The Sand River is the life blood of the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, but more so than providing for the abundance of wildlife the scenery is spectacular. There is a gorgeous stretch of the river where the thick riverine vegetation makes way to an open blend between rocks, water, and green bush. You can only get there on an old hidden sandy road that leads you to this spot. Many guests stand here on the banks of the river and admire this view for sunset but not many people venture down into the river to view it from below.
The path was originally created by hippos that go in and out of the river on their missions to graze on grass. Now somewhat of a highway straight to the water this pathway is often used by many other animals, one in particular is the Maxims Male Leopard. It takes you down to a small narrow channel of flowing water of athe Sand River, a small stream that we can get across by leaping over a few rocks to reach a granite boulder.
Now why does this have any relevance, why would you want to get to this boulder when you can watch the sun setting from the riverbank above? There is something even better than just that. There is a secret beneath this bank. There are many small holes along this bank.
These holes have been created and are used as a nest site for White-fronted Bee-eaters. White-fronted Bee-eaters live in big colonies that are comprised of smaller family clans. These clans consist of 2-5 families within the colony within the families there are breeding pairs and their helpers. Each clan of White-fronted Bee-eaters actively defends their breeding/nesting sites as well as their feeding sites. This colony has chosen this spot to nest which they will protect from other clans.
White-fronted Bee-eaters breeding is fairly interesting, in that both sexes and including non-breeding the helpers dig the tunnels into the banks of the river. This is initially done with their bills to loosen the soil, their feet then operate as though they are riding a bicycle to shovel any loose soil out the back behind them. Some of the holes can be as deep as 1 metre and culminates in an oval egg laying chamber.
Egg-laying dates are from August to October and before the summer rains begin which could cause the river to rise, this timing will help prevent their nests from being washed away or flooded. So with this in mind, in the very near future these birds will begin laying their eggs which explains why they are already starting to prepare their nests for then.
Everyday around sunset the whole clan fly in as a flock of brilliant greens, royal blues, and reds after a day spent catching butterflies, bees and many other insects. It can be such a gorgeous scene that one afternoon we decided to take our guests down to enjoy this unique sunset spectacle. As the sun was approaching the horizon, we armed ourselves with our cameras and set off to sit in on the boulders in the river and watch this aerobatic dance of the bee-eaters.
As we walked down to the big granite boulder to view the nests, there were some giraffes staring at us, fresh tracks of the Maxim’s Male and an echoing symphony of birdcalls as we walked down the path and leapt over the river. As well as a big kudu bull keeping an eye on us.
We sat and waited for the display, one appeared then two then over 20 arrived swooping all around us at one point one of the guests just lay down on the rock looking up watching the bee-eaters fly and circle right above our heads.
It truly was a remarkable afternoon.
The sun was about to set when we heard the deep rasping call of a male leopard not too far from us, most likely the Maxim’s Male. Now that he had our attention we admired him as he leapt across a channel of water in the distance and continue on his evening patrol.