Monday, 30 May 2011

Central and Northern Namibia -’For the birds’ Part 2

Day 4 Walvis Bay – Rooibank – Salt works DATCF 50km

The interesting field-skill when birding Namibia in the summer, particularly in the west, is timing. First light is usually an hour and more after JHB dawn. The same applies in the evening obviously. The domestically motivating aspect of an extra hour’s sleep before the dawn watch is always bankable.

Dune Lark [DL] was the breakfast aperitif. That required a whistle trip out of Walvis en route the airport & then south down to Rooibank [village]. Intimidating as the desert can be, it’s particularly so early in the morning. It’s oppressive even. Very little wind stirs up a soup of unnerving cathedral-like silence. Village curs don’t bark but stare blankly into the distance. The people seem more soft-spoken too. The renegade in this respectful hush though is the Dune Lark. Not for them the haloed silence on bended knee. The sheer delight in their calls draws you closer just as drunken laughter does at a campfire. The birds are common around the clumps of dune grass. The first bird [lifer] is normally the one you remember. This time however it’s the second bird we saw that is the abiding memory.

You’ll remember Sods 2nd law of photography from earlier – [you’re too far- get closer.....] and so the saga began……..

BH [BE&BT – bright eyed & bushy-tailed] enthused by the extra hours shut-eye, grabbed the camera to capture [first-hand] our first DL. Picture the scene… Rooibank [the village] was hidden from view a mere 500m away by the large ochre-red dunes. We happened to be sitting on one of these [BTW: this is barefoot country – experience the dunes between your toes. You won’t be sorry!] At the foot of the ‘dunelet’ [juvenile] opposite us bestrode a red devil [Dune Lark]. Applying Sod’s No.2, that meant covering 50m of open ground, from elevation, backlit by the first sun with the 400mm lens periscoped over a shoulder. I grabbed the popcorn, fluffed up my grandstand [category 4] seat & enjoyed.

The 1st 25m was [disappointingly] a synch; BH having employed the SDB technique. [Slide Down on your Backside...] The DL completely engrossed in the first moth of the day seemed oblivious or uncharacteristically short-sighted. Drunk with early success, BH up-ended & fatally switched to the HD-AA [Head Down – Arse in the Air] technique. This uniquely mystifying strategy [origins unknown – although documented evidence of the same hunting stratagem employed by the Hollywood superstar, Elmer Fudd, does confirm some early success] immediately enraptured the grandstand. The red devil too demonstrated early signs of merriment. And so the dance began….

For those of you unfamiliar with the Cotillion, a classic Victorian-era formal dance let me explain. In its graceful movements, bewitching rhythms and expressive charm belies a silent poetry of the body. It’s freedom of movement with an unrestrained impulsiveness.

And so it was with face turned slightly left, the gentleman [red devil], in homespun red attired, did lead the mistress of the ball [solemn vastness of the dunes] on swaying legs and chest thrust out. The lady, still in HD-AA [maintained eye contact & therefore respectful of the dance] held the pose, followed & did not lead. Around and around – first left then right, the rhythmic cadence perfect. No photos did she take the narra-vegetated hummock dunes in between. The grandstand roared approval, tears of laughter wet the dunes – the silence back to Walvis a fitting end….

A few lines on Lagoon Loge –The rooms were spotless and our hosts [Francais] charming. The breakfast’s memorable. I highly recommend a two night stay at least. Notwithstanding the luxury of the lodge, the location is simply other-worldly. Thousands of waders & flamingos a mere 50m away; companions / friends even, at your breakfast table. The memory haunts me still.

Walvis Bay’s bay is large. In the summer untold migrants in their thousands make this oasis home. When the tide’s right [low] and where the sand banks are exposed, waders appear in countless droves flying in to land at what seems no more than a spit & a doddle from your feet. I used a scope to sort Knot from Curlew and Red from Red-necked, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have one. The birds are confidingly close. Some of the notables included Common, Caspian, Arctic, Sandwich, Black, Swift & Damara Terns; Terek Sandpiper; Bar-tailed Godwit; C Whimbril; Lesser & Greater Flamingo; Grey, Common Ringed, White-fronted, Chestnut-banded & Kittlitz’s Plover; Black-necked Grebe; Ruddy Turnstone; Red & Red-necked Phalarope and Jaegers both Parasitic & Pomarine. The rest of the cast was also in abundance, particularly Curlew Sandpiper & Sanderling in their thousands, usually in HD-AA pose.

We spent the rest of the day & early next scanning the bay, salt-works and beaches of Walvis which naturally raises a few questions; the most obvious of which is why ordinary people hurriedly cross the street making signs against the hex when birders descend en mass for the briefest optical glimpse of the unusual . Why do we do it? It’s not just simply answered. Time spent on introspective reflection would [I imagine] reveal a diversity of opinion. Watching BH quietly engrossed behind the scope, sitting cross-legged at peace on the promenade whilst the world jogged nervously by, seems reason enough.

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