Even though it is a very cold morning by Zambezi standards, scores of birds are out and about at a tributary, on a large island and along the mighty Zambezi River’s mainstream. Not only the feathered species are impressive, but also the large crocodiles which despite the low temperatures lie on the riverbank determined to find some warmth. Any creature that gets into the water here does so because it needs to in order to survive or because it lives there and has nothing to fear.

Birds, crocodiles and fish
Lots of large crocodiles live along the banks of the Zambezi River. Here is a particularly impressive one, with a white-crowned lapwing in the background.

Various herons stand at the riverbank and wait for fish daring enough to come close. Grey herons, purple herons, little egrets, great egrets and striated herons can be seen at almost regular intervals: some of them hidden in the dense riparian vegetation, others in open spaces or on sandbanks. A little bittern is nearly overlooked because of its excellent camouflage and motionless stance. When the bird realises that it has been detected and a boat is approaching, it attempts to look like a reed by raising its head so that the bill points upward vertically. But since the ploy doesn’t work, the bittern which is less than 35 cm long aptly climbs into the dense vegetation.

African skimmers have settled down on the white sandbanks to spend the day there. They fish at night by flying just above the surface of the water with the longer mandible of their bill dragging in the river at a 45-degree angle. The bill snaps shut when it touches a fish, which is then safely sandwiched between the short upper beak and long lower beak. Grey-headed gulls have also flocked to the sandbank, and white-breasted cormorants are drying their wings.

On the northern bank, in Zambia, fishermen clean and scale the fish which they caught with nets during the night. Close by a giant kingfisher and a pair of pied kingfishers are waiting for prey. Headlong they dive into the water to grab the fish with their long straight beaks.

Birds, crocodiles and fish
A pied kingfisher has caught a small fish and kills it by repeatedly slapping it onto the twigs. Then the prey is swallowed in one piece.

While the water level of the river is dropping slowly after the floods, some of the flooded plains along the riverbanks are cut off. Countless herons, cormorants, yellow-billed storks and pink-backed pelicans have gathered there to catch the fish which is trapped in the shrinking pools of water.

Back at Zambezi Mubala Camp colourful Schalow’s turacos make themselves heard with their loud and peculiar call. But the big green birds with the red wings are not easy to detect in the green treetops.

Birds, crocodiles and fish
Schalow’s turacos are not easy to spot in the green foliage but their call can be heard loud and clear from afar.

During a morning boat trip from Zambezi Mubala Camp via the large island to the mainstream up to Zambezi Mubala Lodge and back, 38 wetland bird species were counted at the end of July this year. Another 83 bird species were registered around Zambezi Mubala Camp in two days.

Author: Dirk Heinrich


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