Sunday, I joined the Zambian Bird Society (http://www.birdwatchzambia.org) on their monthly bird-walk. It took place at the Kalamazi Game Ranch, not far outside of Lusaka. I borrowed a pair of binoculars for the occasion (and really need to get some of my own soon!) I was also armed with a camera, a couple of bottles of water, a hiking pole and sunscreen. I had neglected to bring my hat, but I made do with my trusty bandanna.
We met at the “Bird Watch Office” and caravanned towards the Game Ranch. There were 7 of us…and no one was really a “regular,”, it seemed. Once we turned off the tarred road, I realized that I should have jumped into one of the 4-wheel drive vehicles as my little Starlet was not meant for rutted dirt roads. When we hit the turn to the ranch, which was little more than a dirt path, I parked my car and grabbed a ride with a very nice American couple who had a sturdy 4 x 4.
As we drove in, we passed several flocks of guinea fowl, which are very common and have been domesticated. They apparently make good eating!
Birders can be an interesting bunch. I was asked if I had brought my notebook – apparently it is common to record sightings and observations as you encounter different birds…or think you encounter them. Everyone had a pair of serious binoculars and when a bird was sighted (or someone thought a bird was sighted) everyone would stand perfectly still, binoculars up and steady, looking to see if certain markings or beak colours could be discerned before confirming the sighting.
Some people thought this bird was definitely a “lizard buzzard” but others were not so sure. The light was not good enough to check to see if he had the requisite black stripes down his chest, as shown in the close up picture (not mine!)
We came across a whole bunch of nests made by a bird called a “weaver.” They weave their nests onto reeds and thin branches. There are several kinds of weavers, some that make neat, tidy nests like these and others who are sloppy and make ratty looking nests with loose ends and bits of sticks and grass sticking out. .
The game ranch is part of a farm that borders a large dam and the lake that has been created. We walked around the lake to the mud flats, where we hoped to see some of the “waders.” It was very pretty and there was a nice breeze coming off the water.
We were able to see several kinds of birds – ones that were positively identified were the pied kingfisher, the stilt, a common bulbul, a jacana (also called the “Jesus Christ bird” because it appears to walk on water!), a black-necked heron (which could possibly have been a grey heron) and a bee-eater.
The stilt is a very attractive bird – long red legs and black wings with a white body. And the pied kingfisher is unique amongst kingfishers in that he hovers over the water before diving for his prey. The bee-eater is a very pretty little bird – bright yellow body with a colorful head. And the jacanas really do seem as if they are walking on the water – they have incredibly long toes which allow them to navigate on even the smallest leaves or twigs.
(Please note: the close-up bird pictures are NOT mine! I would have needed incredible luck and a much more expensive camera to take shots like these! But they show what the birds look like!)
And then…someone told the cows it was time for morning tea. One came down to see if it was ready.
Then, using some unknown cow-communication, the rest of them slowly followed.
These cows are quite unusual in that they have a hump between their shoulder blades, in some cases quite pronounced. They are called “Zebus” or Brahman cattle and originated in Southern Asia. They are well adapted to tropical temperatures and used for dairy, beef, draught animals and also hides and leather. Their dung is used for fuel and fertilizer.
Most of the cows moved placidly down to the water, but every once in a while, there would be feisty one who would seem more curious.
Behind the mud flats, there was a curious structure that I first took to be an old foundation of some sort. Upon closer inspection, and some discussion, we discerned it to be a “cattle dip.” The cattle would be driven into the shoot and into the deeper end, where they could be soaked with insecticide or cleaner…
There was much interesting flora, as well. Thorned acacia trees and various bushes and tall rush-like plants.
And as we returned to our cars, we could clearly see a marabou stork wheeling about overhead. This bird has a wing-span of almost 2 meters. From a distance, it was beautiful, but it was considered to be one of the ugliest birds, with its short neck, featherless head and huge neck- pouch.
Right before leaving, I found a long-discarded impala horn on the ground…
It was a fun morning…and next time, I plan to have a stronger pair of binoculars (and my hat!)