I read Fin Lawlor’s post from a day or two ago, and funnily enough I had written a very similar post totally independently. Spending time at a waterhole, I remembered how much enjoyment can come from sitting and observing.
Driving down to a small waterhole that I would normally not stop at unless something significant was there, my guest requested that we stop as she had seen a bird she wanted to photograph. It was a grey go-away bird. The waterhole is small and shallow and doubles as a mud wallow that rhino and elephant often frequent to lather themselves in mud. A large Schotia brachypetala tree grows out of a termite mound on the edge, casting shade over the water and the bank where we had parked.
As we sat we started to notice other birds all coming down to drink. The beautiful blue waxbills who were soon joined by a golden breasted bunting, with their respective exquisite blue and bright yellow colouration. A flash of red caught our attention as a group of fire finches came down to bathe, fluttering in and out of the shallow round pool that had been created by the heavy front foot of an elephant.
Some movement brought our attention to a slender mongoose resting in the morning sun on the other side of the waterhole that had been there the whole time. This elusive mongoose is usually only glimpsed crossing the road ahead as one drives along. Out of the bush hopped two scrub hares that started feeding with two Egyptian geese on the vegetation at the water’s edge.
A brown-hooded kingfisher flew in treating us to a flash of turquoise on the wing. It landed and we managed to get a good look at its beautiful red beak. The slender mongoose then came down to the water to have a drink next to the two hares that had now been joined by a third, while another seldom-seen bird, the large black bellied bustard, appeared from behind a bush, pacing nervously up and down keeping a beady eye on us. We then heard the sound of Natal spurfowls making their way to the waterhole; a mother sounding her contact call keeping all her chicks together. As they appeared from the undergrowth a squirrel bounded down to the water to have a drink next to them.
The grey-go-away bird that had initially brought us to a stop gave its namesake call, “goooooooway”, as two yellow billed hornbills flew into the trees around the waterhole, landing next to each other. The male and female pair began their duet; a repetitive, crescendo call while bobbing up and down, lifting their wings, looking like an old couple bickering. As spring has sprung, this “bickering” will only strengthen their bond for the upcoming breeding season.
As we sat I could notice my guests’ senses heighten as they began to become more aware of what was around us. Someone commented on the sound of bees all around in the tree canopy. We lifted our binoculars to see the worker bees out collecting nectar as they pollinated the marula flowers.
Before I knew it three-quarters of an hour had passed without us moving, without the drone of the engine, without us searching, and without a feeling of haste, yet we had witnessed a wonderful diversity of animals. I am not saying everyone must stop and wait for a leopard to appear, as little excites me more than tracking and finding one. There is, however, a great richness of spectacles to marvel at, all around us in nature, all the time, and if we have the patience and appreciation to stop and take it in, that richness will only deepen our experience out in the bush.