Part three of Ken Davies’ fictional Ozzie’s diary is here!
On one of his excursions to Tanji Marsh, Ozzie decides to fly a little further into the mangrove-fringed creeks and lagoons, where he has previously been able to catch fish quite easily. He notices that the green 4 x 4 is there again, parked on the hard mud at the edge of the marsh. It has an Osprey picture on the side. Ozzie of course does not know it, but this is the Gambian birdman Fansu, who has brought his good friend Chris to see the Ospreys. They are in luck today. Not only do they see Ozzie as he flies over and into the mangrove creeks, but another old friend, the female 5F, a 2012 Rutland Osprey, is sitting on one of her tree stumps out in the shallow water. Chris and his friends take pictures, which will soon be delighting Osprey followers back in the United Kingdom. Ozzie has a look, but moves on. He is drifting over a new creek, which he has not explored before.
Soon he is flying over a vivid green landscape of mangroves, their lower branches a tangle of stems and branches, offering cover and protection to a varied throng of birds, mammals and reptiles. A few step out cautiously onto the muddy edges of the creek. Suddenly he is in the middle of a Cormorant metropolis, where hundreds of pairs of these white-breasted birds (sub-species lucidus) have recently set up home. The pungent scent of guano, the sounds of Cormorant domestic life, the sight of their gleaming white breasts, coal black backs, the deep green mangroves, the ripple of cool water – a truly multi-sensory experience. Ozzie flies on, ignoring the Cormorants’ caterwauling. He notices the azure and orange flicks as tiny Malachite and Blue-breasted Kingfishers dart about after tiny fish, while Rollers of three species (Broad-billed, Blue-bellied and Abyssinian) and a similar array of Bee-eaters (Swallow-tailed, Blue-cheeked and White-throated) fly out into the cloudless blue sky over the water in search of insect prey before returning with it to a convenient top branch of an emergent tree on the bank.
Ozzie’s superb eyesight means he misses nothing as he flies deeper into the limitless mangrove covered landscape. Even the rare and subtly camouflaged Night Herons (White-backed and Black-crowned) are seen by him as they creep secretively among the lower branches. A Marsh Mongoose freezes as the shadow of the raptor passes over. He need not have worried – Ozzie is not interested in him. Whimbrel call from the muddy edges. House Martins eagerly pursue insects above the lagoons. Maybe they too are from Rutland, and know this is one bird of prey that will not bother them.
And so he carries on, weaving his way through this maze of watery wilderness in the heat of the African day. Time for a fish. He comes down lower, studying the waters below him. These creeks teem with fish, and it does not take him long to find a shoal and select his prey. He is on the verge of a dive…..when something suddenly distracts him and he hurries on, rounding the next curve in the creek before slowing again to a more leisurely pace.
His keen eye had detected a shape on the topmost branch of a huge spectacular tree, emerging from the canopy of the mangroves. The tree is a remarkable baobab, maybe a thousand years old, rising majestically from a single massive trunk, branches reaching out like arms on all sides. On its topmost tip sits a bird which for many is the most iconic symbol of Africa : the African Fish Eagle. Proud, erect, surveying his domain with unerring eye, he has watched Ozzie approach, waiting for him to dive and catch a fish. And then, if Ozzie had been successful, he would have left his perch and pursued the smaller bird, rapidly overtaking him on his more powerful wings, and forcing him to drop his catch. A free meal for an Eagle. But Ozzie is wise. He aborted his dive, and will wait until he is over another creek without an attendant Fish Eagle. The Eagle resumes his vigil. If no fish-carrying Osprey passes by, he will fish for himself later on.
Ozzie catches a fish at the next opportunity and is still carrying it, looking for a quiet perch on which to eat, when a long log-like shape in the water attracts his attention. Could he land on it and have a rest? He flies down to inspect it, and then flaps up again in haste. Crocodiles! And there are more on the bank, immobile, jaws agape, glassy eyes all-seeing. Suddenly, the largest one sweeps its great tail, thrashes the water, and is gone. The others follow, accompanied by wild cries from the terns, egrets and Whimbrel all around. Ozzie finds a tree, rests, and then eats his fish.
It’s time to turn for home and the familiar roosting tree at the back of Tanji beach. As late afternoon turns to evening, many birds are coming into the mangroves for the night. A flock of Woolly-necked Storks cross the sky in formation, while a smaller group of African Spoonbills drop in from the north. The Fish Eagle is still in his baobab tree. A group of five Black-crowned Cranes fly in low, seeking refuge as dusk gathers, and a solitary Goliath Heron, as tall as a man, keeps still and quiet in the shallow water. Ozzie passes on. Nearly home now.
Ozzie and all the other birds and animals in the world live their lives unfettered by politics, race, educational opportunity, religion or geographical boundary, but their prosperity and future survival can be affected by decisions taken by men and women in positions of power.
Goodnight Ozzie, Fansu, JJ and everyone in Gambia. Stay safe. We’ll see you all in January 2017.