South Africa Trip, Day 11: The Pennant-winged Nightjar

Kimberly Writes: Up until this evening, Kenn and I have not had a guide at all; it's just been the two of us. Kruger is so easy to navigate and the wildlife so abundant, that it's easy to travel here on your own without the luxury of hiring a guide.

However, all of the camps in the park are surrounded by large, electric fences. The fences protect visitors from dangerous animals (and the animals from dangerous humans), and they are closed and locked up tight from sunset to sunrise. The only way to explore the park after hours is by signing up for an excursion led by one of the park guides, something we hadn't done at any of the other camps. But at Punda Maria, there was a bird Kenn wanted to see, and since it was a nightjar, the only real hope of seeing it was to sign up for one of the "Sunset Drives."  

During the weeks and months leading up to our trip, I spent hours pouring over the field guides, trying to absorb as much as I could. But I will admit to you that I skipped the nightjars completely, focusing on birds that we were more likely to see. And so it was that as we began what would be the moment of this trip (and indeed, one of most memorable moments of my life), I had absolutely no idea what was waiting for us at the other end of a dark and dusty drive outside the gates of Punda Maria. I hadn't even heard Kenn or the guide speak the name of the bird that we were to encounter. And so my mind and my heart were blissfully unprepared for the bird that was about to grace our lives. 

We encountered wonderful birds and other animals on the drive. 
Southern White-faced Owl
Our third owl of the trip (we also had Verreaux's and 
African Scops owls earlier in the trip). This is a small owl,
only slightly larger than a Screech Owl.

This Fiery-necked Nightjar was a cool find! You can't see the rich rufous collar that gives this bird its name, but what a neat looking bird!

A young male lion, our 16th lion of the trip.

I thought this view of these elephants in the fading light was really appealing. 

There isn't anything that I don't love about elephants!
I'm really going to miss seeing them when our trip is over.

And as the most beautiful sunset of the entire trip began to spread out across the sky, our guide stopped the truck and asked us to follow him down a dry creek bed. He invited us to sit down among the rocks, and he asked us to sit very quietly and wait.

What happened next, I can only describe as a moment when the word "surreal" truly meant something to me for the first time in my life. With the light fading fast, our guide whispered, "Here he comes."  And out of the sunset flew an angel. A miracle with wings. A dream bird that obliterated every limit I'd ever set for just how extraordinary a bird could be.

Yes, here was this bird, the Pennant-winged Nightjar, a bird Kenn had been dreaming of seeing since he was just a boy. My mind struggled to process what was happening, for this could not possibly be a real bird. The answer was surely, no. For this was no mere bird. This was a scrap of silk cut from the deepest, darkest night sky, drifting over our heads in the most ethereal sky ballet, with feathers like ribbons streaming behind. It fluttered above us, challenging the boundaries of our imaginations, and taking us along on its wild and magical flight. In a world still so pure and so wild, this bird ruled the skies. 

And it ruled my heart, too.

Kenn took this magnificent photo. I never even lifted my camera. I was so utterly captivated that it never even occurred to me. Truth is, after I watched this miracle bird pass by once, I turned to watch Kenn's face. I didn't even need to see the bird to know how special it was. Everything I needed to know was reflected in Kenn's eyes.


  1. Replies
    1. It truly was, Walker! Thanks for reading the story and for taking time to comment.

    2. I experienced the same thing just a few months ago. Same place, same birds, same emotions... Beautifully written! Shame the last pictures of the article don't show up on my screen though :(

  2. I've just enjoyed reading your interview in the Swarovski magazine where you spoke about seeing this PWN. They are just awesome. I made a trip to SA myself especially to see this bird, and wrote something about the experience here - along with a few photos.


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