My memories of finding the 'tough bird'
In birding circles in southern Africa, there is one bird that has remained a bird of mystery and intrigue in the guiding community...The Pel's Fishing Owl.
Many stories have been written about twitching this bird. Peter Borchert keeps telling his readers (Africa Birds & Birding editorials) that he hasn't seen the bird yet despite several tries.
So it has it's mystery. And it has it's place as well. The hot-spot for us on the Namibian side is the top of the Okavango Delta - the so called Pan Handle area, where the Okavango river first splits into channels as it becomes the famous Okavango Delta. The Delta itself is a good place to go and search for this bird.
Despite the legend, the bird is very big, but they sit still in the high in the think trees, where the bright light shining through the tree tops makes it hard to see them.
As a new guide I was all keen to see this bird. In those early years I was a bit bedazzled by birding. I suddenly had ample opportunity to see birds that I couldn't have gotten to before as a student.
I had done a lot of my birding by cycling out from where I studied in Saasveld in George. It was a little crazy. It's rainy there, and I had to do big distances. Sometimes I took my projects with me to bird hides. So I would cycle, unpack my study work, and sit there, work and occasionally look up to see if anything had flown in. Magical times, but birding was hard work.
Suddenly in Namibia I was paid to take people to see amazing places, and these places held birds I wanted to see. I needed to see. And it was infinitely cheaper and easier than before! Nowhere was the intensity felt more than in shooting range of the legendary Owl. If you were a non-birding guest of mine in those years, well I am sorry. I have learned a lot about guests since then. I was all passion.
I tried in Chobe, all along the big trees lining the river. I tried in Lianshulu in the Caprivi strip. To no avail. They would often 'have had a sighting' the day before I arrived. Then it was Mahangu. This is an amazing small little park on the border between Namibia and Botswana, right were the first splitting of the river happens. It's only a little over 10km but the river enters a river and exits the Okavango Delta. Here I found feathers. You couldnt' walk to much - the lions/elephants/crocs/buffs problem.
Then I got to go down through Shakawi and round the Delta itself. Finally on a tour with a new guide we were in the Delta itself. I had been birding with him on the island we were camping on (had an encounter with a black Mamba on the walk - without insident
Then he carried on looking around by himself while I went to go help prep for the returning guests - who had been out with the Botswana guide. When our new guide came back he had a feather...you guessed it, Pel's fishing owl.
So, after giving the guests brunch we went out to try. After some time of pearing into the top of the tree tops it happened - we cought sight of this beautiful owl.
I found an image searching Google of the Pel's Fishing Owl in a tree, so that you can get an idea of what it is like to see it
It really looks a bit like a child's over sized Teddy Bear, stuck high up in a big, dark tree. Strange and amazing to see for the first time.
Later that year I also managed ot see Pel's fishing Owl's hunting on the open water in a lodge in the Pan Handle of the Delta. But till today, those early sights remain a wonderful memory to me.