Birdwatching on the Chobe River

It is Christmas Day and we are enjoying a champagne breakfast on the upper deck of the Zambezi Queen, on the Namibian side of the Chobe river. Soon it is time to head out on the tenders for another water-based game drive. Today we going in search of the many different species of birds that can be found on the banks of the Chobe River.

An African sacred ibis wanders along the grassy embankment. The sacred ibis is a living hieroglyphic; this species was venerated and often mummified by ancient Egyptians. Ibis mummies have been discovered buried alongside pharaohs. Although their diet consists mainly of insects, they also enjoy crocodile eggs.

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A little further on we pass an African darter, sitting on a twisted branch that protrudes out of the water. An African open-bill wades through the shallow waters, looking for mollusks and a pair of pied kingfishers sit in the branch of a tree above us.

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We pass a cluster of brown-veined white butterflies. These butterflies have what is known as a ‘burst migration’, which is a dispersal mechanism that relieves overcrowding in one area. When the butterflies are still sexually immature they begin to travel. These butterflies travel in the thousands, creating one of the greatest migrations. They travel from South Africa’s west coast towards Mozambique and across the sea to Madagascar. They fly from sunrise to dusk, stopping every 20 minutes or so to replenish themselves with nectar, in order to reduce the risk of dying from dehydration. The females lay eggs along the route, beginning the life cycle of the next generation. These butterflies are often joined by other butterflies of the same Pieridae family, creating massive clouds reaching up to one kilometre into the air. At night the butterflies rest and one can tell if they are awake or not by looking at their feelers – if they are touching then the butterfly is asleep.

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A white-breasted cormorant swoops in front of the tender and dives into the water. A moment later it reappears with a fish in its beak. This is the largest of all cormorants and is found in patches of sub-Saharan Africa. Its jaw is adapted to handling bottom-dwelling, slow-moving fish but it can also catch faster fish that live closer to the surface. The bird wrestles with the fish for a while, dropping and re-catching it a few times before eventually swallowing it whole.

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A pair of southern carmine bee-eaters are sitting in a tree. These birds can be found from Tanzania to Botswana and they live in colonies of 100 to 1,000 nests that are dug into the riverbanks. They feed exclusively on insects, which are generally larger than the prey of other bee-eaters and include dragonflies and locusts.

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We see a giant kingfisher land on a branch nearby and notice that it has something in its mouth. As we get closer we can see that it has caught a crab. Giant kingfishers swallow small crabs and fish whole but this one is a little too big. The bird flies to another branch where it proceeds to smash the crab against the wood. The bird will remove the pincers and carcass before eating the flesh.

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On a small sandy inlet we spot two adult and a few juvenile African skimmers. These birds have very uniquely shaped bills that allow them to fly low over calm water with the long, lower ‘blade’ dipping in the water; when they touch a fish their bill snaps shut. The juveniles will be fed fish by both parents until they fledge at around four weeks old.

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Birdwatching on the Chobe River

by Uncover Travel time to read: 3 min
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