African skimmers in the Chobe Nationalpark/ Botswana

Afrikanischer ScherenschnabelMorning haze lays over the wide river plain. Perched low on a Sandbank dozens of black and white colored birds with a strikingly long red bill are standing. These are the long-awaited African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris). When we’ve left the river bend for a while, the whole flock starts moving with a heavy, powerful wing beat. First, the flock turns a round over the sandbar. Then the flock turns into low altitude flight. The black-and-white-colored, roughly tern-sized birds with their long, elegant wings fly a few centimeters above calm water, hovers prey-hunting parallel to the water surface. Suddenly they pull out their oversized, laterally flattened and sharp-edged lower beak and pull it, flattening its wings, through the upper layers of water. They fly until their beaks come into contact with a fish. Shortly thereafter, these birds close their beak abruptly, and a small silver fish disappears wriggling in the throat of the successful hunters.

Because of their peculiar hunting style these birds are called skimmers in English. Many years ago I was fascinated by a very special species of bird at the Madre de Dios, a tributary of the Amazon. In the silence of dusk, these birds flew over the wide river in small groups, holding one another strangely over the water. Their sweeping wings almost touched the surface of the water every time they hit. Her flight was straightforward, not too fast and her flapping wings steady, elegant and had something of a provocative phlegmatic slowness. They were “my” first Skimmers, more specifically Black Skimmer (Rynchops nigra), as I soon realized. Her submerged beaks plunged furrows into the red colored water of the Amazon.

This spectacular species of prey can only be observed in three species today: the Skimmers of the genus Rhynchops, which are native to the Asian and African tropics and along the American coast. An excellent spot to see African Skimmers in Africa in the Sanaga River  in Cameroon.

The beaks of the Skimmers have over thirty special adaptations to the hunting technique in the skull and neck area – such as horn-like extensions on the cartilage of the lower jaw and large attachment sites for musculature on the jaw and cervical vertebrae.

The Birding specials in the area around the Chobe River in the north of Botswana, characterized by flood plains, grasslands and riparian woods along the river courses, are real treats for avid birders.  The bird list is characterized by many species that love the proximity to the water. These include White-backed Night Heron (Gorsachius leuconotus), Slaty Egret (Egretta vinaceigula), African Darter (Anhinga rufa), African Marsh Harrier (Circus ranivorus), African Finfoot (Podica senegalensis) and Pel’s Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli).

The starting point is Kasane in Botswana. This small town lives mainly from the stream of safari tourists and makes an excellent starting point.

Chobe is a great park for bird watching throughout the year, but the best months are from November to April. This is when migrants swoop into the park. Also, during these months a lot of birds are breeding, and large colonies of waterbirds can be found nesting on the sandbanks in the river. The best time for mammals, however, is in the dry months from May to October.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds not only in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places like this one to capture images were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if www.bird-lens.com could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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