Silence is the shield of the ignorant and the protection of the wise.
Orange River white-eye
The common Afrikaans name for the Orange River white-eye is the “Gariep glasogie”, which translates as the “Gariep glass-eye”. (The Gariep was the original Nama name for the Orange River, a name which is presently coming back into common usage (the river was re-named after William V of Orange by one of the early explorers from the Dutch East India Company)). When we were growing up in the Eastern Cape, the little white-eyes that abounded in our neighbourhood where therefore called “glassies”. Those would have been Cape white-eyes, though, and the Orange River white-eyes have recently been “split off” from the Cape white-eyes and designated as a separate species.
The Orange River white-eye is endemic to the southern African region and is found, not surprisingly, along the Orange River, but also northwards into Namibia, where they are not uncommon along the Swakop and Kuiseb Rivers, and southwards into South Africa. It is very similar to the Cape white-eye in appearance and some hybridization occurs where the ranges of the two overlap.
The Orange River white-eye is a small bird with a length of just 12 cm. The sexes are alike, with greenish crown and upperparts; yellow throat; peach coloured or buff flanks and yellow vent. It has a very distinct white ring around its black eyes, a black bill and black legs and feet.
Its preferred habitat is quite dense riverine woodland, but it is also found in other wooded areas, including parks. It feeds mainly on insects which it gleans from leaves or prises from under the bark as it moves quickly through the foliage, and on fruit and berries.
The call of the Orange River white-eye is a subdued “pee, tee, pee, tee”. They are monogamous and build a cup-shaped nest, usually placed in a tree or a tall bush. The female lays a clutch of about three pale blue eggs, and the incubation period is presently not known.
The scientific binomial for the Orange River white-eye is Zosterops pallidus; Zosterops from the Greek words for “girdle” and “eye”, referring to the distinctive white ring around the eye; and pallidus from the Latin for “pale”. Thus the name describes a pale bird with a girdled eye.
We have just returned from the most amazing visit to Norotshama, a resort in southern Namibia on the banks of the Orange River. Amazing because it was a long-overdue family reunion (more about that in another blog) and also because of the awesome scenery in that part of the world.
Having traveled extensively in central and northern Namibia, I have always felt that the southern part of the country is somewhat lacking in tourist appeal, apart from Luderitz, the Fish River Canyon and Duiseb Castle. I have amended my opinion since doing this trip.
We stayed about four kilometers from the little village of Aussenkehr. This village is quite unique, not only because of its position – surrounded by breathtaking mountains and desert scenery, as well as wine lands and the mighty Orange River – but mainly because most of the houses are built of reeds from the river bank. It was quickly assigned the name of “straw village” by our party.
One wonders if the shacks are made from reeds because they are free and readily available or because reed houses are cool inside, giving their inhabitants some measure of relief from temperatures that can soar up over 50oC in summer. I noticed that some of the houses were built of corrugated iron and just cladded with reeds, whilst others were made from a combination of mud and reeds.
Because it is a grape-growing area and most of the local employment comes from the nearby wine farms, many houses have patches of grapes spread out on the ground to dry in the sun. These look like miniature tapestries and add a bit of colour to the otherwise dry, dusty exterior of the houses. With the sun beating down on them, the grapes soon shrivel up and turn into raisins providing food for the shack dwellers.
Passing Aussenkehr and heading west, the scenery can only be described as breathtaking. If one heads up a short 4×4 track just beyond the sign to Rosh Pinah, the views are spectacular in every direction.
In fact one has 360 degree views of different types of scenery – from dramatic mountains, to sandy desert and lush green where the river cuts a swathe through the valley.
It is a place of awe and wonder and a photographer’s paradise. A word of warning though, strong winds come up in the evenings, which is unfortunate because that’s when the light is best for photography. It’s also a magic spot to watch the sun go down with an ice cold beer in one’s hand.
From Aussenkehr it is a short drive to the entrance to the Richtersveld National Park. Alas our time was too short to go into the park, but it now sits firmly on our agenda for another visit to this amazing area.
The resort that we stayed at, Norotshama, is an oasis in the desert. With campsites and chalets overlooking the Orange River and rocky desert mountains as a backdrop, one is rewarded each evening with glowing pink and orange sunsets and an assortment of birds flying down the river. In fact the bird life along the Orange is abundant and at any given time one could see herons wading, cormorants sunning themselves with wings outstretched, kingfishers diving into the water and red bishops busily courting in the reeds. A lifer for us was the little green Orange River White-eye.
Rob was in his element cycling through the grape vines and along the deserted roads, whilst the rest of us fished, paddled canoes up the river or relaxed in the swimming pool. The temperatures were quite uncomfortable at times, with one thermometer reading going up as high as 57.4oC in our braai area. It did cool down in the evenings though which made our supper times outdoors rather special.
The Norotshama Resort is very nice, although a little on the pricey side. They did sweeten the deal a bit by providing free canoes, which we made good use of, but the breakfasts were very ordinary and we found that management didn’t control noisy patrons very well. Although we booked as early as March for our December visit, there was a mix up with our reservation and our party had to be separated. We were also given misleading information about the white water rafting that we wanted to do. These were minor problems though and we can still thoroughly recommend a visit to this area and the Resort.