The Kruger Bird and Wildlife Challenge was held in South Africa this past February. Organized by BirdLife South Africa, Middlepunt Wetland Trust and Rockjumper Birding Tours, the event was started by BirdLife International to support conservation efforts for the critically endangered white-winged flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi). This very rare African bird is found in just a few regions of Ethiopia and South Africa. Living in especially thick vegetation, it is hard to spot the bird using traditional methods. Thus there are only a few photographs of this bird species, most of which show captured specimens. Financial support is urgently needed, primarily to preserve the small bird’s remaining habitat and support local endeavors undertaken by the different organizations.
Eight teams, each comprising nine bird watchers and conservationists, headed to the event at Kruger National Park. While no white-winged flufftails reside there, the location is ideal for hosting an event of this size. Kruger National Part is one of the few remaining nature reserves on the planet where sufficient land is still available to establish a stable equilibrium between the different species. This has long since ceased to be the case in nearly all nature reserves found in central Europe due to their limited size and the use of chemicals for intensive farming in the surrounding areas. More than 500 bird and over 150 mammal species have been spotted in Kruger National Park, and the teams had to record as many of these as possible.
Over a period of nine days, the participants made their way through the entire park and spent the night at different camps. Unlike many other competitive birding events, including Champions of the Flyway held in Israel, the challenge was not just to spot the largest number of different species. Instead, each species was scored on a scale of one to three, with more points going to less common or difficult-to-find birds.
Thus the world’s biggest heron, the Goliath heron, and the large martial eagle only earned teams one point because these birds are impossible to miss, while spotting a dusky lark earned three points. The peregrine falcon, which is likewise a rare find in Kruger National Park, could also earn a team three points.