Jungle Fever: The tools of my trade

Most Northglen News readers have probably got a Brownhooded Kingfisher (Roberts 435) in their garden, which they won’t need binoculars for!

Tourists from overseas can always be identified by their cameras, always held, or hanging at the ready. Elephants and lions are the priority, and lately, our ever-threatened rhinos. With some bazooka size lenses, they cannot help but take pics of our beautiful birds too. They get home, show the photos to their friends, then get asked, “What bird is that?”, and they don’t know!

Obviously, a rhino is a rhino, but the birds have made them realise they have to go back to Africa, to settle a few things they actually missed. I always recognise guests who are on their second visit to SA; they have a bird book with them. That’s where you start. We are blessed with great bookshops in the northern suburbs, so browse around their natural science sections.

Roberts (Chittenden), Sasol (Sinclair), and Newmans (Newman) are the best field guides. They are all in the ‘two hundred and plenty rand price’ range, money well spent. There is also a Birds By Colour (Newman), which is an easy aid for bird identification too, because birds are grouped into families in the other guide books, making it a little difficult at first, but we will overcome that small problem soon.

I also found a second hand bookshop, Book Base, in the Cowey Centre, Cowey Road, Durban, with an amazing collection of bird books. Trevor (083 658 7425), the owner, knows his bird stuff, and is very helpful. He also has a quite a range of vintage Roberts’ Bird of Southern Africa (of which I am an avid collector), editions 5 and 6, being an important addition to your birdbook collection, and will add status to your shelf! Of course, the electronic media offerings by Sasol and Roberts are fantastic, available at most reputable computer stores, and well worth the (+-R1000) price. They are also available as apps on your smart phone. But, let’s walk, before we can run.

My ‘second-time-to-Africa’ guests also realised that binoculars are more important than a camera. You would be surprised how many travellers don’t own a pair. You will also be shocked how many sales assistants selling them don’t know anything about them either! Go into the store knowing what you want. The markings on the binocs are, for example, 8×42. The first number is the strength, eight times magnification. The second number is the millimetre diameter of the front lens (not the eyepiece). The small (I call them) opera glasses (8×25, and 10×25) are unsuitable for fieldwork because the tiny front lens has a limited field of vision and a poor twilight factor. Good for rock concerts and girls on the beach (I have been told), but lightweight for a handbag. 7×50, 8×40, and 10×50 are the old fashioned ‘roof prism’ type, which are bulky, and inclined to go squint if dropped or bumped hard, but cheapest of the price range. 8×42 and 10×42 are the popular sizes today, and very robust (for falling out of trees, and down cliffs etc).

Don’t be tempted to buy anything stronger than 10x magnification, because you would then ideally need a tripod to eliminate the vibration from your shaking hands when you sight your first Narina Trogon (Roberts 427)! I have also discovered that after-sales service is important. The brand determines the price, but seeing Christmas is around the corner, it shouldn’t be your problem!

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