Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Old-Africa's a cappella is soul music

Botswana's AIDS epidemic - 2nd only to Swaziland

Those of us who defy confinement & who acknowledge Old-Africa in our veins, even those of less fashionable hue, are compelled by the natural order. Thus inspired, modern nuance & material comfort blend with ancient custom.
Sedentary Botswana / Caprivi where wealth walks

Black & white become shades of grey & are neither simple nor singular in interpretation but we sing acapella*, in time ...

* harmony. Dusty shades of grey 

Sunset at the Chobe / Zambezi confluence 

Generations, however far removed, draw nourishment from this dust & from within the herds.

As the second quarter of our year draws to a close our attention turned north; far north: - to eastern Botswana & nearby Namibia's Caprivi Strip.

A shining beacon of hope for Africa Botswana plagiarises a perfect world. Fields of amber & ephemeral swamp blend seamlessly with salt-encrusted thirst-land.

World-class infrastructure; legislated tradition; unrivaled respect for the rule of law & an AIDS epidemic which threatens the fabric of Botswana's psyche, ensures a delicate contrast; uniquely managed by the people, for the people. Ancient & modern live in trust.

Home - Chobe

It was to these land-locked shores that we took our son to celebrate his 13th birthday; a traditional coming of age he'd have to carve off the back of the Zambezi Queen & from the papyrus-choked depths of the Chobe & Zambezi rivers in search of tigerfish & bream. If the 'remuneration committee' ie: Mom & Dad kept an eye out for the feathered fiends endemic to these parts, what harm....?
Like all teenagers; these bite
The old ways / nylon new -  modern tradition 

Ostensibly a fishing trip to Botswana's Chobe river & later to Namibia's Zambezi river near Kasane & Kilizo respectively, most of our time was spent on the water. Confined as we were, either on the house-boat or on one of the fishing skips, our birding was specific & focused.

In retrospect we had the latitude & the charter to come and go as we pleased which allowed for arm's-length encounters with many of Botswana's avian specials including White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot, Western-banded Snake-Eagle, Rock Pratincole, African Skimmer, Slaty Egret & others.

From off the boats the birds are confiding - African Darter
Wattled Crane - in decline
Other specials seen from the boats on our Chobe leg included the rarely seen Sitatunga, the more common Red Lechwe, Puku and herds of Elephant, Sable & Buffalo. A road trip into the Chobe National Park yielded good sightings of lion & a myriad species of bird including Wood Pipit & Three-banded Courser.
White-backed Night Heron - common
Rufous-bellied Heron

The abiding avian memory from our Chobe leg was undeniably the large flock of African Skimmer & Rock Pratincole which vocally trawled the crepuscular waters in search of fish & insects respectively.

There are few evenings spent more honestly than those in Botswana from off the boat-deck; nodding quietly at anchor; condensation-wrapped sun-downers close at hand; family in tow & a wild Africa-cloaked sunset. It's pure.
African Skimmer - crepuscular feeders

The Katima special
Choking Chobe in our winter dust we headed further north & into Namibia's Caprivi, a striplet of land no wider than a piece of string and adjacent Botswana's northern watery borders.

Arbitrarily demarcated in the yesteryear for political / military convenience, many of its peoples share blood-ties with ancestral kin across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Namibians by decree, the Lozi-speaking people of eastern Caprivi are comfortably rural & largely reliant on subsistence.

Nearby Katima Mulilo, the region's capital, provides for some urban relief; services the domestic & transitory markets & is the gate-way further north into central Africa.

Winter pickings are good.... Middle-age spread?

Unlike the other, 'more discerning', members of my family I find Namibia's Caprivi quite compelling. I like & trust her people; refuse to accept the rumour that nocturnal raids on tourist spots, largely by makoro-bandits, are the workings of local fishermen and most importantly find its wilderness less orderly than the more manicured parks south of the river.

I was sad to hear that the poaching of migratory elephants for ivory through Namibia's Bwabwata region is becoming more prevalent. I wasn't surprised to learn that one of the (recently apprehended) poaching gangs were neither Namibian nor from Botswana but rather from the Congo & from China.
Hartlaub's Babbler - politician-like. Scratch mine first, mate....

African Skimmer - scrape (Locals revere these birds)
I was equally annoyed to learn that the Namibian fishing grounds were being extensively poached, if not wholly decimated, by foreign fishermen conducting nocturnal sorties from Zambia. Indiscriminate netting of fish, at night & not for own-use but rather for the US $ -based markets in faraway Congo, whose own fishing grounds have long-collapsed, will spell the end of Namibia's fresh-water fishery. From my own perspective, as a recreational catch & release angler specifically and an eco-tourist generally, this short-sighted indifference from Namibia's authorities makes little sense.

Schalow's Turaco - a 'primary' feather

One of the many birds in the region we'd yet to photograph successfully was the Schalow's Turaco. 

In four previous attempts we'd been unsuccessful. This time, however, we were fortunate to locate a briefly confiding bird.. Not only were we permitted a few record images in harsh midday-light, but the bird, rather unexpectedly, donated a wing-feather as it scorched over our heads, not too dissimilar from a wind-assisted, adrenaline-infused grouse in open season.

As it turned out the feather fluttered down to our feet as we watched, some might say somewhat trance-like & slack-jawed. At the very last instant a gust of wind blew the feather out of Mills & Boon & into the most diabolically thorn-infested shrub known to science.

Our son retrieved the memento & for his chivalry spilled a goblet-full of skin & claret.. No doubt the bird cackles from the tree-tops still..!

Notwithstanding, the image of the Schalow's is a milestone & our 800th species we've photographed in the sub-region. [This life-time photographic milestone is distinct from our 2013: - 800 Challenge where the Schalow's Turaco was species no. 698 seen in the sub-region since we initiated the 800 Challenge in January, earlier this year].

Dare I say it ... - it's a feather in our cap..!

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