The Twitch of a Lifetime

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It started as a sighting earlier in the week on the Linyanti River, and then again on Thursday afternoon. When the news trickled through that a rare vagrant Ross's turaco was sitting on a fruit-bearing sycamore fig, we knew we were in with a decent chance, but the question remained: while the tree was still in fruit, would the bird stay put?

Our friend Ross (Rousseau Lötter) calls it 'his' turaco. It is a mystical bird in our sub-region. A bird that has inspired legends. The opportunity to connect with it could not be missed.

Friday started with great promise but no fixed itinerary. A contact of Jacques’ came through for us in an extraordinary way. Thank you Kim Nixon at Wilderness Safaris a thousand times over.

Kings Pool was fully booked but Savuti Camp was available, and only 1.5 hours away. My wife Marianne Engela was a champion. She would look after our sick baby. On her own. As I will do for the night shifts for the next month. Promise.

Friday night I struggled to sleep. Jacques claimed a good night’s rest, the truth being that he passed out from excitement. By Saturday morning we were trembling with anticipation. Pleasant flight to Maun. Then the small plane over to the Linyanti (a lifelong dream) with Wilderness Air to Savute Airstrip.

When we arrived, we realised why Wilderness Safaris is in a class of its own. Our guide, Goodman, was well-briefed and focused. We would go looking for the bird straight away – no time for complimentary orange juice or warm lemongrass-scented towels.

Goodman gunned down the sandy track to the treeline on the Linyanti River. We searched the jackalberries and sycamores for fruit, almost losing hope. And then a flick of yellow somewhere in the canopy. Unmistakable! What a cracker species!

We knew we had the bird, but it was hiding behind a clump of leaves. For almost an hour. And the sun was setting. When it came out, we pushed the ISO, and got a few decent shots. Just before sunset it got into fisticuffs with a grey go-away-bird and flew away, leaving behind two happy and truly satisfied birders.

The evening was spent getting word out to all and sundry that the bird was still hanging around and the next morning we were up at 04h00 and positioned below a jackalberry, in front of the very same sycamore. The bird didn't arrive, and we got worried, until Jacques spotted movement right above us. Double the luck if a Ross's turaco poos on your head?

After 15 minutes it flew to the river for a quick drink and then it put up the most amazing display of feeding behaviour that we could have hoped for. Aggressive towards the green pigeons. Not shy at all. When it flew off, we had our shots, and the afternoon was spent catching up with Dickinson’s kestrels (three separate sightings), Arnot's chats, southern carmine bee-eaters (early arrivals) and many other specials.

We will take our mega twitches wherever we can find them. Often the local sewerage works. We have slept under the 4x4 and loved every second of it. What a feast when the invite reads pure wilderness and undeserved comfort. Lion and leopard on our way back the first evening, hyaena at dawn. Joining a wild dog pack on a hunt at dusk on the second day. Ancient watercourses with towering trees. Turndown service and two-ply toilet paper. The Linyanti is a delight to the senses and an absolute must.

To Jacques' delight, I even broke the curse of the Coqui francolin. With the Ross's turaco – Jacques' 700th bird and photographic record (a true purist) – and the Coqui, my 750th photographic record, this was truly one for the books.

Written by Robbie Engela 

Photographs by Jacques Fourie and Robbie Engela 

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