If a mega rarity arrives at some isolated waterhole in the middle of the Kalahari just before dinner tonight, many thousands of people will know about it first thing tomorrow…and chances are many of them will have traveled there overnight. In this strange tribe of ours, news about discoveries, the best stakeouts for elusive species, splits and lumps (which are taxonomic, not medical terms) and emerging threats to bird conservation spreads faster than juicy celebrity gossip.
Why is that? In addition to all the things that birders love, we also love sharing. In fact, the whole birding community is connected by a web of anecdotes, observations and publications. And getting a birder talking (chatting?) about the latest birding ‘gen’ is a very dangerous pursuit, if you have any plans for the rest of the evening.
Although I am by nature an introvert, I like to think that I can at least make a few minutes of small talk with anyone about anything. But if you ask me about birds, you better get comfortable. So at your own peril, I have outlined some talks, lectures and courses below.
With the experience of more than a decade of public speaking, covering more than 30 topics, I’ve come to realise a few important things. Firstly, people prefer to be entertained to being educated. If you can learn something in between giggles, that’s a bonus…but I also find that information is far easier to understand and remember if it presented in an entertaining fashion. Secondly, it’s tough to sit through any lecture for more than an hour or so – especially after a long day at work. Thirdly, I much prefer giving informal talks, with lots of interruptions and discussion, to scripted, disciplined lectures.
If you feel that this is a risk you want to take, I would love to talk about the amazing world of birds at your corporate function, social event, school, or nature-interest group. I guarantee you will be amazed, entertained, enlightened and perhaps even shocked, but definitely not bored!
PHOTOS: TOP: Faansie signing a copy of his LBJs book – the trick is to write as illegibly as possible, but do it confidently, using a big permanent marker. (photo: Friends of Nyslvley). MIDDLE: Pointing out small canopy-dwelling warblers on a field course – or perhaps I forgot my binoculars? (photo: Friends of Nyslvley). BOTTOM: Attentive listeners trying to make sense of South Africa’s bewildering array of Little Brown Jobs (photo: Bushveld Training Adventures)
The Art of Painting Birds
A live demonstration of how I digitally paint birds. A ‘talk’ with a difference (in that I usually concentrate so much on the painting that I forget about the talking). I will bring my computer and digital paint brushes along, and hook these up to the projector so you can see how I’m painting, as I’m painting. As a bonus, I’ll even let you pick the species I should paint. And you can keep the digital painting file afterwards to print out or use in whatever way. To get a teaser sample, check out my Artworks page.
The concept for this talk is simple. I gush about what I think are the ten most amazing, incredible, fascinating, astounding, interesting, surprising, awesome birds in southern Africa. In practice, choosing just ten is not so easy. The inquisitive, smelly honeyguides that can digest was with the help of special bacteria in their gut and can smell honey a mile away. The African Jacana where Dad has to carry the babies around under his wings. The sneaky indigobirds that lay their eggs in the nest of unwitting hosts, and then mimic them to avoid being ousted. These are some of my finalists…come and see if you agree.
50 Shades of Brown
LBJs, or Little Brown Jobs are the nemesis of many a twitcher. Either your bird looks like none of those in the book, or like all of them! That’s why the the scientific name of an LBJ is Ornithologicum nightmariensis. In this introductory talk we won’t go into specific technicalities, but rather look at why identifying LBJs (and all other birds) is much more than just matching what you see to a picture in the book. We’ll touch on the clues in habitat, distribution, season, behaviour, calls, shape, size and variations…with some interesting optical illusions and mental challenges to keep you guessing.
Two Birders walk into a bar…
One shouts duck! The other shouts Yellow-billed or Maccoa? A light-hearted look at what makes birders tick, this talk is an illustrated guide to all the species of birders that you are likely to encounter in the southern African bush. From the non-birders a.k.a. ‘normal people’ to the hardcore twitchers, and everyone in between. I’ll outline the diagnostic characteristics of each one of these species – see if you can identify to which species you, or your crazy birding buddy, belongs. There is also a quiz to help you determine whether you’re a birder or not. Bazinga!
The Rough guide to Ruffs
Transsexual. Deceit. Dance-off. Gluttony. Promiscuity. Globetrotter. Fashionista. Satellites. Facial Warts. What do all these seemingly random words have in common? They all describe what is undoubtedly one of the planet’s most fascinating birds – The Ruff. To southern African birders, the Ruff is just another drab, brown wader. However, come the Northern Hemisphere spring, things take a dramatic turn for the dramatic…
Birding Down Under
Pardalote. Sitella. Silver-eye. Currawong. Triller. Fantail. Monarch. Whistler. Logrunner. Chowchilla. Honeyeater. Whiteface. Thornbill. Gerygone. Dollarbird. Frogmouth. Koel. Galah. Native-hen. Bower. Fairy-wren. Hardhead. If these strange names sound like absolute nonsense, join us for an introduction to everything feathered and fantastical in Australia – the world’s greatest hotspot of endemism. If these names do mean something to you, come and relive some great birding memories of birding Down Under as Faansie Peacock shares his experience of his recent visit to Queensland.
You’ve got to be kidding!
When I first saw the double lines on a positive pregnancy test, I though birding was now over for good. A few years down the line, I’ve realised that having kids can re-invigorate your birding…with a few minor adjustments. In this talk I’ll give current or prospective parents, or grandparents, some handy tips on birding with babies and kids. Strategies to keep both birders and babies happy. I’ll also share some fond birding memories and suggest some places where we’ve taken our kids birding. And you’ll see some really cute baby pictures to boot!
Freakin’ Freaky Frogs
Did you know that Southern Africa is home to more than 160 frog species, ranging in size from the fingernail-sized Micro Frog to the 1.4 kg Giant Bullfrog? We have poisonous frogs, frogs that live underground, frogs with shovels for noses, frogs that froth up foam to lay their eggs in, frogs that can change colour, frogs that can climb waterfalls, and even frogs that can tell if you’re pregnant. In this introduction to all things froggy, I will introduce the different frog groups and share some truly freaky facts about these delicate and amazing creatures.
The ABC of LBJ ID in SA
Southern Africa is blessed, or cursed (depending on your viewpoint) with over 200 species of LBJs. These Little Brown Jobs are the nemesis of many a twitcher, and even the experts struggle to tell the various larks, pipits, cisticolas and warblers apart. In this weekend course I will briefly talk about the species relevant to your area, with a focus on the most common and likely candidates. We will also chat (pun intended) about the best approaches to LBJ identification, which includes so much more than just the bird’s appearance. Because this is a subject that can become rather tedious, I use four different approaches for each one of the main groups…and I’ll teach you a song! You will also receive printed course notes, and handy cheat-sheets. A practical field outing can be added.
Or as one would say in Afrikaans, waadvoëls is woes. Identification of waders (or shorebirds) is a complex business, made all the more complex by the fact that most species have different juvenile, breeding and non-breeding plumages, and often other subtle variations related to region, sex, feather wear or moult. Nevertheless, experienced birders are obsessed with these nondescript shoreline patrollers, mostly because of the very real chance of finding a rarity. But when confronted by a huge mudflat crawling with stints, sandpipers, snipes, sanderlings and stilts – how would you ever find the odd-one-out? In this course we will start at the beginning – by considering shape, size, posture, habitat and behaviour – and work our way up. If you relish a challenge, even if you know nothing about waders, this course will make you fall in love with these tiny globetrotters.
Step 1. Pick up your binoculars.
A beginner’s guide to birds and birding. No experts allowed (except me, of course). If you’ve heard about birding, and feel like you might want to give it a shot but don’t know anything about birds…or if you want to learn but you don’t have time to memorise the whole bloody bird book, this is the course for you. Or perhaps you’ve mastered a few things, but you still get confused by all the variations and exceptions, this is a good place to come for support. We will not go anywhere near little brown birds, difficult raptors or rarities on this course. In fact, we’ll spend a good deal of time just talking about the how, where and when of birding, to lay a solid foundation and turn you into a top twitcher in no time! Bring your bird book along…along with a pair of scissors, a highlighter and a permanent marker. Oh, and your binoculars.