My experiences in the wilderness have been predominantly Himalayan in nature with the occasional foray into Southeast Asian rainforests, and I have developed an intense liking for all things squirrelly on these expeditions. Spotting a pika in Ladakh, for instance, was the highlight of a trek through the Markha valley, and we watched the adorable, twitching animal sit a few steps from the burrow, its fur ruffled by the wind.
Consequently, checking the Big 5 list was not exactly a priority when I embarked on my first trip to Africa: while it was awe-inspiring to be in the company of a pride of lions, I was equally excited to learn about lesser-known and littler creatures. Understandably, my preference for the small and furry made the occasional scrub hare and a chance encounter with the curious pups of an aardwolf particularly special.
The real surprise, however, came when I started to point excitedly at trees, shrilly demanding to know what was perched on their branches and straining to listen to the occupants’ calls. Summery climes had started to bring in the migratory birds that disappeared during winter, and the feast of colours and calls on each game drive was simply astounding.
We spotted the stunning Wattled Crane numerous times, endangered but successfully reproducing in the Okavango Delta, watched on as hundreds of Southern Carmine Bee-Eaters chattered animatedly around their nesting grounds, squealed with delight whenever a sighting of the common but pretty Lilac-Breasted Roller was caught, and observed with keen interest as the Pied Kingfisher and Fish Eagle displayed their legendary hunting skills.
I have pretty much made up my mind to buy guidebooks on birding, invest in a good pair of binoculars and head out to uncover some of South Asia and Southeast Asia’s bird life as well. In the meantime, here are some of my favourites from the trip captured on camera.