I was observing dragonflies darting back and forth on the fringe of the Mlawula River when a male African Finfoot glided silently beneath the palm leaves overhanging the far bank. I froze in my crouched position and watched as this remarkable bird paddled silently upstream, once reaching up into the palms to snatch a large green katydid. As it eventually disappeared from my view, a second finfoot, this time the pale-faced female, appeared on the scene. She was more wary and drifted in and out of the shadows as she followed her mate.
The African Finfoot favours quiet rivers and streams with plenty of overhanging vegetation, feeding on frogs, tadpoles, small fishes and insects. It is uncommon throughout its range but several pairs occur along the Mlawula River within the Mbuluzi Game Reserve in eastern Swaziland, and this is the best place I know of to see them. See: www.mbuluzigamereserve.co.sz
Neither a duck nor a grebe, but having features of both, there are three species of these peculiar birds around the globe. In addition to the African Finfoot which ranges from the southern Cape to West Africa and Ethiopia, there is the Masked Finfoot of south-east Asia and the Sungrebe of Central and South America. The name ‘finfoot’ refers to the extensive webbing on the toes of these completely aquatic birds.
Mbuluzi, Swaziland, July 2010