Rocks and shadows, waterfalls and wings

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Excerpts from an article recently published in the March-April 2020 issue of African Birdlife magazine about a pilgrimage I made to Augrabies Falls National Park in September last year, along with some as-yet unused images…

“…This most recent visit took place in September when the big eagles were feeding well-developed chicks, the Lanners were tending small nestlings, the Peregrines and possibly the Rock Kestrels were incubating, and the Booted Eagles had barely arrived. Although the reserve was dry and the level of the river quite modest, there was plenty of birdlife on offer and lots of action in the gorge if you were patient enough to wait for things to unfold. I spread my time between the waterfall lookouts – where the Peregrine pair took shifts incubating on a cramped little ledge just downstream of the splash-zone of the falls – and the various designated viewing sites further downstream. Arrow Point was probably where I saw the most activity – Lanners defending their airspace from all-comers or cooperatively hunting the waves of Alpine Swifts surging back and forth in the gorge, sheen-backed Black Storks cruising the cliffs like hang-gliders, then ghosting into a cool, dark recess to do their time on a late clutch of eggs, and African Fish Eagles provisioning two large young. Oranjekom was also a rewarding venue, with a second pair of Peregrines sitting on three eggs placed grandly in the centre of an ancient Verreaux’s Eagle nest, the Verreaux’s Eagles themselves awaiting the imminent first flight of their fully-feathered chick, exercising wildly on a fresher nest structure only 50 m away, and a quietly trilling pair of Rock Kestrels, copulating regularly and probably in the process of laying eggs somewhere just beyond the eagle site.”

…My relationship with Augrabies has spanned much of my life and, thankfully, very little has changed there over that time. Sure, the boundaries of the park have been encroached by rural development and irrigation agriculture, and I’m guessing that the quantity and quality of water flowing in the river are not what they were, but most of the layout and infrastructure have stayed soothingly familiar, and the shape of a day spent enjoying the park is basically the same. Most importantly, the mighty Orange still forges on, the primordial layers into which the river has bored remain stoically in place, and the abyss left behind where the river once was is still ruled by the birds whose shadows sweep over the gorge walls, turning, lengthening and then merging with the shimmering rock.


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