I am sure there are a lot of people who are lucky enough to spend their birthday in the bush or on safari. I always make a big deal of my and anyone else’s birthday. This year I got to spend my birthday at Ruckomechi in the Zambezi Valley in Mana Pools. We were coming towards the end of the dry season with temperatures in the region of around 42° C – 45° C daily. By 08h00 in the morning it was already 34° C. The heat hugs you like a thick blanket and every inhalation is hot and suffocating.
Despite this heat, there is such a buzz at Ruckomechi that it is infectious. The energy just electrifies you and you just want to get out there and do as much as possible in this beautiful part of the world. In the heat of the day everyone has to rest. Even the baboons around camp take time-out in the shade under the trees. All the action happens in the early morning and the late afternoon.
Early mornings were the ideal times for us to go game driving. On one morning drive we followed the road along the river and spent time photographing the southern-carmine bee-eaters. They are so beautifully covered with iridescent colours of emerald, ruby, scarlet and azure. They noisily chirp all the time like they are in a permanent meeting – I am sure they even chirp in their sleep! They are an intra-African migrant which means that they follow the sun, and these guys do so in three stages. From August they move to their breeding grounds and inhabit their “breeding houses” which are nests dug deep into river banks and that is why they are here on the banks of the Zambezi River at this time. Then from here they move further south into the Lowveld of South Africa. For winter, they move north up to savannah lands of Angola, Malawi, Zambia and even as far north as Tanzania. They are a spectacular sight and worthwhile coming to visit Ruckomechi at this time of the year to see.
It is interesting to know that generally birders or twitchers or whatever they call people who are interested in watching birds usually get to see more game than those who are just looking for the Big Five. Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to see the Big Five, especially if it is a first visit to Africa, of course one would want to. But there is a lot more to get excited about. Just to illustrate the point, while we were watching the bee-eaters, we noticed the most massive crocodile for which the Zambezi River is renowned. And as we looked, we started noticing more and more crocodile. This now required further investigation so we left the birds to their perpetual meeting and followed the river road where we found the spectacular sight of about 30+ crocodile. There was the most pungent stench that made my stomach heave caused by a decaying hippo and this is what brought about the croc-party.
Now still keeping on the subject of birds, not only are there hundreds of species of birds in southern Africa, but there are also freakish forms for when nature gets a bit confused. I was introduced to my very first melanistic gabar goshawk right here in the Ruckomechi Concession. When I looked this up in the Roberts Bird Book, it says adult dark morph. We spent a long time looking at it and I am quite clear that I clearly saw the bars on the tail prominently. I am having a lot of fun learning about the feast of birdlife that the wonderful wilderness areas offer. I feel totally at loss when I don’t have my bird book with me. I also find that the best is the massive edition of Roberts (which cannot travel with us because that would kibosh our luggage allowance in one book) because it has a LOT of information on every bird and I love lots of information!
So the moral of the story is: get birding or twitching and you will be completely amazed at what will unfold before your eyes! I am just beginning to twitch…
Images by Dana Allen, Caroline Culbert and Mike Myers.