Jun 18

Navigating the Delta to Find Amazing Birds

by in Africa, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is a unique place. It floods in the dry season and dries out in the wet season. What’s up with that? We arrived in the dry season and our car had to SWIM most of the time. Anyway, I recently got a birding book and have been attempting to cross off as many birds as I can find. Some of these birds are very interesting, but finding them might discourage any but those ailing from a severe case of stubborn perseverance. (So basically just us and the serious/crazy people.)

Special Thanks to Alan and Agnes, our guides from the Okavango Delta. Agnes had a special talent for spotting things when none of us could, and Alan stopped for almost every bird I asked about and could identify a bird when it was flying 45 feet away, and with the sun behind it. These two made our trip in the Okavango the fond memory that it is. So, Thanks a Bunch Alan and Agnes!

Earlier I mentioned our car that had to swim. This was no hyperbole. The water was coming up to but a few inches from the top of the door. In fact, the engine needed a snorkel!!! Meanwhile, we had to keep our feet off the floor; the water level inside the car was moving around a cooler!

First to get to the Delta, we had to fly in a small 10-person plane.  Once landing we traveled by the snorkel-jeep, by powerboat and by dugout canoe (nowadays, made of fiberglass to preserve trees but still in the old long narrow shape).  Yes, navigating the Delta is hard, but there are some very cool birds that make it worthwhile.

Not in any particular order…

1)      Vultures: These birds are often seen in groups of varying sizes, circling high in the sky or dramatically silhouetted by the sun and in a tree. Vultures can lead you to big predators, because the predators follow the vultures hoping to eat any carrion or steal it from the animal that made the kill.


2)      Lilac Breasted Roller:  Quietly slam on your brakes if you see this bird. A white face with a black strip going through the eyes to the black beak, a lilac breast and cheeks, a pale green head, wings that are green yellow on top with sky blue on the edges and shiny dark blue undersides, and finally an olive green tail. As you can see above, this bird is a truly beautiful thing.


3)      Hamerkop: This bird is brown, has a head that looks like a hammer and has many cool habits. Hamerkops build massive nests up to TWO meters in diameter even though they’re only about a foot tall! They eat poisonous frogs. Wait, what? How can something eat something that has a poisonous slime all over it? The answer: A Hamerkop dunks its captive frog in the water over and over again until all the slime is gone and then gulps him down.

4)      Blacksmith Lapwing: These birds are EVERYWHERE! You see them twenty times a day, flying out from almost under your tires as they flee your rumbling jeep. Blacksmiths serve as sentries and call out warning calls whenever they see a predator.

5)      Helmeted Guinea Fowl: I included these birds because they are very funny. They look like large, chubby, gray chickens with a turkey’s head. One day, we were driving along in a more thickly wooded part of savannah, when we turned a corner and saw literally 50 Guinea Fowls all vainly trying to waddle out of the way. But did they move to the sides? No, no, no. Guinea Fowls are far too stupid to move out of the way. Instead, they waddled, panic stricken, clucking and jostling each other, up the road. Finally, they got so stressed they just up and lifted their little turkey bodies off the ground and flew away.

6)      Malachite Kingfisher: As all Kingfishers, this bird has a long and straight bill for eating small fish, water crustaceans, and insects. He is the most colourful bird after the Lilac Breasted Roller.  We had to use a boat and go into the Moreni reserve to find this one.

7)      Pied Kingfisher: Mom’s favorite bird, the Pied Kingfisher hovers over the water just like a hummingbird and looks amazing, its wings make a beautiful black and white pattern in the air.

8)      Southern Ground-Hornbill: These guys are funny looking but they have the coolest nest safety of all of these birds. When a female SGH lays eggs, she will lay exactly two. Only one of the eggs will hatch. Later, the bird that hatched  (if it is still alive) will come back to its old nest. If the nest is missing or the egg has been eaten and/or taken, then the Hornbill knows that the nest is no longer safe. If the nest is still safe, the Hornbill will go inside the oval shaped nest and paste the inside with the yoke of the now extremely rotten and spoiled egg. Any predator that wants to eat the Hornbill will be repelled by the horrible stench of the nest. (Note: The Southern Ground-Hornbill is actually not found in the Delta, but we saw it on our transfer to Zimbabwe).

9)      Little Bee Eater: This bird is included just because of its size. This little guy is so small, he is  more like a large butterfly with bat wings.

10)   White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver: The White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver, weaves its nest out of grass and ends up with a final product that is very disheveled looking on the outside and has a hole in the bottom. Inside the nest there is a moderate niche where the eggs go. Other cool thing about the W.B. Sparrow-Weaver: You can navigate just by looking at one of their nests, since they only build their nests on the west side of trees.

Keep an eye out for the aforementioned birds. They’re worth it. Just remember to put your eye back in when you’re done.

P.S.  Also look in the bird pictures for:  Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Saddle-billed Stork, Burchell’s Starling (brilliant blue color)


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