I recently visited the quaint little village of Hogsback in the Eastern Cape. Always a guide, I had packed all my books, including my Birdfinder, a useful book for knowing what birds to expect in an area, and a handy way to find out the best spots to look for them. South Africa, flip some pages, Eastern Cape, flip some more, Hogsback. I started reading and was excited to note a number of potential lifers, including the rare and highly endangered Cape Parrot.
The Cape Parrot has a sad history. Indigenous to South Africa, it's population was once high and healthy. Flocks would swarm around the Amathole Mountain Range and locals reminisce of the days when the call of the Parrots would be all you could hear resonating around the valley. Sadly, due to illegal trade in the Eastern Cape, the population has diminshed. Why people want to keep a bird that should fly free in its natural environement locked in a cage is beyond me.
To this day, there are less than 1000 of these beautiful birds left in wild as a result. Thankfully, a number of people in the area have taken this matter further, and have set up organisations to protect the remaining population.
After hours of walking the many trails hoping to get lucky and spot one, we admitted defeat. The closest we had come to seeing the rare Parrot was hearing it's loud call many miles away. Walking back to our accommodation we spotted and then spoke to a local birder (easily identified by his bino's, large lens and lazy pace) who told us that there was only one pair in the village and that our best bet would be to wait at their roost for their nightly return.
So we waited. And waited. The sun went down, and dusk was upon us. Then we heard the calls. From far. We waited longer, the sound so loud it felt like they were right above us. Man, these birds know how to make a noise! After about a minute of hearing them approach we saw them arrive home from a day of forraging. It was too dark to get a photo, and we felt like we hadn't spent any time with them. We decided to abort mission for the day and come back in the morning, to observe and appreciate these birds in the wild, where they should be.
We got up early and returned to their roost. They were already active, and as loud as ever. The beautiful morning rays lit them up wonderfully and we watched them warming up for the day, taking short, circular flights around their roost, as if to leave , but always returning home. Many photographs were taken and excitement levels were exorbitant. Eventually they flew South, off for a day of foraging in the nearby forests. We were left with a sense of wonder as we looked at their now empty roost.
I look back on those moments and feel so privileged. How fortunate to see a pair of these threatened birds. I can only hope that future generations will be able to enjoy them as we did that day, not in captivation, but where they belong, in the big blue skies and green forests of the Eastern Cape.