The Infinite Intrigue of the African Skimmer

| Tamlin Wightman

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Whoever said that long distance relationships don’t work never fell in love with the African skimmers of the Zambezi River. Perhaps it’s easier with birds, though… The skimmers arrive around the month of July, in the dry season, when little sandbanks peak out of the great river and call the migrants home. Here they roost and breed, typically between August and October, and leave around November.

The mystery of the continued chase, of knowing that just when we have them close, they will leave again isn’t the only factor that has us under their spell, luring us out every morning or evening to catch them in the golden glow on the river. The African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris) is also endangered, making their arrival all the more significant.

We recently spent some quality time with them on a sunset cruise and managed to capture their presence on camera – so that we might remember them even when they aren’t around. Take a look at them below…


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Obviously, it’s not (only) us that they come to see, but the river itself. On his own search for the skimmers of the Zambezi, photographer Will Goodlet shares what it is that attracts travellers, of the bird and human kind, to the Zambezi:

“Drifting slowly down the Zambezi in search of Skimmers I couldn’t help but to reflect on the river itself. It’s at the centre of so much animal and human life in the region, a fabled realm that still holds a mythic place in my own consciousness. I can never quite believe that I am there, swept on by its green current, much as Livingstone might have been. It seems too strange…

It’s more than just a river. Cultures sit astride it and the river brings them all together, like a common thread drawn through the African continent.

It was fascinating to see the local people living with the river. Perhaps more interesting was to see how this area, on the very edge of the conflict between humankind and the world of animals, survives.”


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“Despite the dangers of nesting on sand banks regularly trampled by hippo, predated by monitor lizards, and even disturbed by humans, skimmers and other birds such as lapwings and plovers return to successfully breed on the river each year.” – Encounter


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“African Skimmers are found in small flocks and are monogamous breeders. Their courtship is a sight to behold – boasting aerial chasing and calling as well as low-level synchronised flights close to the water. They nest as solitary pairs, but are usually found in small dipersed colonies. They will return to the same nesting site each year if it is undisturbed and remains free of vegetation.” – Pangolin Voyager


Nesting skimmer 1

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The African skimmer “is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the international conservation community and the population is thought to be declining. … Human disturbance is thought to be largely responsible for the gradual but steady decline in African Skimmer populations throughout its southern African range. Its breeding areas have been much reduced by human management of river systems, in particular dam-building, which causes flooding in upstream areas and smaller flows downstream.” – Encounter


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Skimmers

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Sunset at Royal Chundu

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Discover more about the silent art of birdwatching at Royal Chundu in our blog and contact us to find out more about going on your own birding safari during your stay with us.