“I have a soft spot for mimicry, birds that can mimic other bird calls and appearance. My pet project for a few years has been studying the larks and warblers – a bird like the Marsh Warbler which is such an inconspicuous, demure, little brown job has an amazing vocal power – their repertoire can include 75 different species they’ve heard at all the sites they visit, all mixed into a beautifully composed song. I am very much an audio birder and appreciate the birds with complex rich songs more than just the visual beauty of birds” says Faansie Peacock, professional birder, author and artist.
Words by Tania Anderson. Images by Faansie Peacock
He has a creative way of teaching birders to identify LBJs. His ABC of LBJ ID in SA contains short poems that separate the intimidating larks from the pipits, and warblers from the confusing cisticolas. And each species within these four groups from each other.
Starting with the 28 larks. ‘…If larks make you weep, instead of counting sheep, remember the Lark Lullaby – and the rewards you will reap’. Here are just two for now:
Spike-heeled has spikes on his toes
a short white-tipped tail, and a spike on his nose.
With his red beer belly pulled in, he strikes a pose,
so he and his bros can challenge their foes.
Sabota sits atop an Acacia tree
(or Vachellia or whatever it now may be)
No rufous wing and song full of mimicry,
But a white eyebrow is the first thing you’ll see.
For the 14 pipits, you will need to remember the Pipit Prayer, which he says will turn your despair into a pipit love affair! ‘To ID pipits you’ll need three P’s: practice, patience and prayer they be. Among the hardest, even for me’.
The Ode to Warblers includes tricks and clues. ‘…Listen to their voices, their secret code. Was it in the bush or where the river flowed?’ Not to warble on too long, we will only mention one – the Sedge warbler.
Sedge hunkers down low above the water.
Told by his brow and streaky feather.
Such a smart little bird, yes sir!
Watch the sedges or flooded grass stir.
No two sound alike ’tis said.
In their lively excited song thread.
In summer he’s sparse but widespread,
But in winter he has long since fled.
Finally the Cisticola Song that’s easy to sing. ‘It’s about little birds that all end in ‘-ing’. Of the dull and the brown, these chaps are king, the cisticolas await – shall we begin?’
If they meet a cisticola many will sigh,
‘yet another LBJ, I won’t even try’.
But just remember when one comes by,
the cisticola song, easy as pie!
Croaking’s so big ‘cause he swallowed a toad.
In moist eastern grasslands is his abode.
When his bill’s black deep voice will explode:
croak-croak, just like the toad he swallowed.
Here’s the good news: to get a copy of his ABC to LBJ, you will have to attend one of his fabulous LBJ talks.