“... When we enter the hushed forest, he starts calling out the names of those elusive forest birds as we hear them: the high-pitched call of the Sombre Greenbul ‘Willy come out and play’; the scratchy sound on the forest floor of the Terrestrial Brownbul tossing leaf litter; the continuous call of the Brown Scrub Robin from low in the leafy trees. And now a soft hooting above us... a flash of red and green as the Narina Trogon responds to his calls. The one-wing-flicker over there is the Yellow-streaked Greenbul and the Black-fronted Bush-Shrike shows itself at last...”
This is the experience of taking a walk with a bird guide – the experienced, knowledgeable person with super senses and local knowledge who can see what you don’t, hear what you cannot, and find what you really want to see.
Hiring a good guide can make all the difference between a rewarding and successful birding excursion, and one that is frustratingly disappointing. These are the dedicated people who spend their days out in the field, doing what they love, and taking pleasure from sharing it all with you.
David has been described as one of the top birding guides in South Africa and was awarded BirdLife South Africa’s Eagle Award in 2007 for being the Top Local Bird Guide in South Africa, the only person to win this title. Together with sound birding expertise, he has sharp eyes and ears essential for the sometimes frustrating forest birding experience. What makes a birding outing with David magical, however, is his infectious enthusiasm: he is interested in everything the group is seeing, be it a huge tree, a mushroom or a butterfly.
David is currently the Head Bird Guide and Assistant Manager at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, where five different habitats converge and the bird life is varied and abundant. The indigenous Woodbush Forest extends onto the property and the forest birding is spectacular. David has a knack for finding the elusive Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Narina Trogon, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Green Twinspot, Orange Ground Thrush and White-starred Robin. David has developed an intimate knowledge of the Woodbush Forest and keeps track of several nest sites, including Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk. He also has stake-outs for Cape Parrot and Bat Hawk. Some years ago he persuaded Birdlife Polokwane members to help secure a nesting platform for a pair of Bat Hawks; a task which required bows and arrows, mountaineering experts and no fear of heights.
Fortunate to be in an area with many environmentalists, David is involved with various conservation projects. He became a monitor for the Blue Swallow Working Group in 2001 and participated in the Earthwatch International research project monitoring the Blue Swallows in Haenertsburg and surrounds. He was the node co-ordinator of six Eco-Schools and started Bird Clubs in many of the local schools. He is responsible for raptor monitoring in the area and has been involved in numerous Environmental Impact Assessments with an avian conservation component. He is a co-ordinator for the annual Cape Parrot count and has been monitoring the Cape Parrots in the Woodbush Forest, in association with the University of Witwatersrand, for the past 3 years. He has also started the Cape Parrot Education Project in this area to educate and generate enthusiasm amongst the youth.
David has participated in many bird-ringing exercises, in association with the University of Limpopo, and initiated the Birds in Trees Education Project to bring conservation issues to young people in the area. David is also part of the team which initiated the Capricorn-Letaba Birding Route. David has been a member of the BirdLife South Africa Council, representing the Bird Guides countrywide; he also mentors the Limpopo Guides and assists in training workshops. David is a Trustee on the board of The Ben de Boer Trust, formed to support and empower the Limpopo Bird Guides.
David has always had a passion for the environment and began his career as a self-taught birder. David explains: ‘Born in the foothills of the Wolkberg in the Drakensberg Mountain range, I went to Gauteng to search for greener pastures after completing my education. Life there was too busy and complicated for a country boy like myself and in 1996, I went back to the country. There, my employer Karin Boyum would ask me every day what birds I had seen around the plot. This got my interest going and by the end of the year, Karin bought me Roberts Birds of Southern Africa as a present. Later, her brother gave me a pair of binoculars to help my views in the field.’ David soon became a familiar face at all the bird club meetings and nature talks in the area. His big break came when Steven Evans of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Blue Swallow Working Group organised sponsorship from SAPPI and SASOL for David to go for training at Wakkerstroom. David says this was like a dream come true: passionate and knowledgeable people to meet and wonderful birds to see. Equipped with bird identification and tour guiding expertise, David has been guiding in the Magoebaskloof-Woodbush area of Limpopo Province since 2002 and has helped countless enthusiastic local and international birders to boost their lifer list. David also guides to nearby birding hotspots including the Mamabolo and Montane Grassland, Polokwane Game Reserve and the sub-tropical area around Tzaneen.
For David, birding is more than a job - it is a joy, a passion and an obsession. For fun, he walks for miles looking for nests or replenishing feeding sites and most enjoys testing himself on the Roberts CD’s bird quiz. His favourite bedtime reads are the Red Data Book and Roberts 7. David’s children have learnt to put up with their father’s lifestyle, even if it often takes him away from home. His daughters have found that the best way to spend time with him is to take up birding themselves!
A living legend in the birding world, David has been the focus of numerous magazine and newspaper articles including Die Beeld, Africa Birds and Birding Magazine, Limpopo Living Magazine, The Star Newspaper, Getaway Magazine, City Press Newspaper and Country Life Magazine. He has also been interviewed for radio and television slots including Kaelo, Miracle Stories on SABC 2, 50/50, Supersports, South African Tourism and for BBC3.
David Letsoalo is available as a guide per hour or per day; fees vary depending on the size of the group and the hours spent out birding. He can also arrange day trips and guided tours at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge.
Paul is a passionate, dynamic young man who enjoys seeing others excited about the birds he shows them. Based at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge near Magoebaskloof, he is a great imitator of birds, Samango monkeys and baboons and makes every birding outing a sensory journey of sound, sight and touch. As well as finding elusive birds, he likes to show guests mushrooms, monkeys, ferns, bushbuck and butterflies in the beautiful forests. He works hard to find special birds and enjoys the challenge of working with different ‘wish lists’.
Paul’s hot-spots include the indigenous forest of the Magoebaskloof area, a spectacular habitat where specials like the Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Cape Parrot, Green Twinspot, Narina Trogon, Lemon Dove, Grey Cuckooshrike, Orange Ground Thrush, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and White-starred Robin can be seen. A little further afield, the Polokwane Nature Reserve is renowned for its reliable sightings of Short-clawed Lark, Ashy Tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela and Bushveld Pipit.
Paul became interested in birds when his father, a ranger in a private game reserve in the Waterberg, took him and his siblings on game drives. This started a love of nature and birding specifically. He began by spotting small, common birds like Blue Waxbill and Black-faced Waxbill, which he recorded in a book so he could find out more about them. He was inspired to go into the field of nature conservation but when Ben de Boer of the Limpopo Birding Routes interviewed candidates to train as bird guides in 2008, Paul was one of the two selected to attend the training workshop.
Paul loves birds because they are so unique: creatures with beaks and feathers which migrate, navigate and change their plumage. The most spectacular bird he has seen so far is the colourful Pygmy Kingfisher. He hopes to do a pelagic trip off the coast because he has never seen sea birds and would like to have an expert help him to identify them.
Paul is active in the Birds in Trees Programme, which was started by the Limpopo Bird Guides to introduce the importance of conservation to young people. They visit local schools and inspire the youth to appreciate the special birds around them and award prizes to the learners who show the most interest in the topic. They also plant indigenous trees at the schools for learners to see that everyone can make a difference.
Samson is based in Louis Trichardt/Makhado and enjoys the variety of habitats in the Soutpansberg-Venda area where he takes guests on guided walks and excursions. He enjoys his interactions with the various birders he meets and they appreciate his passionate love of birds and his quiet, but intensely focused approach.
His Soutpansberg hot-spots include Hanglip Forest, an easily accessible Afromontane mistbelt forest with Narina Trogon, White-starred Robin, Lemon Dove, Grey Cuckooshrike and Yellow-streaked Greenbul.
Roodewaal Nature Reserve is renowned for its fairly reliable sightings of the elusive African Broadbill; Samson has stake-outs there for this enigmatic bird, as well as for Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Eastern Nicator, Green Twinspot and a breeding pair of Crowned Eagles. His other hot-spots include the Levubu Post Office where Grey-headed Parrots feed in a large Mobola Plum tree in the summer months; and Muirhead Dams for Blue-spotted Wood Dove, African Pygmy Goose and White-backed Duck. At Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge on the bank of the Albasini Dam, Samson is always on the look-out for White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher and Osprey. Buff-spotted Flufftail and rarities such as Rock Pratincole and African Skimmer have also been seen there.
Samson grew up in the rural village of Tshivhazwaulu in the Vuwani area in Venda, Limpopo Province, and was scorned by his friends for his bad aim with a catapult. The village boys used to shoot birds for meat with a catapult during their spare time when out herding goats and cattle after school hours; the young Samson often went hungry! However, his skill with birds improved when he picked up a pair of binoculars instead and he has developed his talents by conserving birds ever since.
Samson’s interest in birds was piqued when he worked at Lajuma while still at school. Owner Ian Geiger’s fascination for birds and animals inspired him, so when he started working at Ottoshoek in the Western Soutpansberg, he taught himself the names and characteristics of the birds in the area. His employers Gail and Alistair Maytham of Igababa Cabin and Campsite helped him to further develop this interest and sent him on a beginners birding course organised by the Soutpansberg-Limpopo Birding Route. His enthusiasm led him to being selected for training at the Wakkerstroom Centre in September 2005 with BirdLife South Africa. He completed this course with flying colours and his career as a bird guide really took off.
Thanks to Sarah Venter of the Soutpansberg-Limpopo Birding Route and the continued support of the Maythams, Samson was employed by Clare and Michel Girardin at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge as their bird guide in 2006 and became an independent Bird Guide a few years later.
Samson has been involved with the Camera and Nest Monitoring project for several years; his research involves locating nests and then monitoring them from the laying of eggs to the hatching and fledging of chicks. The main aim of this project is to find out what is leading to a lack of breeding success in most of the special birds such as African Broadbill, White-backed Night-Heron, African Finfoot and Bat Hawk. The latest findings show that failure in African Broadbill breeding was mostly due to predation by Bush-babies and Goshawks. His data and photographs have contributed to a paper presented at the BirdLife South Africa 2016 Flock in Kruger and an article in the African Birdlife Magazine in 2017.
The Birds in Trees Programme was initiated by Samson and other Limpopo Guides to create an awareness of conservation in young people. They visit schools in their areas and educate learners on protecting the birds and their environment. Prizes are given to learners who answer questions on the topics discussed and indigenous trees are planted at the schools. The Mottled Spinetail Project focuses specifically on the breeding success of the largest Mottled Spinetail colony at the Sagole Big tree. Local children had been destroying the birds’ nests, but an intervention at the schools to explain the importance of conservation has been extremely successful.
Samson was recently given the opportunity to broaden his horizons by flying to Cape Town to experience new habitats and learn more about Southern African birds. He experienced the unique joy of a pelagic trip with the opportunity of seeing birds like albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters and African Penguins; and managed to increase his life-list by 32 species.