Chobe’s winter birdlife

This post shows a selection of the images of birds seen along the Chobe river in June 2021, mid-winter in southern Africa. Almost all the images were taken while on a CNP Safari from CNP’s specialised photographic boat. The perspective from the boat is ideal and the wildlife allows you to get much closer on the water than on land. Winter is obviously a time when all the migrants have flown north for warmer climes where there is more food, especially insects.

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence – that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.” ~ Lynn Thomson

As a change in format for this post I have decided to show more images with a brief description of the birds. For anyone interested in birds and bird photograph, the Chobe offers wonderful photographic opportunities and should be on the to-do list for all serious bird photographers

A female Comb duck in flight. The angle of the sun dictates whether we see the beautiful iridescence on the wings of not. In this image their was just a hint of the iridescence on the wings.

A pair of White-crowned lapwings noisily declaring their territory.

A Yellow-billed stork returning to its roosting area down near the rapids in the Chobe river below Mowana Lodge late in the afternoon.

A female Blacksmith lapwing sitting on her eggs in the morning on the banks along the Chobe river.

A few White-faced whistling ducks coming to land with a hippo in the background.

A Wire-tailed swallow with its shiny dark blue upperparts, black eye band, chestnut brown crown, white throat and no collar. This species is named for the very long filamentous outermost tail feathers, which trail behind like two wires.

A Water thick-knee bathing in the shallow water at the edge of the river.

An adult Fish eagle in flight scanning the water below for potential prey close to the river’s surface.

A Spurwing goose running to take off and in the process leaving a trail of water splashes.

A Spurwing goose in flight with the spur evident at the elbow joint.

Elegant and radiant in the early morning sun. This African darter was drying its wings while perched on a dead tree stump in the southern channel around the Sedudu island.

From the northern channel around Sedudu island looking east. A flock of White-faced whistling ducks take to flight disturbed by our lingering presence.

The annual floods start in March and peak around June in the winter months. This is a time when a myriad of newly spawned bait fish make their way back into the river, only to be ambushed by shoals of hungry Tiger fish and Catfish waiting for them. That is just what the Fish eagle’s are waiting for.

Two pairs of the diminutive Pygmy geese feeding in a secluded part of Jacana alley just off the northern channel of the Chobe river around Sedudu island.

The Pygmy geese seem to be around all year round. They are skittish with the female taking off before the male. We call them “pocket rockets” for a reason.

A Red-billed spurfowl had come down to drink at Elephant Valley with its dark brown plumage and distinctive red bill and yellow eye ring.

On the river bank near Puku flats we found a flock of Blue waxbills with members of the flock flying down in relays to drink at the river’s edge.

An Openbill stork finding plenty of snails to feed on in the shallow waters near Puku flats.

This Openbill stork skillfully cracked open the snail shell and swallowed the succulent, rich inner parts.

Winter time seems to be a time when we see more Comb or Knob-billed ducks along the Chobe river. The female does not grow a comb but does have the iridescent colours on its secondary wing feathers adding that little bit of pazazz.

It is cool in the winter mornings along the Chobe, so this Fish eagle was taking the opportunity to warm up and dry its wings in the morning sun high up on top of a tree overlooking the river.

An African skimmer hunting in the late afternoon rippled waters of the Chobe river. Perfectly adapted for scooping up small fish which have come to the surface to catch insects. The black feathers on crown, around the eye and neck are thought to reduce the glared from the water.

The African skimmer has a half wing beat as it flies just above the surface of the river with is lower mandible in the water ready to scoop up a small fish. There must be a reason for the bright red beak but I have still to find out what it is.

The high power to weight ratio and the precision flight make the hunting of the African skimmer spellbinding. They mostly rely on their sense of touch through their bills. If the prey is too big or the object too solid the skimmer’s head recoils downward underneath its body to release the beak from the object. Skimming usually takes pace in the early morning or late afternoon when the water is calm.

Not on the boat this time, but we sitting having breakfast at the Chobe Safari Lodge when we heard the unmistakable cries of the Trumpeter hornbill. A small family flock were feeding on the fruit of a tree in front of the lodge at the river’s edge.

The Trumpeter hornbill makes a loud wailing , nasal call which sounds like a baby crying. The large casque is a sign that it prefers dense woodland areas. They tend to flock outside breeding season.

This coucal was issuing, as Douglas Livingstone puts it “the rainbird’s liquid note” from the sand bank of Sedudu island around mid-morning. The call sounds like “sound of water bubbling from some cool spring hidden deep in the bush. This looks like a Senegal coucal as it lacks the fine barring on the rump but could be a Coppery-tailed coucal as I could not see the full extent of its tail. Both are common residents in this area. This was a solo act we did not hear the duet in this episode.

Reed cormorants are agile, highly successful fisherman in the fish rich waters of the Chobe river.

An active and successful Reed cormorant with a tasty morsel.

We found a small family herd of giraffe down near Chobe Game Lodge. They were eating soil rich in minerals in a what is called geophagia. In this case the soil looked to be rich in a form of chalk. While the giraffe were occupied it was a perfect time for the Red-billed oxpeckers to get to work grooming, cleaning and feeding from their host.

The Fish eagles were active. Some watched from a perch on a tree high above the river while others stood on the river bank. As the water gets colder the fish tend to swim deeper in the river. This dictates that the Fish eagles must become more opportunistic which mean mongoose, Jacana and White-faced whistling duck come onto the menu.

A male Stonechat was on the look out from a tassling reed.

A Collared pratincole disturbed by a herd of buffalo walking along the sand bank it was roosting on Sedudu island.

A Collared practincole seeking protection from the cool wind one morning on the north side of Sedudu island.

This was a first in Chobe for me, I had not seen a Curlew sandpiper along the Chobe before. It is a migrant but does winter in Africa and breeds in the tundra of Arctic Siberia.

I assume it was a Curlew sandpiper from the decurved shape of its beak, the cryptic colouration of its back and its white breast.

A lone Kittlitz plover on Sedudu island not far from the Curlew sandpiper.

I could not see the tail and rump but I assume this was a Senegal coucal as it looked slightly smaller than its coppery-tailed cousin. It also prefers a dense waterside habitat. Coucals are members of the cuckoo family.

Sunning spots are at a premium in winter. A Reed comorant objected to this grey-heading gull stealing the prime position.

That unique grey face, red eye ring, red beak and red legs are a give away, making this grey-headed gull easily identified.

There seems to be a pair of Fish eagles every couple of hundred metres upstream the Chobe river from the rapids below the Mowana Game Lodge up river to Serondela. We did not go much further past Serondela due to the distance from our base at the Chobe Safari Lodge.

An adult African spoonbill flying back to its roosting site in the trees in the Chobe river rapids just above Kazangula.

A turf disagreement between two African spoonbills late in the afternoon as all the larger wading birds were returning to their roosting trees for the night.

A young male Comb or Knob-billed duck in flight.

A female Comb duck coming in to land to join the rest of the flock which was feeding on a shallow sand bank in the main channel of the Chobe river.

This female Comb duck had to had to make last minute adjustments to its landing due to the crowded land area.

A White-faced whistling duck coming in to land on the same shallow sandbank in the Chobe river as the Comb ducks.

Bird photography on the Chobe river is a highly productive. This was mid-winter so all the migrants had left for warmer climes. The permanent water and rich fishing makes this an ideal residence for waders, storks, ducks, geese and raptors.

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” ~ Ansel Adams

The few images I have shown in this post is just a selection of the birds we saw along the Chobe river. I had already put out a post on egrets and herons and another on kingfishers. We had such good sightings of pratincoles that I will do a separate post of collared pratincoles.

“Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.” ~ Unknown

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

Have fun, Mike

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