The Unsung Heroes

A Bird’s- Eye View

Why is it that most safaris focus on the big game – those that bite? One of the real wonders of a safari is the bird life, look up to the skies and you will undoubtedly be enthralled by what you see from everything big and small plus the added bonus is that the birds never let you down!

Fish-Eagle

Here in the South Luangwa we are fortunate enough to have a great number of different species of birds from the tiniest of Blue Waxbills to the aerial phenomenon of the Pelicans – seriously how do they manage to remain airborn they really are the B52’s of the skies.

Each year we are lucky enough to experience 2 separate and impressive bird congregations – the first is the Stork Colony up in the Nsefu sector a magical annual event in which these beautiful birds in their full breeding plumage fill the trees, build their nests and hatch their young.

They litter the trees like Christmas decorations and turn the freshly rain washed trees to a creepy ghost white. Crocodiles and Maribu Storks congregate underneath dodging the falling excrement waiting and hoping for a chick to fall and produce them a lovely meal. During the time of building the nests the skies are filled with the parents flying in with twigs and the sound waves are cluttered with the loud beak chattering. Once the youngsters hatch their squawks for food can be heard for some distance and the trees are alive with the fluffy young stretching and flapping their wings, building strength and getting ready to fly. Then as if by magic they all leave and the trees are left scarred and exhausted by the event and have the rest of the year to recuperate.

Round 2 in the Sky

The second event is less routine and much harder to pin point in terms of when it is going to happen and is directly related to how quickly the water in the lagoons dries up. Fishing Parties. As the water in the lagoons becomes more shallow the birds seem to know and in they come mainly the Pelicans – these huge birds can be seen high up in the skies circling and looking for their opportunity and then they head down towards earth. They fill the lagoons intermittently sharing space with Yellow Billed Storks, Spoon Billed Storks and Maribu Storks, on the sidelines sit the Fish Eagles eagerly waiting for someone to catch a fish before they swoop in and steal it! The Pelicans move almost poetically in unison their huge yellow bills cast as fishing nets across the water and all moving together pushing the fish into the shallower waters before they scoop them up with water splashing everywhere and the clapping of their huge bills keeping the fish in. The Maribus go for more of a stabbing attack feeling for the catfish under the mud before quickly flicking them up this technique whilst effective gives for more of an opportunity for the Fish Eagle to swoop down and steal the prey as it is flicked into the air. The Spoon Bills with their entertaining shaped bill wade through the waters frantically shaking their heads from side to side their “spoon” scooping everything up that gets in its way.

Tree

Two amazing events provided to us by birds and the list goes on and we haven’t even brushed the surface of what we have to offer between the magical selection of Kingfishers and the beautifully coloured Bee-Eaters to the Raptors that trawl the skies in search of their prey.

In short next time you head on safari take a moment to look up to the skies and see if we can persuade you to become as hooked on these beautiful creatures as we are.

Emily Haynes, article and pictures by: Robin Pope Safaris