Birds that live in dense cover tend to have strong voices. They have to. How else would they let their neighbours know where they are, and how else to attract and keep a mate?
The aptly-named Gorgeous Bushshrike inhabits tangled thickets in the hills and valleys around Nelspruit, where its predominantly green plumage provides camouflage, but its strident, liquid call: “kong, kong-koit, kong-koit!” can be heard throughout the year. Pairs defend rather small territories it seems, but habitat that perfectly suits all their needs (foraging for insects, nesting and raising young) is limited to the thickest, most-impenetrable gullies and hill-crests. Once in a while, if you are patient and lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of these secretive birds as it turns in such a way that its radiant scarlet throat lights up its leafy abode. Like an old English pillarbox in the fog, it just cannot be missed.
Once in a while, one of these birds may abandon its shy nature and hop up into the more exposed upper branches of a small tree. So it was, that I was out walking with our equally gorgeous blonde labrador Josie on the Penryn College campus this week, when the unmistakeable call of a Gorgeous Bushshrike rang out from a thicket on the southern boundary. We paused, then watched in awe as it came out into the open and peered down at us. A sharp autumn breeze was tearing yellow leaves off the twigs as the shrike held up its head and let out its morning chant. Nearby, but well-hidden, its mate replied.
Penryn College Campus, Nelspruit, South Africa, May 2013