Crowned Cranes: A Lifelong Romance

Nestled amidst the trees, one rises to the dappled light and romance of dawn. Rolled-up canvas walls welcome in the morning, the view past the Mopane branches tempting you out of bed for coffee on the deck. The air is fresh, the heat yet to rise. It is just you, the pastel colours of sunrise, birdsong and the bush.

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There is a small pan just beyond the chalets at Elephant’s Eye, Hwange. It is a year-round life-source for wildlife in the area, its waters visited by a wide variety of species. The dry season makes for a veritable animal intersection, all creatures congregating throughout the day to quench their thirst. Early morning may bring the quiet footsteps of the gentle bushbuck, sharing the water’s edge with a dazzle of zebra. A flutter of guinea fowl disturb the scene, followed closely by a herd of impala and baboons which recently descended from their roost in the trees. They move off as the morning heat rises, seeking shade for the day ahead. Their footprints leave scattered stories in sand and mud; tales of the morning.

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As time moves towards noon, bigger animals may come and go. Elephant’s Eye is a well-known spot for large elephant herds, their perpetual return the namesake of the lodge. The herds hold the location deep in the corridors of their memory, ancient knowledge of water along their seasonal migrations. Heading to the pan throughout the day, they offer the luxury of an armchair safari from the main area or each respective chalet.

Standing upon your deck, you have an elevated birds-eye view of the wild. One can sit and observe the ebbs and flows of nature as the day progresses, privy to its subtleties. Elephants will wander off from the pan toward the trees, munching on leaves just below the deck; an intimate encounter with nature. You can almost see their long eyelashes, they are so close, catching a whiff of their natural odour, earth mixed with hide and sweat. It is an honour to be so up close and personal.

With all the animal activity in and around the pan, there is one species that has made home of its shores. If you look closely amongst the reeds and tall grass around the pan, you will see a pair of golden crowns peaking out above the green. A pair of crowned cranes live beside its waters. Territorial in nesting site, they seem to have made the pan their base for when they breed. Crowned cranes mate for life, and Elephant’s Eye is honoured to have been chosen as homestead for their lifelong love affair. As non-migratory birds, the lodge is lucky enough to be graced with their presence all year round, only moving locally and seasonally according to food sources – of which there is plenty around the pan!

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Crowned cranes are elegant and majestic birds, weighing up to 4kg’s – formidable in size and stature. They are diurnal and spend their days foraging for food, stamping upon the ground to arouse the bugs beneath. Peak breeding season coincides with the rains, between December and February – as well as coinciding with the month of romance. They must sense that love is indeed in the air! If one is lucky enough, you may witness their mating dance – bowing, running and jumping in graceful display.

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Watching the crowned crane in flight is an invitation to commit poetry. One is tempted to scribe a love note to nature, enchanted by such finesse. Slow, dignified strokes carry them over the savannah, gliding to their next foraging spot. When you next find yourself at Elephant’s Eye, Hwange, take a moment upon the deck of your chalet. Pour yourself a cup of tea and settle in to observe the ways and wings of the crowned cranes, allowing yourself to be charmed by their grace.