Wild Georgia: Georgia birders check out the birds of South Africa

Credit: Charles Seabrook

Credit: Charles Seabrook

A few years ago after lunch at a Marietta restaurant, I was walking to my car when I noticed a small knot of people excitedly snapping photos of something in a tree. I looked up and saw a bright red male cardinal, a beautiful bird but one that most of us in Georgia take for granted.

Curious, I walked over to the group and introduced myself to its leader. The folks were from Germany, she said, on their way to the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia for some birding and nature watching.

“The bird is so stunning,” she said of the cardinal. “They’ve never seen one before.”

I was thinking about them and their excitement a few weeks ago when seven of us members of Georgia Audubon went on our own 13-day birding adventure some 8,400 miles away from the Peach State — to the northeast region of South Africa.

The region — featuring vast grasslands, montane forests, scrublands, wetlands and other habitats — is a veritable bird-watcher’s paradise. It’s home to more than 500 bird species, many of them some of the most colorful creatures on Earth. Four of our days also were spent in the 7,570-square-mile Kruger National Park, one of the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries. In addition to the birds there, lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras, crocodiles, hippos, impalas and a host of other animals roam freely.

At the end of our 13-day trek, we had seen more than 300 bird species. Thus, we were able to add hundreds of new species to our “life lists,” or records of all the bird species that we’ve seen over our lifetimes.

Limited space simply doesn’t allow a discussion of all the superb bird life that we encountered, but I must mention one of my top favorites — the lilac-breasted roller. Multicolored (it has eight colors!), it’s a small, dazzling bird that’s common in South Africa, perhaps taken for granted there as our stunning cardinal is in Georgia.

For more information on Georgia Audubon’s travel program, visit georgiaaudubon.org/travel.html.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be new on Sunday night. Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise. Venus is very low in the west just after sunset and will appear near the crescent moon on Tuesday night. Mars is high in the south at dark. Jupiter is in the southwest at sunset and will appear near the moon on Wednesday night.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.