forest

Bird Calls, Mindful Moments or Forest Bathing – it was all three!

A group of 20 members joined us for a new type of activity. It was lovely to have a blend of new members and long-standing ones and also some with lots of call knowledge and some beginners. A trip to Hawaan Forest Nature Reserve which has not been accessible to members over quite some time combined with the aim of learning bird calls. We chose to do this in winter while the bird calls were not too many or too varied.

We met at the forest gate at 06h30 – so many people were there already I thought Ticky and I were late! However, once the group was fully assembled we moved into the forest where one of the participants aptly said ‘we should have brought torches’. The later winter sunrise combined with the dense canopy of this beautiful forest meant that very little light was penetrating through to the paths at that time. So with a few nervous giggles we followed Ticky along the path he and I had raked and cleared the day before (we only lost our way briefly once).

A quiet and peaceful moment

The light soon changed and within 10 mins we were able to see a bit more as we gathered at our first forest bathing point to listen to the bird song and calls. People got into comfortable positions and gathered in a loose group on chairs and picnic blankets on the forest floor. The initial learning required people to listen carefully to the calls and try to register how many species they could hear – if they could name them they did but it was more about listening to the various calls and starting to separate them. The participants were given some information on the difference between calls and songs and what they should listen for and how to make notes on what they were hearing. We then enjoyed the bird song and sat together listening and making notes in (people) silence. Despite being in a group everyone was incredibly good at concentrating and focussing quietly on the birds.

Listening carefully

After a few minutes we stopped the silent treatment and chatted about the dominant calls being heard using descriptions like whistle, squawk, bubbly, jumbled notes, single bird, two birds (duet) or many birds. A number of people managed to identify some of the common urban species and most people recorded that they could hear 7 – 12 species. The initial birds calling included the strident and familiar Hadeda Ibis, Sombre Greenbul, Spectacled Weaver, Village Weaver, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, African Paradise Flycatcher, Red-capped Robin Chat and Dark-backed Weaver.

Sombre Greenbul

We discussed all of the calls we had heard and we shared what the sounds were with species names called as the sounds were repeated to allow people to practise listening and identifying.

We then moved onto the next station along the path and to my relief we had a slightly different assemblage of birds. The group was asked to try and illustrate or draw the bird calls they were hearing with a single note indicated as a short sharp point through to repeated notes or long drawn out whistles. Again we embraced the forest and listened for the calls and those who were more experienced call identifiers were able to instantly add to their lists.

A diagram with drawings of the duet of a Southern Boubou – broken up to the component parts to fix the call to memory and understand what you are hearing. The first two whistles are short loud ascending notes by the male followed by the lower frequency whistles of the female in answer.

Slightly deeper into the forest the new location added the calls of Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Common Squaretailed Drongo, Southern Boubou, Collared, Grey and Olive Sunbird, Bar-throated Apalis and Green-backed Camaroptera. Our list at the end of the 2.5 hour exercise was 21 birds recorded on call.

Bar-throated Apalis
Forest Bathing or a Mindful Moment – either way it was a good morning

Quite amusingly we were the animals being observed – while sitting quietly a group of Vervet Monkeys surrounded us in the trees making all sorts of noises while observing the strange interlopers in their forest. A funny moment.

All too quickly it was time to return to the urban noises and people were tasked with going back to practise on birds in their gardens and get ready for the next forest sojourn to learn a little more.

A second BeKZN Learn in the Field to focus on bird calls will be held in September again so join us if you are interested in learning and hearing more.

Photos and Report by Nicolette Forbes

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