On my recent trip to Botswana, I had the chance to visit Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, about an hour from Victoria Falls. The Chobe river forms Botswana’s northern border with Namibia and the boundary of southern Africa. Its water helps maintain a lush floodplain and rich variety of habitats vital to the multitude of animals that inhabit Chobe National Park. Chobe is well renowned as a superb bird sanctuary featuring many different waterfowl, raptors, woodland species and migrants. This area from Ngoma to Kazungula, incorporating northern Chobe National Park and Kasane, must rank as one of the top birding spots in southern Africa. The total bird list now exceeds some 450 species, which is Botswana’s longest area list. There were an astonishing number of Heron and Egrets and I thought I would present them together. These waterfowl tend to congregate around the Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and Elephants since they churn up the water, delivering food to the birds.
The great egret (Ardea alba), also known as the common egret, large egret or (in the Old World) great white egret or great white heron is a large, widely distributed egret, with four subspecies found in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and southern Europe. Distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world. It builds tree nests in colonies close to water. The great egret is a large heron with all-white plumage. Standing up to 3.3 ft (1 m) tall, this species can have a wingspan of 4.5 to 5.5 ft (1.3 to 1.7 m). It is thus only slightly smaller than the great blue or grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Apart from size, the great egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. It is differentiated from the Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedius) and Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) by the gape, which extends well beyond the back of the eye in case of the Great Egret, but ends just behind the eye in case of the Intermediate Egret and stops before the eye in the Little Egret.
The Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) is a striking and elegant member of the heron family which can be identified by its pure white feathers; elongated, sinuous neck; long, black legs and dark, stabbing bill. Two subspecies of the little egret are recognised, Egretta garzetta garzetta and Egretta garzetta nigripes. E. g. garzetta sports vivid yellow feet and a grey-green patch of skin between the bill and eyes, while E. g. nigripes has black feet and has a yellow patch of skin between the eyes and bill (see the two photos above). It is sometimes difficult to separate the Little Egret from the Snowy Egret. Look for long dangling head plumes (which all adult Little Egrets have (see the photo above), except when molting in fall, and all Snowy Egrets lack, except for a few rare individuals that may be hybrids). Look for dark gray lores which will make the bill seem even longer; but not all Little Egrets have gray lores as noted above.
The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) is a long-legged predatory wading bird of the heron family, Ardeidae, native throughout temperate Europe and Asia and also Sub-Saharan Africa. It is resident in much of its range, but some populations from the more northern parts migrate southwards in autumn. A bird of wetland areas, it can be seen around lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes and on the sea coast. It feeds mostly on aquatic creatures which it catches after standing stationary beside or in the water or stalking its prey through the shallows. In Ancient Egypt, the deity Bennu was depicted as a heron in New Kingdom artwork. In Ancient Rome, the heron was a bird of divination. Roast heron was once a specially-prized dish; when George Neville became Archbishop of York in 1465, four hundred herons were served to the guests!
The Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) also known as the Black Egret, is an African heron. The black heron is medium-sized black-plumaged heron with black bill, lores, legs and yellow feet. In breeding plumage it grows long plumes on the crown and nape as seen above. It is well known for its habit of using its wings to form a canopy when fishing. The black heron occurs patchily through Sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal and Sudan to South Africa, but is found mainly on the eastern half of the continent and in Madagascar. It has also been observed in Greece and Italy. It prefers shallow open waters, such as the edges of freshwater lakes and ponds. It may also be found in marshes, river edges, rice fields, and seasonally flooded grasslands. In coastal areas, it may be found feeding along tidal rivers and creeks, in alkaline lakes, and tidal flats.
Western Cattle Egret
The Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a species of heron (family Ardeidae) found in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate zones. Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, it has undergone a rapid expansion in its distribution and successfully colonised much of the rest of the world in the last century. The cattle egret is a stocky heron with a relatively short thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. The non-breeding adult has mainly white plumage, a yellow bill and greyish-yellow legs. During the breeding season, adults develop orange-buff plumes on the back, breast and crown, and the bill, legs and irises become bright red for a brief period prior to pairing. The cattle egret feeds on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, and earthworms. In Africa, cattle egrets selectively forage behind plains zebras, waterbuck, blue wildebeest and Cape buffalo. The Cattle Egret is the national bird of Botswana.
The Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) is a small heron, 44–47 cm (17–19 in) long, of which the body is 20–23 cm (7.9–9.1 in), with 80–92 cm (31–36 in) wingspan. It is of Old World origins, breeding in southern Europe and the Greater Middle East. The squacco heron is a migrant, wintering in Africa. It is rare north of its breeding range. The Squacco Heron’s breeding habitat is marshy wetlands in warm countries. The birds nest in small colonies, often with other wading birds, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. They feed on fish, frogs and insects.
The Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath), also known as the giant heron, is a very large wading bird of the heron family, Ardeidae. It is found in sub-Saharan Africa, with smaller numbers in Southwest and South Asia. This is the world’s largest heron. The height is 4–5 ft (1.20–1.52 m), the wingspan is 6–7.5 ft (1.85–2.30 cm) and the weight is 8.8–11.0 lb (4–5 kg). The Goliath heron is very aquatic, even by heron standards, rarely venturing far from a water source and preferring to fly along waterways rather than move over land. Goliath herons are solitary foragers and are highly territorial towards other Goliaths entering their feeding territories. Prey almost entirely consists of fish. The Goliath heron specializes in relatively large fish, with an average prey weight of 1.1–1.3 lb (500–600 g) and length of 12 in (30 cm). Small fish are generally ignored and the average Goliath catches around 2 or 3 fish a day. Any other small animals that they come across may be eaten, including frogs, prawns, small mammals, lizards, snakes, insects and even carrion.
As always, I hope you enjoyed this post, Southern Africa is certainly a place to see beautiful birds.