Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Although it may be a few days before these words see the light of the internet, I pen them camped on the bank of the Kovango river-the border between northern Namibia and southern Angola. The sun beats down in the afternoon swelter, and the voices and laughter of the Angolan village children drift over the water, which in turn drifts it’s way east through the Kaprivi strip to the Okovango Delta. I munch on my staple African diet of peanut butter sandwiches and Windhoek lager. Having mislaid my lighter my pipe and tobacco sit forlornly in front of me.
In keeping with the musician theme from my last post, there seems to be a belief here that ‘I’m going slightly mad’. A song, incidentally, performed by Queen, whose front man, Freddy Mercury, was born on the African island of Zanzibar. A crazy place with a fascinating mix of culture and history, you should all visit. But I digress to my alleged madness. Last night a tour group of mostly Australians (pot calling kettle black?) showed up at the local tourist lodge and found it simply incredulous that I arrived here on foot. Admittedly Namibia is not a country to tour on foot-it’s mostly a desert, and hence very very hot and settlements tend to spaced very far apart. However I’ve spent the past four days in the very hospitable, and ridiculously poor village Kayengona (another story for another day…). As my destined campsite was not too far away I opted to walk, the only option really as my ride to the village had long departed. My habit of walking around barefoot just confirmed their view. Going bare foot doesn’t seem to be the done thing in Africa. Even the most destitute people in the poorest villages stare at my unclad feet, and often point and laugh when I pass. The owners of the lodge also seem to think me some sort of lone mad wanderer in need of charity-and have invited me to dine for free in their restaurant. Having sampled their fare last night I am very excited about this-their kudu stroganoff sure beats peanut butter sandwiches.
So am I mad? Mad about birds maybe… mad at birds, definitely. There always has to be some bird that tries its darndest to ruin your sleep on a nice trip into the wilderness. While the New Zealand kiwi (Apteryx spp.), kaka (Nestor meridionalis), and saddleback (Philesturnus carunculatus) are all lovely birds, they aren’t exactly musically inclined. If you’re lucky enough to visit somewhere with all three in significant numbers you’re in for some restless nights until you get accustomed to it. Here the babblers nicely fill this raucous role. There are four species of babblers in the genus Turdoides in the area, though so far I have only managed to sight two, the arrow-marked babbler (T. jardineii) and Hartlaub’s babbler (T. hartlaubii). Although they are rather handsome birds in their own way, their incessant, well, babbling as the name implies, means they have struggled to secure a place in my heart.
It’s not all bad though. Having not gone much more than 100 metres from my tent I have so far positively identified just over 40 different species, and a whole lot more have gone unidentified (so far…). The bee eaters (Merops spp.) are as cute as ever, but the most delightful to watch has been the white-bellied sunbird (Cinnyris talatala), a tiny nectivore I have seen feeding on the small flowers of a local banksia tree. I also found some nest building today. Unfortunately their small size, rapid movements and the thick bushes they’ve been hanging out in have made them elusive to photograph, so I’ll leave you with a picture of a raucous babbler, and a little bee eater.
This post is getting far too long now, so I’d better sign off. Although I’ve traveled a long way to get to my current birding location, don’t forget the message from my previous posts-no matter where you are, there’s always a nearby opportunity to get your bird geek on good and proper.
An arrow marked babbler. Babbling.
A little bee-eater (M. pusillus). Being cute.