In this wonderful, bird-friendly country with its total of 650 species, we can all spot 20 different birds a day from homes, workplaces, kombis or cars. During the summer is a good time to start because the range of resident birds is swelled by migrants from other parts of Zimbabwe, other parts of Africa and the world but especially Europe. They are attracted by the warmth and abundant food and water but will leave again in the autumn and by May we shall be back to those that spend the whole year here plus a few winter visitors.
Right, let’s get down to some birding! No doubt, at this time of the year, you are drawn from sleep by the melodious warbling of the Heuglin’s Robin, now known as the White-browed Robin-chat. Start looking right away and where better to start than the ground; lawn, garden , driveway. You all should know the ‘Toppie’ or Dark-capped Bulbul, that cheerful soul always present everywhere. Then there’s the Kurrichane Thrush with its orange beak and breast, pulling worms from the lawn. And what’s that harsh churring? Must be the Arrow-marked Babbler family, noisily scuffling through the leaves or low in the bushes. The cool customer that lets you get up really close and shows white in its tail when it takes off is the Laughing Dove which coos more often than it laughs. That cute confiding little fellow with the powder blue face, rump and underparts is the Blue Waxbill and there may be members of the same family, brown with red beak, eye-stripe and rump, Common Waxbill. Even smaller with red bill, rump and underparts in the male is the Red-billed Firefinch. These may be joined on the ground by a flock of Bronze Mannikin, desperate for seeds like all the others. Low down among the flowers or catching spiders round the windows is the Variable (used to be Yellow-bellied) Sunbird with its long curved bill. Hey, that’s 9 species already and you’re not even dressed.
All this time you’ve probably been hearing the insistent swizzling of the Southern Masked Weavers as they build or inspect those wonderful globular nests. Another repetitive sound is the trilling of the colourful Crested Barbet or the donkey-like braying of the Black-collared Barbet. These are both easy to spot in a bare tree. A Harare special these days is the larger Purple-crested Turaco (Lourie) with red in the wings loudly calling “Kok,kok,kok” and more recently this has been joined by the similarly-sized Grey Go-away bird both clambering through the foliage. Between October and March we may well spot the long chestnut tail of the Paradise Flycatcher. Listen out for the ‘Piet my vrou’ of the Red-chested Cuckoo but you won’t see it. Ever present is the cheeky, brave Fork-tailed Drongo swooping down on flying insects. At the top of the tree sits the Red-eyed Dove telling you, ‘I’m a Red-eyed Dove’ or saying, ‘This is the Z-B-C”. Those noisy, gossiping black birds with long tails and curved red beaks are Green Wood-hoopoe and the crested guys eating your soft fruit, are Speckled Mousebirds. That’s a further 10 making 19.
But look up into the sky and you’ll have no problem finding Pied (means black and white) Crows, maybe a few passing Cattle Egret, lazily flying from one stretch of water to another and, much higher, African Palm Swift on their stiff wings. In the summer you may see and hear burbling flocks of European Bee-eaters.
Night birds both heard and seen are the very recognizable Fiery-necked Nightjar calling ‘Good Lord deliver us’ and the screeching Barn Owl. Finally, in so many yards, taking out more small birds than any cat, lives the Gabar Goshawk, a grey bird of prey with a white rump. All you find in the morning is a few feathers from a late Laughing Dove.
Whetted your appetite, we hope? You can find out much more by consulting the BirdLife Zimbabwe website where there is also a calendar of events of all bird outings which you are welcome to attend free of charge (unless it is to somewhere that requires a small entry fee)! Happy birding!