Having spent countless hours in nature all around the globe, I’ve been able to witness some incredible wildlife encounters. I’ve spent hours following a lion pride in Zambias South Luangwa national park as they stalked a Cape buffalo herd, forcing them to cross a boggy watering hole, eventually picking off one of the weaker individuals.
I’ve watched the sunrise over a billabong in Australias Northern Territory, as flocks of Magpie geese and spoonbills descended to feed for the day. Taking advantage of Finlands almost 24 hour sunlight in summer, I sat on the edge of the taiga watching a pair of Hawk owls feeding their recently fledged chicks. These are just a few moments that stand out in my memory, but all of them, although special, were ‘normal’ or to be expected wildlife encounters in the habitats I was in at the time. I have also encountered some surprising wildlife encounters, where the outcome wasn’t what I expected. It was lunchtime on Likoma island, Malawi. After a morning of exploring the island, the sun way high and temperatures were hitting the low thirties. I was glad of a little break in the shade but still made sure I had my camera and binoculars with me, and for this encounter, I’m glad I did. I’d noticed a pair of Dikkops tending to their nest on the edge of the beach all week. Their call echoed across the beach most nights, and every now again you’d spot them swapping brooding duties. But this lunchtime was different.
The Dikkops were a lot more vocal, and every now and again they’d break cover from the scrubby spot they were nesting in, wings outstretched and rush out onto the beach. From my seat I lost sight of them as the beach fell away to the waters edge, so I decided to skip my meal and investigate further. I gave the nest a wide berth and then positioned myself 15 metres or so away, where I could see the waters edge and the nest site. For the moment, all was calm once more. One bird was back on the nest, the other stood nearby. Then suddenly all hell broke loose. From the boulders to the right of their nest emerged a water monitor. About a metre long, the prehistoric looking beast marched toward the nesting birds. Screaming loudly, with their wide wings outstretched the birds rushed at the monitor. This was enough to make the monitor pause, but for a large powerful reptile I assumed this battle would be short lived. Dikkops hold no harmful defence mechanism, soft feet, short beaks, and not much else. How could they defend themselves against a monitor lizard with its tough skin, powerful bite and deadly whipping tail.
I was wrong. The Dikkops were not going to give their eggs up so easily. What happened next was not dissimilar to a boxing match, though this was a pair of featherweights (quite literally), against a heavyweight. Round after round they battled. The hot sun clearly in this instance helping the Dikkops. As the monitor charged, the Dikkops responded, kicking sand, shouting at the top of their lungs and spreading their wings as wide as they would go. The monitor would respond whipping its deadly tail at them, all whilst hissing, but the exertion in the heat was too much for it. After a few charges, repelled by the Dikkops it would retreat back to the shade in the boulders I’d first seen it emerge from.
After a few minutes rest, it would try again, but again the birds valiantly defended their nest. After 20 minutes of back and forth, the monitor finally gave up. It tried to give the nest a wide berth, clearly confused and dazzled by the birds defensive dance, but the Dikkops did not let up, and even when the monitor wasn’t beelining for the nest, still they charged at it. Not until it had put enough distance between the nest and was clearly now taking an alternative route, did the birds finally relax and return to their brooding duties.