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A Wilder-blog! News, photos, chirp and roar - whatever you're wild about at Wilderness Safaris
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    Location:  Damaraland Camp, Torra Conservancy, Namibia
    Date:  25 March 2010
    Observer: Chris Roche
    Photographer: Grant Atkinson

    There are eight lovebird species in Africa – all bright green gems of between 12 and 15cm in size with various vibrant distinguishing colours. They are often seen in quite large non-breeding flocks in some species but can be distrustful and difficult to approach, making close up observation and photography quite challenging.

    Of the three species that occur in southern Africa, the Rosy-faced Lovebird (restricted almost entirely to Namibia) is perhaps the most unusual. Unlike all the other species which use the more tropical locales of forest, woodland and savannah, this species is arid-adapted and is more at home in rocky gorges than in equatorial forests.

    On a recent visit to Damaraland Camp we decided to spend the last hour of sunset at a remote sandstone cliff just north of the Huab River. There is a small colony of lovebirds that have used the pockmarked holes in these wind-eroded cliffs as nesting and roosting sites for a number of years and we aimed to photograph them in the last of the golden light as the sun descended in the west.

    When we arrived at the cliffs there was no sign of the birds and we wondered if they had moved on. We soon found some brightly coloured tail feathers however and shortly afterwards jerked our heads upwards as we heard their characteristic call. Ten or twelve birds had flown in to roost, their chosen site for the night being too far above us to make for decent photos. They were however using a particular bush below the cliff to socialise in before ferrying to and from the roost holes.

    We spent the next hour and a half clambering up to this vantage point with Grant getting whatever photographs were possible of the birds as they clustered on the bushes below the cliffs and then moved into and out of the roost holes and other rock crevices. They are spectacularly colourful and charismatic creatures and well worth the time and effort in observation.

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    These charismatic birds were a treat to observe. South African National Parks have constructed a wonderful set of boardwalks and viewing platforms, allowing up close and personal encounters with the penguins. Read more on this wonderful site here.

    Delighted with the endless photo opportunities on a recent beautiful autumn morning, I just had to share my experience. I discovered that one can even hang out with the penguins right on the beach – local families did!  Children swam and built sandcastles oblivious to the close proximity of the penguins as they waddled past going off to sea in their little hunting groups.
    Once I had had my fill of taking images (guessing around 400+), I still could not drag myself away and simply observed the goings on. By now other tourists were arriving on the beach and I spent a quiet few moments, just watching their reaction on seeing the penguins.  As they walked down the boardwalk closer to the breeding colony, suddenly their faces lit up with sheer emotion and cries of delight as they spotted the penguins, so close at times one can almost reach out and touch them.

    A local warden told me that it was currently their breeding season, quite clearly the adult males all changed into their smart ‘tuxedo’ plumage all vying and honking to attract a mate. It is not a coincidence that this penguin species was called jackass at a time, as their calls sound just like a braying donkey.

    Chicks of various ages peaked out from beneath their parents (both male and females share incubation duty). Recently layed eggs were also seen, and there was much activity as individuals arrive at the colony with nesting material.

    I was also very saddened to hear that these comical birds are today a vulnerable species. Of the 1.5 million African Penguin population estimated in 1910, only some 10% remained at the end of the 20th century! The uncontrolled harvesting of penguin eggs (as a source of food), and guano scraping, nearly drove the species to extinction.  Current threats that these birds have to deal with are overfishing leading to reduced numbers of anchovies and pilchards which are their preferred food source and oil spills. Luckily organizations like SANCCOB have done some amazing work in the rescue and rehabilitation of these birds following oil spills. You can even ‘adopt’ a penguin through them which assists greatly with funding their valuable work.
    Penguin Chick on the nest Penguin Colony at Boulders Playful penguin Boulders Beach

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    What is this creature?
    Like its name suggests, it’s an owl that has adapted to fishing. There are only three of these fishing owls in the world (genus Scotopelia) although there are four species of fish (without the ing) owl (genus disputed between Ketupa and Bubo, the latter containing the eagle owls) – it’s all rather confusing. Fish and fishing owls apparently like to eat fish and are adapted to catching them although many of them will eat other things such as amphibians, crustaceans, carrion, small mammals and even fruit in some cases.

    The Pel’s fishing owl, named for a seemingly forgotten naturalist called Pel, is a large owl and stands roughly 63cm (almost two feet) tall and weighs in at a healthy two kilograms or so.

    When hunting, this owl perches on a low branch overhanging water. From here it hunts fish in slow-moving water using its long talons and the spiny soles of its feet to grip slippery fish. It has also been known to catch young crocodiles. Its maximum meal weight is an astounding two kilograms – in other words this bird is able to lift its own body weight from the water.

    Because it hunts fish which are not known for their sharp hearing, Pel’s fishing owls fly noisily unlike many of the other owls which have soft edges to their flight feathers.

    When the owl is not hunting (normally during the day), it roosts in the deep shade of trees with dark leaves where it’s easily overlooked.

    Why is it so special?

    Like most things people want to see, it’s difficult to find a Pel’s fishing owl. . They are not thick on the ground or air – and are noted as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. They can however, be locally common in ideal habitat (e.g. riverine vegetation and wetlands such as the Okavango Delta).

    The bird has become something of a Mega Tick for twitchers around the world.

    Where can I see it doing its stuff?

    The best place to see this owl is definitely the Okavango Delta. It is often seen perching in the evening after sunset and, for the very patient, it can be seen hunting in the slow moving channels that weave their way through the Delta.

    For the more adventurous, travel to equatorial and west Africa is an option. The bird has been in the Congo Basin and in coastal West Africa.

    Wilderness Safaris and Safari Adventure Company

    You can potentially see this spectacular owl at the following Wilderness Safaris and Safari Adventure Company camps:

    Botswana, Okavango Delta: Xigera Camp, Jao Camp, Jacana Camp, Vumbura Plains

    Malawi: Mvuu Camp, Mvuu Lodge
    South Africa, Kruger National Park: Pafuri Camp – the only place in the country to see the owl birds_-_owl-_Pel's_fishing_(Simon_Stobbs)CPP_1280x1024 X0113985_1280x1024 Xigera150_1280x1024 Dana Allen Xigera145_1280x1024 Dana allen


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    Location: Little Ongava, Ongava Game Reserve, Namibia
    Date: June 2010
    Observers: Ilana Stein and Mary-Anne van der Byl

    Going on safari usually involves game drives and walks away from the camp, generally returning to camp for delicious food and comfortable beds. However, spend a day at camp, and sometimes the wildlife comes to you!

    On a trip to Namibia, we spent a whole day in our luxurious, spacious unit at Little Ongava. This camp is built on a rocky hilltop with panoramic views across the mopane woodland, but even without the help of binoculars, one can sit on one’s deck and some of the local inhabitants are sure to drop by.

    The infinity pool is a major drawcard for birds who seem to see it as their personal – if somewhat large – birdbath. Red-eyed bulbuls (a southern African endemic) were the most common, in both senses of the word; they were the loudest and took up the best spot – centre stage really – every time. Masked weavers, glossy starlings and the occasional Monteiro’s hornbill managed to find place too, splashing about with verve and vigour.

    Unexpectedly, a very different sort of bird arrived: a little banded goshawk landed on the pool’s edge, sending the avian crowd scattering. He proceeded to give himself a thorough washing for a good few minutes; it was a tremendous privilege to be able to watch this from only a few feet away.

    Other inhabitants of the area however, prefer to stay dry. The Kaokoveld dassie, a near endemic rock hyrax, is to be found all over this area, and it seems their favourite spot for a morning snooze is on the boardwalk between the unit and the sala. In the afternoon however, they seek the shade of the sala itself and were most unimpressed when we attempted to join them. The striped squirrels (another Namibian endemic, confined to the north-western regions) joined in the fun, leaping between the branches of nearby trees and the wooden deck, loudly chittering their approval of the accommodation it seemed.

    A grand finale before we left the comfort of the deckchairs for a game drive was the sinuous snakelike movements of a slender mongoose which wound its way through and over the rocks near us, his golden tail the last thing to disappear into a cleft in the rocks.

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