The Ludwig’s Bustard is a shy, lesser-known cousin of the Kori Bustard. In South Africa they inhabit the Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo, and their movements can be classified as nomadic. However, satellite tracking of individuals has shown that they make fairly predictable annual movements from the east of their range (summer) to the west of their range in (winter). I have reliably found them in large numbers near a small town the very west of the Northern Cape Province.
Finding a displaying male Ludwig’s Bustard is rare, and very little is known about their courtship and breeding behaviour. I was thus very pleased to find several lek sites, where competing males strut around with puffed-out chests created by inflating special air sacks. I am not kidding when I say the birds are shy, they normally turn around and walk away as soon as they spot you, sometimes even from as far as a kilometre away. I thus needed to be extra stealthy to photograph them, and so erected a hide at one of the lek sites. I left the hide out for a week before entering it so that I gave the birds some time to get used to it. Sure enough, by the time I started photographing them, they were completely unphased by the hide and by me sitting in it. While the hide was still relatively far away – enough to warrant using an extender on my 600mm lens, being this close to the displaying males was a real privilege. With their inflated chests they make very deep booming calls during the display, and it felt like my own chest was reverberated every time they called. The scene was mesmerizing – displaying males looked like cotton balls floating around on a field of daisies. Amazingly, I have found that the males return to the exact same lek sites year after year.
Note: This was part of an official study; I received approval from an ethics committee, and a permit from the provincial authority to conduct research on the species.