Hansie Smit
Hansie Smit

Birding for beginners

Twitching is a term used in birding circles to describe the act of travelling far and wide to track down rare birds. Twerking is a term used in birding circles to describe the act of standing in the bush with your tush in the air chasing off birds. Our hiking party did neither on the Shipwreck Trail recently walking small distances only trying to track down a hut where a cooler box filled with beer was waiting.

Coming over a dune on day one, however, a sharp bird call stopped us dead in our tracks. “Loerie,” my brother-in-law said. He was wrong of course but you couldn’t really blame him. The Loerie Awards were around the corner and we’ve only been hiking for an hour or so. His head was still in the city. A girl who’s done the Otter no less said it could be a Pied Wagtail and that we should get a move on before the wind picked up.

We crossed more dunes and took a sho’t left through some Christmas trees and onto a path tunnelling through a Port Jackson forest. “Finch country,” I thought to myself. Hardly five minutes into the tunnel the self-same call rang out again. A low, deep, double punch that crescendoed to a cheeky pitch before it came back down to end in humble baritone. Was the bird following us?

Determined to identify the creature my brother-in-law took out his iPhone. Scrolling past Whale Calls of the Pacific he opened his African Bird app and played back some samples. The Afrikaanse Naguiltjie (Afrikaans Night Owl) came close but, alas, the sun was out and the whistle we heard had a distinct Anglo-saxophone quality to it. I told him to try finches. The girl who’s done the Otter said that was outrageous and that the tweet we heard was most definitely a Pied Wagtail. I told her if anybody knew anything about tweets it was me as I recently opened a Twitter account and that the “tweet” we heard was a finch if I’ve ever heard one.

My brother chimed in and said the whistle sounded very familiar. Hailing from Joburg that meant it was either a Hadeda or a car alarm. I didn’t see any turn-offs from the R72 close by so a car alarm was out of the question. There were some Hadedas around but they seemed almost comatose mesmerised by the pretty surroundings.

I told my brother to Google “bird calls of the Eastern Cape” and “Port Jackson birds” while my brother-in-law downloaded an app focused on highland bird calls as the call rang out every time we reached higher ground. My brother produced a device that looked like a cross between an iPhone and a coffee table and started typing when the whistle sounded again — from the palm of his hand. What we heard wasn’t birdsong but a Samsung. The Samsung Galaxy S3.

Trapped inside my brother’s backpack the Samsung called out to its mates, and anyone else listening, to come and read the SMSs it received. For the next four days, every time our hiking party reached higher ground, the Samsung picked up a signal and called out. We all recognised the call and were able to identify the source based on overall impression. A skill known in birding circles as jizzing.

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