Waiting and watching waterholes

The beauty about heading out on safari is that it is a relatively open ended adventure. You are generally presented with a wide network of roads and different directions in which to roam. How you choose to navigate around the reserves is up to you.

There are many different approaches that you can take when spending your time on safari. Some people love to drive around all day and cover long distances, taking in the vast landscapes of the game reserves, while keeping a keen eye out for animals along the way. Others prefer a slower approach and would rather head off to a quiet water source and wait patiently for animals to come to them.

Both approaches can yield phenomenal game viewing opportunities. The post below highlights some of the fantastic sightings I have witnessed during drives spent along water sources.

Depending on one’s level of patience, there is so much more to look out for along the water sources than only the larger animals. Birding can be a great way to pass some time. Some birds like the Pied Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher will often perch on open branches or reeds and dive down at lightning speed hoping to strike at some fish below.

If you scan the reed beds along the water’s edge, you may notice a heron that is standing motionless, gazing at the water waiting to spear a fish or a frog.

If you spend enough time scanning up and down the water system, you may just strike it lucky and get to see some of the more elusive and rare birds like a Squacco Heron or African Finfoot. Sometimes even the smaller and more common species like a Three-banded Plover can provide endless entertainment.

One of the biggest treats to the ‘sit and wait’ strategy is randomly having one of the big cats rock up unexpectedly for a drink. This does not happen as frequently and many factors like time of day and weather conditions, together with some luck, play a large role. One may have to find them moving towards a water source, go ahead of them and wait at the water’s edge and anticipate where they may come down for a drink.

Cats tend to consume a fair amount of water in one go so time spent with them at the water’s edge is a rewarding one and should allow enough time to prepare for a good image. One of my favourite sounds to listen to is the sound of the cats lapping up water, if the distance and conditions allow it. Cats, as with most animals, are extremely wary of heading down to the water. Having their head down and back exposed puts these animals in a vulnerable position. You will often see them looking around with great focus as they quench their thirst.

Sometimes cats do not play along with you and simply go lay down on a rock and take in the scenic waterfront views with you.

When it comes to the larger mammals and water, many of them will use this time to bath themselves or interact among themselves to strengthen the social bonds within the various herds.

Elephants most definitely love the water. Besides drinking up to one hundred odd litres of water a day, they also love to splash themselves to cool down. Sometimes they just seem to make a mess around the water’s edge, because they can.

Whenever I approach water, I quickly scan to see if I can spot a hippo or signs thereof. Not only for safety reasons, but I also find them a pleasure to view. Sometimes you will have to wait a few minutes before they lift their heads out of the water and take a deep breath. The most entertaining part of viewing hippos is hearing their comical grunt like call. To me it sounds as if they are mocking someone who has just told a really boring joke.

There always seems to be some kind of animal making its way down to the water. Sometimes a warthog with its youngster or some antelope like impala or kudu will pop in for a quick drink. Sometimes this lasts ten to fifteen seconds and the animal moves off as if it was never there.

If you head off on a private safari at a private game reserve, you may have the opportunity to alight from the vehicle, if the field guide deems it safe and appropriate to do so. One of my favourite and unexpected moments was hanging around some large boulders along a rivers edge. Between two of the rocks a water monitor emerged. I almost had to look twice as this reptile carried an enormous fish in its mouth. It had to fight off a smaller water monitor in order to keep its prized meal.

Regardless of the time of day or which season you may be enjoying your safari; all animals need to go for a drink at some point. Why not hang around the water’s edge and see what might show up.

5 Comments on “Waiting and watching waterholes

  1. Cal, your exquisite photographs are a window into a wondrous world. I love your approach in terms of waiting and watching. Doing so in the Kgalagadi, for example, has brought us great pleasure for, as you rightly point out, creatures will need to slake their thirst some time during the day. You have a keen eye and so it is a heartening experience to share where you are through your lens.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As always your photographs are worthy of the most glossy magazines, Cal, and your narrative is too!
    That monitor definitely has eyes much bigger than its stomach.

    I find the “sit and wait” method pays off best during the dry season when you can hedge your bets about the best waterhole to target – in the rainy season there are often so many temporary pans around that the animals are spoiled for choice.

    Liked by 2 people

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