Over the last week, there has been great excitement amongst the rangers regarding a discovery at Camp Dam. This waterhole may be familiar to many of you that have visited us before. It is the waterhole that greets you at the start and end of every game drive if you are staying in Varty Camp or Tree Camp. In general, there is something exciting about a brief stop here on your way out of the camp, there is often a hive of activity, from a whole host of birdlife to crocodiles, water monitor lizards, terrapins and various antelope all going about their day along the water’s edge.
On a recent morning drive, as we were arriving back to camp, we stopped to admire an African Jacana that was walking on some floating vegetation near us.
Within seconds, tracker Rich noticed something nearby. It was only when the rest of us lifted our binoculars to our eyes, that we could see what Rich could see, three incredibly camouflaged eggs lying in the middle of a floating nest near to where the Jacana was foraging.
That afternoon we checked in to see how the nest was doing, the Jacana was once again foraging nearby. The next morning as we left camp we saw that there was still three eggs, this time the Jacana was sitting on top of the nest but flew off when while we were there. On our way back into camp from a lovely morning game drive we saw that there were not just three eggs, but four! Another one had been laid while we were out on the drive.
So why is this so exciting? Well, the nesting habits of African Jacana are fascinating and quite unlike the conventional process that many would expect. The first part is what you would expect, the male builds a number of platform-type nests out of aquatic plant material that floats on the water. The female will then select one and begin the laying process. She will lay four eggs, very seldom three or five all laid at one-day intervals.
Once the female has laid the eggs, her role is complete and she leaves the male and may even go and find another male to shack up with. From now on it is only the male’s responsibility to look after the eggs and incubate them. He spends his day foraging near the nest and will aggressively defend the nest against other waterbirds that approach the area. The incubation begins after the third egg is laid and on average takes about 24 days. Lucky for us we know when the third egg was laid so we are counting down the days till hopefully, we get to see the chicks. Since the nest is floating on water and maybe sodden, the male will tuck his wings under the eggs holding them against his brood patch with the underside of his wings to aid the incubation.
We have now found ourselves so invested in this nest and how things turn out. It has become part of our daily game drive routine to check up on the nest at the beginning and end of every game drive.
Starting in the early morning, the male is often sitting comfortably on the eggs from the night before when temperatures would have dropped overnight. By the time we get back, he is usually out foraging for food nearby the nest. On one occasion on a slightly cooler overcast morning, he was still sitting on the eggs when we got back. In the afternoon every now and then we see him at the nest, but mostly he will be in the surrounding area. Normally, incubation time is reduced during the warmer parts of the day and increased during cooler weather. Sometimes the male will shade the eggs with his wings on very hot days.
It has brought us such joy watching the process unfold and hopefully, we will be seeing four little chicks hatching soon. The process from then on is just as exciting, but we will get to that when the little chicks hatch, Stay tuned!