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Appreciating birds, in my experience, is similar to enjoying a fine wine or a piece of art. Not everyone enjoys a Chardonnay and not everyone ‘oohs’ at a Picasso painting, unless of course you understand some of the theory behind the brushstrokes or the nuances of the wine. Even then, it might not be to your taste, but at least you understand enough to appreciate it.

Well, it’s the same with birds – you have to understand them a little and know some of the basics to appreciate them.

Long-tailed widowbird
Long-tailed widowbird ©Isak Pretorius
Lilic-breasted roller
Lilac-breasted roller ©Heinrich van den Berg

So yes – the very brown, not very big and not particularly interesting LBJ (little brown job) that has all the birders twitching, and all the leopard lovers rolling their eyes, wouldn’t be considered everyone’s ideal game drive sighting. But what if you knew that this bird was the greater honeyguide? The honeyguide leads the honey badger to beehives so that they can both reap the sticky rewards. It’s small and brown but rather interesting. This is what the book: Game Drive Birds of Southern Africa is all about.

Game Drive Birds of Southern Africa is not just for avid birders – it keeps things simple and interesting for everyone by focusing on more popular birds. The book is stylishly put together and would be a proud addition to anyone’s coffee table. It is 200 pages of stately eagles, cute kingfishers and flashy whydah birds that safari-goers are highly likely to see when out and about in southern Africa.

Black-winged stilt
Black-winged stilt ©Philip van den Berg
Black crake
Black crake ©Philip van den Berg
Little heron
Little heron ©Heinrich van den Berg

The book is divided into four chapters: birds of prey, birds at the water, ground-living birds, and birds dependent on trees, so you know what to expect and it’s not intimidating. It’s an easy way to find out a quick quirk about each bird instead of the full ‘jizz’ that birders are looking for. So you can buy it as a memoir of your safari to show your friends what you saw, or buy it before your safari in the hopes that you will see some bushveld birding classics.

Bru-bru © Philip van den Berg
Black-faced waxbill
Black-faced waxbill ©Philip van den Berg

I was that leopard-lover rolling my eyes until I was able to recognise and identify a bird by myself. I then felt a little smarter than the rest of my safari friends and was pretty proud when I correctly identified a kori bustard – the heaviest bird in flight – on safari recently. I now understood the kick that birders get from knowing just that little bit more.

And all of a sudden the oxpecker picking ticks off the giraffe’s neck became a bit more interesting, and the cattle egrets flocking around a tusker added something to the scene. And what would a lion kill be without the squabbling vultures?

Meyer's parrot
Meyer’s parrot ©Heinrich van den Berg

There are a couple of birds that anyone going on safari should look out for en route to a lion kill as you follow the circling vultures in the thermal winds to the kill’s exact location. Here are my top 10:

1. Weavers

A gregarious and very busy bunch of birds – weavers are responsible for the intricately woven nests that hang in the thorniest of trees or overhanging dams to avoid predators.

Village weaver
Village weaver ©Heinrich van den Berg

2. Bee-eaters

Bee-eaters are migratory so when they are around there are plenty of them to be seen and they do not disappoint with a variety of greens, pinks, reds and yellows that make them a spectacular sight to behold.

White-fronted bee-eater
White-fronted bee-eater ©Heinrich van den Berg

3. Lilac-breasted roller

Of all the birds, let alone other rollers, the lilac-breasted roller is a bird that even a non-birder would stop the car for. Their exquisite plumage and roly-poly display make them an all time bushveld favourite.

Lilic-breasted roller
Lilic-breasted roller ©Heinrich van den Berg

4. Ostrich

How can anyone forget the ostrich? As seen on page 92 of Game Drive Birds of Southern Africa, it is the largest of all birds and quite the character – even if it has its head in the sand.

5. Hornbills

Does Zazu from the Lion King ring a bell? Yellow-billed hornbills can often be seen around camps in a variety of game reserves in southern Africa and, if you are lucky enough, you may even see the endangered ground hornbill.

6. Secretarybird

The secretarybird is the snake hunter strolling through open plains in search of chameleons, amphibians, lizards and other birds – as the book states.

7. Francolin

Author Philip van den Berg refers to them as ‘wild chickens’ because they are everywhere and they make a lot of noise. They also have a symbiotic relationship with wild dogs, cleaning the den for them in exchange for food and protection.

8. Kingfishers

The woodlands kingfisher with his “ChirrrrpChiiirrr” morning wake-up call is the sound of summer in the bush. Kingfishers add a touch of colour to muddy dams and rivers all over southern Africa.

Pygmy kingfisher
Pygmy kingfisher ©Charl Senekal

9. African fish eagle

The African fish eagle can be found on page 12 of Game Drive Birds of Southern Africa, and as the book so aptly says, “the call of this bird is often referred to as the call of Africa.”

10. African jacana

Found around water – the best dad in the world is the African jacana. These birds are often photographed walking on lily pads or dodging hippos as they come up for air.

The list could go on – from the vibrant greens of the Diederik cuckoo, Knysna turaco and the African green pigeon, to the unusual beaks of the spoonbill and the hamerkop. But that is what Game Drive Birds of Southern Africa is for

This book shows some of the most photogenic creatures in the planet, features images taken by award-winning photographers Heinrich, Ingrid and Philip van den Berg, and is the ideal Christmas gift. You can buy your copy of the book, as well as a variety of others in the van den Berg collection here.

Hamerkop ©Heinrich van den Berg
Knysna turaco
Knysna turaco ©Heinrich van den Berg

For more of Heinrich’s beautiful images, see: Reflections and Heinrich van den Berg’s Photo Tips & Gallery

Georgina Lockwood

I grew up escaping Johannesburg city to go horse-back riding in the Magaliesberg mountains or Land Rovering in the Madikwe sand veld. Accustomed to the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, I then embarked as a trainee sailor on a three-masted barque to travel the world beyond my beloved Southern Africa. Ship life steered me to remote destinations and ecological treasure houses like the Galapagos, Pitcairn Island and Polynesia. Once grounded, my love of the outdoors developed into a deep respect for the environment and a desire to preserve it which led to a full time career at Africa Geographic.