Frenzy at the “water hole” – includes the movie

This post is part of  Kalahari  Series II – 2011. The previous post in the series is A tough customer. Also see Kalahari Series I – 2009.

In the first Kalahari series, I had a post about the Grootkolk wilderness camp, where I mentioned the Sociable Weavers who lived near at the camp . . .

One of the big features of the camp is the large weaver bird communities which have set up house close to the waterhole. Oddly enough they come to the camp for water. With the cooking and washing-up facilities outside of the cabins, there’s always easily accessible water around. As soon as the sun comes up in the mornings, the weaver birds (and the odd Redheaded Finch) leave their communal nests, and come swarming across the veld to the camp. It always reminds me of a squadron of planes. They provide an excellent early warning system if there is a snake close by.

A bonus of having so many little birds close by, is that you can get to practice your “bird photography” in a fairly controlled setting – out in the open, with good light. Which is just what I did this time around. During the course of the day, small groups of birds come in to drink from the water bowl which the visitors to the camp keep topped up. It’s mostly quite a calm and dignified affair. They even share the water with some other small birds.

Sociable Weavers and a Great Sparrow. ©LB/

Sociable Weavers and a Yellow Canary. Note how the Sociable Weavers all have their beaks open. They aren’t singing – they’re drinking in unison! Just after this photograph was taken they tipped back their heads to swallow a  mouthful of water. ©LB/

Another Yellow Canary and solitary Sociable Weaver. ©LB/

A Red-headed Finch comes to drink when things are quiet. ©LB/

A Sociable Weaver watches from a thorn tree next to the “waterhole” ©WMB/

Things begin to change when the water is running dry. More birds arrive and all gather around. The Sociable Weavers forget their manners and start to push each other around. Sometimes landing on the backs of birds already perched on the water bowl.

A Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Red-headed Finch sit on the left waiting for the frenzy to die down. ©LB/

At this stage of the action, the opportunities for creative bird photography get better. By adjusting the shutter speed, I was able to capture a couple of the birds in-flight, or while they hovered above the water bowl.




But nothing can convey the frenzied activity quite like a movie!

Only once the water bowl was completely dry, did the Sociable Weavers try some of the Tsamma melons which had been lying around the camp.

Tsamma melons, which grow wild in the Kalahari, are loved by people, animals and birds for the moisture they provide. ©LB/

I have to point out that the Sociable Weavers are never in danger of suffering from dehydration. There is a genuine water hole about 50 meters from the camp. They just prefer the cleaner water and convenience of the camp water bowls!

These little birds are quite comical to watch. On this visit we also saw something we had not seen before. Field mice sharing the water bowl meant for the birds!


In the next photograph taken shortly after the one above, a weaver comes in for landing, and then spotting the field mouse (which was by then inside the bowl – see its tail sticking out), overshot its landing spot and made a very awkward and inelegant landing on the fence bar next to it. Known to most pilots as a “crash landing”!

Trying to avoid the mouse in the water bowl, this bird crash lands next to it. Check out the expressions of the other birds! It’s the same reaction you get from people watching an accident happen. ©LB/

In quieter times at the water bowl, the bird below decided to take a bath, and then sat grooming itself.


“I wonder how far back I can lean before I fall off?” ©LB/

The Kalahari 2011 Series:


About lisa@notesfromafrica

I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)
This entry was posted in Nature ● Environment, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Frenzy at the “water hole” – includes the movie

  1. That is great. I really like the one where you adjusted the shutter speed and caught a couple of the birds in flight. I’m still amazed how they fly.

    • Hi Timothy, Thanks for reading my post and leaving a comment! I’m an amateur photographer with not too much experience, so am really happy with the way some of those photos turned out. It is quite amazing to watch how these birds fly.

  2. Number 7 and 9 are my favorite. Also, the red headed finch is a beautiful bird. Good post.

  3. amblerangel says:

    The pictures definitely don`t do the action justice as the video clearly shows! Great bird shots.

  4. rumpydog says:

    they drink in unison? how cool is that!

  5. Reggie says:

    Ohh, these are excellent shots, Lisa. They are sooo crystal-clear and sharp.

    Birds around water are sooo entertaining.

  6. So many birds in that video, it’s amazing, but, gosh, I think some of your photos are GREAT! I love that little guy at the end who looks like he’s waiting for someone to scratch him under the chin. Too cute!

  7. Lisa (Woman Wielding Words) says:

    Fabulous pictures and wonderful observations to go with it. I love the joy you find in nature. Plus, what amazing photography.

  8. What a meeting! Excellent, sharp photographs. Thank you for sharing. I really don’t have a favorite. They’re all wonderful.

    • Thank you, Georgette! I’m not always so successful with bird photography – the things have this habit of flying away before I can compose the shot – but these proved to be very easy subjects.

  9. Birds are so cute. I like the one with the field mouse sharing the water bowl too.

  10. Bama says:

    I always enjoy taking pictures of birds flying and playing. It’s so fun because every second they move, there will always be interesting moments to capture.

    • I agree the photographs are definitely more interesting if there is movement, but they then have to play in one area. Mostly when I take photos of birds flying, they’re out of range within seconds! 😉

  11. jacquelincangro says:

    Those photos are just superb. Really wonderful! The movie made me laugh. That water bowl is like Times Square for birds. 🙂
    I love looking at all of the details of their feathers and coloring. You’ve probably captured more than I could see with my naked eye. I especially like the color of the finch. It really stands out among the others.

    • Thanks Jackie! These are probably my best bird photos ever. Partly because of the location – I could get really close to them – and the good light, partly because they make such wonderful subjects. They’re by far the easiest birds to take photos of.

  12. Sony Fugaban says:

    Amazing pictures and documentation. And, a PERFECT title there. 😉

  13. Madoqua says:

    Finally got to read some of your favourite selections from 2012! This post is wonderful. I so enjoyed your photos and am now inspired to have a go at some bird photos too. It is so hot and dry that I would probably get lots of feathered visitors!

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