It was at around dawn, at a waterhole, when we heard a deep, resonant woum-woum-woum-woum, followed by a snapping sound. In the distance we spotted a kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) perched on a small rise in full courtship display. He held his head backwards, with cheeks bulging, crest erect, bill open and his gular pouch inflated forming a white throat ‘balloon’. His wings were drooped and his tails stuck out like a Christmas turkey.
Once he finished his display he, being the largest flying bird native to Africa, strode over to where we were, watching a sable antelope drink, so that we could admire and photograph his handsomeness too.
What was fascinating in comparing these two creatures as they drank was the way they bent down to the water. The bustard’s legs bend forwards, and it looks like its knees are bent backwards, but the ‘knees’ are actually its ankles and the ‘lower part of the leg’ is actually its foot with the claws being toes. The sable bends right down on his tucked-in knees, with his back legs straight and spread.
Take a look at this sable’s knees, and you’ll see that they are bald and calloused. Not only is this from bending down to drink, but also from fighting. Bull sable fight among themselves, and they do so by dropping to their knees and using their horns. It’s also how they defend themselves from attack, and woe betide the predator that gets stabbed with those scimitar horns.
The sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) bull has a dark coat and a compact and robust build, characterised by a thick neck. Males begin darkening from chestnut and turn blackish after three years. Calves less than two months old are a light tan.
Young males of 3-4 years old are driven out of their natal herd by territorial bulls. Usually they join other young males and make up small bachelor herds, although this male was on his own. Mature bulls are territorial, and when a female herd is in his territory he follows them around and tries to dissuade them from leaving by running around them, head stretched forward, snorting and sweeping his horns, escalating to chases and charges.
A call crackled over the radio that the tracking team had found the River Pride on a buffalo kill near Hwata Pan. “Bonanza!” I thought. Not only because this would provide good photo opportunities of lions feeding in relatively open area, and the clean-up crew of hyenas and vultures that would make no bones of the carcass over the next few days, but mainly because Hwata Pan is where we have our sunken photo hide, and the lions would have to go and drink there at some stage during the feeding frenzy. I’ve waited for 10 years to get a shot of a predator drinking at eye level to me from this hide – could this be the chance at last?
The Malilangwe Dam is an amazing fishing destination. The most sought out species are tigerfish and tilapia.The best times of the year for fishing is when the water is warm – a good reminder is good fishing months all have an “r” in them from September to April. That said, we have still been enjoying some great fishing now in May – all the photos in this story are from early May.
It is most satisfying watching elephants enjoying a mud bath! It starts off with the approaching walk, an elephant has when making his/her way to the water source. To describe it, I would have to say it’s an excited, exaggerated, fast walk while bobbing their heads up and down and to the sides at the same time. We call it ‘the water walk’. Even for the novice person you can pick up the excitement of the elephant looking forward to a thirst-quenching cool drink, usually followed by refreshing mud bath.
I was camped out again, on my favourite dam wall that offers a good vantage point and a relatively safe refuge from the vehicle. I was trying to tell myself that really it was an afternoon of birding – just sitting quietly with binos and a bird book and trying to ID whatever came along, and enjoying the isolation and peace. But really what I wanted and hoped and wished for was a solitary black rhino.