Birding Big Day is an event during which birders all over South Africa attempt to see as many different species of birds within a 50km radius. This year we attempted to join in the birding-bonanza by creating our own team, Shared Universe. We had spent weeks looking forward to the Big Day, planning, practicing and strategizing.
When the Big Day finally arrived we awoke at 3:00AM to the sound of soft rain on the corrugated zinc roof. As the rain intensified we decided to postpone the start of the day until the rain subsided. By 5:00AM there was still no sign of the rain stopping and we decided to go birding in the rain. The first logical stop was the dam where we spotted the first bird for the day, a three banded plover. While trying to identify the second bird the Landrover began to slide off of the compacted top side of the dam and into the muddy clay wall. 4×4, diff-lock and low range all proved to be useless as the mud engulfed the tires and the vehicle slid closer to the central depression in the dam.
By 5:45AM the dam was starting to fill rapidly and the inlet which was a small stream when we arrived now looked like a waterfall. By now we had managed to contact Christof, he carefully maneuvered onto the wall and decided the only way we could get out was by towing the vehicle. Working together, the two vehicles began sliding through the thick dam mud as the rear wheels moved perpendicular to the direction we were moving in. Luckily, Inches from the rising water and meters from the approaching tree we managed to pull the Defender out.
By 7:00AM the parched Mapesu landscape was officially a water word. We abandoned the vehicles on the dam wall and began walking back towards the lodge. On our way back we saw bushbucks escaping the small island at the center of the dam and swimming to the other side. We saw a leopard who looked about as happy as the grinch on Christmas.
We were cold, wet and tired but elated by the amount of rain we had received. When it was all said and done, the reserve had received over 85mm. By 11:00am we began seeing some birds, and by the end of the day we had managed to spot 39 different species. Although this was way short of our target of at least 150, we had an adventurous day.