Chobe’s fine feathers

This is the fifth post from my recent trip to the Chobe river in October. It is purely about birds, but I have excluded Fish Eagles and African Skimmers from this collection of images as I have two previous posts from this trip focused purely on these birds. This post is designed to give you a small sense of the incredible variety of birds you can expect to see along the Chobe river.

“Of course I realize that photography is not the technical facility as much as it is the eye, and this decision that one makes for the moment at which you are going to snap, you know.”
~Ben Shahn

A Goliath Heron wading in the deep. They seem to be unperturbed by the fact that there are plenty of crocodiles in the water.

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This particular character waded out to fish. The Goliath Heron has excellent binocular vision and can adjust for the refraction of the light through the water, so is a deadly accurate spear fisherman.

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Most Herons are accomplished spear fishermen. That said this fisherman missed – this time!

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We saw the odd Long-toed Lapwing close to the river’s edge. At certain times of the year you can see hundreds of them along the Chobe river.

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The ubiquitous Reed Cormorant, this one was perched on an overhanging reed for a little aerial perspective. This is unusual as they normally perch on more substantial branch of a dead tree or on rocks overlooking the water.

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This Cattle Egret was having a quiet word with a Buffalo bull who was chewing the cud in the grass out of sight on one of Chobe’s islands.

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Up river at Pygmy Geese corner we found this Buffalo bull munching away at the aquatic vegetation in the shallow water. As the Buffalo moved it disturbed insects which this African Jacana was very interested in. 

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When a Yellow-billed Stork raises its head after probing the river bed for food it always has this surprised look. This character was a little scruffy but they have striking colouring. During the breeding season their colouration becomes more vivid as their white plumage turns pinkish on the upper wings and back; their ordinarily brown legs turn bright pink; their bill becomes a deeper yellow and the face becomes a deeper red.

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Pied Kingfisher with lunch. Yes it did get that size fish down its throat. What always amazes me is that they don’t choke and can still breath during the protracted process of swallowing.

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Another Pied Kingfisher looking for supper. Usually we see many Pied Kingfishers along the Chobe river but for some reason we saw very few Pieds in mid-October. This was unusual but was perhaps in anticipation of a change in the weather.

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Down near Puku Flats we found a few Carmine Bee-eaters.

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This Carmine Bee-eater was showing off its gorgeous colouring.

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A pair of Carmine Bee-eaters on their hunting perch.

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Carmine-Bee-eater just landing with its catch. These Bee-eaters hunt from a perch. They have excellent eyesight and are incredibly fast and agile fliers.

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Having caught their prey they beat it to death on a branch before swallowing it whole.

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In as much as we saw unusually few Pied Kingfishers, we saw more Goliath Herons on this trip than I have ever seen on all of my previous trips along the Chobe put together. Again nature has a reason for this but I do not understand the subtleties causing these population fluctuations.

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A Goliath stretch.

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Having speared this fish a Goliath Heron was in the process of manoeuvering it so that it could swallow it whole.

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Collared Pratincole – one of the early visitors. Later in the year huge flocks of these Pratincoles can be seen along the Chobe.

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These Collared Pratincoles flock in murmurations much like starlings. They are spectacular to watch.

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Giant Kingfisher – a perch hunter looking for a meal of fish or crab.

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Giant Kingfisher busy eating a freshwater crab. It has already partly demolished it but beating it to death against the log it was standing on.

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Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher

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Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher, it has not yet got the red colour in its bill.

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Adult Malachite Kingfisher not much bigger than the juvenile but much more colourful.

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Adult Malachite Kingfisher

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Purple Heron with breakfast

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Water Thickknee

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Bathing time for this Water Thickknee

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African Jacana looking for insects in a Water Lily flower

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African Jacana looking for insects and small snails on the lily pads and under the leaves of the aquatic vegetation.

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African Jacana – the lily trotter flies to the adjacent raft of lily pads

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African Jacana – got to keep moving or else sink.

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African Jacana – lily trotting

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African Openbill with a mussel gathered from the riverbed.

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This African Spoonbill stopped its mussel hunting to wait for the waves from a passing boat to subside. 

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” For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.”

~Henri Cartier-Bresson

This African Openbill was alarmed by an incoming noisy White-crowned Lapwing.

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This Openbill had cracked open the mussel to extract the edible portion. They are remarkably effective mussel crackers.

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A side view of an Africa Openbill showing its unique bill.

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Sacred Ibis in flight.

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Sacred Ibis coming in to land near Puku Flats.

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Squacco Heron hunting in a reed bed at the edge of the river.

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You learn to see by practice. … The more you look around at things, the more you see. The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can’t be photographed. You just have to keep doing it.”
~Eliot Porter

Squacco Heron hunting close to a small herd of Impala.

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Squacco Heron moving to another feeding spot.

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Yellow-billed Kite scavenging on a dead fish on an island in the Chobe river.

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A Yellow-billed Kite comes into investigate a dead fish on the river bank.

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Yellow-billed Kite – masterful fisherman and thief.

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Yellow-billed Kite in full glide – with fingers gently feeling the wind.

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Black-crowned Night Heron – full frontal

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Black-crowned Night Heron in the late afternoon getting ready for its crepuscular hunting.

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“There is so much more to the things that we think we know from afar. The closer you get the more complex it is, not the simpler it is to understand.”
~Susan Meiselas

Glossy Ibis making it clear to passers by that this was its feeding spot.

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Glossy Ibis side view.

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Adult Black-winged Stilt in flight

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Black-winged Stilt hunting for edibles in the shallows around an island in the river .

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White-crowned Lapwing which can be confused with its Wattled cousin. Both have yellow wattles but the Wattled Lapwing as a red patch on its forehead above its bill and only a white patch on its forehead. The Wattled Plover’s neck is streaked whereas the White-crowned has a grey neck and white throat and belly.

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This White-crowned Lapwing was letting us know in no uncertain terms that it did not want us around.

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African Darter or Snakebird. It is so called because when it is hunting in the water its neck and head stick out of the water and it looks very snake-like.

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The ubiquitous resident Lilac -breasted Roller. There is a pair who have their nest in a tree stump next to the trio of Jackalberry trees close to the park entrance.

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You will always find an African Spoonbill close to water because their bill is adapted to feeding in water.

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The Spoonbill’s spatula-like tip of its bill is very sensitive. It swishes its slightly open bill back and forth in the water. As soon as something touches something moving it snaps its bill shut. They use their feet to disturb fish, frogs or aquatic invertebrates from the sediment on the riverbed.

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A Marabou Stork probing the water for something to eat. Marabou is a French word that means “ugly, misshapen old man”. Ugly certainly, we nickname this stork “Dr Death” because they can be seen standing in the trees outside Skukuza camp in Kruger park in South Africa at dusk with their heads hunched on their shoulders and they look quite sinister. Marabou Storks are kleptoparasites. who feed on carrion. There bills are not shaped to tear meat off a carcass so they wait for vultures or predators to do the work and then feed off the scraps. They can often be seen harassing vultures to get them to drop the meat they have just torn off a carcass.

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The ugliness lies mainly it its pigmented face and bald head with little tufts of hair. It lacks any significant head feathering so that it can easily wash off fluids from carcasses that coat their head and neck.

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The swollen sac at the lower end of the throat is not a crop or gular pouch, as seen in pelicans. It is a gular air sac and functions as a thermo-regulator.  The gular sac can be filled with air in hot weather to increase surface area for heat dissipation (with the capillaries dilated). Conversely, the capillaries are constricted and the sac inflated to be warmed by the sun on cold winter mornings. It is likely that it also serves as a dominance indicator (depending on size and possibly colour) in social interactions. This sac is generally used when threatened and during courtship.

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This Marabou is scooping up water in its bill much like a hawk or Ostrich.

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This was first time I had ever seen a Marabou Stork bathing. It was particularly hot that day so it was probably also cooling itself.

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Grey Heron in its Flasher Pose. They normally strike this pose facing the sun. The sunning or wing drying stance does not appear to be strictly for thermo-regulation or drying in the Herons. At times this pose looks to be for cooling purposes. It was very hot that day so its open wing pose, with open mouth and rapid breathing and vibration of the throat looked to be for cooling. The heating up of the feathers seems to also force out pests which are easier to remove when preening.

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This was the first time I had seen a Grey Crowned Crane along the Chobe river. A pair were walking and looking for food amongst a herd of Buffalo.

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I hope I have given you a sense of the incredible variety of birds you are likely to see along the Chobe river. Photographing from the boat gives an all together better perspective and the birds seem to accept your presence more.

“The process of photographing is a pleasure: eyes open, receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It’s thrilling to be outside your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts.”
~Henry Wessel

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

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