Another stiflingly hot day, with not much activity apart from the crocodiles patrolling up and down the reed beds on the far side of the river. Upstream (to our left when we sit on our balcony facing the river), we can also see an inordinately large collection of storks, all standing and fishing in the river: we have the regulars, the Yellow Billed Storks and the Marabous, as well as a few rare and shy Black Storks. The river is low and very green (they say this is due to an algal bloom, caused by the leaking of fertiliser and human effluent into the river higher upstream). Soon the fish will start dying, unless we get some rain and the water levels rise.
Still no birds at the birdbath, although the Village Weavers were up on the other side of the balcony this morning, collecting grass from our flower beds to use for building their nests.
The only creature which seems delighted with our birdbath is the Genet Cat who creeps onto our balcony at night, and finishes off any food we’ve left out for the birds. In addition to the leftover bird food, I always leave our chicken bones or meat scraps for the genet, as it is lovely to have him around. Genets are small delicate cat (not cats at all really, apparently, but more closely related to mongooses), tan coloured with pretty dark spots and a long ringed tail. In time, our genet may well become so tame that he will happily venture onto the balcony while we are sitting there.
Our balcony has also been “colonized” by some Agama Lizards – the males glorious with their electric blue colouring and bright orange heads – as well as some black and white, blue tailed skinks who are delicate and beautiful and quite at home amongst the rocks that border our balcony. When we think about the number of animals which have already made themselves at home in our house, in the few short weeks since the house turned from building site into home, it’s really quite amazing: lizards, frogs, genet cats, black-tipped mongoose, weavers and bou bou shrikes, not to mention the Little Swifts who are constantly trying to find nesting and roosting spots under our eaves.
Still desperate for rain…
This evening, we took a wander down the sandbank, which stretches about a kilometre to the left of the house. Down at the bend in the river, not too far from where our familiar pod of hippos spend the day, we spotted a cow buffalo, dead in the river. Her carcass was lying in the shallow water up against a sand and reed island, where it must have washed ashore. The stomach had bloated already from the expanding stomach gases, which means the buffalo must have been dead for a good few hours, I think, but for some reason there was not a crocodile in sight. It seems strange how a carcass can lie in the river untouched, especially after seeing that baby hippo being devoured last week. Perhaps it is the crocodile’s scepticism and caution which has kept them alive on this planet for so long – waiting until they’ve had a good long look before they approach anything new or unexpected in the water. We’ve decided to go back in the morning, to see if the carcass has attracted any riverine scavengers overnight.
The hippos were there as usual, tightly bunched and watching us on the bank. The birds were there in large numbers too – the Yellow Billed Storks and the Marabous, and six Black Storks up beyond the bend, and crocodiles too, further upstream from the buffalo carcass, warming themselves on the sand bars in the late evening sun.
On the walk home, we passed “our” mother and baby hippo, coming out of the reeds on the far side of the river, just upstream from the house. By creeping up behind some large boulders on the water’s edge, we were able to get close to the hippos without disturbing them. The baby was full of beans, launching itself as far out of the water as it could, then crashing back down and bobbing like a fat little cork in the water. It’s hard to describe how enormous hippos are when you get up close – they are simply massive – weighing in at one ton, I believe – that’s the same as a car, but all flesh, bone and blubber – and all they eat is grass - quite an awesome creature really!
Talking of grass-eating giants, when we got home and walked out onto the balcony, there to our right were 3 bull elephants taking a drink downstream on the far side of the river. They were too far away for good photographs, but a great sight to the naked eye, and even better with binoculars. We watched them peacefully drinking their fill, then splashing some mud and water onto their all-day-sun-parched bodies before heading back inland again, in search of fodder and the elusive rain…