One of the more subtle benefits of living in a wilderness area is being able to familiarise oneself with some of the individual animals that we share this beautiful place with.
Plenty of attention is given to some of the ‘superstar’ characters and their fascinating stories; we’ve watched leopards being raised from tiny cubs to adulthood and followed the turbulent changes in the lion dynamics over the years. But the longer you spend here, you more diverse the set of characters you begin to take note of. The rock monitor that lives in my roof for example, or the African goshawk that calls each morning from the radio tower in camp.
In a strange way, these are some of the familiar creatures that I most look forward to seeing again when ever I return to Londolozi after my leave.
A particularly interesting pair of birds have become very familiar to me over my time here.
Every summer, from mid-October through to early March, there is a resident pair of broad-billed rollers that, without fail, can be found perched on the same branches above the pathway close to Tree camp every night. It’s difficult to say for how many years they have been returning to the same roosting site but, as far as I am aware of, we first spotted them there in the summer of 2018/19, but there is a good chance that they had been there for years before.
Broad-billed rollers are a migratory species and make their way further north into Africa during our winter months. Few specifics are known about their breeding habits but we do know that they breed here and that they often return to reuse the same nest in successive years, which they aggressively defend as part of the pair’s territory. So, given that our resident rollers of Tree camp have been seen roosting in the same place for a few years now, we have good reason to suspect that they nest somewhere nearby.
On a few occasions I’ve taken the time to have a look around the area to see if there any obvious clues as to where the nest may be but I haven’t had any luck so far. It wouldn’t be the easiest of nests to find though as it would be tucked away in an inconspicuous tree cavity, quite a few meters above the ground. Usually, when looking for a nest, the quickest method to find it is to follow the adults when they return to it but given the fact that we don’t often see these adults in daylight, the task is not an easy one.
One thing to consider is that directly across the river from Tree Camp is an area that I have seen a pair of broad-billed rollers fairly regularly (by that I mean a handful of times in the past couple of years) during the day. Are they the same pair? I don’t know, but it’s likely. What little research has been done tells us that the broad-billed roller’s nests can be within 100 meters of each other which could easily indicate that these rollers are a completely different pair to the ones we see across the river, some 300 meters away. However, that research could have been conducted in an area that has a higher density of rollers and therefore closer nesting proximities. Maybe they are the same rollers and just have the luxury of being able to hold a larger territory simply because there isn’t much competition around. But I also somewhat doubt that our Tree Camp rollers would choose to roost for the night on the southern bank of the river if their nest (which researchers say is defended aggressively) is on the northern bank, out of sight.
We’ll continue to keep a close eye on them and try find any further clues but whatever the case may be, broad-billed rollers are an exciting to bird to see and we can count ourselves lucky that we have a pair that can be viewed this consistently.