Nov 152012

Two kinds of people sign up for African safaris. Most, myself included, want to see “The Big Five”–-lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant. The other people are the birders.

So when my birder father announces he wants to join me on a trip to Botswana I have planned for myself, I clarify, “This is not a birding trip.”

“I won’t mention my interest in birds to anyone,” he replies.

As we climb into the open Land Rover for our first wildlife drive, our guide Tim asks, “Are either of you birders?”

“I’m not. I want to focus on mammals, especially lions and elephants,” I respond with an I’m –in –charge attitude.

Then my father says, “this is my daughters trip, but if we see a bird or two, that would be great.” Tim’s face lights up, and I realize I’m doomed.

A few minutes into our drive, we stop. “My first lilac breasted roller,” my dad announces with pride.

Photo of Lilac Breasted Roller by Lyle Wood

The colorful feathers shimmer in the first morning light. I must admit, it is a beautiful bird.

During the next hour we stop and stare at every brown, yellow, big, little, flying and sitting bird. I listen to discussions of wing-spans, beak shapes and throat colors, and I learn new names like Hammerkop and Bateleur.Twelve lilac-breasted roller sightings, and many other bird species later, we see a pride of seven lions. I focus my binoculars on the cat’s blood stained fur.

After a few minutes, Tim interrupts my big cat trance, “They aren’t going to do anything, so let’s push onward.”

At our last tented camp on our trip I explain to my father, “It is probably obvious by the name of this place, Savute Elephant Camp, that I really want to focus on elephants here, not birds.”

“ Of course,” he agrees.

I hire Clive, a private guide, to lead us on a bush walk.

“We have no interest in seeing birds,” I tell Clive.

“We’ll try to find the rogue bull elephant that has been in the area,” he says.


I follow Clive and the shotgun slung over his right shoulder; my father behind me. When we catch up to the massive grey bull Clive’s hand motions us to be quiet, and stay close.

African Elephant images for Africa Inside – Photo by Chris Martin

“Adolescent males can be unpredictable and dangerous,” he whispers.

Clive signals us to stop; any further would be too close for comfort. The bull moves from one mopane tree to the next, snapping branches like twigs. I turn around to share this adrenaline pumping moment with my father but he is nowhere in sight.

“We can’t follow the elephant until we find your father,” Clive insists. I know he’s right, but I’m reluctant to let the elephant get away from us.

Then I see my father in the distance, half hidden behind a thick bush, his binoculars focused on a lilac-breasted roller.

“Dad, you have seen hundreds of lilac-breasted rollers already, please can you walk with us, the elephant’s getting away,” I plead.

“You’ve seen a hundred elephants,” he retaliates.

We stare at each other for a tension filled moment, and then start to laugh. The noise causes the bird to fly off, while my elephant disappears into thick bush.

Back home in the States my father sends me a gift. It’s a two by three foot size poster of a lilac-breasted roller. He may just make a birder out of me yet.

For more stories, visit my blog at AfricaInside.org

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Lori Robinson

Thirty years of traveling to and living in eleven African countries – from my first trip to Southern Africa on assignment as a fashion model in 1984, to my recent role as Africa Adventures Specialist in East Africa for the Jane Goodall Institute – has nourished my life long passion for the natural world. In 2009 I sold my big house, and most of my stuff so I could live more simply. When I’m not leading safari’s in Africa, I’m based in a small African hut, aka California cottage, in Santa Barbara. I write about animals, nature and Africa. You can find me at AfricaInside.org.

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2 Comments on "The Big Five vs. Birds"

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3 years 11 months ago

had been to kenya recently. Awesome place, the expanse, the peace and the distant horizons with undulating landscape. The big 5 and of course the myriad birds [sorry, but I love the birds, though I am not a birder in that sense] . I love behaviour and evolution studies in living beings [of any colour,size,shape]


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