Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
The bee-eaters are a delightful family of birds and the White-fronted bee-eater is one of the few members of the family that can be found fairly commonly within its territory throughout the year. Its preferred habitat is along riverbanks in the north-east of the southern African region, where it is gregarious and usually to be found in groups of varying size.
With a fairly average size, as bee-eaters in the region go, with a length of approximately 23 cm, the sexes are similar in both size and plumage colouration. They have predominantly green upper parts; white forehead; a red throat with an upper band of white; brown under parts and a blue vent. Eyes are dark brown; legs and feet are dark grey and the curved bill is black.
White-fronted bee-eaters forage predominantly from a perch, and feed almost entirely on insects such a honey bees, flies, moths and butterflies. They may hawk the insects in flight, or take them up from the ground or foliage without alighting. They return to the perch to feed, carefully removing the sting from the honey bees before consuming it.
White-fronted bee-eaters are monogamous and pairs appear to mate for life. Their nest is in a burrow up to one metre long that they excavate in river banks. The female lays a cluth of between two and five white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 days. The nests may be parasitized by the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator).
The scientific binomial for the White-fronted bee-eater is Merops bullockoides; Merops from the Greek for the bee-eater, and bullockoides from the Latin for resembling Merops bullocki, the Red-throated bee-eater which in turn was named after William Bullock. Thus the name tells us that this bee-eater looks similar to another bee-eater, which is singularly unhelpful.
When you live inland in a desert environment, surrounded by leafless thorn trees and no grass or waterways, you sometimes long for the vibrancy of growth and moisture. Strangely enough, to me, gazing over a dam is not the same as watching a flowing river. It’s as if the dam is stagnant, whereas a river echoes the flow of blood through my veins, making me feel alive. I mention this, because when we arrived at Namushasha, our holiday destination in the Caprivi Region of Namibia, my soul immediately responded to the flowing river and the lush green environment, and my spirits lifted immensely.
Namushasha is a country lodge on the banks of the Kwando River. We were absolutely delighted with our luxurious suite that had a balcony under a canopy of indigenous trees, and a beautiful view of the river below us. We couldn’t have imagined a more idyllic setting, with abundant birdlife and the sound of grunting hippos from the reeds on the riverbank opposite us. We’d hardly settled in and poured ourselves a beer in readiness for a spectacular African sunset when a Barn owl hooted about two meters from where we were sitting. Every night we were serenaded by a pair of these owls who obviously had no shortage of food in the immediate vicinity of our suite.
We quickly learnt not to step out onto the balcony without a camera, because the birds presented themselves to us at every opportunity. About four pairs of Paradise Flycatchers flitted around playfully – tantalizing us as they moved so quickly. Other birds that came and went were Swamp Bou bou’s, White-fronted bee-eaters, White-browed robin-chats and a host of LBJ’s and flycatchers.
Throughout the day, and especially in the early evening, the river was a flight path for various herons, cormorants and darters. A Yellow-billed Kite gave us a scare when it landed on a branch draped with fishing line and a lure with many hooks – we wondered if it had been snagged. Fortunately after examining the lure and not finding any food, it flew off unharmed. The Fish Eagle’s haunting cry was often to be heard.
There are some excellent walking trails around the lodge and, in spite of the heat, we spent many happy hours wandering through the bush photographing birds and trees. There were lots of baobab trees in the area and for the first time we saw baobab flowers. These delicate blooms only last for about a day so we were very gratified to be able to see some at last. In a wooded area we came across a pair of Grey-headed bush-shrikes that were obviously not too intimidated by our presence as we managed to get quite close to them for some photographs. We couldn’t say the same about the Brown firefinches, as they were very definitely camera-shy!
On our last evening at the lodge we treated ourselves to a game drive to the nearby Nambwa Game Reserve. To get there we took a short boat trip across the river and then climbed into an enormous vehicle, aptly named “The Monster” to take us into the park. A small colony of Carmine bee-eaters was breeding in the ground next to where The Monster was parked.
The game drive was somewhat disappointing as we only saw buffalo and a few buck – not the elephants that we were hoping to see. Nambwa apparently has the largest concentration of African elephants on the continent, which we have seen on a previous visit. Although we sat at the waterhole for quite a while, they didn’t come down for a drink. In spite of this, we enjoyed the tour and felt it was a fitting end to our stay at Namushasha.
For folks not wanting to stay in the lodge, Namushasha has a really nice shady campsite, although campers are warned of visits by hippos and elephants. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the area and I must say too that the food at the lodge is fantastic.