Written by: Nicholas Tucker
As the water levels of the Okavango River start to drop in late spring/early summer, one of the lesser known spectacles of nature takes place. The smaller fish species, such as bream, robbers and minnow, are forced out of the shelter of the flood plains and into the main channel of the pan handle of the world famous Okavango Delta.
The abundance of small fish draws the attention of predatory barbel and tiger fish from all across the Okavango, followed closely by herons, kingfishers and African fish eagles. The waters below and the skies above, become a collage of fish and birds.
Birding is a favourite past time for many people and one that seems to be growing, with an ever increasing interest in bird photography. The only challenge now is having the right equipment, the time and the money to get to those places where birding is best.
On a recent trip to Shakawe in Botswana, the complexities that come into play and the impact of intricate ecosystems on birds and birding was well illustrated to me. After an amazing day out on the Okavango River we saw a multitude of heron species – white-backed night herons, goliath herons, black herons, purple herons and squaco herons to name a few. The herons, so I was told, were following the barbel run, as were the tigerfish, an array of kingfishers and African fish eagles.
This coupled with the arrival of the migratory bee-eaters, sees the region come alive with colour and action, presenting the perfect chance to put my knowledge of birds to the test. My photographic skills where also challenged when trying to photograph the streaking colours of bee-eaters feeding on airborne insects, kingfishers darting into the water, African fish eagles circling up high, and herons using their wings to provide shade, fooling the fish into striking range.
Equipped with sunscreen, water, binoculars and cameras, we headed up the panhandle and were met by white-fronted bee-eaters, who kindly pointed us in the direction of their colony. From there it was on to a southern carmine bee-eater colony and then we headed further up river to a spectacle of various herons, African darters, African fish eagles, African skimmers, one spectacular malachite kingfisher and one elusive Pels fishing owl. There were so many birds that it was easy to forget to also look out for the hippos, crocodiles and elephants lining the river’s edge. However, when you do remember to pay attention, the wildlife sightings are equally as spectacular.
A day out on the Okavango, watching nature play out it’s timeless spectacle was a truly magical experience. You can not help but leave with a greater appreciation for birds and birding and a better understanding of the challenge of taking photographs of birds.
Here are some of my top tips for birding in Botswana:
- A good guide is a must for the trip, as they often know where to look for the rarer sightings. Without the knowledge of our guide, Otto, we most certainly would not have seen the Pel’s fishing owl.
- A good pair of binoculars will go a long way. I use the Stiner 8×42 SkyHawk Pro.
- Most of my photographs where shot using a Canon 70-300mm lens, however, a 400mm, 500mm or 600mm would have been great.
- The boat we used did not have any shade or awning so as not too interfere with the birding, so keep in mind that sunscreen and a good hat go a long way.