To tick or not to tick – Birding in Limpopo MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Birdwatching Dilemma: To Tick or Not to Tick?

When it comes to birdwatching, there’s always a lively debate among both seasoned enthusiasts and newcomers: when can you officially count a bird for your “life list”?

During our trip in Limpopo, we had a diverse group of birdwatchers, ranging from experts to beginners. As we journeyed through the countryside, the more experienced birders would casually remark, “Brown Snake,” with little excitement. On the other hand, the journalists who were new to this world would turn their heads in anticipation, scanning the ground anxiously. Disappointed by their failure to spot anything, they would become perplexed until someone pointed out a distant silhouette of a raptor on the horizon – the Brown Snake Eagle. “Really? How can you be so sure?” they would skeptically ask. This prompted us to explain the distinguishing features of the bird, and they would consult their newly acquired bird books, eager to know if they could add it to their list.

So here’s the thing: when it comes to birdwatching and making a checklist, you have the freedom to include whatever birds you personally consider valid. However, there is a general rule that most birdwatchers follow – you can only tick off a bird if you see it flying freely in the wild. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it can actually get quite complicated, and it’s a topic that keeps birdwatchers engaged in heated discussions on online forums.

There are some birders, mainly from Europe, who are very strict when it comes to defining what qualifies as a “wild bird.” According to their standards, they won’t include any birds that have been reintroduced into an area where they went extinct, birds that have been attracted to feeders, or birds that have been startled out of hiding by someone. Some birders take it to the extreme by refusing to check off a bird that has a data ring on its leg because they see it as tampering or human interference.

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When it comes to birdwatching, there are different opinions about what counts as a legitimate sighting. Some birders will only count birds that they see in their natural environment, whereas others are fine with counting birds that are attracted to their feeders or lured with calls. However, even this seemingly simple approach can become more complicated. Some birders have sought clarification on certain scenarios:

  • Am I allowed to count the Narina Trogon that flew into my window but survived and flew away?
  • Can I add the blue and yellow Macaw that escaped from my neighbor’s house and briefly visited my garden?
  • What about the Pygmy Kingfisher that my cat brought in, but I managed to rescue?

So, let me ask you something. Can I mark off a blur that the guide assured me was a Barrett’s Warbler? How about that far-off spot that all the experienced birders in the vehicle swear is a Brown Snake Eagle?

Well, the answer depends on how seriously you want to be taken in the birding world. If it’s just for your own satisfaction, then go ahead and mark away.

Here’s an interesting story that our guide, Joe Grosel, shared with us. It’s about four ‘twitchers’ who set out to find the rare Spotted Crake. As they were slowly driving along the edge of a wetland, a local farmer unexpectedly sped past them in his truck and accidentally ran over the very bird they had traveled miles to see. Three of the birders quickly jumped out of the vehicle and witnessed the bird taking its last breaths. But by the time the driver reached them, the bird had already passed away. Now, could those three still claim the sighting since they saw it alive? And what about the driver?

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The truth is, each person has their own rules for what makes a tick-worthy sighting. One person in the group had a rule that they had to be able to picture the bird with their eyes closed before it was considered checked off. Another person was willing to trust the guide’s expertise, having done their research, heard the bird’s call, and spotted a bird that could only be the one they were looking for. So, in the end, it’s really up to you and what makes you feel satisfied. The main thing is to get out there and start ticking those birds off your list!

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