"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, March 23, 2020

The 2020 Africa Journals

Chapter Ten
"Shooting" the Rapids

In the murky light of early dawn, we motor slowly downstream on the Chobe River, passing tourist boats moored to the shoreline and high-end lodges that appear deserted this early in the day.  Green-backed herons burst into flight as we pass, too fast and still too dark to get photos.

“We’re going to the rapids,” host and guide Guts Swanepoel says.

Well, that brings up visions of white water and huge boulders with crocodiles and hippos waiting to snatch us if our boat overturns.    I can’t wait.

As the light improves, we spot small yellow birds in the onshore reeds.   Tonya maneuvers the boat up to the edge and, to my delight, bright yellow birds called lesser masked weavers* are building nests on the stems of grass.   The males alone are responsible for weaving a nest with grasses and it can take nine to fourteen hours to complete one.

Then, he tries to attract a female to his nest.   Should one accept the nest, he adds a short entrance tunnel and waits while the female incubates the eggs.   After hatching, the male assists in feeding the young.

A bright red bird eludes my camera now but I catch it later.   It’s a red bishop*, also a member of the weaver family.   It’s nest-building and rearing of young are similar to the masked weaver.

A quiet part of the rapids.

A bit farther downstream, we reach “the rapids.”  As rapids, they are a bit understated, but the current is faster and the rocks can still punch a hole in an aluminum boat.   Guts assists Tonya in avoiding them.   I see a crocodile basking on a rock and also see the tell-tale snouts and ears of hippos in a quiet pool on the far right.

Guts steers us downstream aways so we can approach the birds with the sunlight behind us.  That’s the benefit of going on safari with a photographer.

We pass a small island and turn back upstream where the current helps Tonya hold the boat still enough for fast shutter speed photos.   In a tree high above the water, an African harrier hawk* lands on a limb and lots of megabits are burned as we near it.

From Wikipedia: An unusual trait of this species is the double-jointed knees it possesses, which enable it to reach into otherwise inaccessible holes and cracks for prey.

A little farther upstream, we come to the real stars of this trip:   the rock pratincole*.

Birders come from around the world to see these little things.   Some consider these birds highly endangered, but though their numbers are declining, Wikipedia shows them as "least concern."

There are some pied wagtails among them.

More rock pratincole.

And a water thick-knee* taking a bath.

We spend a bit of time there, and then head back upstream, stopping again at the weavers.
For tea and cookies time, we stop in a quiet pond with lily pads.   We also check to see if the jacana eggs have hatched.   They haven’t.

On this day only, I have seen seven birds that are “lifers” for me.   That’s a birding term that means the first time in your life you see a particular bird.

Thick-billed roller*

Thick-billed roller

Water thick-knee*

And, thirteen thus far on the trip.  

Long-toed lapwings*

Senegal coucal*

JUvenile fish eagle.
This sight-seeing boat looks like a converted school bus.

* Lifer birds


  1. You saw seven 'lifers' during his one day and thirteen on the trip (so far). How do you know all of their names (maybe your guides) and the fact you have never seen them before (other than the fact that because they are in Africa and not Alaska they must be new-to-you bird sightings). Some great photos (as usual) for sure. Thanks so much. Cap and Patti

    1. Yes, the guide tells me. A "lifer" to me is a bird I had not previously identified. I might have seen it at a distance, but not known what it was. I always have a small notebook with me (in fact, you gave me some) and I write down the names of birds and animals and other pertinent info. Helps me recall when I'm writing posts. Also helps me remember what day it is, not that it matters all that much when I'm traveling.