Mavela's Birding Big Day

December 1, 2020

At 3am on a Saturday morning, myself and four other people get in a car and set out in the dark of night on a ... unique road trip. We're about to drive around for a gruelling 17 hours within a 50km radius of our location, with the goal of identifying as my different birds as we can.

To some (probably most), this may seem like an absurd thing to do ... but rest assured, there is a method to this madness.

On Saturday, 28 November 2020 BirdLife South Africa hosted their 36th annual Birding Big Day (BBD). It is widely regarded as the largest event on the SA birding calendar.

People from all over South Africa with an interest in birds participate every year in BBD. Ranging from beginners to 'twitchers' (a nickname for avid and advanced birders), people set out in teams on an epic race to see which team can identify the highest number of bird species in a 24 hour period.

Except for being a fun event for birders to participate in, and the opportunity to indulge in some friendly competition, this annual event also benefits conservation: Starting in recent years of the event, participants have been required to log all of their bird sightings for the day using a mobile app called BirdLasser. Information about the sightings like location, species, time, gender and number of individuals etc. is shared with conservation bodies for research purposes.

A little Bittern seen during the BBD

BirdLasser also adds an interesting twist to the plot - participants are able to view the lists and scores of other teams in live-time while the clock is ticking, flaring the competitive drive for some.

It was the first time participating for all the members of our team, and we achieved a proud result of 181 birds in our area and a satisfactory ranking of 16th in KwaZulu-Natal at the end of a long day of fun in the sun (and searching for owls under the moonlight). It soon became apparent just how much planning goes into this day for some teams.

Blue Cheeked Bee-eater

With precise route planning, accurate scheduling and lots of homework on the geography of the surrounding 50 km radius area, some teams spotted over 200, even 300 different bird species in just one day! The winning team ended the day with a staggering list of 335 bird species recorded in the lowveld region of the Limpopo province.

The team with the most species recorded in KZN (an incredible total of 265) also happened to be birding and exploring in the same general area we did - Manyoni Private Game Reserve and the surrounding area between the Swaziland border and the coast which falls within the Zululand IBA; an area categorized as a 'important bird area' due to its’ species diversity and the number of rare and endangered birds in the area. There were a surprising number of birding teams that operated in our area, including a few big names in the birding game, and many of them included Manyoni in their route plan - A big testimony to the diversity that Mavela Game Lodge has to offer.

Red-billed Teal

With a list of 416 bird species having been recorded within our reserve to date, Manyoni is fast becoming known as a top birding destination in our country, and is certainly living up to its name which in isiZulu means "place of birds".

At the end of the day, Birding Big Day 2020 produced a total of 667 different bird species recorded across South Africa and 48, 784 sightings logged. A good day for conservation, and a great opportunity for birders to team up, mingle, compete and perhaps spot one or two new bird species. I personally added 5 new birds to my ever-expanding life list. Next year, BBD will see us again!

The End.

Written by: Nico Bestbier Photos: Nico Bestbier

Our other stories

Wildlife Conservation

Travel with a purpose - Participate in conservation.

April 18, 2023

The Sekane Pride

Sekane pride of Lions

July 31, 2022

The History of Rhino Conservation in South Africa

The History of Rhino Conservation in South Africa

Feb 20, 2022

Photos of the Year - 2021

Photos of the Year - 2021

September 5, 2021

Manyoni Private Game Reserve, One of the Jewels of the Elephant Coast

Nestled in the foothills of the Lebombo Mountain Range, covering an area of 23000ha the Manyoni Private Game Reserve forms one of the largest privately owned Big 5 areas in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

June 24, 2021

Photos of the Year - 2020

The best photos captured at Mavela during November

December 1, 2020

Mavela's Birding Big Day

Some members of the Mavela team got together to participate in the annual birding big day. An event that sets out to identify the most amount of bird species within a 24 hour day. The guides at Mavela couldn't miss out on the fun.

December 1, 2020

Rain Comes to Zululand

The month of October brought with it much needed rainfall, the low hanging clouds signified the close of a long and dry winter period and the landscape has undergone a rapid change from arid savannah to a veritable garden of Eden.

November 30, 2020

Free Flying, Once Again

On 24 June 2020 three critically White-backed Vultures were released back into the wild on Manyoni Private Game Reserve (MPGR) after being saved from mass poisonings last year.

July 27, 2020

New Contenders

As one of the most beautifully captivating animals to find on safari, the cheetah is a massive asset to any game reserve. Their sleek elegance and unique characteristics make it a truly remarkable animal to encounter.

July 27, 2020


Excitement on the 31 December 2018, when Brad Smith identified a very rare bird at the lodge, the Golden Pipit!

April 19, 2019