Bird spotting in the Okavango

Story proposed by Louis Boshoff Thursday 25 March

We awoke early in the morning to a twittering, swirling flock of carmine bee eaters flying above the house we had slept in.

Can you believe the exhilaration of the birders in our party. We stood open-mouthed at our first sighting of this quite rare bird, certainly none were to be found in the Transvaal or Eastern seaboard that we knew.

Our safari had arrived at our destination after two in the morning and fallen exhausted into our beds, having been on the road since about 8 am the previous day and travelling over 1300km’s.

We were a group of work mates who had formed a travelling fishing club. Not for us the muddy dams and turgid rivers of the Western Transvaal – we wanted to get away from there. Not all of us were avid fishermen. Of the dozen or so of us, maybe two were real fishermen. Most of us were more interested in bird watching and beer.

Our first trip had been an 1800 km trip to Henties Bay in Namibia. We hadn’t caught many fish at this legendary locale, but we had drunk Namibian beer, eaten Eisbein and had a great time.

This trip was to Shakawe at the top of the panhandle of the Okavango Delta. Two of our members were managers in TEBA the mine recruiting agency,which had recruiting stations in some of the most exotic places in Southern Africa. Each station had a well appointed, serviced guest house which often went unused for years at a time.

This station had two boats with which to navigate the river. The Okavango river was well known for tiger fish and delectable three-spot bream.

The fishermen pointed out that it was possible to fish, look for birds and drink beer while cruising the river. They were wise men! There was no dissent so we embarked after a sumptuous breakfast of scrambled eggs, boerewors and bacon, with toast and marmalade to accompany strong coffee.

The river tiger fish is a worthy opponent and we lost many more than we landed. Once hooked they will leap into the air and shake their head violently. This is usually enough to shake free the lure which comes whizzing back at dangerous speed.

The river is wide and there were virtually no other boats other than a mokoro. On the papyrus islands in the river, large Nile crocodiles sunned themselves, slipping into the water if we got too close.

A first for us all was seeing African skimmers, fishing by skimming their lower beaks in the water. We saw their nests on sandbanks and had to slow the boat to avoid swamping them.

Fish eagles and kingfishers of all sizes abounded. As did the carmine bee eaters, which nested in the river banks. There were also European, Little and White fronted bee eaters. Birdlife abounds, so the birders were happy.

The fishermen were defeated by the tigers, so we adjourned to a local lodge for G&T’s. In the evening some fished for the legendary three spot bream and caught enough for supper. 

Over our three days there were nudges from crocs and charges by hippos and lots of laughter. The only bird we missed seeing was the Pel’s fishing owl, but our faculties became quickly distorted after nightfall; we would likely have missed a passing ostrich by then!

That was a trip to Paradise and worth the thousands of kilometers. I would like to go again.

Author: manqindi

Post imperial wind drift. Swazi, British, Zimbabwe-Rhodesian, Irish, New Zealand citizen and resident, now in Queensland, Australia. 10th generation African of mainly European descent. Catholic upbringing, more free thinker now. BA and Law background. Altar boy, wages clerk, uncle, prefect, student, court clerk, prosecutor, magistrate, convoy escort, pensioner, HR Practitioner, husband, stepfather, father, bull terrier lover, telephone interviewer, Call Centre manager, HR manager, grandfather, author (amateur)

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