Mid-November in the northern parts of South Africa ushers in a cacophony of striking intra-African cuckoos all clamouring vocally in territorial dispute. The air is thick with the repetitive calls of widely ranging vocal composition, from monotones of mournful disposition through a broad spectrum of onomatopoeic flute-like whistles and loud, insistently strident calls.
We saw and heard (!!) six of the cuckoo species during a one week stay in the Matekula conservancy situated between Machadadorp and Badplaas on the eastern flanks of the Northern Drakensberg mountain range in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa…
Of these the strikingly beautiful Emerald Cuckoo of brilliant green and pollen yellow plumage, with its far carrying ‘Pretty Georgie’ contact call, is by far the most colourful within the cuckoo suite.
Not quite as colourful, Klaas’s and Diederick cuckoos are the other two medium sized ‘emerald’ cuckoos that compete for attention. The former has a far-carrying ‘meitjie-meitjie’ repetitive call, while the latter has a plaintive high-pitched call which gives rise to its common name of ‘dee dee-dee-derick’ repeated with monotonous regularity from a favoured call site.
‘Mournful, monotonous and annoyingly repetitive’ aptly describes the hesitant contact call of the dull- coloured male Black Cuckoo emanating from deep within thick cover, complemented occasionally by the whirling frenetic crescendo of the female during courtship rituals, soon after arrival.
The Red-chested Cuckoo is by far the most vocally dominant of the six cuckoos, calling day and night from within the chosen territorial precinct. Again its ‘Piet my Vrou’ persistent call has given rise to the popular common name in SA for this attractive and charismatic large cuckoo.
Last in the line-up and the largest in the suite is the Great Spotted Cuckoo, seen occasionally on the estate and best located by its loud and rasping ‘keeow’ call ending with acceleration in a raucous chatter of ascending notes.
All in all a very colourful and charismatic group of birds to be sought out in the summer months in the north eastern provinces of South Africa, and a very special attraction to the Matekula conservancy in Mpumalanga.
For more info on birding and bird tours in South Africa contact Patrick Cardwell on firstname.lastname@example.org