Images & Text by Candace Grey

Weavers, Babblers, Starlings and Storks: these are but a couple of the feathers you’ll see on your visit to the Sabi Sands. I wasn’t much of a birder (still not) before I began working in the bush, and if you are the kind of person, as is myself, who likes to know what they are looking at, then it is only a matter of minutes before taking a peck at that wriggling knowledge-worm.

Half of the fun is trying to identify that purple-blue smudge perching in the marula tree, and the other half is trying to know which one it was that made that god-awful squawk in the early hours of the dawn.

A useful tool are the bird books found in almost every tourist shop around the country. These are really helpful in that if you are able to group most of your seen birds into categories based on general beak/bill shape and body shape; then finding their name is a piece of cake. Although, from a beginner’s point of view, I would rather suggest purchasing the latest editions that catalogue the many species with the aid of photographs. The illustrations in my book (I use the Sasol Birds of Southern Africa 2011 edition) are fantastic, but can be misleading in terms of colour and plumage markings. Also, a vast majority of birds have had their common names changed, so an older book might lend itself to a bit of a struggle when attempting to create your own bird-watch check list.

My favourite part of birding has to be the quirky method which birder’s had invented to distinguish and identify calls. For instance, if you are out in the bush and you hear something that sounds as if though it is chanting “work harder, work harder”, you have heard the Cape Turtle Dove. If you hear something a bit on the whiny side singing “The purple jeep”, it’s more than likely the Monotonous Lark. Personally, the Lark’s tone sounds more like a jeering “I told you so”, but that’s for you to decide…

Image by Candace Grey

Birds are also amazing season indicators. A certain call or sighting can tell a person that it is getting warmer or colder. An example would be the Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, which I have noticed to appear around September time. Though it is often heard, I hardly actually see it.

Image by Candace Grey

Image by Candace Grey

Image by Candace Grey

In working at Cheetah Plains, I have found that it has been beautifully positioned with flora grown for folks interested in basic birding, as the numerous species of tree, aloe and shrub lure many a twitter; from the whooping Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill to the cacophonic Arrow-Marked Babblers. And during the two short years I have been at Cheetah Plains, these are the species I have identified – most without even leaving the camp!:

Image by Candace Grey

Image by Candace Grey

Spring/Summer birds:

Woodland Kingfisher (often seen and heard)

Malachite Kingfisher

Village weavers

Red-billed Buffalo weavers

Grey-headed bush shrike

Orange breasted bush shrike (heard – rarely seen)

Pearl Spotted Owlet

Paradise Fly-Catcher

Chinspot Batis (often heard more than seen)

African Brown Headed Parrot

Black Collared Barbet

Blue Waxbill (seen on game drive)

Southern Carmine Bee Eater (seen on drive)

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove (heard more than seen)

Black-headed Oriol

Dideric Cuckoo

Burchel’s Coucal

Jacobin Cuckoo

Levaillant’s Cuckoo

Yellow-fronted canary

Wooly-necked stork

Ground Hornbill (rare)


Spotted Thick-knee

Crowned lapwing



Winter birds:

White-throated Robin-chat

Black-backed Puff Back

Carp’s Tit

Dark-capped Bulbul

Lilac Breasted Roller (seen on game drive)

European Roller (seen on game drive)

Green-Backed Camaroptera

Long-billed Crombec


Late Winter birds:

Red-Headed Weaver (returns each year to its nesting tree: Yellow-Fever Tree outside of room 4)

Bearded Scrub Robin

White Bellied Sunbird

Scarlet Chested Sunbird

Marico Sunbird

Crested Barbet

Cape white-eye

Golden-tailed woodpecker

Bearded Woodpecker



All-year birds:

Lesser blue-eared starling

Burchell’s Starling

Ashy Flycatcher

Blacksmith lapwing (seen on game drive)

Arrow-marked Babbler

Green Wood-hoopoe (seen on game drive)

African Hoopoe (seen on game drive)

Little Bee-eater (seen on game drive)

Red-billed oxpecker (seen on game drive)

Fork-tailed Drongo

Southern Red-billed Hornbill

Southern Yellow-billed hornbill

African Grey Hornbill (rare) (seen on game drive)

Laughing dove (often heard)

Cape Turtle Dove (seen on game drive)

Grey Go-Away Bird (Grey Loerie)

GroundScraper Thrush

Magpie Shrike (seen on game drive)

Coqui Francolin (seen on game drive)

Crested Francolin

Natal Spur-Fowl

Red-Crested Korhan (often heard and seen on game drive)

Grey heron


Helmeted Guinea Fowl

Hadeda Ibis

Saddle-billed stork (seen on game drive)

Egyptian goose

Knob-billed duck (seen on game drive)

White-backed Vulture (seen on game drive)

Lappet-faced Vulture (seen on game drive)

Secretary bird (rare) (seen on game drive)

African Fish Eagle

Spotted Eagle Owl (seen on game drive)

Fiery-necked nightjar (often heard) (seen on game drive)


The camp is home to a couple of species that are only seen during certain times of the year. A clear example is the Red-headed Weaver – returning every year to the yellow fever tree outside of room number 4 to rebuild its nest; and the Village Weavers and Red-Billed Buffalo Weavers which return, every summer, to the yellow fever tree at the back of the lodge. There is also a great example of a swallow nest by room number 8, but this has probably remained vacant for quite some time as Swallows sadly have not nested at the camp, due to the lack of a suitable place where they would feel unthreatened.

So, if you are visiting Cheetah Plains and have an interest in birds, bring a pencil; notebook; camera and questions and see just how many you can “tick-off” – ask your guide or any of the management team to help you in your endeavours; it is a fun activity and gives you something for your memoirs.