FAANSIE PEACOCK is one of Southern Africa’s best-known birders and most talented bird artists. He was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1982. Not unexpectedly, his first memories are of birds; more surprisingly, these recollections of a six-year old birder are not of doves or sparrows, but of Yellow-breasted Apalises, Black-crowned Night-Herons and African Openbills. Faansie’s parents initially instilled a love of nature in him at a young age, nurtured this interest during childhood, and tolerated his growing obsession during adulthood. Faansie was one of the youngest persons to reach the magical 800 species mark in Southern Africa.

In 2005, he was part of the first team (the Raiders of the Lost Lark) to crack the landmark 300 species in South Africa’s annual Birding Big Day—that is, 302 species recorded in a 50 kilometre radius within 24 hours. When asked about this accomplishment, Faansie remarked that “…the moment that African Scops Owl (no. 300 for the day) chirped was one of the proudest, most glorious moments of my life. A memory that I cherish far higher than that of my first kiss or my matric graduation!”.

However, his interest in birds is by no means limited to “twitching” and he is particularly interested in avian ecology, biogeography and vocalisations. He is viewed as a specialist on the latter—his keen hearing (and habit of cupping his hands behind his ears when listening intently) has earned him the affectionate nickname of ‘radar ears’. It was also partly this fascination with bird vocalisations that led him to specialise in LBJ’s. During his school days, Faansie’s expertise on birds continued to grow, and he represented school science clubs at youth conferences in England and Portugal.

The choice to turn his hobby into a career was a difficult, but in retrospect inevitable, decision. He completed his studies at the University of Pretoria, and holds a BSc degree in Environmental Science and a BSc Honours in Zoology and Ecology, with a focus on invasive alien birds. Today he describes himself as a freelance ornithologist and professional birder. He admits that “while this is not the most lucrative career path it has delivered a lifetime’s worth of adventures”.

Perhaps thanks to his novelist grandfather, writing is in his genes: by the age of thirty, Peacock has authored or co-authored five books, including Pipits of Southern Africa (2006) and The Chamberlain Guide to Birding Gauteng (2008), in addition to numerous scientific papers and popular articles. He acted as the scientific consultant for Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa (2010).

As his name implies, Peacock lives and breathes birds. For their first date, he took his high school sweetheart to see the elusive Red-chested Flufftail. A mosquito-infested swamp seems like a debatable location to initiate a courtship ritual, but he insists that it was the perfect way to introduce his girlfriend to the joys of birding. “I knew my strategy had worked a few years later when Ronel, in a feather-festooned wedding dress, showed me a Dusky Lark strolling about the legs of the guests at our wedding reception” he confirms. Today Ronél is an equally enthusiastic birder and has accompanied Faansie on birding expeditions to Madagascar, Zanzibar, Spain and Thailand, in addition to hundreds of trips throughout Southern Africa.

The preferred habitat of the Peacocks (which are soon to be joined by a juvenile) is bushveld, grassland or strandveld, but they have been known to occur in Elardus Park, Pretoria.

   
 
Faansie taking a break from larking around in the grasslands surrounding the upland hamlet of Wakkerstroom.
   
 
Checking out the rainforest scenery in Madagascar with a very friendly Red-fronted Brown Lemur.
   
 
  Faansie being harassed by a flock of Hartlaub’s Gulls in Hout Bay.