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Pratincoles and fishing owls

Pratincoles and fishing owls

Pratincoles and fishing owls
CLARE MATEKE

CLARE MATEKE

The team of observers during this season’s water bird counts along the Zambezi River enjoyed good sightings of both common and a few rare species this January. The biannual water bird count is carried out by the Livingstone Museum in conjunction with the Zambia Wildlife Authority and local volunteers. Over five days, covering five different stretches of water, a total of 1,076 birds of 42 species were counted.

Just upriver from the Royal Livingstone Hotel a number of rock pratincole were spotted, perched on rocks out in the middle of the river. Small, inconspicuous, dark grey birds, they are difficult to spot amongst the rocks, even with good binoculars, and only their telltale shape and slight movements give them away. Their much less-common cousins, the red-winged pratincole, however, are far easier to see, though rarely observed in this area. Having not been recorded by this team for about 14 years, this year they were seen in abundance at a water hole along the Kazungula Road in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Even more interesting, the 15 or so birds were mostly immature, implying that they are breeding somewhere in the area.

Pools of water in the park left by the higher than average rainfall this year yielded large numbers of white-faced duck and Egyptian goose, as well as a number of waders such as wood sandpiper and ruff. Among the waders was an unusual treasure – a pair of painted snipe.

A visit to Siloka Island resulted in 27 different species of water birds, including the giant Goliath heron, a few black heron and rufous-bellied heron and the rarely-seen pygmy goose, which lives among the water lilies. Flocks of several hundred sacred ibis were also recorded. The ultimate treasure was a Pel’s fishing owl – a huge orange owl that feeds on fish - which flew out from a roost somewhere in the middle of the island.

Apart from the water birds, other birds, such as a pair of wood owls, brightly coloured dragonflies, butterflies and wild flowers constantly fascinated the observers, while huge crocodile and hippo, and the occasional snake and elephant kept them alert at all times.

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

More from the Zambezi Traveller:
Livingstone Destination Profile
Livingstone News