Blaise Hopkinson
Blaise Hopkinson

Endless hours of home incarceration have given rise to a new pastime – urban birding. Living on the fringes of the man-made forest that is Johannesburg allows one to enjoy God’s little winged creatures from the comfort of a home balcony or patio.

Comprising 10 million trees, loads of natural surface, pool water and a fairly benevolent climate, Egoli is the ideal environment for ornithological pursuits.

Same for the Cape. A friend in Noordhoek, who leads birding and wildlife expeditions around Africa, found more than 50 species visible from his balcony alone while waiting out lockdown, not counting the LBJs (little brown jobs).

This LBJ is a Cape Sparrow, better known throughout South Africa as a Mossie. Picture: Lizo Sonkwala, Unsplash

It is a question of patience, a little birdseed, the odd apple and a pair of binoculars. That is all. You can wear a silly hat, sensible shoes (no Birkenstocks with socks please) and a bemused smile and you are ready for urban birding.

Also, haul out your Newman’s or Roberts and you are all set. I have an early Roberts which features the illustrations of artist Norman Lighton, whom I interviewed in the late 70s. He had had a stroke so couldn’t paint again and he also had no personal examples of his much-heralded work. A special edition of his paintings was published as a tribute. What a gentle, soulful man he was.

Hadeda in the poolside mirror, preparing to drink or commune with nature. Picture: Blaise Hopkinson

The twittering, the real kind, begins just before dawn when the early birds wake up, wide-eyed and hungry. After the first rays the ubiquitous hadedas (Bostrychia hagedash) start their cacophony, the Egyptian geese begin caterwauling and the wood hoopoes commence their fractious discourse, bickering like banshees on neighbouring rooftops.

Weavers rip palm leaf strips for their nests in the fever tree, grey loeries exclaim “go away” and the lapwings frantically defend their nests, shrieking at approaching cats.

You don’t normally even notice this marvel on unlocked down days, meaning that one of the few by-products of the pandemic is the pure joy that daily awaits the sharp-eyed and patient observer and listener at our suburban aviary.