It is my pleasure to share my sighting of an extremely rare bird and a vagrant in our area around Toka Leya Camp.
A few days ago one of our return guests and her family arrived at our camp. We are both keen birders and because of this I was really excited to be guiding her group. Debbie asked me if I was associated with the bird watching group of Zambia and whether I check the updates on new bird sightings in the area. I had not yet joined the group but was intrigued, especially after she mentioned that there had been a sighting of a lesser yellowlegs posted on the group. This is a bird that if it has been identified correctly, would be many thousands of miles away from in its home terrain.
The lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) is a medium-sized shorebird named after its long slender yellow legs. Unlike the greater yellowlegs the beak is shorter and uniformly dark, straight and sharply-pointed. The bird is found near water sources such as ponds (their breeding habitat) in the boreal forest region from Alaska to Quebec and has a mottled grey plumage (native to the Americas). An active feeder, the bird is often seen running through shallow water chasing prey. The lesser yellowlegs feeds on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates such as flies and beetles and even small fish and seeds.
Above: the yellow lesserlegs next to a wood sandpiper.
The excitement levels escalated as this would be the sighting of a lifetime for us all (birders will know just how exciting a rare find like this is)! Our group ventured out in pursuit of this rarity making sure to carefully follow the exact description of where it had last been seen. It was incredibly rewarding to eventually spot the bird and add another tick to our life list.
After the group left, I returned to the area where we had last spotted it in the hope of getting a better photograph but I failed to find it. I was very pleased therefore that our group had been successful on our first attempt.
A few days later another group of guests arrived from South Africa. Martha and Francois are return guests and I had met them during my time as a guide at Shumba Camp in the Busanga Plains in Zambia. Like Debbie, we also share a keen interest in birds. I informed Martha and Francois about a wonderful place with a good chance of seeing water birds and mentioned that I was hoping to find the newly-reported bird in our area.
After a great morning of birding I decided to drive to the area where I had first seen the bird. We did a little walk about and to my amazement we found it there in the company of a similar bird, a wood sandpiper (Tringa glariola).
As you can imagine, this was a great find and new addition to my list. In my 14 years as a guide I had never seen one before and may very likely never see one again. What a wonderful surprise!
Written and Photographed by Sam Simunji-Simunji, Wilderness Safaris Guide