Jéan Taute and his team are confident about recording a good score this Birding Big Day (Saturday 28 November) but he acknowledges that they have a substantial advantage.
Jéan is a birder, who also happens to be a senior ranger at Shamwari Private Game Reserve.
If that isn’t enough of a head start, six of South Africa’s eight biomes occur at Shamwari, providing incredible biodiversity which, in turn, attracts lots of bird species. There are 275 species on reserve’s official bird list, but Jean believes that probably more than 300 bird species visit Shamwari.
Ahead of BirdLife South Africa’s 36th Birding Big Day on Saturday 28 November, Jéan set out with a Shamwari TV camera crew to see how many species they could spot and film.
The result is an ornithological safari that begins with a breeding pair of Spotted Eagle owls and goes on to visit eagles, spoonbills, ducks, geese and kingfishers, weavers, cuckoos, egrets and ostriches, Black-headed herons and Blue cranes, buzzards and woodpeckers, amongst others.
As well as showcasing some of Shamwari’s bird species, Jéan also shares of his extensive knowledge about the birds and the reserve.
He explains how bee eaters rub off the stinger before swallowing a bee. He also tells the story of the Red-billed oxpecker. This species was wiped out in the area as a result of arsenic-based dips which local famers used to keep parasites off their cattle.
After meeting with farmers, explaining the consequences of the practice and reaching an agreement they would stop using these dips, Shamwari and a number of surrounding reserves reintroduced the birds.
Dr Johan Joubert, Shamwari’s wildlife vet, recalls how when the birds first landed on the reserve’s rhinos and started pecking the ticks, the big animals stampeded because they’d never before encountered oxpeckers.
The special birding episode was posted on Shamwari TV, today (27 November) ahead of the Birding Big Day. It can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hu87gLteQvI
“We really hope this episode encourages lots of enthusiasts to support BirdLife South Africa’s Birding Big Day and hopefully also prompts more people to get interested in birding. You miss a huge amount if you come to a place like Shamwari and are only interested in big game,” says Jéan.
Shamwari TV started during the hard lockdown as a way of showcasing the reserve’s wildlife and helping some of its neighbouring communities.
Initially it was just Andrew Kearney, head ranger at the Eastern Cape private game reserve, going out onto the reserve armed with a rifle and cellphone and filming anything of interest he came across.
His enthusiasm and encyclopaedic knowledge of the bush soon resulted in his posts gaining followers. That’s when Shamwari and Andrew Barratt, co-owner of Hungry Bison Films, teamed up to start producing professionally filmed and edited episodes.
Nearly 30 episodes later and Shamwari TV has proved a huge success gaining thousands of followers around the world. It also encouraged viewers to make donations towards food parcels for families in the nearby towns of Alicedale and Paterson.
“There’s no doubt that Shamwari TV helped keep Shamwari top-of-mind during the lockdown,” says CEO Joe Cloete.
“This meant that when we reopened two of our lodges there was some pent-up demand. That and the specials offers that we’ve introduced for South African guests has helped ensure that our bookings are gradually growing.”
Planned upcoming episodes include a special on dung beetles. This will include the Addo flightless dung beetle, a rare species endemic to a few areas in Southern Africa, including Shamwari and the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. The population of these large dung beetles, able to roll 50 times their own weight, is an indicator of the success of the 28-year conservation project that has transformed over-grazed farmland into a 250km2 private game reserve.