By: Lesley Cornish
It was cold and dark when we left home early on the morning of the 22nd July. By the time we reached the day visitors’ area, it was light, but still fairly cold. For some reason (cold, recent fuel hikes…), there were only a few of us who arrived to take part in the Co-ordinated Water Avian Count (CWAC) that morning. I think it showed how much Viv Tomé chivvies us….
Much to Errol’s unhappiness, I volunteered us for the wilderness shore, and off we went. The bird numbers were fairly low, because the water level was high (the dam was overflowing – water must have been released upstream) which meant fewer waders, and there are far fewer patches of reeds than there used to be, so this means that the crake numbers were also less. Also the high level of pollution persists, which is unfavourable for almost everything. There is still a small pod of hippo, and one outlier, so we had to keep our eye on them. At one stage, the outlier was really “eyeballing” us, and we retreated even further away from the shore.
We saw all the usual birds, including: Blacksmith Lapwings (and even got close enough to see the spurs on the wings), many Egyptian Geese, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, Grey-headed Gulls, Great-crested Grebes, White-winged Terns, Pied Kingfishers, one Squacco Heron, a few Goliath Herons and several Grey Herons, Little Egrets and African Darters. 4
As well as knowing that we are doing something useful, and having the chance to walk in Borakalalo (joy!), there is always the chance of seeing something unusual. We saw one Red-knobbed Coot (their numbers are down because of the lack of reeds), and our unusual bird sighting was a Maccoa Duck! This was far away, and was confirmed by the group from my rather crummy photograph, which clearly showed the jizz: low in the water, and that longish tail.
But there was more! This time, our best sighting was two Southern African Pythons. One was massive and lying on her was a smaller python, which still was a respectable size. Initially, I thought the larger one was a fishing net!
Unfortunately, I had the wrong lens (we were counting birds…), so the photographs do not show the snakes well, but we identified the larger snake as female because her tail was much shorter and “dumpier”.
Also, females have been reported to reach larger sizes. They did not hang around long, and disappeared into one of the few remaining patches of reeds. We had nothing much to compare for size, but I reckon the female was well over four meters!
We also saw a large burrow which had been closed up, and debated that it had an ardvark inside….
To make up for our good luck, we had a real long slog back to the cars. We reckoned we had walked at least 8 km by the time we had finished, but it was worth it!