For me “Chitabe” and “magical” are synonymous. When I land at the airstrip and get beyond the rush of leaping off a plane, grabbing bags and then springing onto a game vehicle, I get a chance to start taking in the area. I have heard many stories of guests who have seen a leopard on their short drive into camp from the airstrip. And that too has happened to me here, but not this time. Instead I saw herds of elephant, tsessebe, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, impala, buffalo and lots of birds – but especially the giant pelicans.
I have seen great white pelicans before but never ever in the quantities that are now feasting at Chitabe. The reason for these huge flocks is as a result of the drying pans, which have created “fish-traps”, and this means carnival time. Together with the pelicans are marabou storks, yellow-billed storks and up to six or seven fish eagles, or more, at a time. They flock to a pan that they feel is going to be productive based on their fishing skills. With their webbed “landing gear” they skid to a short landing on the water and then settle in a group together to wait patiently. They make a grunting sound and if you closed your eyes, you might mistake them for buffalo! All of a sudden there is a massive flurry of action, giant wing-spans flap furiously making a “whoop” sound like bending or warping a sheet of plastic, but the birds are heavy and almost run on the surface of the water rather than take off. The fish wriggle to the one side of the trap where this is no way out and the saggy beaks of the pelicans glut themselves to the fill.
Just as quickly as it starts, it is over – but not for long. The flock dissipates a bit taking time to digest their catch. Meanwhile on the periphery the yellow-billed storks walk around with their beaks open like chop sticks at a sushi bar, dipped into the water and waiting for a delectable treat. For the impatient pelicans, and those still hungry, they fly to the next fish trap to try their luck there. Just like jumping queues at a supermarket, they fly from trap to trap hoping that they get to the front of the feast and a good piece of the action before it’s too late. It is a spectacle that entertains for hours.