When you head out at sunrise on a breakfast picnic birding cruise and the sleep is still heavy in your eyes, the dreams of the night before blurred with reality, it’s easy to make little mistakes. Like forgetting the tripod back in your room, and the nifty fifty, and the telephoto, or, in my case, pressing voice record on your cell phone instead of, well, off.
Back in my room, at Island Lodge, I discovered our entire morning boat ride chat along with the sounds of a Zambezi morning stealthily recorded on my phone. I played it back, finding things I had missed: our guide, Nyami pointing out the jacanas, rock pratincole and egrets – our attention had been on the skimmers; the constant clicking of cameras – I was not the only one photographing, I realised; singing – by both bird and human, “Blinded by the light,” sang Tina, while the skimmers sounded more like a squeaky dog toy; our attempts to compare the skimmers to everything from origami birds to pointy puffins; and lastly, words of wisdom from our birding guide, Alan Yeowart. Words I might have heard on the cruise, but needed reminding of…
“Nyami has just pointed out a juvenile skimmer,” Alan tells us, as the birdsong continues, “See it over there, sitting on the dark mud opposite us. The drab coloured bird. It must have hatched in the last, maybe, 8 weeks… The skimmers create temporary nests on these low sandbars and generally lay three eggs. Because this is such a hot environment, they will scrape the nest down to where the sand gets damp, position it at a horizon that is equal to the water, so it’s a constant maintenance of that moisture, to keep the eggs cooler… Once one of the eggs hatch they will generally abandon the other two… When they’re feeding from a tactile point of view, they drag their lower mandible through the water, and as it touches something, their head ducks downward and the bill snaps shut.”
Sometimes the best thing to do is put down the camera and sit in silence, watching, listening, being in the moment – over breakfast if possible, and with the voice recorder accidentally switched on of course.
For everything else that escapes our senses in the moment, there are photographs – reminders of the experience but also different views of one scene. Below are some images from our latest sunrise birding safari.