An Evening in the Hide
Our guide, Franco, suggested we visit the wildlife hide a little after 5 p.m. for some action-packed viewing. As we entered, we made ourselves comfortable on four of the room’s sixteen seats, and lodge staff brought drinks and appetizers. Small bars reinforced the window every ten or so inches for safety. They didn’t interfere at all with the view of the waterhole just a few dozen feet away.
We watched the waterhole come slowly alive. It started with the red-billed queleas—small, sparrow-like birds. At first, little bands trickled in from different directions to congregate in the nearby mopane trees. Soon it was a torrent of birds! Now numbering in the hundreds or even thousands, they weighed the branches down to what looked like the breaking point.
En masse they left the trees, moving like a synchronized school of fish, to settle down and surround the waterhole to drink. The swarm must have been as big as the waterhole itself.
Unbeknownst to them, someone was waiting for them under the surface of the water—hungry freshwater turtles known as terrapins. The terrapins didn’t take long to bite, sending most of the queleas in a panicked swarm back to the mopane trees. But not all the queleas managed to escape. A few fluttered in the water, trying to free themselves from the terrapins’ jaws. Some succeeded, while others were pulled beneath the surface.
This scene repeated itself several times over the next few minutes—despite the risk, the queleas kept returning to the water because they needed to quench their thirst.
Then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they disappeared, scattering in small groups until not a single one was left. The sun continued to fall below the horizon.