Birdlife’s #BBD2018: ‘Preparations’

Birdlife’s Birding Big Day [#BBD2018], juxtaposed on our local ‘Wider Gauteng Challenge’, lends some black & white authenticity to what is usually a colourful year; at least it should do, but doesn’t always.

We’re committed to another #BBD, at the 11th hour, in a quest for exclusivity that is almost an obsession. It’s laughable. What fun eh, if you can’t have a poke in the mirror?

…usually a colourful year

For those of you who don’t know, Birding Big Day is a sub-regional, 24-hr birding marathon usually held in late November. Teams [max. 4 peeps] select their preferred route and record as many bird species as they can in the allotted time. All routes are limited to the habitat within the confines of a 50 km radius; the radius calculated from any selected, central point.

Teams cover most of the region’s geography & yes, it’s competitive & no, nobody gets culled from the flock. Crying is universal if the weather or ‘the list’ fails to meet expectations. Almost certainly this year’s attempt will be our last; at least it will be in Gauteng’s North Eastern Woodlands, the same route we return to [again] this year.

What fun eh, if you can’t have a poke in the mirror?

In 2005, the Raiders of the Lost Lark, a pioneering, competent team of 4, broke through the magical 300 barrier – that’s 300 species recorded [seen / heard / ‘suspected’ (perish the thought)] in 24 hours. Their route traversed the North Eastern Woodlands east and NE of Gauteng’s Pretoria. Since then, other teams have tried to emulate their success & failed. I know we have, without much joy and I’ll tell you why – no imagination.


In recent years the Limpopo’s Zonke iNyone have set new highs, recording lists in excess of 325 species. Fair dinkum – nicely done & al’ that, but 330 falls short of 350 and we know 350 rounds-down to the next break-thru, up. The record’s better, of course – revolutionary, probably not. Elsewhere, Mpumalanga has seen its own winning crack @ 300. I’m not aware of a KZN 300, a hinterland 300 or even a coastal 300 – ducks ripe for the plucking, methinks, if these haven’t, in fact, been plucked before.

The Raider’s accomplishment is detailed in their co-authored [& locally funded] book – ‘The Chamberlain Guide to Birding Gauteng‘ [page 201]. Local birders, worthy of that recognition, consider a copy essential reading. It’s that good and I mention the book because therein lies the nexus of the farce. Within its pages are a lifetime’s learning & experience laid out like a Japanese karesansui – i.e. in neat, cleanly-raked piles. Extensive, easy-reading text covers the subject matter broadly without detracting from the more technical aspects of the many routes recommended, the habitats traversed, and the species represented en route. In fact, sans the kitchen sink, most everything else is included.

Those of us, & we are legion, who follow the original trail & fail to tip a hat to its founding members, are bastions of plagiarism & lifetime residents on Cloud Cuckoo-land. This is a closed community and we’re not all strangers to sobriety. There’ll be a few sniggers.

Over the months preceding the Raider attempt, the team logged 4000 km of preparatory reconnaissance, criss-crossing the North Eastern Woodlands multiple times in an effort to fine-tune the *time [*’of day‘ & minutes] spent @ each locale. By way of comparison, Alisha was out yesterday &, pink-slip in-hand, I spent that time ‘cross-checking’ the current conditions against the given theory – i.e. driving segments of the Raider-route. We haven’t been to the North Eastern Woodlands since #BBD2017. Additionally, we kept an eye on the mini-#BBD results [something new] & noted the current gen. – the who, where, what & why. No point ignoring tickety-boo research, is there? Facebook gave me… nothing. To be fair, attempts have been made to collate & publish the current gen. on the local conditions; a request that largely went un-mucked; manure flying everywhere. One luminary requested help timing the Raider-route; i.e. to optimise their yummiest score (presumably). These be new standards for ‘birding by numbers’. Get out there man – do your thing.

Honestly, a fair-to-middling breakfast, some literacy, a working knowledge of local bird calls and a tankful of fuel – clockwise or anti-the clock – & viola – you’ve shot & scored. ‘Tis that easy & yes, Dear Socialite – if you don’t get to 250 on the Raider-route; well now, there be sniggers…



Extending the ‘Research’ effort ([i.e. sifting] through Facebook) – an unwinding of the clock, à la Dr Strange, if you will – I came across one or two rehashed / recycled posts – completely unrelated to this blog btw. [… yes, yes – the attention span of a gnat. I know]. The posts had, as a common thread, the gnashing of wills & the wringing of hands. These lamented the veracity of some of the species ‘seen’ and subsequently recorded on the Wider list; species deemed impossible, questionable & in a nutshell: – the jolly-good-rogering of Ol’ Man Plausible hisself! Not nice. Fact is, most were fat finger errors – & a fairly obvious observation… Even so, giving in to these terrors of the night, these Post-tits harangued **Birdlasser [**listing software & a local delicacy @ no cost; bless ’em (get it)] to automate intellectual space & weed out these enfante terrible for eva… If only the punters knew who ‘they’ were – handles, avatars & alter-egos the fog on the antagonistic claim & ironically, the antithesis of good judgement.

Erratum included two Dodos, a Moa, a partridge in a pear tree and, heaven’s above – a Dusky Indigobird; an extant species not noted for its notoriety in suitable habitat but a celebrated poltergeist in Wider, if ever there was. The African Firefinch, an uncommon resident here, & the recipient of said Indigobird’s unsolicited attentions, is not complaining. Who wants an unwanted cock in the hen-house?

Others lament the inclusion of the migratory (ubiquitous) Eurasian Reed Warbler, a dead-ringer for the African Reed Warbler; & two sp. considered ‘inseparable’ in the field. Nobody likes a smart arse but…

competent ringer [them who knows & them who rings] knows that moult characteristics, during a brief, annual window are such that the two can be / are / should be (?) reliably separated, open-minded views & a physical presence at the sighting, essential reading of course.

Therein lies the rub – thee hav’ t’get thee ‘ands dirty, often. It’s the same ‘scruff of the neck’ attitude implicit in the preparatory regimen of the most successful #BBD participants. Anything else is sloppy.

Nobody likes a smart arse but… 

Here’s hoping fresh-faces break new ground during #BBD2018 – & by ‘new ground’ I mean new routes, new habitats – new exciting venues. Isn’t that the point? 50 species recorded from the confines of a three-legged pot, in cramped conditions, sans salt & in a single, dank crepuscular period, is surely more impressive than my 250 sp. on the long walk to boring? These & more I’d like to see, hear from – & read sum-more (on). Please.

Whatever we do on #BBD2018; how ever many we record – 200 or 302+, whatever – the fact remains, these are chartered waters; documented waters and kudos to the Raiders, lest we forget. They are the true pioneers & the exclusivity of the claim is theirs. Theirs is an achievement not matched in contemporary ticks, however incremental, even if the ensuing years refine the recipe.

The measure is the success that comes from imagination & hard graft. Basking in the shade of the four-fathers is fool’s-gold & unoriginal. This year we haven’t walked the extra mile & that devalues the claim and I, for one, am sorry for it. Then again, if we get to 350… all bets are off the table.


…if we get to 350… all bets are off the table. 



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