Hugh Chittenden is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s finest bird photographers and his work has graced the pages of many Southern African birding publications. Hugh is also a self-taught ornithologist who has spent countless hours in the field studying birds and publishing his fascinating findings thereafter. His then hobby, now life’s work, took him all over the world and made him one of the most famous birding gurus worldwide. In conversation with him, you realize he is much more than the bird man. His humble approach to life and sense of humor adds to his enigma.

At the age of 12 he received his first Roberts Birds of South Africa, a 1940 edition. This book was his late fathers’ and as we speak, the book still in very good condition, lays on the table. Upon asking him if that was where the fascination with bird began, he laughs and says “no, I was far more interested in birds with dresses than birds with feathers.”. Birding was a hobby whilst he owned a nursery in Zululand. Only after he got married to the wonderful ,Loueen in his late twenties did he take up birding and evolved into the well-known ornithologist that he is today. Even as a retired 72 year-old, the excitement and passion still shines out of him when he talks about his feathered friends. Hugh reckons that when he was around 40, he felt like he knew a lot but as he humbly expressed, he didn’t know half of it, because he still today sees things he can’t explain – it’s just one of the amazing wonders of nature.

Hugh has received many accolades and honorary positions over the years. His name, photo’s and articles still appear in publications today, and when you buy a bird book, he probably had a lot to do with the writing and publishing of that book. When asking him about the essence of birding in Mtunzini and what has been his favourite sighting, he smiles and says, “it’s so difficult” .We are privileged to live in a town where nature is preserved and that every season comes with a new set of species to study and enjoy. In the winter months, Zini is crowded with special species that are easy to find. This makes our town a place where people travel from all over the world to visit. In summertime, one can then find species like the Black Coucal- one of the rarest birds in the country.

In recognition of his great contributions to this field, Hugh was one of six African luminaries who got honorary degrees conferred on them by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in April 2012. For Hugh, the fact that he never attended university makes this accolade all-the-more special.

For those who do not know, Hugh is currently chairman of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, which oversees the publication of all editions of Roberts Birds of South Africa. Today he relaxes and still fully enjoys his passion whilst also mentoring a new generation of birders. A true Mtunzini legend.