A New Breed of African Birders - Young South African’s tackle Champions of the Flyway 2017
John Kinghorn is part of the Youth Africa Birders team for the Champions of the Flyway 2017. John’s and the team’s goal for the 24h race is not the crown, they rather aim to bring attention to their platform “Youth Africa Birding”:
Its dawn in the northern parts of Gauteng province, South Africa. The sun has barely begun to cast its faint glow along the skyline yet two Natal Spurfowl decide to burst into a raucous cacophony of a duet, a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl gives off two successive deep hoots, a Woodland Kingfisher greats its mate with open, iridescent blue wings and its characteristic, descending trill of a song. A musky smell filters through the air; the wind still and grass wet under foot, each step breaking the formation of overnight dew and causing grasshoppers and various other small arthropods to awake from their slumber. A group of young birders walk quietly, ears tuned into anything which may come across remotely similar to that of a bird call. One of them cracks a joke about the others newfound talent in calling in the local Owl’s whilst asleep, with his sniffing and grunting, all usual youthful banter but with a twist- each and every person is actively sifting through every branch, bush and tree all whilst managing to still identify nearby calls and finish off their bad imitations of their mates owl-like sniffing and grunting.
Youth Africa Birding YAB is more than just a ‘Facebook group’, it’s a platform for all young African based birders, no matter their religion, race or background, to be themselves and to express and pursue their passion for all things feathered, doing so alongside like-minded youth and in a comfortable, non-intimidating environment. Since its conception on a chat group in the early parts of 2015, the YAB community has grown to almost 500 members spread across the entire continent with the main young birder strongholds being in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. The group is guided by a committee which is elected on a yearly basis, yet YAB relies not on the actions of the committee to make the group a success, but rather the involvement, passion, drive and support of all its members.
There are many things which make me excited about the future of birding on the African continent, among which is the shear depth of some of these young birders knowledge and their almost professional (natural) field skills when it comes to actually finding birds, however what really gets me excited is the passion, the drive, the perseverance and the enthusiasm with which these young birders all put into play in both their time alone whilst hitting the books and whilst in the field. These are all qualities that even some adults struggle to master yet these youth make it seem effortless. It’s the knowledge that the vast majority of African birding youth express these above qualities, not just randomly but rather on a daily basis, which takes my excitement levels through the roof and just when I think it not possible to get even more excited I was made aware of the opportunity to participate in the 2017 Champions of the Flyway bird race; allowing us to show the world what the African youth are made of, taking all these remarkable qualities that these young birders have and directing it toward conservation and toward generating awareness and much needed funds for a cause which touched the hearts of us all.
So that brings us to the ‘Birding Ecotours Youth Africa Birders’- a proudly South African youth team comprised of no one older than 25 years of age, different backgrounds, ethnic groups and roots yet all of us share the same passion, the same drive and the same amount of enthusiasm to make a difference when it comes to conservation and the protection of our birds on their migratory flyways. We’re a mixed bunch but what binds us together is a term we use in South Africa called ‘gees’; slang for heart/soul/spirit, and that’s what we are, we’re bonded by the gees and our sheer determination to make a difference like none other.
The figurative race is on, in fact since we had confirmation that we will be partaking in this year’s event it’s been on. What do we mean by “it’s on”? Quite simple really- the reason we are participating in this internationally acclaimed event is not to walk away crowned ‘Champions of the Flyway’, no, in fact we couldn’t care less if we came last on the actual race day. Since the beginning we sat down as a team and said that no matter what, we will be going all out to make a difference and to make sure that we do our country proud, our fellow youth birders back home proud and even fellow youth birders across the globe proud as we use this as an opportunity to generate awareness among our local birding community like no other (surprisingly a fair amount of South Africans have been previously unaware about the avian massacre that’s happening across the Mediterranean) as well as raise as much funds as we possibly could and make sure to use our youth to our advantage and come up with innovative ways to reach and exceed our fundraising goals.
Preparation has been hard going, although we have placed a lot of effort into fundraising and campaigning for awareness we have also spent a lot of time behind the books, brushing up on our birding knowledge, familiarizing ourselves with the calls of the species we are most likely to encounter and honing in our equipment skills as we learn our way around some of Swarovski’s most breath taking equipment. The new BTX scope for example, has had us speechless every time we have rested our foreheads on its comfortable forehead rest and proceeded to glance into a world like no other scope before it has dared venture into. Crystal clear imagery, easy on the eyes and all round simply incredible piece of optic perfection, we cannot wait to start laying our eyes onto an array of migrating raptors and Sylvia warblers when in Eilat in the coming days, no doubt Swarovski’s remarkable equipment allowing us to enjoy the very birds we have been fighting so hard to protect.
The thought of a quiet spring haunts us. The thought of not being able to share with our children one day the joys of migration as we fail to point out European Bee-eaters, European Rollers and White and Black Storks, plaques our dreams and is a sad thought indeed. It is time that not only adults stand up to face and combat the slaughter but it is time for the youth to do so as well. It’s time that we realise that today’s problems will be tomorrow’s disasters if we don’t act and act now.
Eilat…..we’re bringing the gees!