Lately I’ve been wondering why our founder Anton is so into birds. Why whenever he even sees a bird, even a tiny common sparrow, his eyes immediately go to them, and most likely he can also name them.
One reason Anton's interest in birds is that he grew up on a wine grape farm outside of Cape Town. This afforded him the opportunity to learn about birds and to be amongst the mountains and oceans of the Cape – two of the most fascinating and biodiverse places in the world.
I sat down with Anton to ask more why he likes birds, and he said the following:
They add an extra layer to everything
"A lot of people travel to Africa for big game – the big 5, large herds of animals, the revered apex predators, but I prefer the richness of the species that exist. There are hundreds of bird species out there. Each occupying their own niche. So, when you’re in nature, instead of moments of highlights, there’s a constant focus of attention. It could be a bird of prey – a point of darkness against the azure sky, or a scurrying deep in bush. It keeps you interested in your surroundings."
"Similar to the above, wherever you are, the odds are birds are around. I can get distracted by starlings and finches when sitting at a café. Or while surfing, there’s always seabirds around – gulls, cormorants, terns, and more. Having a braai in someone’s back garden almost always reveals delights. Our office is in a fairly industrial area of town, with a much unloved wetland behind the building. But from my desk I can hear warblers, coots, and weavers."
"Almost everyone’s entry into birds is visual – it’s called birdwatching for a reason. But apart from seeing them, often their sound is their first presence. A rooster used to be the signal for the start of the day before being replaced by the mechanical clock, and lately the digital cellphone. Bird sounds are a way of keeping in touch with our diurnal rhythms that we’ve lost in this electrified world."
"Although recognising a large variety of birds by their calls is a skill beyond me, but there are a few stand outs. It’s wonderful hearing those old familiars in surprising places. The call of the fish eagle – surely one of Africa’s most iconic sounds – let’s you know you’re near water. Hearing the double collared sunbird in a garden also gives me a little kick – I pretend they’re encouraging me in our ventures."
The way they bring you into nature
"Birds are an easy entry point into nature. They help you appreciate it every day in a very specific way. Could you imagine a world without them? No birds tweeting, no things zipping in the sky (besides insects), no feathers…"
"Earth is a really big place and we need to appreciate the things on it otherwise we lose them. I believe birds are one of those things that bridges the gap between us humans in our own little complicated worlds with the bigger picture of life on Earth."
The sheer variety of them
"Earlier this year a King Penguin came ashore at Cape Point. This is quite a rare event so the bird-nerds got quite excited about it. It most likely came from South Georgia Island, which is deep in the South Atlantic and was is most famous as Shackleton’s landing point after his ill fated Antarctic expedition: He sailed a small boat to reach the whaling station there to get help for the rest of his crew. This is just to illustrate how polar the place is."
"For me, the coolest thing to come out of the penguin event was a photo of it standing on the beach looking at a pair of ostriches running in the background. One iconic Polar species, with another iconic Savanna species, both flightless, both so adapted to their diverse environments and overlapping here in our backyard."
They descended from dinosaurs
"Yeah, that’s pretty cool. The present scientific consensus is that birds are a group of maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs that originated during the Mesozoic Era. Being up close to any bird you can see it’s scaley feet and, in the case of a parrot, imposing beak. Their eyes look like lizard eyes. There is something ancient and mystical about them."
They are great travellers
"A lot of our local birds here have homes in the northern hemisphere. The Caspian Tern is home to that region in central Asia. Steppe Buzzards to head north to escape our winter. I think it’s cool that they not only follow the sun, but are at home far from ‘home’ and that there are people out there are a from a completely different part of the world, to whom they are as familiar with these birds as we are. It’s a nice connection."
"There was a honey buzzard that was tracked recently from Finland – my wife’s home country – to the free state – not quite my home turf but close enough to show that we’re connected in this way."
It’s a relaxing past time
"Life is chaotic and noisy. We’re surrounded by stimulus and it can be overwhelming. Birdwatching is a peaceful and relaxing past time. It’s social in its own way, but it’s time to be calm and quiet. I do lot of good thinking when I’m birdwatching."
Why the name Sunbird?
"Sunbirds are boisterous little birds with enormous flair. The males are bright and brilliant and fiercely territorial so they’re always putting on a show. There are a few that synonymous with our fynbos – we have the four most common ones on our label – the malachite, Southern Double collared and the two western cape endemics – the orange-brested and Cape Sugarbird. The last is technically not a sunbird, but is close enough and is so iconic that we just couldn’t leave it out."
"What we like most abou them is they drink the sweetness growing in our mountains – just like our customers are drinking our wonderful teas."