Bird-lover or not, the impressive yellow-billed stork colony in the Nsefu sector of the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is definitely a worthwhile visit. What makes it even more spectacular is visiting during the busy breeding season where predatory birds are on the hunt for juvenile storks.
While these birds are common throughout the year, you will only find them in spectacular numbers when breeding in Nsefu up until June. Even the colours of this characteristic wading bird become more vivid during the breeding season and the white plumage is coloured pink on upper-wings and back.
The storks start breeding during the rainy season when the Luangwa River is in full flood and plentiful food for their chicks guaranteed. Building nests in February in the high jackalberry trees away from predators and laying and incubating from March, juveniles are seen in nests up until June.
For visitors, this sighting will only be accessible towards the end of May when roads have been graded and smaller streams feeding the Luangwa River have become dry enough to cross.
Busy breeding season
In early June I took a professional photographer to the colony only to find them in full breeding swing, surrounded by noticeable ‘bush-traffic’ both in the air and on the ground.
The yellow-billed storks were flying up and down to feed their young by regurgitating fish onto the nest floor from where it is picked. Meanwhile, a considerable number of marabou storks gathered underneath the high jackalberry trees, waiting for fish to fall down during the feeding process.
Even though there were sleeping lions about 200 metres from the breeding colony, they were not the highlight of our day – that part was reserved for a hunting martial eagle, with young yellow-billed storks on its menu.
Stork on the menu
We watched in fascination as a martial eagle made a few attempts in catching a young stork, until finally succeeding. Another martial eagle appeared but decided to keep its distance, perhaps out of respect for the competition or maybe because of our presence.
Luckily we managed to capture some of the hunting moments of this spectacular and powerful raptor.