Etosha birds

This is the third post from my recent trip with CNP Safaris to Etosha. The first two posts were of our mammal sightings, so I thought it was time to show off some of the birds we were privileged to see in Etosha in mid-May.

“Those who dwell among the beauties, and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”

 – Rachel Carson 

Plenty of Kori Bustards came down to drink at the Chudob waterhole. There were times when we would see six to eight Kori’s around the water’s edge. They take long deep draws of water and, if not disturbed, could spend quarter of an hour drinking .

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Judging from  the difference in size this was a pair of Kori Bustards, the male being the larger of the two. Male Kori Bustards, which can be more than twice as heavy than the female and attempt to breed with as many females as possible. They take no part in the raising of the young. So although they looked to have bonded this was probably a fleeting affair.

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Often the Lapwings will dive bomb the Kori’s near the water which normally solicits a feathered response. When excited or threatened their neck feathers standout making themselves look bigger.

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There were two pairs of Blacksmith Lapwings which had taken up residence around the Chudob waterhole. Every now and then the four would involve themselves in mock aerial combat. After tiring of a particular mock combat session, one pair of Blacksmith Lapwings decided to give this Kori Bustard a “rev”.

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As you can see the Blacksmith gets quite close and the Kori was not taking any chances. Adding to their combat arsenal, the Blacksmith Lapwings have distinct spurs on the wing elbows which could do some damage.

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Late one morning, we decided to do a little birding and took the drive around Fischer’s Pan. Toward the end of the drive, in the open pan near Two Palms waterhole, we came across a Tawny Eagle which had seen something in a solitary tuft of grass. It walked all around the tuft and jumped on top of it but nothing came out, so it eventually flew off.

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The backdrops for wildlife photography can be unique and spellbinding in Etosha, especially in winter when it is so dry and dusty.

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This handsome male Bateleur Eagle flew down to the Chudob waterhole to drink. He came in so quickly that I did not manage to get a shot without clipping one of his wings. Once he had landed, he quickly walked down to the water and began to drink with large scoops. He did not stay long as there were quite a few animals wandering around him. Females are larger than males and it can take an adult Bateleur over three years to lose its overall brown plumage. The male has a thick black edge to the underside of its primary wing feathers which can be clearly seen from below.

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Along the Fischer Pan drive there were many Lilac-breasted Rollers perched on the thorn trees watching and waiting for insects. These birds are irresistible for wildlife photographers because they are so beautifully coloured and fly off very quickly, giving you little sign that they are about to take off from their perch. They are so named because of the rolling aerial displays which are extremely quick and erratic. Needless to say I have no good images of Lilac-breasted Rollers rolling.

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These Rollers are fast, so it is always a challenge to get a decent flying image of these avian aerial acrobats.

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At the Chudob waterhole there is a pair of Little Grebes (Dabchicks) and one Red-billed Teal. They happily co-exist, constantly swimming around the waterhole in among drinking antelope, Hyaenas and Elephants.

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Every now and then the Little Grebe pair will stop their constant search for food and start to clean and preen themselves at the water’s edge.

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A small flock of Namaqua Sandgrouse came in for a quick drink. You can always hear them coming as they sound like squeaky rubber ducks. They are also very quick fliers. The UCT-Fitzpatrick website aptly describes them as “desert nomads extraordinaire”. These seed-eating birds fly into the waterholes between 8h00 and 9h00 in the morning, usually in flocks, which can number a couple of hundred. The large numbers help protect them from predators while they are drinking. 

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It is always fun to try and capture the reflections of the animals in the water. Obviously, Giraffe provide some of the biggest reflections. The Blacksmith Lapwings were very active at both waterholes and are quite cheeky with the other birds and even animals.

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Every now and then a number of Fork-tailed Drongos would swoop over the water to get a drink. The trick was to get them drinking in the reflection.

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The solitary Red-billed Teal doing his thing at the Chudob waterhole.

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A trio of Cape Shovellers swimming along the Klein Namutoni waterhole late in the afternoon.

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This little Killitz Plover had found a termite nest and was having a feast. They can usually be found patrolling the edge of the waterholes.

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This little Plovers feed on insects, earthworms, crustaceans, and molluscs.

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There were great gatherings of Guineafowl around the Chudob waterhole. This is always an exciting time because we had, in the past, seen Martial Eagles, attack these flocks around water’s edge. The drama is extraordinary and thrilling to watch and hear. The Martial would normally perch in a tree about 150 metres away from the water and sit and watch and wait. Then all of a sudden it would take off and fly at speed in towards the waterhole about 10 metres above the ground in full attack mode. When this massive raptor flies passed you at speed it sounds like an aircraft. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Martial applying its art- this time!!

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Despite their looks, Guineafowl are intelligent. There are always sentries looking for danger. They move together to make it more bewildering for the attacker to single out an individual. Added to this they are quick of wing and foot.

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It is not always easy to find a Guineafowl standing still and even more difficult to find one with a clear background.

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This Glossy Ibis is a wader  and was very busy probing for food in the the soil at the  water’s edge. They eat insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, fish, frogs and small reptiles. 

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The head, neck, back and underparts of an adult Glossy Ibis are a rich chestnut-brown. Their wings are black with a metallic green sheen. There is white stripe from the base of the bill to above the eye. The Glossy Ibis is more slender than the Hadeda Ibis and has a longer bill. It is also thankfully quieter!

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Grey Louries are frequent visitors to the waterholes at Etosha. They tend to congregate in family groups of up to ten individuals and they make sure you know they are there with their characteristic “go-away” call. 

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The Grey Lourie is usually found in savanna woodland. It is an awkward flier but extremely agile when clambering through the tops of trees. It has a distinctive loud alarm call “quare”, which many interpret as “go away”. The crest is raised when excited.

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Gabar Goshawks patrol the waterholes for prey. They usually wait in the treeline surrounding the waterholes. These raptors seem to go for smaller birds such as Weavers and Quelea.

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We were fortunate to find a melanistic Gabar Goshawk at the Chudob waterhole. The melanistic form has black plumage, with pale grey bars across flight feathers above, and white barring below. It has red legs scales which are flecked with black. We only saw the melanistic Gabar on one occasion, but it was a real treat.

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In the centre of the Chudob waterhole was a clump of reeds. Often the Gabars would land in the reeds and wait and watch for their prey to arrive.

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Juvenile Gabar Goshawks have various shades of brown plumage. Their upper parts are brown with pale streaked head, and pale edges on body feathers.  Their under parts are white, broadly streaked brown on chest, and barred brown on belly. Their cere and legs are more orange-red than the adult.

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This is one mean raptor. It strikes from cover, but also searches for prey on the wing while flying very fast. It is also known to follow its prey into bushes, and like a typical Goshawk will clamber through the branches to get at its prey. They also rob the nests of birds breeding in colonies. The Gabar Goshawk feeds mainly on birds but will also take small mammals and reptiles when it can find them.

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“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”  

Rainer Maria Rilke

Cape Turtle Doves are beautiful but common. Our key interest was to practice shooting these speedsters taking off once they had their drink of water.

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There were times of the day when hundreds of Cape Turtle and Emerald Spotted Wood-doves would fly in for a drink.

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The best way to consistently get good images of these Doves taking off was to watch and pick up their drinking patterns. Invariably, the Turtle Doves would have two long draws of water and look up each time to check the “coast was clear” and more often than not it would take off after the second long draw of water. Of course, the odd one would take five or six draws of water and you would take many images of static drinking Doves.

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Last light in the afternoon at the Klein Namutoni waterhole. We would often see ducks swimming in a line. We saw Red-billed Teal, Cape Shovellers, Egyptian Geese and South African Shellducks. The next image is of three Cape Shovellers cruising along in the warm evening light.

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Much to our surprise after an unproductive trip to Andoni Plains at the north-east side of Etosha,  on the most westerly side of Fischer Pan in what was the remaining water, we found a small flock of White-backed Pelicans. Shooting directly into the sun made a more interesting silhouette.

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“Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species within bounds.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

One of the best birding spots in Etosha is Fisher’s Pan. When the rains gather in the pan you can see Flamingos, Open-billed, Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Storks, and Great Crested and Black-Necked Grebe can also be seen. After good rains during January and February, the 5 000 km² Etosha Pan fills with water and at times attracts vast flocks of Flamingoes.

There are many Yellow-billed Hornbills waiting to be photographed around Fischer’s Pan. I did not get to see the Monterio’s Hornbill this time trip.

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We often see Greater Kestrels close to the road at Etosha. This individual was perched on top of a thorn bush in good light. Greater Kestrels are essentially an open-country species and they prefer desert to semi-desert conditions. They hunt from a high perch with a good view of the surrounding area. If nothing high is available then they will use termite mound or rocks to hunt from.

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I managed to get a reasonable shot of the Greater Kestrel taking off. 

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This was the only reasonable image I could get of a Pale Chanting Goshawk. It was perched in a bush at the side of the road. Usually they flew off just as you stopped and were trying to get your camera ready.

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As you can see there is a wonderful variety of birds in Etosha even in winter. Etosha is home to 340 bird species, about a third of which are migratory. The avian residents of the park make up an eclectic mix that ranges from Flamingos to the colourful Lilac-breasted Roller and 35 species of Eagle. Bateleur, Tawny Eagle and Martial Eagle are common. A number of perch hunters such as Goshawks and Kestrels can be seen along the tree-lines and eight species of Owl can be spotted after sunset. The Vultures that visit Etosha include Lapped-faced, White-backed, Cape and Hooded Vultures and “Dr Death” the Marabou Storks.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on Earth. Once you have been here, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths?”

 – Brian Jackman

This map shows you the eastern part of Etosha in which we operated.

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be,

Have fun,

Mike

 

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