The Infinite Intrigue of the African Skimmer

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Whoever said that long distance relationships don’t work never fell in love with the African skimmers of the Zambezi River.

Perhaps it’s easier with birds, but my love for these rare African vagabonds of the sky has never dwindled, even though I know that just when I have them by my side, on the water at Royal Chundu in Zambia, they will, soon enough, leave me again. It is their nature as migrants. Perhaps a nature that makes them all the more alluring.

The skimmers arrive on the Zambezi around the month of July, in the dry season, when little sandbanks peak out of the great river and call the migrants home. Here they roost and breed, usually between August and October, and leave around November.

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During this time, the promise of glimpsing them in the glow of the river at golden hour calls me from my bed every morning and evening. And while taking a moment to put down the camera and simply be with them, I find my mind completely taken over by the life of the river itself. The intricate and beautiful life, its changes and its constants.

And isn’t that what love does to us? It makes us see the connection in everything, the beauty, the little things along with the big. During his own time on the Zambezi in search of skimmers, photographer Will Goodlet had similar thoughts…

“Drifting slowly down the Zambezi in search of Skimmers I couldn’t help but to reflect on the river itself. It’s at the centre of so much animal and human life in the region, a fabled realm that still holds a mythic place in my own consciousness. I can never quite believe that I am there, swept on by its green current, much as Livingstone might have been. It seems too strange…

It’s more than just a river. Cultures sit astride it and the river brings them all together, like a common thread drawn through the African continent.

It was fascinating to see the local people living with the river. Perhaps more interesting was to see how this area, on the very edge of the conflict between humankind and the world of animals, survives.”


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Below, our love affair with the African skimmer reveals itself through photographs… Discover more about life on the Zambezi at Royal Chundu.

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“African Skimmers are found in small flocks and are monogamous breeders. Their courtship is a sight to behold – boasting aerial chasing and calling as well as low-level synchronised flights close to the water. They nest as solitary pairs, but are usually found in small dipersed colonies. They will return to the same nesting site each year if it is undisturbed and remains free of vegetation.” – Pangolin Voyager


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“Despite the dangers of nesting on sand banks regularly trampled by hippo, predated by monitor lizards, and even disturbed by humans, skimmers and other birds such as lapwings and plovers return to successfully breed on the river each year.” – Encounter

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The African skimmer “is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the international conservation community and the population is thought to be declining. … Human disturbance is thought to be largely responsible for the gradual but steady decline in African Skimmer populations throughout its southern African range. Its breeding areas have been much reduced by human management of river systems, in particular dam-building, which causes flooding in upstream areas and smaller flows downstream.” – Encounter


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Skimmers

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Sunset at Royal Chundu


Discover more about the silent art of birdwatching at Royal Chundu in our blog and contact us to find out more about going on your own birding safari during your stay with us.

The Myriad Moments of Wild Magic at Camp Jabulani

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Time spent in the presence of Africa’s wild animals changes you with each sighting. While witnessing the bonds within a herd, pack or pride, a wobbly elephant nuzzling its mother, a rhino offering its horn to scratch the itch of a brother, wild dogs curled up together, nose to rear, like a patchwork quilt… While watching the human condition applied to the animal kingdom; the same urges and needs playing out across the wilderness. Anger, love, hunger, thirst, jealousy, desire…

Every new sniff, sound and sight opens the world up to you a little more. You poke your little pangolin head out of its burrow and the world looks brighter and more alive.


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But I’m not sure we’d be able to make much sense of it all without some kind of guide. The kind of guide known as the Ranger. The star maps to our day and night skies. While time spent with wild animals changes us as people, I have found my time beside the trackers and rangers of the bush just as vital to my growth, as both human and safarigoer.

One such ranger, Ruan Roos, inspires us not only on the ground (or in the game vehicle) at Camp Jabulani, but also through his photography, through his talent for capturing the myriad moments of wild magic in the Kapama Private Game Reserve of South Africa.


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Through the lens of his Canon 7D Mark II lens, he reveals a love not only for the Big 5, but also the smaller, curiouser characters. Below is a glimpse into the world of Ruan Roos, South African, Field Guide, Conservationist, Amateur Photographer (his description… we think you’ll agree amateur isn’t quite the right word.)


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Elephants utilizing the last light of the day.

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When the light touches your face and you feel its warm embrace.

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End of a glorious day in the lowveld.

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Rain rolling in over the lowveld.

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This Must Be The Place. This Must Be The Zambezi.

Mokoro on the Zambezi

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place

– Talking Heads

We all have a place. A simple name on a map that we have traced with our fingers more often than any other name. A place in the country or city, the sea or river, jungle or forest, a place of snow or sand, water or rock. A place that has, over the years and the holidays, taken on a sort of humanity, an intimacy, a nature beyond how most of us see, well, nature. It’s not uncommon, either, for such places, these special enclaves that pull on our hearts a little more than others, to be seen as something living, something more like a friend, like family. The Whanganui River in New Zealand and the Yamuna and Ganges rivers in India, for instance, were granted human status and named “living entities” this year. By law.

But it isn’t only for their significance, their sensitivity, their vulnerability and their beauty (all qualities seen in the best of people), that we hold them close. It is also the time we have spent with them, getting to know them. The days and nights spent as witness to their different sides and moods, their ups and downs.

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We all have a place that we have bonded with more than any other, that we understand more than another, and for me that place is the Zambezi. A river no less human than the Whanganui or Yamuna or Ganges. A river no different to you and I. An individual that breathes, that ebbs and flows with nature, and that needs protection.

Of course, the Zambezi is vast and I am not familiar with it all. It is the fourth-longest river in Africa and the largest river flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. It passes through six countries on the way, a true adventurer at heart. Its journey begins in north-west Zambia, in a marshy black wetland in the centre of the Miombo Woodlands, and continues on through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. If you can, imagine 1,390,000 square kilometres, slightly less than half the basin of the Nile, and you will start to grasp its immensity.

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I’ve played in the lower Zambezi, while white-water rafting over rapids ranging from Grade III to Grade V – the highest commercial grading possible. Rapids with names like The Devil’s Toilet Bowl, The Gnashing Jaws of Death, Morning Glory, Oblivion, and The Ugly Stepsisters. I have helicoptered through the deep gorge, over the great Victoria Falls itself, and swum in the tiny natural infinity pools on the edge of the cascade – both Devil’s and Angel’s Pool. But it is the upper stretches of the river, before it tumbles over the Falls, that I know best. In particular, those private 15 kilometres of waterway flowing past Royal Chundu in the district of Katombora.

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Of course, those 15 kilometres cover a body of water that is always flowing, always changing. I never quite meet the same river. But here, hugged by the same riverbank as always, its essence never changes. It feeds and is a home to the same life – the elephant herds, the hippo pods, the tiger fish and parrot fish and bream, the crocodiles, the African skimmers, African Fish Eagle, Rock Pratincoles and Schalow’s Turaco, the water buck, otters, baboons, buffalo, zebras, and even the occasional leopard and lion. Its sunsets and rises are a constant as are its channels, rising or dropping in level perhaps from time to time, but reliable in their permanence, letting us navigate the river better, more closely, and cautiously.

This is my place. And over the years I have come to not only know but to feel deeply for the people in and around Royal Chundu. The local people who understand the Zambezi much more than me, who teach me, with each visit, not only more about the water, the wildlife, the birdlife and the plants, but about compassion, patience, loyalty, respect and resilience. Those human qualities that I don’t doubt the Zambezi played a hand in refining.

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And while our human laws may not (yet) recognise this incredible life force as a living entity deserving of human status, there is another source watching over it, protecting it day in and out. A source with the head of a fish and the body of a snake. A source know as the Nyami Nyami, the great guardian and God of the Zambezi River Valley. One of the most important deities of the Tsonga people, the Nyami Nyami and his wife are said to be the God and Goddess of the underworld, living in the Kariba Gorge.

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Discover more about our love of the Zambezi in our blogs:

The Making of an Explorer on the Zambezi

Parrot Fishing on the Yemen. Pardon. The Zambezi

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Cheers to the Rose-Coloured Glasses of Life

The Butterfly Effect – A Q&A with Tina Aponte

How to Start the Day on the Zambezi

Zambezi Cruising