04 March 2013 by Julienne du Toit

Life at the waterhole

The quickest way to clear your mind and to happily immerse yourself in another world is to sit at a waterhole and watch the critters come to drink.

Bring drinks and binoculars. Relax and enjoy the show. Picture Chris Marais

In game reserves, life revolves around waterholes. But the thing is to be Zen about it all – don’t drive away because you’re not seeing members of the Big Five slaking their thirst.

Sometimes there are only birds and insects, yet the experience can be so vivid that you remember it for years. You may only see a single little buck come down to drink, but that quiet experience can be the most beautiful part of your day.

The aptly named Houmoed (Afrikaans for ‘keep the faith’) waterhole in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was where we saw demure Namaqua doves by the dozen, looking like a polite convention of nuns. Over the water, the air practically rustled with red dragonflies and orange butterflies. Finches and sparrows waited their turn in trees.

The other delight of Kalahari waterholes like this one is that you can depend on the Namaqua sandgrouse coming down to drink with their soft fluttering cries: 'Kelkiewyn, kelkiewyn' (which literally translates as ‘goblet of wine’).

In the mornings, you might see zebra coming down to drink their own striped reflections.

In fact, the experience of watching ungulates (such a silly word) come to drink is a much underrated one; kudu are so graceful when they startle while drinking, the males flinging their spiral horns back and looking about, ears flickering.

In mornings, you might see zebra coming down to drink their own striped reflections.

It’s also fascinating watching elephants come down to a waterhole, a total contrast to the caution and timidity shown by other species. When it comes to water access, elephants are top of the pecking order, scattering lions and buffalo and all other wildlife before them – no exceptions.

They rush to the water as if they can’t wait another moment, breaking into a run at times, then tossing the muddy water over their backs with trunks. The rest of the animal kingdom takes a step back and watches the rather imperious pachyderms at play.

And when they’re done and the dust has settled, life at the waterhole resumes its gentle pace...

Category: Wildlife

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