Sunday, May 17, 2009

Namibia: Birds & other creatures

May 09

One of the surprises of Africa is the enchantment of the vastly under-looked animals that you come across in your holiday. I have never been a bird watcher & don’t even own a pair of binoculars, but I love to try to take photos of the birds I see, because they are so accessible & their behaviour is so interesting. They call attention to themselves with their bright colours or in your face antics. They are often much less skittish than the mammals are, their small size & tendency to hide behind branches makes photography a challenge. I also find reptiles totally fascinating – as a kid I used to hunt for skinks under rocks in the hills behind our house & keep them for a day or two. But we don’t have much in the way of flashy or big reptiles in NZ (& no snakes of course) so maybe that’s why I enjoy seeing them so much now. On this trip we saw the cutest ever gecko & my first ever chameleon.

Our favourite birds are raptors & we saw several different kinds. Typically they sit on the highest tree they can find, looking out for something to eat. The biggest one we saw was a juvenile Martial eagle. We also saw several secretary birds, but I never managed to get a decent photo.

Apart from the secretary birds striding through the grasses, we saw several other large birds that mostly stay on the ground. Ostriches of course, and Kori Bustards (the heaviest flying bird in the region) and Northern Black Korhaan’s which stand on a rock in a clearing and make such a racket that you can recognise it even when you can’t see it.

We also saw some storks, and lots of smaller birds that hung out close to the side of the road where we were able to see them. We saw huge numbers of weaver birds & some small birds that flew in huge flocks that attracted lots of attention from some of the smaller raptors. (You can see them flying above the Abdim’s stork). We also saw Guinea fowl
with young chicks (not the most intelligent of birds when faced with traffic), more water birds than we expected (all that rain & the flooded Etosha plain). We also saw lots of lilac breasted rollers every morning.

We saw the most reptiles when we did the “living desert” tour in Swakopmund. ( This was to see the “little 5” & it was enormous fun! We saw a couple of Peringuey's Adder’s which were just hanging out under the bushes for some shade, a baby & larger Palmato Gecko, which Tommy (the tour leader) somehow found burrowed in sand dunes. These little geckos are nocturnal & have transparent skin & will die if exposed to full sunlight. But by far the cutest gecko’s I’ve ever seen. We also saw
a sand diving lizard and a FitzSimon's Burrowing Skink, which is both blind & legless. But
the highlight for me was the Namaqua Chameleon – we saw 2 adults and a baby one. Tommy had collected some beetles to feed them – their tongues are amazing & they are so fast! And, they really do change colour! Just so cool!

Outside of this tour, we also saw various other reptiles – a couple of snakes including a very scary black mamba crossing the road in front of us. Also we lots of agama lizards & various other geckos & even a terrapin. We even saw the odd frog (amphibians in such a dry country seemed very incongruous).

The final group of my photos are the invertebrates “bugs” as Bill calls them. I realise most people just swat at them, if they notice them at all, but I find them beautiful, or if that is stretching it a bit, at least fascinatingly ugly! I saw great bugs (huge bodies over 5cm long with even longer antennae) all over the fence posts in Damaraland. I can’t find anything like them in my insect book, so maybe they are just juveniles (very big ones). That area was also where we saw our only scorpion. But lots of very pretty butterflies!

Since we’ve got back to Luanda, the main excitement in our life is that Bill has got a new Honda Falcon 400 motorcycle. We bought helmets in Windhoek on our last day there, so now we have relative freedom of movement. Bill is loving it! We’ve made several spontaneous trips into the city & although we have hit some very heavy traffic we have been able to get through it without problems (I hate weaving through traffic). The road conditions are also a bit scary but Bill is being as cautious as possible.

We are in our last month of school but it is a hectically busy time. Last weekend Bill took his team of soccer boys to Johannesburg to play in an inter-school competition. Despite the overall very young age of the team (more than half of them were young enough to play in the next division down) they won the international school round, but were no match for the much older & more experienced local teams.

I’m trying to put the yearbook together on time (& having to take some release time off school to do so) & reports etc are fast approaching. We are very ready for the year to end & to see family again.

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