Sunset Cruise on the Zambezi Royal – a traveller’s tale. Birding on the Zambezi
We arrive at The Wild Horizon’s jetty to the mesmerising sound of African voices harmonising over water. A group of men, dressed in traditional skins are singing and dancing, the sounds are beautiful and we make our way up the path and onto the jetty and boat. We are helped aboard and offered a glass of bubbly. The boat is a study in understated luxury, decorated in tasteful neutrals, it has plush seating at intimate tables of four. With the sounds of the singers voices carrying over it, the Zambezi is beautiful. It stretches glass like in the evening light, with palm islands adorning it.
We take off soon after being seated and we are given a brief introduction and safety briefing by our captain, Jeremiah. It is immediately apparent we are in knowledgeable hands as he orients us to our surrounds and points out many facts about the Zambezi. He is a calmly capable man, quietly answering all the guests feedback with a smile. As the first of many well-portioned hors-d’oeuvres arrives, we bask in our surrounds and we are offered to choose a drink from the cocktail menu. The food and beverages flow faultlessly throughout the cruise- the service is such that you never feel crowded nor find yourself wanting.
As we cruise upstream Jeremiah points out the many birds to be seen along the river and it is this rather than the cuisine that turns out be the outstanding feature of the cruise. As we glide along we see Open billed stork’s dextrously removing snails from their shell, White backed vultures swirling overhead, Cormorants and Darters preening, Egyptian Geese honking obnoxiously, the predatory swoop of the African Harrier-Hawk, the whistling of White-Faced Ducks and so much more. The boat is effortlessly steered for the best sightings and all of this adds to the background ambience and the feel of the river.
We see larger creatures too. Hippopotamus’s surface and crocodiles bask like oversized lizards on small islands, making for great photo opportunities. Then there is the special time we spend watching a family of elephants as they quietly come down to quench their thirst. They are unperturbed by our presence on the river and we feel lucky to witness their interactions. Yet it is still the birds that most stand out; their abundance and variety is truly exceptional.
As we make our way homeward, content and with sated bellies Jeremiah mentions, in his characteristically understand manner, that there is an African fin foot up ahead and to our right. You can hear the intake of breath by the two south African birders who accompany us. For them this bird is a ‘lifer’. A goal they have been seeking for years and never attained. Because these birds are so highly secretive they are rarely seen by even experienced ornithologists and little is known about their habits or even their conservation status. We all peer unconvinced at the spot Jeremiah has pointed out to us. Where a tree’s branches reach the water in a confused tangle approximately 200 metres ahead. As he steers us closer we all squint and murmur ‘to the right’, ‘no, that’s not it’, ‘is that a log?’, ‘there’s nothing there!’… until finally a gap in the foliage provides the glimpse we have been seeking. A small, pretty bird peers back at us before erupting from the tree and taking off downstream. This provides us with a beautiful view of the characteristic orange feet and bill and leaves us all with a sense of awe and gratitude.
Our fellow passengers are beside themselves with joy and we make our way back with smiles on our faces, knowing we have seen something that few people ever get to.
What we saw
Reed Cormorant, African Darter, Green-Backed Heron, Hamerkop, African Open-Billed Storks, Hadeda Ibises, White Faced ‘Whistling’ Ducks, Egyptian Geese, Spur
Winged Geese, White backed Vultures, African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene), African Fin Foot, African Jacana, African Wattled Lapwing, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Brown-Hooded Kingfisher, White fronted Bee-Eaters and African Pied Wagtail.