Wednesday, May 13, 2009

There's not nothing there

When you spend some time viewing wildlife, the natural tenancy is to get blaze about the normal animals quickly. As tour guides we often feel under pressure to 'produce' the wild and wonderful...elephants, lions, leopards and so on. And often guests on their first ever Safari will get bored of Springbok after having only had a couple sightings. Its's human nature.

When you are new in an area, you would like to keep seeing new and more exciting things. Time is a problem...with only three or four days in a national park like Etosha, you are hardly going to see everything there and sometimes there can be a bit of pressure to try to do so.

But for me some of my favorite times in the bush have been times when we took our attention away from the 'big five' rush, and watched the things that we normally don't. So often in Etosha you go into an area, meet a guide coming out, and ask him "is there anything there?" The typical answer, "No, there's nothing there."

Well, there is never nothing. Sometimes what is there may just be the trees and some flies, but very rarely is there 'nothing'.

One such experience always stood out to me, almost as a lesson. We were in the west of Etosha. It was rainy season, but was dry at the time. There were very view animals at waterholes. But the guests had all had Safari experiences before, and were happy to slow down and watch a little.

We went into one waterhole, and at first it appeared that there was nothing. We started to watch the birds coming down to drink, and noticed that they would fly up in a whole flock from time to time. We soon started to realize that each time the birds, mostly Red-billed Queleas Quelea quelea and a mix of doves, would sit, terrapins would start moving towards the birds.

It was getting towards the heat of the day, and the birds where starting to get flustered by this continual assault from the terrapins. Eventually we noticed that from time to time the terrapins actually managed to catch a bird, which they would rip up quickly. Amazing.

We carried on watching. Some Jackals joined the action. They literally just jogged around the outside of the waterhole. It really looked like they were not even trying. But in the confusion, as we watched the Jackals also started to manage to catch a few doves.

Then a pair of Red-necked Falcons Falco chicquera joined the action, as did a single Gabar Goshawk Melierax gabar. While we watched each of these birds also managed to catch a couple Red-billed Queleas.

It was an amazing experience, and has stayed with me for years. What was so amazing was that while we watched this whole bunch of excitement going on, a number of cars came by the waterhole and just looked and drove on, probably saying "Just a couple Jackals" or even more likely, "There's nothing there."

Nature works at nature's pace. There is always something going on. It's just a matter of tuning in to the pace of nature, and a matter of choosing what we are going to enjoy.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I love watching seemingly "nothing" and finding the little things that everyone else misses. Makes for great memories and great stories.

  2. Thanks for the comment. As someone who has guided in the desert for may years the lesson of that trip has proved true over and over.

  3. Ahoy!!! You are a tour guide in Namibia I gather?? How lovely! I only see people like you on the Discovery Channel! Apparently, you are real people!! Ha ha ha ha ha! :))

  4. Well come do a tour in Namibia and you can meet a tour guide in the flesh. Somewhat real. If the current economy doesn't make tour guides an endangered species.

  5. I am taking a nature drawing class and the instructor is always saying that people who see nothing aren't looking. Nature is amazing with small dramas unfolding everywhere. I feel sorry for those who pull up in a car, briefly scan an area and then move on for bigger and better viewings ... they miss so much. If they would just sit quietly and wait ... the whole world would pass in front of their eyes.

    Wonderful post ... and your writing is brilliant ... you create stories that, from the first sentence, capture the reader! Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    Small Footprints

  6. Thank you Small Footprints. Your comment means a lot.

  7. Great blog!!
    If you want, come back and visit mine:

    Pablo from Argentina

  8. There is always something there but its for mother nature to decide if it wants to show it to us or not. This would have been such a delightful experience, thanks a lot for sharing this.