Wings around Mashatu

We visited Mashatu in mid-September 2019 with family and long standing friends, Simon and Cora Ford and their daughter Kate and fiancee Jack. Simon and I grew up as children in Zimbabwe and both developed our love of the bush from our early childhood. Our friends have a deep love of the bush and it was a privilege to show them around Mashatu.

“More than any other creature, beyond insects, birds offer a kaleidoscope of colours, shapes, and behaviours and they are exquisitely designed for their environment.” ~ Mike Haworth

In mid-September, it is early spring in southern Africa so the migrants have not yet arrived and the residents are preparing for the time of plenty.

This tawny eagle was perched on top of a large bush just above a kudu bull which looked to have died from natural causes. The reason the tawny was in the tree and not on the ground was that a leopard was surveying the carcass.

Not far way, the lions had taken down a female Eland. There was not much left after the lions had had their fill followed by the hyaenas and then the jackals. Needless to say, the real waste disposal team were on the scene, an assortment of vultures and Marabou storks were also congregating. Marabou do not have ability to tear off flesh from the carcass so rely on pieces removed by the vultures. Marabou are not shy to use that strong dagger like beak to steal a morsel or two.

Another diurnal resident is the ubiquitous Kori Bustard. This is one of Mashatu’s big seven. It is the largest flying bird in this part of the world. It is very seldom you will find an image of a Kori bustard walking towards you, they are very wary of vehicles and like all wildlife have a distinct safe distance which they like to keep from something they are unsure about.

After driving around the Majale river environs looking for lions, cheetah and leopard we traditionally find a prominent spot to get off the vehicle and have a “sundowner” and watch the sun setting. This is normally a time of animated chatter about what we had seen in the past hour or two. This means it is dark by the time we head back to camp. There is a spot light on the vehicle which we use after dark. It has a red filter to reduce the effect on the wildlife. On the way back we saw this Spotted Eagle owl.

The Spotted Eagle owl was quite a sighting at night. Even with our vehicle turned off and everyone silent on the vehicle this owl would turn its head back and forth picking up sounds in the night air which we could not hear.

Another excellent night time sighting was this Three-banded courser. The Three banded and Bronze-winged coursers are mainly nocturnal and tend to freeze when approached. Their eyes are large and wide open, ideal for nocturnal activity. I have also frequently seen the diurnal Temmnick’s courser in Mashatu.

A Red-eyed dove. This is a common visitor around camp in Mashatu, it is bigger than both the African morning dove and the Cape turtle dove but they all have the distinctive black collar on the back of their neck. This dove likes the riverine forest habitat around our syndicate, Rock Camp, in Mashatu. I find the best way to try to remember their calls is to verbalise. For a red-eyed dove it is ” as if to say – I am”.

A pair of Tropical boubous visited camp every day. They were usually seen burrowing around in the leaf litter under the large Mashatu tree just next to the main lodge. These boubous have an astounding medley of call. The Tropical boubou is a bush shrike and it pairs for life. They can often be heard duetting. To vocalize, they move higher off the ground than during their usual activities, and may perch on an exposed site. They also nod their head and bow their body when calling, making them even more conspicuous sometimes. As many as seven different types of duet have been recorded and seem to form some sort of morse code like language.

“Hear how the birds, on every blooming spray, With joyous music wake the dawning day.” ~  Alexander Pope

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A Jameson’s firefinch distinctive because of its red belly, neck and face and black-grey bill. The crown, nape and back are a washed pink. They normally come to drink from the bird bath in ones or twos.

These are Green wood-hoopoes. They travel in family groups of up to ten individuals. They scour the bark on the trees for insects and grubs. They make a racket like babblers and are colloquially called “cackling widows” because of their noise and dark plumage. It was interesting to see them in what looked to be sucking up water with their long red bills.

In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence. ” ~Robert Lynd

This was a young Kurricane thrush which was just starting to develop its malar markings on its throat and cheeks. This was also an afternoon visitor around camp. It also scoured and tipped through the undergrowth looking for insects and grubs. Although a common resident in southern African I have not regularly seen them.

These white helmeted shrikes were wild but are quite habituated to all the comings and goings in the camp so do not fly off at the first sight of people.

White helmeted shrikes normally travel in family groups of around six birds. They chatter constantly but are not as noisy as babblers. They are alway a welcome sight around camp and visit daily for a drink and dip in the bird bath at the camp.

These were the birds that we saw on out travels around the Mashatu game reserve and we did not specifically stop for the birds. The rest were seen around camp in the middle of the day. There is abundant birdlife in Mashatu at all times and it becomes overflowing in summer when all the migrants from lesser spotted eagles to all the cuckoos and woodland kingfishers and carmine bee-eaters arrive to feast on the abundant insect life.

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.” ~Robert Wilson Lynd

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

Have fun, Mike

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