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Brilliant summer birding

Brilliant summer birding

Red-billed teal
Red-billed teal


By the end of October all living things in Hwange are desperately waiting for the rain. The cloud build-up tends to tease us for a while till the first explosion of thunder rocks the land and huge raindrops descend on parched earth puffing up dust. The sweet scent of wet grass fills the air and the bush transforms itself into a lush paradise as if Mother Nature waved a magic wand. Summer birding is an exquisite part of viewing at this time of the year.

Waterfowl are here in numbers:teal, ducks, geese and waders of every type are found wherever there is surface water and add such value to game drives. Migrants arrive and instantly add ‘lifers’ to the bird lists of guests who have only previously visited in the dry winter months. The striking breeding plumage adorning male birds enhances the kaleidoscope of summer in Africa.

On a recent trip to Hwange, just off Ngweshla, we saw an amazing interaction between a spurwing and Egyptian goose. Both had goslings and the Egyptian goose was intent on keeping the pan for itself. The spurwing circled the perimeter of the pan with her goslings, but as she turned her back on the Egyptian male, he attacked the spurwing goslings by dropping his head and waddling over with beak open. The bigger spurwing replied with a fierce hissing, flapping wings and charge. She saw off more than one attack but ended the confrontation by leading her goslings away to another pan.

Further on we saw seven Amur falcons hunting. They suspended themselves hovering in one spot with their wings flapping fast, their heads down and their eyes piercing the ground until they spotted their prey and droppedwith speed and precision. They continued relentlessly in this way, entertaining us for hours, hovering almost directly above us at times which meant superb moments for photography.

The Ngamo Flats is another water wonderland that transforms in January and February into a birding paradise. Here we saw the secretive painted snipe at a small pan. She was taking a bath in the fresh rainwater and we watched for ages as she ruffled her feathers, shook herself with delight as the water wriggled between her feathers and cleaned through to her skin. We also saw clouds of white storks that swirled in the thermals and then settled in long lines feeding on the ground.

Quite apart from all the fun involved in finding and identifying all the different species, the time spent birding allows guides to keep their eyes and ears open to what else is happening. This often leads to sightings of the larger predators through an alarm call or from the time taken to watch the behaviour of the plains game.

Most guides will tell you that the summer is their favourite time. There is so much happening and the habitat looks refreshed. A visit at this time of the year should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Read more articles from this issue:
Main menu (Issue 16, March 2014)
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Birds & Birding

More from the Zambezi Traveller:
Hwange Destination Profile
Hwange News