“Even the dullest bird or face becomes interesting when you give it a good look in the wild/flesh. The way the shadow drops across the cheek, the light hits an eyebrow, etc… There are many more angles, positions etc. than you can ever imagine. My heart always makes a little jump when I see things in birds or faces that surprise me.” – Siegfried Woldhek
Every time one drives up to a waterhole, or towards the meandering Sand River, one could encounter a wide variety of aquatic or even land based animals. They take advantage of the cold refreshing water to quench their thirst and to cool down on these hot spring days. Look a bit closer though! You might be surprised what hides in a dense undergrowth of reeds, or even runs across the water as if it bears no weight at all! These are the magical water birds which call Londolozi home.
The tiny Black Crake, displaying dazzling colours. Or the Black crowned night heron, just waiting for the opportune moment to strike the unlucky small fish as it swims past its hideout. Water birds could perhaps be some of the most interesting and beautiful creatures to walk this earth.
The African Jacana scoots across the water as if it’s weightless; next time on safari, use your binoculars to have a closer look at their toes. They are extremely long! This adaptation spreads their weight evenly, allowing them to move over water grasses and lily pads in a swift and smooth motion. They feed on little insects, gleaning them whilst moving over the top of these plants.
Look in the branches sticking out of the water where a tree is submerged. The black bird with the long neck that is sitting there is called an African Darter. They perch on those branches drying their wings after diving through the water looking for fish. Unlike other water birds their feathers aren’t water resistant. This makes them less buoyant and enables them to dive under the water without floating back up.
Hovering over pools in the Sand River, its eyes fixated on an unsuspecting fish is the magnificent Pied Kingfisher. From their hovering flight, they dive down and claim their quarry. This poetry in motion can be compared to the grandeur of a cheetah chasing down an impala.
A bird we often encounter around waterholes is the Egyptian Goose. Their colours might not be as attractive as the above-mentioned birds but that doesn’t make them less interesting. In suburban areas, these birds are found on golf courses, feeding on the soft grass on the greens. Someone that loves golf, like me, should therefore not be the biggest advocate of these birds. However I find their raucous call and behaviour quite interesting because it makes me laugh. Every time I hear them I think of a story that my tracker Euce, told me about these birds. Egyptian Geese are monogamous and you will often find them in pairs. Euce says that when they are moving around and start calling (and I reiterate it is a horrendous sound) the female Goose says ‘AAAAHHHHAAHH AAHHHAAAHHA’ and then the male says ‘SSSHHHH SSSHHH SSSHHH’.
The Sand River which flows through Londolozi, is where we can find enchanting trees on the banks, resembling statues of yesteryear. We can find hippos and crocodiles, and even herds of elephant coming down to the water to enjoy a drink. The next time you visit though, as you drive over the causeway, stop and take some time to look into the nooks and crannies of this magnificent river and you might just be surprised to see how much life there is to encounter…
Do you have a favourite water bird? If so, what makes it stand out for you?
Written by Londolozi Ranger Werner Breedt