Bird Photography

Fish Eagles are Bullies...

Last year Chris spent a few days exploring the advantages of an "armchair safari" at African Bush Camps Kanga Pan Lodge for an article for British Airways' Highlife Magazine. Published in the March edition, you can read the full story below...

Chris watched this feathered bully harass the patient Grey Heron for 3 full days.

Chris watched this feathered bully harass the patient Grey Heron for 3 full days.

Fish eagles are bullies. They wait atop a tall tree near the waterhole I am observing, ominously watching as a grey heron painstakingly inched closer to its unsuspecting prey. When the Heron has found the right spot, it stands motionless for an age until one of the surprisingly numerous catfish in the small waterhole swims within reach of its poised head, neck taught in readiness for a fast strike into the water. 

Only about 1 in every 10 attempts I observed was successful and when the heron finally managed a catch, it had the arduous task of turning the wriggly catfish around so it could swallow it head first, to avoid the catfish’s lethal dorsal barbs jamming in its throat. It was during the heron’s prolonged attempt to turn the catfish headfirst that the ‘waterhole mafia’ swooped in silently, bearing sharp talons aimed at its victims head. 

Inevitably the poor heron dropped its hard-won bounty while making a valiantly noisy but fruitless attempt to ward off the fish-thief as the fish eagle flapped nonchalantly off to its high branch to feast on its spoils. The seemingly crestfallen grey heron watched forlornly for a while, then seemed to shrug it off and continue its patient stalking routine and the whole drama would repeat itself.

I was watching this wilderness drama live from the deck of Kanga Camp in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park. Built astride Kanga Pan, the camp’s deck is only meters from the only source of water in the area, which in the dry season means it is a veritable hotspot of animal activity. Unique to Mana Pools, Kanga Camp is situated 15 kilometers inland from the Zambezi River on it own private concession, affording you exclusivity and intimacy with your surroundings. 

Expertly positioned to afford the best view of the action from the lower deck sits a deep, sturdy, invitingly pillowed whicker lounge suite. Bedecked with enough fluffy cushion to be envelopingly comfortable and spacious enough to accommodate me, several others and my vast array of camera equipment. The couch will serve as my observation post for the next few days, my throne of decadence if you would.

From my throne I was privy to all the comings and goings at the waterhole, and they were numerous and frequent. As I arrived in the camp, my luggage hadn't even touched the ground when I had my binoculars firmly planted on my face, observing 8 different species of raptors either drinking at the pan or hunting among the thick foliage of the towering African Ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis) and Nyala Berry (Xanthocercis zambesiaca) trees that provide thick shade to the camp’s public areas throughout the day. Once I was done ogling the birds of prey I turned my attention to the bustling waterhole, full swing into the mid-morning rush hundreds of green spotted, african mourning and cape turtle doves were noisily flapping down to the waters edge, often spooking the notoriously shy family of kudu. 

Taking no heed of the raucous birdlife was a pair of grumpy looking ‘daga boys’ - old buffalo bulls who have taken retirement from the larger herds in their advanced age and find solace in each others cantankerous company. A troop of 50 plus baboons complete the bustling scene with their inherent human like poses and expressions, adding a chaotic sense of humour to the otherwise peacefully industrious scene.

I settled down into my feathered throne to watch the myriad of fascinating encounters unfolding in front of me, just in time to observe a thirsty herd of elephants run the last 100 meters of dry, dusty plain to the waters edge, so grateful for the quenching coolth of the water that they visibly couldn't decide whether to drink deep or drench themselves from head to wrinkly toe.

I reveled for most of the morning in the diversity of bird and animal life congregating around the pan, until a polite call for brunch stirred me into action and I used musclesfor the first time in several hours to haul myself over to the delicious looking meal. Eating was no easy task though, as soon as I looked down to decide what tasty morsel to devour next there was some commotion from the waterhole, a juvenile African goshawk catching a green spotted dove or a large bull elephant noisily drinking from the borehole output just meters from where I sat. 

Brunch, delicious as it was, totally exhausted me and I was thankful to avoid the scorching midday hours in the sanctuary of my luxuriously appointed room. Even from the cool comfort of my bed I could keep half an eye on the action at the pan, all the rooms at Kanga Camp have their own unique view of the waterhole.

Back on my throne in the late afternoon, the manic activity of the morning seemed to have cooled along with the temperature and I was able to watch more intimate moments a bit more closely. A mother Zebra nuzzling its nervous young foal towards the water and a pair of saddle billed storks repeatedly probing the shallows. The subtle sounds of the bush enveloped me and all seemed well and at peace with the earth as it slowly turned a glowing orange then red as the sun slid rapidly towards the horizon. As I lazily contemplated the many salubrious advantages of my “Armchair Safari” I was jolted into action and a hasty grab for my camera by the sudden arrival of a pack of 11 Wild Dog and their 7 pups, eager for a drink they unknowingly provided the coup-d’etate to my day of quiet observance. 

Kanga Camp offers one of the best “Armchair Safari” experiences you are likely to find and should be on anyone’s list of things to do when visiting Mana Pools. The lush environment of Kanga Camp and laid back but fruitful wildlife watching provides the perfect way to ease into bush life, especially if you are hot off a long international flight and several bumpy domestic ones. Mana Pools offers some of the most diverse landscapes and unique game watching opportunities in Zimbabwe, so it would be wise not to halt your journey at Kanga Camp. African Bush Camps, who own and run Kanga also operate a mobile tented safari operation, Zambezi Life Styles, that will afford you the opportunity to see the Mana Pools floodplain in all its glory and in luxurious style. For more information contact African Bush Camps on and see their website