EcoTraining Instructor Ross Hawkins spends most of his time instructing on Trails Guide or Wilderness Trails Courses, so being on foot most of his day he does tend to see things on the ground level a bit more than those who are in the game drive vehicle. Small things such as birds nests and eggs sometimes get lost do to their camouflage, and there is a reason behind that.
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We have all been caught off guard by this current crisis. Certain drastic measures were put in place to keep the Coronavirus (COVID19) from spreading. These measures do have a major effect on everyone globally. Please take a few minutes to answer this 10 question survey about the Coronavirus and the effect it has on YOU personally and your travel plans.
The white-backed night heron is an elusive and rather poorly known species of crepuscular piscivore. A relative of the much more common black-crowned night heron, this secretive and shy inhabitant of slow-flowing rivers and dams are generally regarded as rare throughout a rather wide distribution. They can be seen from the east cape of South Africa along the Indian coastal belt through to the Lowveld and into parts of Southern and central Africa.
But they can only be spotted in their suitable habitat which makes finding them for your life list that much trickier.
The species stronghold is undoubtedly the Okavango Delta where local mokoro based excursions from many lodges in the area offer a good chance of connecting with this sought after skulker. Birds are most often seen when flushed from bank waterside vegetation where they roost in the deepest shade during the daylight hours. They are generally active from early evening into the night before flying back to their roost sites as dawn approaches.
Their hunting methods
White-backed Night Herons (Gorsachius leuconotus) as with most herons are opportunistic feeders with fish, arthropods, frogs and freshwater crabs comprising most of its diet. Some of their prey will simply be seized because it is available. A strong spear-shaped bill is used to spear passing prey at such speeds that the prey passing won’t know what hit them.
Underwater prey is waited for patiently, usually from vegetation overhanging the surface of the water or from a waded position just out from the bank. These birds can sit motionless for long periods of time until the opportunity arises. Like all herons, they possess specialised neck vertebrae. The neck is able to kink in an S-shape, due to the modified shape of the cervical vertebrae. This acts as a coil spring which gives their hefty bill incredible speed when the head is shot forward towards unsuspecting prey.
Another incredible feature of this hunting method is that these birds automatically take into account the refraction that takes place when looking into the water. The head of a heron corrects for light refraction at the water’s surface by adjusting the position and keeping a constant relationship between real and apparent prey depth.
Where do they occur in South Africa?
In South Africa, there are very few reliable places to find this endearing species with several sites along the garden route and Eastern Cape, Lake Phobane in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Lake Albasini in Limpopo offering some of the better chances. Something that is quite exciting is that this special species has been recorded quite regularly at EcoTraining Karongwe Camp. Most records are from the weir along the Karongwe River within the reserve, but birds have been seen at nearby Spectre and GVI Dams as well as from within camp itself.
This is wonderful news for birders who have been eluded by this beautiful bird as here at Karongwe there is the potential, for those who are fortunate, to access one of Africa’s most desired birds while taking in the beauty of the African wilderness and the stunning Lowveld.
If you are a keen birder or want to learn more about birds, why don’t you try your hand at our EcoTraining Bird Challenge?
February is an unbelievable time to travel to East Africa, and this time of year Kenya experiences the lowest levels of precipitation in the Masai Mara but the birdlife is in abundance and it also happens to be lion season!
When travelling through East Africa it is never a guarantee that it will not rain, as the famous tropical storms of Kenya could hit at any moment, however in the earlier months of the year the rainfall is substantially less than the later months, this means that the game viewing is fantastic and you won’t be bumbling around in a waterproof poncho for half of the day.
Good weather also means beach weather and the coastline of Kenya sure does boast some incredible spots. Kenya is renowned for its national parks and wildlife, but also the 1,420 kilometres of Kenyan coastline, it is home to some of the most beautiful destinations, beaches and Marine National Parks in Africa. Most of Kenya’s finest beaches are found just north and south of Mombasa in the southeast of the country. Here are some of the amazing spots you wouldn’t want to miss out on, especially in the summer weather:
- Diani Beach
- Lamu Island
- Malindi Bay
It’s not only the coastline that is bustling with life in the warmer months, the bush in February is rich with birdlife and their sounds and songs bring the wilderness to life, there is a variety of intra-African and Palearctic migrants in the beginning of the year so, if you’re a keen birder this will be paradise. with over 1,100 recorded species it is definitely one of the top birding destinations. Here are some of the star birds that should be on any birders list:
- White-bellied Go-away Bird
- Amani Sunbird
- Rüppell’s Vulture
- Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater
- Grey Crowned Crane
- Ross’s Turaco
- D’Arnaud’s Barbet
- Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill
- Superb Starling
- White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
From January to March the lions are out in full force, hence this time of year is called lion season. As the plains game such as wildebeest and zebra drop their young the Masai Mara becomes dotted with new-born calves, which means only one thing – predators.
Lions are not the only predators that will be out in full force, there have been some amazing sightings of leopard, hyena and cheetah in the Masai Mara, as well as around EcoTraining’s camp at Mara Training Centre.
The predator game viewing is particularly fantastic in the Masai Mara year-round, another great time to travel to see some of these big cats in action is during the Great Migration, which falls in the dryer winter months in East Africa from around June to October.
The adventures in Kenya are endless, you could be ticking some amazing birds off your life list, relaxing on the beach or have some mind-blowing sightings in the Masai Mara – what are you waiting for?
Here are some of the courses coming up this year:
If you want to learn more about Kenya maybe try your hand at our EcoTraining East Africa Inspired Quiz.