This year (2019) the first Carmine Bee-eaters already appeared on August 1st at the breeding colony between Zambezi Mubala Lodge and Zambezi Mubala Camp. The colourful birds spend the southern winter in Equatorial Africa. According to researcher Jim Kairu, last year the first Carmines arrived on August 22nd. This time some 60 birds explored the area for three weeks. By the end of August (2019) about 500 Carmines had flocked to the breeding colony, and in early September their number was estimated to be 2000. The first birds have now started to dig their nesting tunnels. So far they still seem to spend the night near the thick stands of reed on the banks of the Zambezi River. Once the nesting tunnels are deep enough, and as the number of birds continues to increase, they will spend the night in the shelter of their caves.

Zambezi Birds
This year the first Carmine Bee-eaters returned from their winter quarters in Equatorial Africa three weeks earlier than last year. The number of scarlet birds congregating on the banks of the Zambezi River increases daily.

Jim Kairu is a lecturer for Wildlife Management at the Katima Mulilo campus of the University of Namibia. Every day he comes to study the breeding colony with students. The Sikunga Conservancy has built a barrier around the ground-level breeding colony to keep cattle, vehicles and visitors at bay. The barrier has already been damaged by cattle once and needed repairs. The fencing was funded with a donation from the sale of a book on the Zambezi’s Carmine Bee-eaters by Dr Pompie Burger which was published this year. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Carmines will ultimately remain within the demarcated area.

Together with the first migratory birds, spring has come to the eastern Zambezi region. Numerous trees are already in bloom, attracting insects. Nature is awakening and new life is stirring despite the drought. Another species of inter-African migrant can be seen building its nest at Zambezi Mubala Lodge: a pair of Yellow-billed Kites. These rather large brown birds of prey with the characteristic forked tail and yellow bill are preying on Carmine Bee-eaters. Various juvenile as well as adult birds fall victim to the kites every year. Presumably it is for this very reason that the Yellow-billed Kites have chosen their nesting site just two kilometres from the Carmine colony: a ready supply of food for the chicks and the adult birds is guaranteed.

Zambezi Birds
This pair of Yellow-billed Kites is breeding on a tall tree at Zambezi Mubala Lodge. On the left the female, calling, on the right the male.

The first photographers have also arrived at the Carmine breeding colony to experience and document this unique spectacle of nature, which lasts for almost four months. Protecting the breeding colony is the responsibility of the Sikunga Conservancy. The Sikunga guards are to keep people and animals from walking through the breeding colony. The small admission fee is for paying the guards.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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