Tag Archives: Kalizo Lodge

Bird of the Week – Week 141 – Crested barbet

The Crested barbet is fairly common in the north-eastern parts of the southern African region, where it favours drier woodland especially areas with plenty of acacias. They also seem to be quite comfortable in camp sites and in parks and gardens. (Check out our blog about a silly Crested barbet at Kalizo Lodge in Namibia.)

Crested barbet

The Crested barbet is the largest of the barbets in the region, with a length of approximately 24 cm. It has a yellow head, speckled with red and surmounted by a black crest. Underparts are yellow, save for a black chest band spotted with white. Wings and tail are black spotted with white; legs and feet are grey-black; bill is pale yellow with a black tip; eyes are brownish-red. Males and females are similar in size, but are less brightly coloured.

Crested barbet

The Crested barbet’s loud and sustained trilling “tr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r” is often heard before the bird itself is sighted. Both the males and females sing, and on occasion this rather unmusical song takes the form of a duet.

Crested barbets forage mainly on the ground, feeding on termites, grasshoppers and other insects as well as snails, but it is omnivorous and also feeds on fruit and nectar.

Crested barbet

These barbets are monogamous and generally make a nest hole in a dead tree stump or other convenient place, but may also take over the nests of other hole-nesters such as Red-throated wrynecks (Jynx ruficollis). In suburbia they may nest in nest boxes. The female lays a clutch of two to five eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 17 days. Their nests may be parasitized by the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator) or the Lesser honeyguide (Indicator minor).

Crested barbet

The scientific binomial for the Crested barbet is Trachyphonus vaillantii; Trachyphonus from the Greek for a “rough voice”; and vaillantii after the ornithologist Francois Le Vaillant who travelled in South Africa in the late 1700’s. I don’t know about the “rough-voice” in the case of the Crested barbet, but it is nice to see the earlier pioneer ornithologists honoured in this way.

Crested barbet

Crested Barbet or Silly Goose

On our travels we always keep our eyes open for unusual things, and we recently came across a rather sad or amusing (whichever way you looked at it) show.  We were camping at Kalizo Lodge on the banks of the great Zambezi River and our hosts had mounted a large wooden African mask on the outside wall of the ablution block as a decoration.  This mask had found favour with a Crested barbet that felt that it would be a good place to make a nest.

Crested barbet

Judging by the amount of work that the Barbet had put in to making a nest, we had to conclude that in spite of its misguided perseverance, it was actually a silly goose.  The mask shows the number of attempts made by the Crested barbet, all resulting in a hole with nowhere for a nest.

African mask that barbet fancied

Undeterred by his first few futile attempts, the barbet decided that perhaps he should make a more sideways excavation so that he could make a nest within the thickness of the mask.  While all his hard work was taking place his wife was sitting on a nearby wall watching the proceedings and probably wondering if they would ever get to make a nest!

Going in sideways

Unfortunately we left before he finished his current excavation, so we don’t know how successful it was.  No doubt, if it wasn’t, he would have tried somewhere else on the mask.  We wondered what the resort owners thought of the destruction of their mask.

Taking a breather

Crested barbets (Trachyphonus vaillantii) are related to the woodpecker family, hence their need to excavate holes in wood.


Namushasha to Kalizo Lodge

One of the delights of being a birder is the way events unfold when an unexpected bird puts in an appearance.  On our way from Namushasha to Kalizo Lodge, we were driving through the Caprivi, happily anticipating our visit to the Zambezi, when Rob spotted a Southern ground hornbill wandering through a field adjacent to the road.  He immediately slammed on brakes and the excitement began.  Southern ground hornbills (listed as vulnerable) are not very common outside the large game reserves and here we were seeing one at quite close quarters.

Southern ground hornbill

With camera in hand, Rob set off to get his ‘up close’ photograph.  The Ground hornbill was having none of it though and flew off with Rob following as best he could on foot.   I turned the car around and headed off in the general direction of the bird (thank heavens for an all-terrain vehicle), only to discover that there was actually a pair of the enormous birds.   We tracked them through the unfenced veld on foot, careful not to get too close and stress the birds, or panic them into flight, but wanting to get close enough for a few clear photos. About forty-five minutes later we had wonderful photos of the birds and were able to resume our journey. What a happy diversion that turned out to be!

White-browed robin chat

Kalizo Lodge is situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River about forty kilometers from Katima Mulilo, and its claim to birding fame is that it is home to breeding colonies of both Carmine bee-eaters and African skimmers.  After checking into the lodge and booking a late afternoon boat trip to visit these birds, we settled into our comfortable little bungalow with views over the river.

We were pleased to be given our own personal guide and boat for our trip by the obliging manageress of the Lodge, who perhaps realized that we were more interested in seeing the Carmine bee-eaters and African skimmers than crocodiles and hippos that are the more usual attraction.  It was great to be back on the Zambezi, being driven past a lazy croc sunning itself on a sand bank, passing local folk fishing from wooden mokoros and watching visitors from other lodges in the area trying their luck fishing for tigers and whatever else they could haul in as the sun went down.

African skimmer

We were taken to a sand bank where a half a dozen or so African skimmers were gathered.  Our helpful guide climbed out of the boat and found a nest – just a scrape in the sand – with three eggs.  We moved away quickly as we didn’t want to upset the mother bird, who settled back onto the eggs just a few minutes after we returned to the boat.  All the while the Skimmers flew around, dipping their beaks into the water as they skimmed along the surface.

The highlight of the outing was seeing thousands of Carmine bee-eaters as they returned to their nests for the night.  With the sun lighting their pink feathers, it was an awe-inspiring sight.  This will be the subject of a post on its own.

Kaliso Lodge is a fantastic spot for birds and, judging by the pictures in the delightful pub, for fishing as well.

Yellow-billed kite

The trees around the lodge abound with an endless variety of birds that are a continual source of delight. But the most amazing sights are to be found on the flood plains near the lodge that attract thousands upon thousands of birds. How the pans can sustain such numbers is a mystery to us.

Birds in their thousands

Marabou storks, Yellow-billed storks, Openbills, numerous types of ducks, egrets and herons, Pygmy geese, Ibisis, African spoonbills, Hamerkops, African fish-eagles.

Yellow-billed stork

An abandoned mokoro with no less than eight Pied kingfishers perched on it, three or four with fish in their bills.

Pied kingfishers

We instantly regretted the fact that we had planned for only one night at the lodge. We had come to see the bee-eaters and skimmers, but there is so much more to see and do, and the lodge is so wonderfully situated that it deserves a much longer stay. There is also a great looking campsite overlooking the river that is very inviting. We will be back!!