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17 November, 2023
| Royal Malewane

Royal Malewane Chef Michael Mandy is also an avid birder

Written by: The Royal Portfolio
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Twin pursuits – the recipe for birdwatching success

Being a chef is all about passion and dedication – which makes it rather like birdwatching. Both endeavours require patience, curiosity, and an eye for detail – as well as being prepared to go the extra mile for the perfect result.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that Royal Malewane Chef Michael Mandy is also a very keen birdwatcher. In the same way that he has developed his culinary skills to the level of an artform, he’s also notched up a life list of some 850 species (at last count).

The genesis of a birdwatching adventure

Michael’s birdwatching odyssey commenced during his tenure at Royal Malewane. As a chef, he often found himself working split shifts, leaving him with precious hours of free time. Rather than idling them away, he decided to explore the lodge’s surroundings. This is when his southern African bird list took flight.

Like many of our guests, Michael discovered his previously unsuspected passion for birding at Royal Malewane. During his downtime, he began to explore, and soon found himself completely fascinated by the variety of birds in the Greater Kruger.

This was the start of the second great passion of Michael’s life, and it’s a hobby that has taken him to all corners of South Africa and beyond in pursuit of sightings of rare birds. His love for traveling and fishing further ignited his interest in ornithology. Often, he merged these pursuits, creating a harmonious blend of nature, adventure, culinary excellence, and discovery.

Michael Mandy
Royal Malewane

Left: Michael Mandy, Right: Royal Malewane

Tools of the trade

  • Chef’s knives (but only in the kitchen!)
  • Camera and zoom lens
  • Binoculars
  • Roberts and Firefinch smartphone apps on his phone (to identify bird calls and record his sightings)

In just a few short years. Michael has seen most of the bird species that have been recorded in southern Africa. To keep on adding to his already impressive list, he’s starting to look further afield. His next trip will be to Uganda, home of the fabled shoebill. He’s also determined to track down the African Pitta in the lower Zambezi Valley – a notoriously challenging bird to find.

Just like with his cooking, Michael takes a methodical approach to birding – with a dash of ingenuity thrown in. Once he’s set his heart on spotting a particular bird, he uses books, apps and the wisdom of other birders to learn as much as he can about a bird, its habits and habitat before he embarks on his quest. Michael has learned the importance of trying to photograph every bird he sees – this makes it much easier to identify them after they have flown away.

Michael’s top tips for birding success

  • Embrace the journey, not just the destination.
  • Make sure you have quality binos and a reliable field guide.
  • Always respect birds and their habitats.
  • Begin by familiarizing yourself with local species.
  • Be mindful of the costs associated with “twitching” rare birds.
  • Always watch out for wildlife while you’re watching birds!

Michael’s career at Royal Malewane means he works six weeks on, two weeks off – so he has lots of time for travelling. He loves discovering new territories, the more naturally beautiful the better. This of course syncs perfectly with his love of birdwatching.

For Michael, birdwatching is a seamless extension of his deep connection with nature and his career as a chef. Working at Royal Malewane places him in close proximity to the natural world.

Here are two of Michael’s favourite finds:

Red-tailed Tropic Bird
Great knot

Left: Red-tailed Tropic Bird, Right: Great knot

Overcoming birdwatching challenges

“Chasing” rare birds requires impeccable timing – and this is especially true when you have to be back at work on a specific date. This has seen Michael experience occasional disappointments, but he always takes these in his stride.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh

His birdwatching adventures have included some moments of genuine humour, too – even if some of them (like nearly stepping on a crocodile, or stumbling into a troop of irate baboons) were much funnier in hindsight.

One of Michael’s most cherished birdwatching stories occurred on a beach near Kommetjie Crayfish Factory. An unexpected encounter with a curious Bull Mastiff led him to discover a rare Red-tailed Tropic Bird. This moment encapsulates the magic of birdwatching, where the unexpected becomes an unforgettable story.

Michael Mandy’s journey as chef and birdwatcher at Royal Malewane is a testament to the beauty of the natural world, the joys of culinary excellence, and the wonders that await those who are willing to explore the bushveld, one bird at a time.

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