"Bly Stil, come on people, Shut up! You need to stop talking!" these words flowing from Conrads' pursed lips; he was right this was the third time we had trudged through the dry, dusty and chocking Limpopo river bed. The group's mood was one of resignation and inadvertently we had started talking loudly and we had become distracted from our mission. The day before our little band, "the famous four" had pushed open the heavy metal gates that separate Botswana from the Republic to view the bone dry Limpopo River, our quest finding the secretive Pel's fishing owl(Visuil). It is approximately 120 meters from the gate to the island of intrigue; Intrigue Island is populated with massive African trees, huge and majestic giants, hiding secrets of time past and home to the Pel's fishing Owl (Visuil).
Marabou storks (Maraboe) took flight as we approached the steep incline of the island, this was exciting, and our first sortie onto the island, past a plethora of discarded buffalo legs rotting in the sun, and open billed storks (Oopbekooievaar) gave way to us, as we struggled up the steep bank. Quietly we spread out, sun streaming through the fig trees and Jackal berry giants. "Look out for white bird droppings under the trees", I heard Gershwin say, "or fish bones!"
To my surprise, behind the far side of the island huge pools of water lay dormant. As I approached crocodiles rushed into the safety of the these pools, the silence broken and my heart racing ... the island had certainly become more dangerous and we were on edge. We ticked of numerous birds White fronted Bee Eaters(Rooikeelbyvreter), flying out of the tunnels on the side of the bank, Black Kites (Swartwou), Goliath Herons(Reuse Reier), Hamerkop, African Wattled Lapwing (Lelkiewiet), Pearl Spotted Ow l(Witkoluil) and Pied Kingfishers (Bontvisvanger), just to mention a few. Our group crossed the dry river twice that Saturday and having no success in finding the Pel's fishing Owl(Visuil) we settled down around an African fire, refreshments in hand, regaling each other about our adventures of that day and listening to the African Scops Owl (Skopsuil) and Fiery-necked Nightjar (Afrikaanse Naguil).Suddenly we heard the hysterical yelps and loud whooping calls of Hyena's. "They must be at the Buffalo carcasses", said Gershwin. This was a new danger, highlighting the detailed facts on all the notice boards that crossing the river is at your own risk!
Heeding Conrad's instruction, we huddled together silently walking in the middle of the island, dusty sunlight forming penetrable walls before us. Whoo, Whoo, Whoo, huge wings flapping, to the right hand side of me "I see the owl" cried Julia and Gershwin almost simultaneously.Dust and flashing colours, four adults sprinting towards the pale whitish, orange form, cameras swinging and binoculars shaking, "it's there, up there….where? There, right at the top of the tall tree, top right, where the branch curves slightly!" Kckeek! Kckeek! Kckeek! Cameras recording, there it was, a beautiful Juvenile, almost white in appearance.
"What's that Black Kite doing?" someone shouted. Down came the Kite, fast and determined.The juvenile just ducking to avoid the dangerous bill as it sliced past. Then to our left, the rushing sound of massive wings, an orange savior, flying powerfully through the canopy and landing next to the juvenile ... an adult Pel's fishing owl(Visuil), bright orange and larger than I had anticipated. Warding off two or three attacks from the Kite, the Kite was persistent, to my left a flash of orange and again that sound of massive wings.It landed 10 meters away from me, in all its splendor, 8 seconds to focus and shot, this time the Nikon didn't freeze even though I was shaking - got you, you beautiful angelic creature! On Mighty wings it lifted, heading towards the juvenile, the black Kite outnumbered and retreating. That was it, celebration and emotion, three Pel's Fishing Owls.
Images by Mark Friskin