Abelana’s emerald season is a birding dream-come-true

Summer is in full swing at Abelana Game Reserve with wonderful rains filling the waterholes and dams and the lush, verdant bush filled with life. There are baby animals aplenty, from tiny impala lambs and newborn zebra foals to wildebeest calves and warthog piglets, but what makes this wonderful emerald season truly special is the incredible birdlife on the reserve.

While the birding is generally good all year-round at Abelana, especially around the Selati River where there is permanent water, summer offers a phenomenal opportunity to see migrant species that come to this area to breed from all over Africa, Europe and parts of Asia.

The most prolific of these is the colourful woodland kingfisher. An intra-African migrant, the arrival of this gorgeous bird with its beautiful plumage and distinctive, trilling call traditionally signifies that summer has started! Curiously, the woodland kingfisher is not a fisher at all, but feeds on insects, frogs, small snakes and only very rarely catching fish.

Flashes of rich russet in the canopy around Abelana River Lodge are a giveaway for another intra-African migrant – the African paradise flycatcher. This wonderful little bird is one of eight species of flycatcher found in the area and is by far the prettiest, with its distinctive bright blue eye wattle and bill and spectacular russet tail feathers which, in the mail during breeding season extend into two long streamers that can reach over 30cm long.

The European bee-eater is another welcome visitor to Abelana, along with the impressive Wahlberg’s eagle and voracious yellow-billed kite. Resident “specials” on the reserve range from the elusive Arnot’s chat and thick-billed cuckoo to the equally uncommon bat hawk, which is active at dusk hunting bats throughout the evening as they leave their roosts and again at dawn as they return to roost. Pel’s fishing owl is another “lifer” for many birding guests at Abelana River Lodge, frequenting the riverine forest along the edge of the Selati River.

At Ramspruit and Hope dams the variety of birdlife is phenomenal, especially along the water’s edge. Stopping at Dube-Dube pan, with its wealth of pretty water lilies, is also an absolute must. Just spending time in the shade of a tall tree with a pair of binoculars, you’ll be amazed at the birdlife this self-contained eco-system supports. Here you’ll find the three-banded plover, little grebe, African jacana, pygmy goose and waterbirds like the reed cormorant, African darter, the furtive grey heron and stately saddle-billed stork. Ostrich are also regularly seen here.

Of course, the birding complement would not be complete without Abelana’s range of raptors, from the imposing martial eagle to the equally magnificent white-backed vulture. African fish eagles are regularly seen along the Selati River and on the shores of Ramspruit Dam, and you’ll often see tawny eagles, brown snake eagles and bateleurs on game drives.

From the large to the very small and the lovely variety of colourful and characterful birds you will see in and around Abelana River Lodge and Abelana Safari Camp, especially where there is water or a source of food. Species like the blue waxbill, firefinch, green-winged pytilia and yellow-fronted canary are commonly seen, as are the long-billed crombec and chin-spot batis.

So whatever you do when you come to visit us, don’t forget your binoculars!

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