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Sounds like a horror movie but we are talking about birds. With thick knees.

Water Thick-Knees

A safari to South Africa and Botswana is all about the big animals and it’s wonderful. But as an avid, (albeit inept), birder, it also presented a twitching opportunity. 

So I downloaded “Robert’s Birds of Southern Africa” – the bible on the subject – and flew south. 

Yellow-billed Hornbill

With my bird book, camera, binoculars and my knowledge of birds, it was gonna be easy……right?


Crested Barbet

The guide book lists 962 birds (British Columbia has 576), and in no time at all I was awash in the different species of Rollers, Bee-eaters, Storks, Raptors, Lapwings, Weavers, Drongo’s, Thick-Knees,………Oh and don’t forget the Collared Pratincoles. 

Collared Pratincole

I mean really, who named these birds!?

“Hey Ron, this bird looks a bit like a sandpiper with a yellow neck, let’s call it a yellow-necked Sandpiper.”

“Nope I’m going to call it a Collared Pratincole!”

“What the heck, has your malaria relapsed?”

“No, I just like the sound of it. I’m thinking of calling the other one “Water Thick-Knees.”

“Ron, we need to talk.”

Glossy Ibis

So how did I do? Truth is, I barely scratched the surface, but as the days went by some birds became familiar. I’m all over the bee-eaters and Rollers and yes I can recognize a Collared Pratincole! But, most important, I had a blast. It was birds everywhere and I was happily snapping, non-stop, marking them off in my “Roberts”  bird guide.

In the end, I identified – well usually my guides identified and I looked up –  152 different species of birds. 

Lilac-breasted Roller

All this while I’m watching African wild dogs, hyenas, leopards eating kills in a tree, lions, elephants, hippo’s and so much more. 

Little Bee-eater

I’ve never had an experience to match this. One evening, on the Zambezi river as the sun was setting, a herd of elephants swam across the river, their trunks looped up out of the water as they glided across and climbed out the other side. It was magnificent. Primal. Almost spiritual.

Western Yellow Wagtail

Can African countries preserve wilderness and wildlife? There are so many negatives, including population growth, farming and the greed of the ivory and rhino horn trade. 

White-crowned Lapwing

But Botswana in particular knows that their pristine wilderness has value, (tourism is second only to diamond mining in the economy), and they are serious about sustaining this resource – ironically they currently have too many elephants.

Saddle-billed Stork

Batswana (singular: Motswana) are warm friendly people, who shudder just like us at the crime in Johannesburg and other African cities. They are proud of their country and very focused on conservation.

Woodland Kingfisher

Tourism pays the bills, so, well-off travellers are important to Botswana. Safaris are not cheap, but to paraphrase a saying, “go see it or lose it.” 

So go see it! 

Three-banded Plover

It’s wonderful there. It’s safe, (well, don’t get too close to the hippos!) you’ll be made to feel very welcome and you will see countless animals both on land and on water.


Oh and the birds are wonderful too, even if the guy who named them had a touch of malaria. The names of the Collared Pratincole, Crested Barbet, Spotted Thick-knees, Chinspot Batis and Francolins are here to stay and that’s fine, because they are a delight to see and they really added to the fun of our safari.

The Birdman from Langley, BC
Colin Rankin

Other birding articles by Colin Rankin that you may enjoy:

Wildlife in Antarctica – a Photographer’s Dream! (Penguins)

What Makes The Falkland Islands Worth Visiting? (Albatross, penguins, caracaras)

Costa Rica – Finding your Inner Bird!

Birding in San Blas, Mexico

Wonderful Woodpeckers

A Cluster of Buntings (Lasuli and Snow Buntings)

A Pleasant Surprise (The Cape May Warbler)

Birding Rio Lagartos (Mexico Birds)

“Keepers” – what makes a great photo?

Even More LBJ’s – The Bewick’s Wren (Little Brown Jobs)

Puffins (Newfoundland)

Hey! That’s My Fish! (Ospreys in British Columbias)

Little Green Jobs

Bird Photography – Novice no More!