Reflections on South Africa 2021-2022

Updated: Aug 26


Zino's Petrel 16 June 2022 - endemic. Nests in an extinct volcanic caldera high above eastern Madeira Island

Bird Walks every Thursday, Fri; Sat; Sun. and Monday. Saturdays and Sundays at 730am and again at 930am - you get two bird walks for the price of one. See here (click on that link!) for complete bird walk schedule. All walks remain $10. Photo above: African Fish Eagles 6 August 2022 (Kruger National Park in South Africa): Deborah Allen


26 August 2022


In this Newsletter we wanted to provide some thoughts and observations on the South Africa we experienced during the last year - beyond the landscapes, animals and plants we love so much. (Though at the end of the Newsletter is a story about a Giant Kingfisher we brought in using sound, and how South African tourists vs British Birders reacted.) So below, are our reflections on how South Africans see their country via conversations with as many people we could speak with as possible. Be advised that we try and be as objective and neutral correspondents as is possible. We are neither pro (nor anti) black, or white or anything South African. We are great admirers of all South Africans and their country. We are trying to report as accurately as possible on what South Africans are thinking about their country, and their future.


When we asked South Africans if they were optimistic or pessimistic about the future, 100% of blacks were optimistic. Most (>90%) of whites were optimistic, but were worried. We'll discuss a little about this worry in a bit.


During the 1991-1994 period when apartheid ended and free/fair elections were held (1994), an amazing thing happened: there was no bloody revolution, and a mostly peaceful transfer of power occurred. And it remains so to this day - amazing really, though not perfect with many bumps along the way. It is extraordinary to consider how far South Africans have come in approximately 30 years. That should be celebrated.


Brown Hooded Kingfisher 11 July 2022 Kruger National Park Deborah Allen

If this was 1990, and Deborah and I walked into an office in Kruger National Park to make a reservation, everyone working/visiting would have been white. Perhaps a few people cooking or cleaning might have been black (perhaps), but most/all the best government jobs were reserved for.... In July 2022, the vast majority of workers in the park were black (as are most of the civil service people in the country), professional and eager to show people the park. We were treated with great respect and kindness...and were quite happy to see that South Africans look to America and Americans (despite our funny accents) - and not China, Russia etc. We were impressed with how professional the staff was - and the respect we were given.


It seems to us that the people (who happened to be black) were universally optimistic because they had a chance now...a job...a way forward. There was a sense of pride in this opportunity.


All change comes with some good things - and some less than good things depending upon one's perspective. All the white folks we spoke to knew South Africa had to change in 1992, and welcomed the change. It was an exciting time for everyone. Where whites are frustrated today is in two key areas: (a) there is now a large white middle class that is having trouble finding jobs as plumbers, electricians, gardeners (and even small business people), because the government (Civil Service) or laws, are preferential to hiring black workers. Whites feel as though people are being hired because of their skin color - and not the quality of their work - a kind of reverse discrimination. "I didn't have anything to do with the terrible things that happened, but I am in a way being punished for it" was a train of thought we heard not infrequently. The other area where whites are upset is the situation with the electrical grid (and phone system). White South Africans were quick to point out that the electrical grid was much more reliable in the 1980s than today. ("That's why we call it darkest Africa sometimes," because there are rolling power outages, sometimes 5-10 hours a day.) "How do you run a business, let alone a country with a power grid that is not reliable?"

Malachite Kingfisher (male) 15 July 2022 Deborah Allen

And it is the same with the phone system: a 3G (at best) network that for most people is okay for local phone calls...but not internet (emails) or web service. White South Africans also like to point to many local townships who have not (and cannot) build schools, hospitals, infrastructure - the basic nuts and bolts needed by local (usually black) communities. "Where does the money go that was allocated for these things?" whites like to ask. And it is easy to see who runs the government - the African National Congress party - at the national level down to the local level. There is a lot of frustration by whites and many blacks, especially professional folks.


What holds everything together? Why hasn't South Africa devolved into what happened in Zimbabwe, especially with the presidency of Jacob Zuma 2007-2017 - who was/is, in a nutshell, the South African version of Donald Trump? This is the million dollar question, and one that has no definitive answer: luck, chance...we prefer to see it as the character of the nation. The optimism of the black community that things will continue to get better despite all the bad things of the past...the opportunity blacks now have to control their own future, and the future of their country. Perhaps it is the good nature of most people who are black - or white. Add to this the old stock Dutch community that remains in South Africa no matter what, because it is their country too. The Dutch people we have had a chance to work with have a strong sense of community: what is best for everyone? Whatever keeps South Africa peaceful and forward looking, we wish them only prosperity and luck. We wish them a time to listen to each other, because they will only have each other to depend upon.

Spotted Hyena (cubs) 8 July 2022 Deborah Allen

(below) African Wild Dog near Melalane Camp 8 August 2022 Deborah Allen

Good! Bird Walks for Late August (through 31 October 2022)

All Walks @ $10/person - each in Central Park


Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


1. Thursday, 25 August: (8:30am) Dock on Turtle Pond (mid-park at about 79th st.) $10


2. Friday, 26 August: (8:30am) Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue) $10


3!!!. Saturday, 27 August: 7:30am and again 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10


4!!!. Sunday, 28 August: 7:30am and again at 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10


5. Monday, 29 August: (8:30am) Strawberry Fields (72nd st. and Central Park West) $10


!!!: if you do the 7:30am walk, you can come on the 9:30am for free (two for one).


*For all our walks: no need to book ahead or pay in advance - just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us. Binoculars can be rented for $10.


Deborah and Bob will be heading to Namibia and Botswana starting 1 November so walks will only be on Sundays starting 7 November (until 10 December when we return). The most current up to the minute schedule can be found HERE (click)


Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)


Pied Kingfisher (male) on 19 July 2022 at the Letaba River Deborah Allen

*No need to book ahead or pay in advance - just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us! In August through October, our walks on weekends meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through early June 2022. Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time! Friday walks meet uptown at 8:30am at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave); Mondays at 8:30am at Strawberry Fields (Central Park West at 72nd street). And Thursdays at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 830am


Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


WEATHER: If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home (718-828-8262) - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) at the Boathouse at about 12noon to 1pm; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.


[below] Egyptian Geese (male with wings spread) on 6 August 2022 Deborah Allen

[below] Striped Kingfisher 25 July 2022 Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):


Thursday through Monday 18-22 August 2022.


This is the time of the year when earlier is better for birds...and on Thursday 18 August, on what would be a warm day (upper 80s F), the early morning would be the time to bring birds to the edge of the forest and even briefly into sunlight. By 10am, we would need to be in the shade of trees, and birds become much less responsive to the calls from my tape. So at 630am, I found myself at Turtle Pond bringing in 6 warbler species including Bay-breasted and Canada Warblers. Later we would add Worm-eating Warbler (Tupelo Field) for a total of nine warbler species today (plus Red-breasted Nuthatches). On Friday, Deborah had the group at the north end of the park where they found a female Mourning Warbler as the highlight, bathing in the waterfall that leads into the Pool. The weekend, 20-21 August, had few birds, and as I was prepared to apologize to everyone on Saturday morning (20 August), we found a Golden-winged Warbler (likely a female) that came to the calls from my tape along with several other warbler species - see Deborah Allen's photo below of this Golden-winged Warbler. On average we get about one Golden-winged Warbler per year in Central Park...but the excitement was not over yet. An hour or

so later, E.J. Bartolozo photographed a different Golden-winged Warbler - the first time since 2006 that two individuals of (perhaps) the rarest warbler had been seen in Central Park. We had eight warbler species today (Saturday) plus two Great Crested Flycatchers and some Baltimore Orioles. By Sunday, almost no inbound migration had occurred (but the Golden-wings had left overnight), so we were shocked to have found ten warbler species plus a Yellow-billed Cuckoo; and with special effort (and lots of calls), five (5) Red-breasted Nuthatches. Also, Sandra Critelli made the amazing find of a Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) of the Saturnid Moth family. See photos below by Alexandra Wang; Thanks to Sandra Critelli as well for the great find! Truly wonderful teamwork.

This moth is/was a first for the bird walk...and the first time in many years a Polyphemus has been seen in Central Park. Photos by Alexandra Wang on 28 August (Sunday) in Shakespeare Garden on our bird walk.


Monday's walk was cancelled by 6pm on Sunday because of the forecast of heavy rains all day (that in reality did not start until about noon on Monday). Please always check the web site for possible cancellations usually due to weather...but occasionally illness.

1. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Thursday, 18 August: Click Here

2. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Friday, 19 August: Click Here

3. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Saturday, 20 August: Click Here

4. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Sunday, 21 August: Click Here

5. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Monday, 22 August: RAIN! No Bird Walk


African Barred Owlet Letaba Camp on 18 July 2022 Deborah Allen

(below) Hamerkop Letaba River near Letaba Camp in Kruger National Park on 15 July 2022 Deborah Allen

NOTES from Kruger National Park August 2022


The Giant Kingfisher (1 August). So we were standing on a bridge over the Luvuvhu River. We were parked with 2-3 other vehicles in late morning. Most everyone was having a cup of coffee or tea, and relaxing: not much was happening wildlife/bird wise.


Knowing that kingfishers of several species were in the area, Bob decided to see what he could "reel" in. Calls of the Giant Kingfisher (some 20" tall with a three foot+ wingspan) were soon in the air from my speaker...and were quickly answered by the "real" thing, ie., Giant Kingfishers! It was then that Deborah spotted the male Giant Kingfisher in flight (photo below - note reddish-brown feathers of the upper breast). This bird kept swooping past us and landing in trees nearby.


(below) Giant Kingfisher (male) Luvuvhu River near Pafuri in Kruger National Park Deborah Allen

None of the people in the other cars were paying any attention - they seemed to be interested in finding mammals come down to the river for a drink. Birds were not a consideration. Everyone wants to see a "big cat" during the day...walking leisurely or stopping in the open for a bit. If that happened on the nearby road, be prepared for a "cat jam" with no vehicles able to make it through as everyone stopped to stare at the animal (aka "rubber-necking").


To our surprise while the male Giant Kingfisher was perched on a snag, a female came in and landed on the bridge...indeed on a post just opposite Deborah (perhaps 25 feet away). Even more interesting was that this female Giant Kingfisher landed about five feet away from the back of an SUV where a nice South African couple was standing having tea and chatting. I was gleefully watching all of this from 50 feet away with the speaker and my Iphone (but not my camera!) in my hands. Never fear, Deborah was at work - see one of Deborah's photos below. That's "full frame." And note the female's spotted upper breast (compare to the photo of the male in flight above)


Giant Kingfisher (female) Luvuvhu River near Pafuri in Kruger National Park on 1 August 2022 Deborah Allen

Now the couple watching this bird from five feet away never flinched - I give them a lot of credit. They were not quite stunned amazed...just amazed. Deborah kept photographing, and after a couple of minutes stopped to look at the kingfisher - and to take in how amazing this all was sans photography. At this point another SUV came from the other side of the bridge, and parked between Deborah and the Kingfisher. I could see the people in the vehicle taking photos with their telephoto lenses.


I've been accused of being unethical - but parking one's car between a bird and the couple who called in the bird...that seemed to me a bit over the top, especially because the people in the car (a) could have parked a few feet on either side so they were not blocking Deborah; or (b) walked over on foot to photograph the bird. It was not like this female Giant Kingfisher was going anywhere...it was already a few minutes on that perch.


So I yelled at the folks in the SUV blocking Deborah's sight-line. At which point a passenger gets out of the car with his camera gear, and in a British accent starts telling me how unethical I am. (My goodness, except for the accent, I felt like I was home in Central Park.) This commenced a shouting match, but the female Giant Kingfisher remained in place - sorta like the center-line judge at a tennis match. I finally told the guy to stop yelling at me because he was going to scare the Kingfisher (and that would be unethical). Ultimately the "birders" drove off - and the South African couple standing at the back of their SUV was almost as amazed at that exchange, as they were at the proximity of the Kingfisher.


We explained to the South Africans why some people think using sound is unethical. Yes it ranks right up there with other unethical crimes against humanity such as breaking one of the ten commandments. (Really? Think about this for a moment...bringing in a bird using sound is unethical? What does that make hunting or fishing? If the bird is so bothered by the sound why does it come to the sound and not fly in the opposite direction...much less perch on the same post for 5+ minutes?) Anyway, the South African couple laughed at the idiosyncrasies of some birders, and wanted to know how we brought the Kingfisher in - and could they learn it to show their grandkid who loves birds?


Moral of the story: keep an open mind. And if you disagree with what I do, it does not make me bad, unethical, wrong...it is just how I do things! Fine to disagree with my methods - so don't copy them. And always remember, Deborah is the good, decent, honest and nice one in the family....and the better bird photographer and ornithologist of the two. Hate Bob - he is used to it, and gets a good laugh from all this silliness about "ethics."

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

E.P. Bicknell's residence on Hewlett Long Island in 1915

Hamerkop and reflection near Punda Maria Camp in Kruger National Park on 2 August 2022 Deborah Allen


#Kruger #SouthAfrica #GiantKingfisher #AfricanKingfishers #KrugerNationalPark

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