Samara – prelude

Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris invited us to see and photograph an unusual wildlife experience in Samara in May this year. Samara is private game reserve about 25 kilometres south east of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It is 67 0000 hectares in area and was formed by the acquisition of surrounding farms, with the initial farm being Monkey Valley. The owners of Samara wanted to acquire enough land to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that could carry wildlife in the fragile Great Karoo environment.

“Cherish sunsets, wild creatures, and wild places. Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth! “~ Stewart Udall

This was the second time I have been to Samara. The first visit revealed rhino, cheetah, aardvark, giraffe, black wildebeest, ground squirrels and blue cranes set in vast magnificent landscapes. So I had an idea of what to expect from a wildlife and landscape perspective. This visit was primarily to see a cheetah mother called Chilli and her eight adolescents. Being adolescents, they were close to being forced to strike out on their own. Samara’s raison d’être is conservation so most of the adolescent cheetahs were destined for new homes in other reserves which wanted cheetahs. This meant there was limited time to experience a cheetah mother operating in the wild with her eight adolescents.

Eight cheetah adolescents is highly unusual. Cheetah mothers produce between one and six cubs after a gestation period of around 93 days. It is unusual to find more than four cubs. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, there are three stages in the life cycle of the cheetah: cub (birth to 18 months), adolescence (18 to 24 months) and adult life (24 months to on average 12 years).

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Samara is vast and the landscape is rugged. To be able to find Chilli and her family, the rangers used telemetry. Chilli had a VHF telemetry collar. This system is directional and the intensity of the beeps give some idea of distance. Down on the plains of the Great Karoo there are areas of thick bush as you can see from the next image. This Shepherd tree in the foreground overlooked one of the main areas in which the cheetahs were operating

On our first day of this trip we found many herbivores, the largest of which were the South African Giraffe, a subspecies of the Southern Giraffe. At present, the South African Giraffe population is estimated at 29,650 individuals, showing a marked increase over the past three decades. An assessment of the South African Giraffe for the IUCN Red List is ongoing, but with the large increase it will most likely result in a listing of Least Concern.

We found a family herd of nine adult giraffe. Unlike eland they do not run away as soon as they see you. In fact they can be quite curious and will stand to look intently at you. It is only when you get to within that “fight or flight” distance do they walk or run off.

“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.” ~ James Allen

On our first afternoon, there were clouds to the west which cast deep shadows on the relief of the Camdeboo escarpment emphasising the ruggedness and creating different moods.

Judging from the amount of hair on top of their ossicones, most of the herd seemed to be females. The males had worn most of the hair off their ossicones while sparring and fighting each other. The males also have a distinct penal bump at the lower part of their belly.

Lions were first introduced into Samara in early 2019. They were the first free-roaming lions in the area for 180 years. One of the ways to find a predator is to look in the direction that a giraffe is steadfastly staring. The lion do not have a pride large enough to take down giraffe in Samara and the lions have remained mostly on the Camdeboo plateau where there is plenty of food, most notably black wildebeest.

“We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.” ~ Wendell Berry

At dusk on our first afternoon we found Chilli and her family. With a family of eight adolescents and herself, she needed to hunt every day. Chilli hunted everything from springbok to young eland and kudu.

The introduction of lion into Samara will inevitably change the cheetah dynamics. For now the lions seem to prefer the plains on the plateau and the cheetah the lower plains at the foot of the Camdeboo escarpment. Once the lions increasingly occupy the lower plain they will inevitably start killing the cheetah cubs so the chances of ever seeing another eight member adolescent cheetah family will be very low in future years.

“Conservation is sometimes perceived as stopping everything cold, as holding whooping cranes in higher esteem than people. It is up to science to spread the understanding that the choice is not between wild places or people, it is between a rich or an impoverished existence for Man.” ~ Thomas Lovejoy

Twenty-four years ago Sarah Thompson and her husband bought the first farm which would form the nucleus of Samara. Since that time this Samara team under Sarah Thompson’s guidance has built up a substantial private game reserve where its essence is rooted in conservation and returning this game reserve to its natural ecological state. Samara has produced many conservation firsts in this area. One was the reintroduction of cheetah to this area in 2003 after having been missing for 125 years.

“Life in the natural world is more wonderous than we could ever imagine. There is strength, fortitude and intelligence beyond our imagination. Once we quieten down and observe we begin to see connections which were not evident to a passer by. With respectful, quiet observation we could learn much.” ~ Mike Haworth

Chilli’s story is an intriguing one which I will begin to describe in my next post.

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Nakuru’s forest dwellers

The Nakuru area lies within the inner graben of the central Kenya rift valley. Lake Nakuru’s graben lies between LionHill Volcano and the Mau Escarpment, the west wall of the Rift Valley, the base of which lies within the south-west corner of the area. Lake Nakuru is a shallow pan which never fills to a depth of more than a few feet but the level does fluctuate. Nakuru is characterised by its graben, the shallow alkaline lake which attracts many flamingoes and a huge fever tree forest.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir

The Rhino Sanctuary in Lake Nakuru National Park was the first Rhino sanctuary in Kenya and is currently home to the largest number of black rhinos in the country. Currently the rhino sanctuary in Lake Nakuru National Park boasts 150 rhinos with 80% being white rhinos and 20% being black rhinos. The rhino sanctuary was established in 1984 when the first two rhinos were introduced to the lake Nakuru National Park. This national park was chosen as the first Rhino sanctuary as it was already a bird sanctuary and it had the needed land for the rhinos. The lake area provides the water the rhinos need every day and the vegetation in the park is also suitable for both the white and black rhinos.

The Fever trees in this forest are huge. The fever tree is the only tree species on earth whose bark performs the photosynthesis process instead of its leaves. Fever trees grow incredibly fast – they can reach a height of over 25m and grow in height approximately 1.5m annually. The Rift Valley forms the eastern distribution limit of the Defassa Waterbuck, which occur in grassland and open forest and scrub.

A DeFassa waterbuck female and her calf foraging in thick grass in the forest understory. The species is a grazer and always found where there is water nearby. It is classified by IUCN as Near Threatened, with a total population of about 95 000.

According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the latest taxonomy study reveals that there are four distinct species; the Masai, Northern, Reticulated and Southern Giraffe. The Rothschild’s Giraffe is one subspecies of the Northern Giraffe. All four giraffe species and their subspecies live in geographically distinct areas throughout Africa.

The Rothschild’s Giraffe is the tallest of the four distinct species and five subspecies. It has a distinct colouring and coat patterning. Each giraffe has a different pattern just like humans have distinct fingerprints. This species of giraffe is paler, and has orange-brown patches which are less jagged in shape. This giraffe has no markings on its lower legs and under belly, which are predominately creamy white. The Rothschild’s Giraffe stands in stark contrast to the dark greens and yellows of the fever tree forest. The next image gives a sense of how tall the trees are in the fever tree forest south of Lake Nakuru. Today, fewer than 3 000 Rothschild’s giraffes are left in Africa, with about 800 in Kenya.

“I feel a great regard for trees; they represent age and beauty and the miracles of life and growth.” – Louise Dickinson Rich

The Rothschild’s Giraffe is the only giraffe species to be born with five ossicones. Two of these are the larger and more obvious ones at the top of the head, which are common to all giraffes. The third ossicone can often be seen in the center of the giraffe’s forehead, and the other two are behind each ear. This species of giraffe is also taller than many other populations, measuring up to 5.88 metres or 19.3 feet tall. Males are larger than females and feed on different parts of the trees. Rothschild’s Giraffe feed on leaves, flowers, seedpods, and fruits in areas where the savanna floor is salty or full of minerals.

There are small open patches in the forest which provide room for grazers such as this male impala.

“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” ~Hilaire Belloc

Fever tree forests vary in density throughout the southern section of the park with some areas which are less dense allowing the sunlight to reach the ground. Fever trees are indigenous to southern and eastern Africa. Their preferred habitat is warm and humid conditions with access to plenty of water.

I absolutely love the feeling of driving slowly through the forest. It is cool and quiet but for bird calls. It is dense, and there is a bluish hue among the trees in the early morning and these areas are just bursting with life.

“Consider a tree for a moment. As beautiful as trees are to look at, we don’t see what goes on underground – as they grow roots. Trees must develop deep roots in order to grow strong and produce their beauty. But we don’t see the roots. We just see and enjoy the beauty. In much the same way, what goes on inside of us is like the roots of a tree.” – Joyce Meyer

The Eastern Black and White Colobus monkey is the most arboreal of all African monkeys. The only other place I have seen them has been along the Grumeti river in the western corridor of the Serengeti. They have beautiful black fur which contrasts with the long white mantle, whiskers, bushy tail, and beard around their black face. These monkeys are territorial and live in groups of as many as fifteen individuals.

“The wandering photographer sees the same show that everyone else sees. He, however, stops to watch it.” ~ Edouard Boubat

The name “Colobus” is derived from the Greek word for “mutilated,” because unlike other monkeys, Colobus monkeys do not have thumbs. There are two types of Colobus monkeys, the Angolan and the Eastern Black and White species. These Colobus monkeys are herbivores, eating leaves, fruit, flowers lichen and bark and have a ruminant-like digestive system.

Our sighting of this elusive very shy leopardess was down purely to good guiding from Mike Laubscher. We were driving on the road along the LionHill side of the lake. Mike heard Vervet monkeys’ alarm calling and they were persistent suggesting that the threat was still close to them. We found another side road closer to the Vervet monkeys and that gave us an opportunity to see which way the Vervets were looking. Mike scoured the fever trees with his binoculars in the direction the Vervets were looking and after about a quarter of an hour he spotted this leopardess lying on the large yellow bough of a huge fever tree. The leopardess was lying in deep shade so was very difficult to see her initially.

Leopards are notoriously secretive in this forest environment and given the colour of their coats against the fever tree branches it can be extremely difficult to see one. Once we had a fix on her she continued lying on the bough for another few minutes before deciding to descend the tree to get out of view from all concerned.

We found a pair of Bushbuck foraging in the thick verdant understory. They were very shy and as soon as they saw us on the road, which cut through the forest, they bolted for deeper cover. The Bushbuck’s diet consists mainly of leaves, herbs, twigs and flowers of different plant types and as a browser it seldom consumes grass. The Bushbuck is the only non-territorial and solitary African antelope.

Fever tree haves a very shallow root system so you will see many fallen tree trunks in the forest. This is an alluring feature for photographers because there is always the possibility of a raptor or a leopard or lion on the fallen tree trunk.

“If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” ~ Alan Watts

We got out of the vehicle and had a cup of coffee near this large fallen Fever tree trunk. It was absolutely beautiful. The understory is not easy to walk through and there are plenty of stinging nettles, which we soon discovered.

I was fortunate enough to spend ten days travelling around the Amboseli and Lake Nakuru National Parks with Mike Laubscher, a guide from Wild Eye. A big thank you to Mike for a fun and productive trip showing us around two fascinating and very different national parks in Kenya. A big thank you also to guide Jimmy who drove us around Amboseli and who has the most incredible eyesight and ability to predict the animal’s movement which enabled us to get into good photographic positions. Also to Sammy for driving us up to Lake Nakuru from Nairobi and back which was quite an exercise in its own right and for showing us around Lake Nakuru National Park and giving us some memorable sightings of rare mammals and birds. The guides from Wild Eye made a wonderful team without which we not have seen and experienced nearly as much as we did – thank you!

“I know not how I may seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with” ~ Plato

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Nakuru- lions and buffalo

Lake Nakuru National Park is full of surprises for a first time visitor.

“Wandering the rift takes you through ancient times, travelling into unfamilar places which open your sense to timelessness and wonder.” ~ Mike Haworth

We saw lion and a leopard in Lake Nakuru National Park. We never saw hyaena or even heard them. The forest environment seems to be ideal for servals, civets and genets, but being nocturnal and having to be back in camp by 18h00 we never got to see any of these species.

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every day, and they’re absolute free. Don’t miss any of them.” ~ Jo Walton

There is an abundance of grazers varying from buffalo, Rothchild’s giraffe to Debussa waterbuck, eland and zebra. There are also the smaller antelope such as bushbuck and impala but we never saw any duiker. The next image is of two old buffalo bulls, we call them “dagga boys” because they are often covered in mud and their bosses are caked with mud after a good wallow in a mud pool. These two old boys were lying down under the shade of a tree in the late morning.

We found a lioness with her three cubs near a buffalo kill on our first morning on the southbound section of the ring road south of the lake. The next day we found two male lions in the south west section of the park. They were traversing an open grassland to find shade under a small tree, much like the buffaloes.

“Wherever you go becomes part of you somehow.” ~ Anita Desai

When one lion is walking up to another one, either it is moving in to greet the other lion or there will be a fight. On this occasion, the first male lion lying in the shade of a small tree was greeted with head rubbing by the approaching male. Many of the cats were collared in the park- a sign of the times. There is much research underway and it certainly makes it easier to find them in this well forested park.

After the initial greeting the second male lay down in the shade next to his coalition partner. The male on the left of the image looked to be older than the male on the right judging from the darkness of his mane. Interestingly, both males were not “flat cats” but remained alert and sitting up while we were watching them in mid-morning. Something must have had their attention which we had not seen, heard or smelt.

The first male to lie down in the shade looked to be around five years old judging from the length and colour of his mane and the condition of his teeth. He had flies all over him which did not seem to bother him much – and they were probably the stinging type!

You can see from the condition of his ears that he must have been in some tangles but his teeth were in good condition.

” Life is etched in that face. A male lion’s journey is etched with scars and torn ears. His eyes remain steady, his heart strong. He has earned his place”~ Mike Haworth

We travelled along the same road the next day only to find this scene. A male and female lion together, probably in their mating phase, then, buffalo emerged from the gloom of the forest and began chasing them into the grassland. The lions seemed to prefer to operate along the edge of the forest during the day, probably because of the abundance of shade.

This buffalo bull was not going to tolerate the mating pair anywhere near his herd and continued to push them away from the herd which was just inside the edge of the forest.

“Choose you battles wisely. After all, life is not measured by how many times you stood up to fight. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most important ones and let the rest go.” ~ C. Joybell

There are many buffalo in Lake Nakuru National Park. They seem to enjoy the forest and the wet conditions around the lake.

The next image is of two adult but young buffalo bulls mock fighting. They were just pushing each other around with their bosses, nothing serious. When their bosses connected it made quite a cracking sound.

“The main difference between play and playfulness is that play is an activity while playfulness is an attitude.” ~ Miguel Sicart

On our last day in the park, it was early morning and we were travelling along the southern ring road when we came upon this lioness walking along the road. As she wandered along the road she would sometimes stop and listen and at other times detour to the embankment next to the road to investigate a sound or a smell. After about five minutes of following her she heard buffalo on the Lion Hill ridge. Immediately she crossed the road and started to work her way up the ridge to get into a better position to assess the meal potential. As time passed the herd moved down the ridge and in doing so began to split up. This calf was separated from its mother, an opportunity which was not missed by the lioness. For some inexplicable reason she did not immediately attack the calf despite getting within approximately 20 metres of it.

The calf stopped, seeming to sense that the lioness was close by. We held our breath thinking we were about to witness an ambush. A few seconds passed the the calf moved on down the ridge and to our surprise the lioness just sat and watched the calf walk away.

The lioness did not attack the buffalo calf. We did not expect her to abandon the hunt but we did not also see what she saw and could not possible judge whether the odds were in her favour. The calf lived to see another day and we were left with a little magic.

Nakuru was not a place I expected to see such interactions with buffalo and lion. I am reminded every time I go into the bush to leave my perceived ideas back in camp. Our limited ideas about the dynamics in the bush only serve to remind us of how much we still have to learn and understand.

“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” ~ Neil Armstrong

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Nakuru -Feathers in the forest

Lake Nakuru is a most unusual place in Africa. Eclectic in every way. Its character starts with a town directly on the outskirts of the national park. Then paradoxically, it is sanctuary to several endangered mammal species. It is located in one of the most unusual geological structures in Africa and its forest is home to giants.

“Most things seem to whisper in a forest. It is as if there are beings watching and listening. It is moody and alive. Giants stand as sentinels and guardians of the sanctity of the wildlife at their feet and in their arms. “ ~ Mike Haworth

The forest is moody, misty and has a blue hue in the early morning affected by the moisture during the long rains. The forest is home to wonderful array of birdlife.

“In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I was surprised to see a few pairs of Southern Ground Hornbills in the fever tree forest. This pair were initially calling quietly to each other, not the booming pre-dawn calls you hear across the African bushveld,  but gentle dulcet tones. After a period of gentle calling they mated, not on the ground but high up in a large fever tree. Each time the female called the male’s neck feathers rose as you can see in the next image.

Eventually after mating and continuing to call quietly to each other for quite a while they relaxed and started preening.

We saw many Long Crested Eagles. They are perch hunters and feed mainly on rodents. We never saw a Long Crested Eagle flying in the forest but it would have been easily recognisable with the white windows near its, wing tips which are diagnostic. When flying you will often see the tail spread which also reveals the white barring on the tail.

In April, we saw numerous Augur Buzzards in the forest. The next image is of a dark morph Augur Buzzard. An adult Augur Buzzard has dark back feathers which vary from black to dark brown with flecks of white and a white belly and it has characteristic rustic coloured tail feathers. Like all buzzards its legs are not feathered below the elbow and are yellow.

Lake Nakuru is known for its Lesser Flamingoes. Although we saw many Lesser Flamingoes we did not see the vast numbers which everyone talks about. Flamingoes are itinerant and will move to the best feed waters wherever they are. What we did find was flotillas of Pink-backed Pelicans. These birds are pack hunters.

Being pack hunters these pelicans swam in a formation in the shape of buffalo horns. The flotilla swam towards the shore corralling the fish into the shallower waters and then began feasting. It comes very apparent when you sit and watch for a while that is there vast natural intelligence at work there.

There is no apparent communication, from a human perspective, but they all swim in unison, they work as one and all feed well.

Pink-backed Pelicans pack hunting. It is intriguing that as soon as a group of these pelicans form a pack, Pelicans from afar fly in to join the group. Intriguing that the Pelican’s behaved somewhat like vultures. They watch each other and as soon a group find a fish bait ball, Pelicans from all over Lake Nakuru fly in to join the feeding frenzy.

Away from the lake shore there were open patches in the fever tree forest which allowed the sun to caress the forest floor.

Trees give peace to the souls of men.”~ Nora Waln

Amongst all the greens and browns was this startling Red Blood Lily. We were watching lion cubs playing around the base of a large fever tree, and inevitably your eye wanders around the scene just assimilating context when this red colour caught my eye. Mother nature does like to flirt with colour.

We found several Long Crested Eagles in the fever tree forest. This is a large, chunky, dark brown to blackish eagle with a towering, floppy crest. It is often found in woodlands, plantations, and open forest. This eagle perches for long periods, and obviously in a forest has little opportunity to soar which it only does at the fringes of the forest.

A view down the road through the fever tree forest. Oh, that early morning blue hue, giant fever trees with the escarpment looming in the background. This was the second loop road south of the lake.

“Deep in the forest I stroll…. to hear the wisdom of my soul.” ~ Angie Weiland-Crosby

Close to the edge of the lake in amongst the brush and fallen branches was this White-Browed Coucal. We heard it calling and only then saw it. The adult’s underparts and back are streaked, and it has a distinctive white eyebrow. This coucal has rufous wings and a long, broad tail. It has a barred rump and upper tail coverts, differentiating it from other coucals. It sings a deep descending bubbling series, “bu-bu-bu bu bu bu bu”, whilst changing pitch.

Back at LionHill Lodge, the staff had built a bird feeder which they filled with fruit and crumbs at midday every day. The birds learnt when lunch was served and arrived from all around. It got quite busy with weavers, starlings mousebirds, babblers, shrikes and waxbills all coming into feast. The next image is of a Lesser Masked Weaver with its characteristic beige eye and golden forehead which almost reaches its beak.

Kenya is fortunate to have a vast selection of starlings. This was an adult Superb Starling which was very happy to partake in the feast. Size counts when you are feasting and this was one of the larger avians at the feast.

A smaller one was this Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. To us from southern Africa, this looked like a blue waxbill with a red cheek.

A Greater Blue-eared Starling. There are ten species of glossy starlings in east Africa but the Greater Blue-eared is the most ubiquitous. Many birds species tend to be region specific.

Not sure whether this male Coqui Francolin was hen pecked or has been in a serious territorial fight. The male Coqui Francolin has a rufous coloured head and an entirely white and black barred back and underparts while the belly is usually white to buff coloured. It is a beautifully coloured bird when it has not been in a tangle.

This was a fledged young Tawny Eagle. It had its wings open because a Vervet Monkey was threatening it from an adjacent branch. If that was not enough, an adult Augur Buzzard decided that this youngster was in its turf and attacked it. Interestingly, the Augur Buzzard was smaller than the Tawny Eagle.

Not a great photo as my focal length was too long for the scene, but an interesting interaction nevertheless. I was focused on the Vervet monkey when this Augur Buzzard came out of the gloom of the forest. Judging from the loss of one of its talons, this Augur Buzzard must have been a fighter.

Once out of the dappled shade and moody light of the forest, we drove to the lake shore. The lake is rising, so many of the shoreline fever trees had their feet in water. Interestingly, they did not seem to be the worse for the flooding. The flamingoes took full advantage of all the algae blooms in amongst the roots.

Again, the vista was very unusual. Huge fever trees standing in water while flamingoes filter fed around their feet.

“Forests are living historians. They have felt, smelt and seen all the comings and goings, some for centuries. They record their history. They offer great peace, solace and shelter. They reach for the sun and dance and sing in the wind.” ~ Mike Haworth

I hope this post has given you an idea of what avian species you might see in and around the fever tree forest of Lake Nakuru. It is by no means comprehensive, rather just a sample of what we were privileged to see in a few days.

“Once upon a time, forests were repositories for magic in the human race.”~ John Burnside

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Lake Nakuru – up the eastern rift

The second leg of our Kenyan photographic safari with Wild Eye in April this year was to Lake Nakuru National Park which is 156 kilometres north of Nairobi. The trip takes between three or four hours depending on the traffic.

The Great Rift Valley is an immense geological feature in East Africa, formed over the past 35 million years. This giant split in the landscape was the result of two tectonic plates separating. Africa’s Great Rift Valley is one of the world’s most distinctive geo-morphological features, cutting through the continent from the Red Sea to southern Mozambique along two parallel fault lines. The rifts vary in width from 30-100 km, and are between several hundred to several thousand metres deep at some points. The rift has two sections in East Africa, a western rift through Uganda and an eastern rift through Kenya.

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.” ~ Wendell Berry

The next image is taken from the main road looking west onto Lake Naivasha across the eastern limb of the Rift Valley. Lake Naivasha is a fresh water lake so is used for fishing and agriculture.

Kenya’s eastern Rift Valley has a string of eight lakes, from Lake Baringo in northern Kenya to Lake Magadi in southern Kenya. Some lakes are recognised as Wetlands of International Importance, and all are Important Bird Areas, with several being within UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites. The Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley includes three alkaline lakes which are overlooked by dramatic escarpments, volcanic features and associated geothermal features such as geysers, fumeroles and hot springs. Major differences in the lakes occur in their dissolved salts, varying from freshwater to hypersaline. The Eastern Rift Valley, south of its largest freshwater, Lake Turkana, features a string of smaller and shallower alkaline lakes. The three lakes are Nakuru, Bogoria and Elementeita. These alkaline lakes provide unique feeding habitats for East Africa’s famous Lesser Flamingos.

The alkaline lake waters support the prolific growth of green algae (Spirulina platensis), the main food of the itinerant Rift Valley population of Lesser Flamingos. The alkaline Rift Valley lakes are among the world’s most productive ecosystems and, although these harsh environments are relatively species-poor, they feed extraordinary numbers of birds. The most famous is Lake Nakuru, known worldwide for its huge flamingo populations and an enormous variety of other birds, which come to feed there. This lake is characterised by substantial water level fluctuations, along with highly variable ion concentrations.

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” ~ Wendell Berry

We spent five days exploring the wildlife in the Lake Nakuru National Park. Lake Nakuru is part of the Naivasha–Elmentaita–Nakuru basin, a region where the Eastern Rift reaches its highest elevation. The lake lies in a graben between the Lion Hill Volcano and the Mau Escarpment, the west wall of the Rift Valley.

The beautiful Lake Nakuru National Park is surrounded by wooded and bushy grassland. Nakuru means “Dust” or “Dusty Place” in the Maasai language. Lake Nakuru National Park was created in 1961 around Lake Nakuru, next to the town of Nakuru.

The Rift Valley is subject to ongoing plate tectonics and crustal movement which affects the lakes. The lake levels, have been rising recently due to above-average rainfall. With rainfall in the Rift Valley Basin being on a rising trend, hydrologists expect higher lake levels in the future.

The effects on lake ecologies are a concern as flooding increases lake turbidity and dilutes the saline waters of alkaline lakes. The water cycles of Rift Valley lakes are changing as water is taken out for use and because the catchments and land surrounding the lakes are being degraded. Forests are being converted into agricultural land, there is increasing urbanisation and people are encroaching onto riparian and wetland zones. These catchment changes reduce rainfall recharging of underground aquifers, and cause more sediment-such as soil-to run off into rivers. This sediment reaches and accumulates in lakes and reservoirs. This can clog natural underground freshwater outlets, in which can cause lake salinity and levels to rise. The deposited sediments also build the lake beds and lift lake water levels.

In May 2020, Lake Naivasha reached its highest level since 1932. Lakes Nakuru, Bogoria, and Baringo have also risen to their highest levels in decades, inundating roads and building infrastructure.

“But before the understanding comes the wonder. Comes the delight. And that is the first aim of being a bad birdwatcher: the calm delight of the utterly normal, and the rare and sudden delight of the utterly unexpected. The only real skill involved in this perfect birdwatching moment was the willingness to look. It was not skill that gave me the sight; it was habit. I have developed the habit of looking: when I see a bird I always look, wherever I am.” ~ Simon Barnes

The Lesser Flamingos constantly commute between the soda lakes in East Africa in search of food. Their preferred food, the cyanobacterium Arthrospira fusiformis, usually establishes dense populations in saline-alkaline habitats. The abundance of algae in the lake attracts vast numbers of flamingos to gather and feed around the shore. The number of flamingos on the lake varies as water and food conditions change. A very good vantage point from where to view this phenomenon is from the so-called Baboon Cliff.

In 2010, the park already had several Eastern Black rhinoceros, being the largest concentrations in the country, as well as a number of Southern White rhinos. Both the Kenyan subspecies of waterbuck are commonly found in the area too, as are warthogs, baboons and other large mammals.

The area was gazetted as Lake Nakuru National Park in 1968. During 1977 some Rothschild Giraffes were translocated from western Kenya to the park and was followed in 1984 with the establishment of the park as a first government managed rhino sanctuary. Two years later, in 1986, the chain link fence around the park was replaced by an electric fence and in the following year the whole park was declared a rhino sanctuary.

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can”. ~ John Muir

The lake is world-famous as the location of one of the greatest bird spectacles on earth – millions of fuchsia pink flamingos feed on the abundant algae which thrives in the warm waters on the shores of Lake Nakuru. Despite the lukewarm and alkaline waters, a small fish, Tilapia Grahami has also flourished in the lake after being introduced in the early 1960s.

“The wonder of this region is that after rain storms some lakes turn fuchsia pink, and at times in other lakes, the flamingoes paint the shores fuchsia pink.” ~ Mike Haworth

The lake is very saline so is surrounded by a grassland of highly adaptable alkaline grasses. These grasses do not seem to worry the rhino or buffalo populations.

Wherever there are buffalo there are usually lions. We found a female near a buffalo kill with her three cubs who were happily playing in the wet grass among the fever trees next to a marsh.

“The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls….” ~ John Muir

Lake Nakuru National Park stretches over 188 square kilometres. Lake Nakuru itself is protected under the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. The park was enlarged partly in an effort to provide a sanctuary for the rhino, including the critically endangered Black rhino. An area of 188 km (116 miles) around the lake is fenced off as a sanctuary for the protection of giraffes as well as both Black and White rhino.

“Everybody needs beauty…places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.” ~ John Muir

The fact that the town of Nakuru is right on the border north and eastern to the park is disconcerting but once in the park you lose all sense that there is a town on its borders. The fact that the wildlife is thrives in this park and there is a growing human population on the park’s border is testament to the park’s conservation and security efforts.

We visited the park during the ‘long rains’ in Kenya so we never got a sense that it was a dry dusty place. There were thunderstorms each afternoon and the flat area around the lake made it quite marshy and wetland oriented. One of the key features of this park is its vast fever tree forests, the character of which I will show in the next few posts.

Lake Nakuru was quite different to Amboseli. There is a significant difference in elevation, and the wildlife is mostly different as are the birds and the vegetation.

There is an incredible variety of wild places to visit in Africa. Kenya offers a wildlife photographer an unlimited palette of colours, shapes and moods with which to play.

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapour is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” ~ John Muir

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Amazing Amboseli

I dedicate this post to my lifelong friend Mike Condy who sadly passed away a few days ago from complications with Covid. He loved and cherished his time in the bush. I will carry many vivid memories of him as I continue to wander through the African bush and will, with gusto, share his bush stories around the camp fire. Onto your next adventure! Travel well shamwari!!

This is the last post from my Amboseli trip with photographic safari specialists, Wild-Eye. From here we moved to Lake Nakuru further up the rift valley in Kenya. Amboseli has wonderful photographic backdrops in the form of Mount Kilimanjaro and the verdant green marshes and vast open grasslands which are home to a large variety of mammal and birdlife.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ~ Rachel Carson

This post shows a gallery of images which give a sense of the vastness and variety of wildlife in the national park. It hopefully also shows the dramatic skies which are created in the “long-rains” period from late March to early June each year.

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” ~ Rachel Carson

Excellent well drained gravel roads through the marsh areas.

The shallow marsh waters attract vast numbers of Greater and Lesser flamingoes.

Moody afternoon skies heavily laden with rain in the background with a breeding herd of elephants foraging on the grasslands in the foreground, accompanied by many cattle egrets enjoying all the insects disturbed by the elephants.

Despite the “long rains” phase, we were fortunate to get periods of cloudless vistas onto Mount Kili.

“Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species within bounds.”~ Rachel Carson

Waders like Pied avocets were abundant at the marsh water edges.

Dedicated and patient mothers looking after their ravenous cubs.

Crowned in gold, beautiful grey crowned cranes descending from dark rain-laden skies to forage in the grasslands.

Titans walk these plains. One of the many larger tuskers which can be seen moving from breeding herd to breeding herd. This giant was in full musth.

“Giant beasts have ruled Africa for coast to coast for over 50 million years as they migrate to water for their families They are masters of the universe, architects of their world. Joyful young play securely as they are one of the most caring families in nature. They have haunting rituals, great wisdom, care and compassion. Their story is about far more than statistics and ivory.”~ Dereck Joubert-Soul of the Elephant

Wonderful moody, evocative light in the early atmospheric morning just before a thunderstorm.

A Thompson’s gazelle fawn haloed in the late afternoon fading light.

A Greater flamingo strolling through golden waters in the last light of the day.

“The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.” ~Gregory Maguire

This Yellow-throated spurfowl joined the dawn chorus.

A male Painted snipe, one of the more exotic waders gracing the marsh waters’ edge.

“Nature is the dream and I am her wanderer.” ~ Angie Weiland-Crosby

A family of Dwarf mongooses had taken up residence in this anthill, warming themselves in the early morning. Both alert and inquisitive.

A massive vista looking west past Observation Hill toward a relatively cloud free Mount Kili.

Once the lion pride had moved on to a new hunting ground, a coalition of two male cheetahs began scouting the area for their next meal.

Obliging clouds and elephants create an iconic scene with Mount Kili in the background.

“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” ~ Lawrence Anthony

A flock of Glossy ibis flying toward their feeding ground alongside one of the marshes. The soft substrate suited their beak shape perfectly.

A juvenile Martial eagle scouring the grasslands from a dead Tortillis tree. Judging from his already large frame he will grow into a very large raptor

A sense of scale.

Rain-darkened late sunset skies paint mauves and golds on marsh waters.

“Light and shadow are opposite sides of the same coin. We can illuminate our paths or darken our way. It is a matter of choice.” ~Maya Angelou

Africa’s largest mountain demands your attention.

A playful pair of carefree male elephant calves chasing and pushing each around under the watchful eye of their large mothers.

A massive big tusker following a breeding herd, there was a very large female too.

A lone hyaena scout resting in a puddle on the side of the gravel road.

Another big tusker making his way towards a breeding herd.

“Seven tonne giants in full sail. Their movements are a meditation. Their eyes shine with a deep intelligence.” ~ Dereck Joubert ~ from the Soul of the Elephant

A view across a shallow marsh lake toward Mount Kili.

“May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Colourful afternoon skies over the grasslands with clouds building for the late afternoon downpour.

One of nature’s ballerinas dancing on golden waters.

“Wandering through nature opens up possibilities that free your imagination and ignite your senses.” ~ Mike Haworth

Dark heavily rain-laden skies create visual drama in what was a sublime, balmy and calm view across one of the many marsh lakes.

After a productive, colourful and fascinating five days in Amboseli we transferred to Lake Nakuru for the next leg of our Kenyan adventure.

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make, makes you.” ~John C. Maxwell

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Lions in Amboseli’s marshes

Amboseli is place of diversity and contrast. If you are a landscape photographer there is a vast palette for you to work with. If you are a birder you will “betwitched”. If you enjoy wildlife, the elephants will command your attention. And, at the crepuscular time of the day you have a good chance of seeing cats – from lions to cheetah and servals.

“We go out to find our subjects before the sun rises because we want to catch them in the gorgeous light, and that’s really only allowed for a very short moment, and then, of course, it’s a hot stinking day for the rest of it. Then the time with the most exquisite sunlight is at sunset.” ~ Beverly Joubert

We stayed at Serena Lodge in Amboseli with our hosts, Wild Eye Destinations and Photography. The lodge has an electric fence around its perimeter. As we gathered at 6h00 for a cup of coffee and a rusk on our third morning, we heard the lions roaring close to the lodge and by the sound of it close to the lodge’s perimeter fence. Just as dawn was breaking we found two lion families.

Two lionesses had chosen to keep their cubs inside the electric fence surrounding the camp. How clever was that. They must have known that the electric fence offered protection. They had also worked out that the electric fence had been broken and was not live so the cubs could move in and out of the fence without getting electrocuted.

As these lionesses had worked out that the electric fence had been turned off, the male lions never walked through the electric fence. Another example of the intelligence of wildlife, something we humans are still coming to terms with and fathom.

“Two very large lionesses walked much closer to me than I expected. They rippled with power and predatory presence. Massive shoulders moved under tawny skin ready to grab hold of a passing zebra or buffalo. One lioness looked at me and stopped, her eyes burning with alertness. ~ Dereck Joubert

It was obvious that these females were tired. The cubs were really demanding. The lionesses showed their irritation at the cubs continuing to try to suckle. The continual fighting for a nipple and those razor sharp small teeth must have hurt. The lionesses never snapped. They just rolled over or got up and moved to another position.

Lionesses have a demanding and vital role in the pride. They have to hunt. Capitulate to the males at the kill and have to support and suckle their cubs and their sister’s cubs. They do snarl at the cubs to signal their displeasure at the continued pressure from the cubs to suckle. It is difficult not to empathise how sore it must be to have cubs with sharp albeit small teeth tugging on their raw nipples. For all the ferocity bound up in a lioness it is a wonder they are so gentle and accommodating with their cubs. The cubs when not trying to suckle were very playful.

The two males in the pride had quite different manes. The one less dominant one had a large brownish mane and the other more dominant male had a Mohican style mane like those seen in Tsavo.

The males have little to do with the cubs. At best they seem to tolerate them. The males generally remained some distance from the females and all the cubs.

“A world without the distant roar of lions at dawn as the mists start to lift is too terrible to contemplate.” ~ Dereck Joubert

The grass thickets and palm thickets provide good cover for the lions. Just outside the lodge’s electric fence was an open area with low grass which provide an ideal place for the cubs to play. Despite all their demands, the cubs were very affectionate towards the lionesses.

The cubs seemed to be particularly demanding. I am not sure why. Difficult to tell. We only saw them first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. It did rain heavily in the early afternoon and occasionally at night. They seemed to be constantly hungry. Yet there was plenty of game around so I am sure the lionesses hunted regularly.

The weather is variable in the long rains. Some days we had good light and others we had diffused overcast light. Other times it was raining. No matter the weather, the males seemed to keep their distance from the family. At one point one of the males showed a little aggression towards one of the cubs and a lioness reacted very aggressively towards the male – enough said!

Statistics on the disappearance of iconic wildlife – “we are losing one rhino every 8.5 hours, five elephants every hour, and five lions a day to poaching, conflict, hunting, and human encroachment.” ~ Dereck Joubert

The males watched the family through the light rain with moderate interest from about 100 metres away. The males remained with the pride for two days before moving off to patrol their territory and we never saw them again.

The wonderful aspect about sightseeing on safari is that you are constantly surprised about what you see. And if you watch quietly for a while the complex interactions will become apparent and the structure of the family will slowly be revealed to you.

“The deep roar of a lion at dawn stirs a primal shiver in us. The dense cool dawn air is a perfect carrier. No matter how far away, your instincts are awakened and an the wildlife holds its breath.” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Amboseli – birding paradise – -part3

This is the third post on birds seen in my recent trip to Amboseli with WildEye. We did not specifically go out to photograph birds but there is a wide variety and the swamp areas in Amboseli are ideal for wetland loving avians.

“Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.” ~ Unknown

A yellow throated spurfowl declaring his presence early in the morning on a rock next to the side of the road. He was so intent on his calling that he ignored us completely. Francolin and spurfowl were previously all called francolin. Although the birds all look similar scientists have discovered that they are not even that closely related. As a generalisation, a francolin is smaller and has yellow legs. It also flushes when disturbed and has a musical call. By comparison, a spurfowl is larger and has orange, red or black legs. It sits tight or runs when disturbed (rather than flushing) and roosts in trees at night. It also has a harsh call.

A pair of White-backed pelican flying in to join the rest of the flock. They look bulky and heavy but are graceful fliers. Wings of pelicans flap efficiently when flying close to the surface of water. As it nears the water surface, the water partially blocks the trailing vortices of air off the wings and decreases the amount of downwash generated by the wing. This reduction in downwash results in more lift and less drag when flying.

A small flock of white-backed pelicans flew in to patrol a small open waterway in the swamp in front of us. They paddle in formation indicating they were hunting but the hunt never became serious.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

In typical male weaver fashion, this Taveta Golden weaver was performing under his nest to attract females. In the time we watched he was not successful with the female weaver, but he certainty caught our attention. I think this is a Taveta golden weaver because of the range-chestnut colouration on his upper chest and top of his crown.

“Observation is the greatest source of wisdom”.~ Unknown

It must have been a wet night because this an immature martial eagle has his wings slightly open to dry them. This was already a big raptor but his partially open wings make him look every larger.

Water thick knee eating on his knees. The Water thick knee does not have the spotted colouration across its back and wings which is seen in the Spotted thick knee but has a grey panel on its wing feathers with a dark brown streak above and below it. This Water thick knee is usually also found close to water.

A White Browed coucal is also drying itself in the early morning sun. This character found a prominent position from which to call to its partner. This coucal has the characteristic red eye of the coucal but also has a noticeable white eye brow. Its white and brown streaking extending from its head down to its dark brown back is also a diagnostic feature.

A closer look at the head of a Greater flamingo. The unusually shaped beak is characteristic of this species. The Greater flamingo is much larger than its lesser cousin. It is also much whiter than the very pinker Lesser flamingo. The Greater flamingo has a pinkish bill with a black tip and it has bright pink legs. When it comes to the colour of their eyes, the Greater flamingo’s eyes are yellow, whilst the Lesser flamingo has red eyes.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Flamingoes feed with their heads down and their beaks fully immersed in the water filter feeding. A flamingo’s beautiful colour comes from the algae, diatoms, and small crustaceans that they eat, which are rich in the carotene pigment. You can see from the wetness of the head and top part of the neck that this flamingo has been feeding with its head completely under the water. Flamingoes obviously hold their breath while feeding under water.

Red billed teal. We saw many of them at the edge of the swamp. This duck is not migratory, but will fly great distances to find suitable waters. We also found Hottentot teal in the swamps. They are smaller than the Red-billed species and have a blue bill. A teal is a dabbling duck, meaning it feeds on the lake bed by upending itself with its tail in the air. I am always impressed by how immaculately teal present themselves.

A male Painted snipe fully exposed in the sunshine. His colouring is exquisite but his larger female is even more beautiful. The sides of the female’s head, neck and throat are a rich chestnut brown, and she has a distinct black band across her breast; the male is paler and greyer.

“How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health! The discipline of the schools or of business can never impart such serenity to the mind.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

A Marabou stork presents a strong contrast to the Painted snipe. The head and neck of these birds is mainly bald so that their feathers don’t get covered in blood when they are foraging and eating. Marabou storks have big, rounded air-sacs, one hanging from their throat and one on their upper back which help them to cool down.

A Kori bustard with unusual dark malar facial markings. This Kori bustard appeared to be looking at me from one eye. As surprising as it may be, birds can look straight ahead and to the side at the same time.  They have both monocular and binocular vision. This gives the bird an advantage of a large field of vision which helps detect predators.

A first for me, an Eastern Chanting goshawk. The name goshawk comes from the old English for “goose-hawk”. A piece of dead tree trunk was the only prominent perch in the area. Although at low vantage point this goshawk was on the look out for prey. You can see dark and eastern chanting goshawks in Kenya. The Chanting goshawk is so called because of its piping calls during breeding season. The Eastern Chanting goshawk has a yellow cere and yellow beak with a black tip, and orange legs. This large, long-winged, strongly patterned raptor is usually found in open country and forages on the ground, chiefly for lizards, but will also take small mammals, birds and large insects.

Hunting in the swamp below Observation Hill this Goliath heron had been standing dead still in the shallow swamp waters until it ruffled its feathers. Male and female Goliath herons have similar colouring but are dimorphic only regarding size with the male being larger. Birds ruffle their feathers when they are cold to trap more air in their feathers to give more insulation. They also ruffle their feathers after preening to realign the feathers.

This Yellow-throated spurfowl was declaring to the world that it had survived the night and that this was still its patch.

“I love nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I hope the last three posts have given a smattering of the avian potential in Amboseli. This is truly a wonderful scenic park in which to see birds. The variety is vast and so are the quantities of birds especially the wetland species.

” The world is full of magical things waiting for our wits to grow sharper”. ~ Eden Phillports

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Amboseli – birding paradise – part2

The variety and quantity of birdlife in Amboseli is astounding. The swamps provide an ideal environment for wetland loving birds and the grasslands give the seed eaters ample room. The tortilla acacias provide excellent vantage points for raptors which are perch hunters. The abundance of wildlife in Amboseli is complemented by it varied ecosystems. April is one month in the “long rains” three month season, a time when Amboseli is painted with verdant green.

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere”. ~ Chinese proverb

There were many Squacco herons hunting from the banks of the lakes and in the swamps. They have an ability to sit dead still for extended periods and then execute lightning strikes at unsuspecting fish and frogs.

The lakes and swamp waters in Amboseli are not deep so provide an ideal environment for flamingoes, both Greater and Lesser types. There were large flocks which were scattered across the vast wetlands in the long rains. In the drier phases, the flamingoes tend to concentrate in the remaining few open patches of water and move in tightly packed formations and can often be seen performing there captivating dances where they all move together with head up in the air and as they shuffle forward moving their heads from left to right in unison.

“Many look but few see. Many travel but few experience. Many learn but few understand. Many seek things but few value experiences. Many talk and give opinions but few sit quietly and listen and observe.”~ Mike Haworth

Another visitor to the open waters in Amboseli is the White-backed Pelican. We saw small flocks of around 10 pelicans. Despite their cumbersome looking size they are superb fliers and tend to fly low over the water taking advantage of the air cushion between their wings and the water. I am always intrigued by their ski landings which they execute with precision. With toes up, their large webbed feet make ideal landing skis.

When ever flamingoes fly by there is the sound of camera shutters. Thankfully they do not fly fast, so are readily photographable. Flamingoes fly with their legs, neck and head extended. The extended head provides balance along their longitudinal axis. Flamingoes lift their head up to see where they are going which looks uncomfortable but necessary because of the aerodynamics of their large bills.

“Art is an ocean and I am a dream sailor.”
~ Biju Karakkonam,

A pair of Black winged stilts standing on a small island in the shallow open water of one of the lakes. They are such delicate looking waders but can be very aggressive with each other over territory. I marvel at the strength of the joints in their long dainty legs.

A male Painted snipe exposed in the open next to an embankment road which traverses a large open water swamp area. This is a short legged long billed wader which gives its characteristic snipe like appearance. The female painted snipe is larger and more beautiful than the male. These snipe can usually be found in reedy swamps and marshes and are crepuscular meaning they operate mainly at dusk and dawn. These snipe feed on invertebrates and seeds which they find at the water’s edge.

The male Painted snipe though smaller and less colourful than the female is cryptically coloured which makes it difficult to see from above by predators . An unusual combination in the avian world. Many in raptor species female are larger than the males but few are noticeably more beautifully coloured than their male counterparts. I marvel at their unusual colour combinations.

Have you ever thought to question the intelligence of a Fish eagle. This character was perched on fallen log next to a causeway which was flowing strongly. His mate was circling and calling from above. He answered her frequently. Instead of perch hunting from a tree overlooking a dam or river this fish eagle was waiting for fish to be swept down through the causeway.

A pair of Great white pelicans about to take off in search of other fishing waters. While pelicans can and do fly high they tend to fly close to the water using a phenomenon known as the ‘ground effect’. When flying close to the water, an air cushion is created between the surface and the bird’s wing, which reduces drag and allows the bird to travel further at a faster speed.

Ever since I watched a flock of pelicans fly out of a storm over Lake Manyara in Tanzania, I have been intrigued by these birds. They do not look like they should be good fliers but they are superb and actively use the “ground effect” over large bodies of water. These pelicans tend to operate in small flocks and are capable pack hunters. They will paddle in formation in the water corralling the fish and once there are enough fish in one place a feeding frenzy ensues.

The Grey crowned crane does not use the ground effect but prefers to fly higher above the ground. It is interesting that both cranes and flamingoes fly with their heads and necks extended whereas herons fly with their necks pulled back towards their bodies. The position of the head and extension of neck has much to do with longitudinal balance while they are flying.

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” ~ Langston Hughes

It was an unexpected gift to find Collared Pratincoles on the grasslands of Amboseli. There were small flocks scattered across the grasslands not the large flocks I have previously seen on the banks of the Chobe river. Pratincoles like coursers feed mainly on insects. The Collared pratincole has a wide gap to catch insects in flight much like a nightjar. In flight, a single Collared pratincole looks like a large swallow but they usually fly in large flocks and often create wonderful dramatic murmurations in the sky.

Kenya is rich with starling species, 31 in total. This is a Superb starling and it name says it all.

One afternoon we travelled to the eastern part of the park which has open grasslands and there we found many small flocks of sandgrouse. We found many Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse feeding on seeds on the ground.

A male Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse sitting low amongst the tufts of grass trying to remain unseen. His cryptic back feathers make him difficult to see from above.

A male and female Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse. As soon as we got close to them they would lower themselves in amongst the grass in an attempt to hide. Once we got within their “fight or flight” safety zone which in most cases seems to be around 20 to 30 metres they would fly away. Sandgrouse are very fast fliers.

The Kori bustards in Amboseli looked similar to those found in southern Africa but seemed to be much less afraid of the approaching vehicle than their counterparts down south. This character opened its wings just to stretch. They forage by walking through the grasslands eating anything from insects to rodents, and reptiles to berries.

Dusk in Amboseli can be a magical and colourful time of the day. Looking west towards the sunset across one of Amboseli’s many shallow lakes, flamingoes flew in for their last feed before darkness. Their unique shape made some wonderful silhouettes in the golden sunset washed waters.

It is at times like this we do not take many photos but prefer to sit quietly in balmy warm temperatures, bathed in colour and just soak in the splendour of the scene in front of us. The colours and sounds orchestrate an experience showing us how wonderful this world can be.

At sunset under the African sky you will bewitched by the colours and enormity of the scene in front of you.!!

“Every sunset gives me a hope to live.
It reminds me,
You have captured more with your heart.
It reminds me
you are not alone,
surrounded by a beautiful world,
always there for you.”
~ Biju Karakkonam

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

Amboseli – a birding paradise-part1

One of the least talked about beauties of Amboseli is its birdlife. This park has swamps, vast wetlands, open grasslands, and tortilla acacia forests. Out of the total land area of the park, 30% is covered by the dominant woodlands. The swamps cover around 10% of the park. The ecosystem spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border in the wesetern part. It is crowned by the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro which is the world’s highest free standing mountain on its south west side.

“In today’s world, we consume resources at a pace beyond their making which is out of balance with the natural rhythms of the earth. We use resources wantonly beyond our need for our greed. We do not respect all life and seem to believe that our consciousness is the superior form of intelligence. Climate change is teaching humanity humility. We will have to work consciously for generations to right the balance. It will only come through the active understanding of the natural balance” ~ Mike Haworth

White-bellied bustards are often heard before they are seen. This bustard has a characteristic tawny back and white belly. The male has a blue-grey neck, dark facial markings and a pinkish beak. Most of the African bustards have cryptic colouring on their back for camouflage purposes. A pair of these bustards make a far-carrying, goose-like nasal croaking duet with the male calling “ahnghaa-nghaa” and the female replying “eh-e-e-er”, according to Bird of East Africa by Gale and Arlott. Bustards are classified in the same order as cranes. While they are much smaller than cranes they also have long legs and long necks are mainly terrestrial and never perch in trees. They are good fliers when their need arises.

Amboseli has several habitants. The open plain flora, the Acacia woodlands, the rocky thorn bush, the swamps that are dominated by the papyrus and Cyperus. The semi and permanent water catchment areas like swamps have their own distinctive plant species. 

“It is the diversity of life in front of us which makes our eyes dance, our minds race, and our heart sing.” ~ Mike Haworth

Sometimes it is worth slowing down and taking a closer look. Do your self a favour and just watch a cattle egret operating for a while. They are characters and opportunists. Some of them are happy to perch on an elephant’s back and go along for the ride, offering the rider a great perspective and view of the insect life the elephant disturbs as it is feeding.

The late afternoon is warm, still and the grasslands and swamps are bathed in colour. The sky is busy. It is deep blue, with its activity punctuated by lightning bolts and distant downpours. There is a deep sense of order and peace. The greater flamingoes are head down filter feeding. The filter of the Greater Flamingo traps crustaceans, mollusks, and insects an inch or so long. By contrast, the Lesser Flamingo’s dense filter is finer sifting out single-celled plants less than two hundredths of an inch in diameter. 

We come to Amboseli to see Mount Kilimanjaro, to see great tuskers and vast green spaces with big skies. Less appreciated but just as marvelous is the incredible birdlife in Amboseli. The colour and variety of birdlife in this park is is spellbinding.

Most lakes in Amboseli located on the western part of the park are seasonal and fill up during the rainy seasons from March to May and October to December. Large numbers of Flamingos are seen during these wet periods.

Mother and daughter – pink, tall, slender, and excellent flyers. An adult Greater Flamingo has soft pink to whitish-pink plumage in general, though there are moments when it becomes very white in color. Its underwings are coral red, while its flight feathers are coloured black. All flamingoes have the same shaped head but the greater flamingo has a light pink down-curved beak with a black tip. The juvenile Greater Flamingo appears grayish to white when it is born and does not develop its true pink colour until it is several years of age. Its bill also takes a while to develop its full color – it is yellow when the chick is first born.

This bird feeds on mud and will filter out any edible organisms in it. The bill is equipped with a filter system with hair-like structures that allows them to filter food from the water and mud they pick up. Various animals and organisms include shrimps, small fish, crabs, blue-green algae, mollusks, plankton, seeds, and insects. Sometimes, it consumes marsh grasses and decaying leaves. When forging in the algae laden shallow waters these pristine looking filter feeders can look decidedly dirty. They must rinse their heads and necks in clear water because you seldom see really dirty flamingoes.

Yellow-throated spurfowl. One of the things that has intrigued me about birding in Kenya is the variety of birds like spurfowl, barbets, starlings to name just a few. Like all spurfowls the male Yellow-necked spurfowl has large spurs on the back of its legs which it uses for fighting. The degree to which the spur has been worn down is an indicator of age. The next image shows a female Yellow-necked spurfowl because she has no spurs.

A female Ruff. This wader migrates annually from Russia to summer in Africa. The wetlands around the swamps in Amboseli are ideal foraging grounds for these birds. These waders feed on insects on the water surface and their beak is built for probing the mud for invertebrates. The female and the non-breeding male have grey-brown upperparts and mainly white underparts. Thankfully, the Ruff is classified as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List because of the large numbers that breed in Scandinavia and the Arctic.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”~ Vincent van Gogh

A secretive African Snipe is not well researched because of its habitat, it prefers wetlands and swamps which are relatively inaccessible and it is crepuscular meaning it is mainly active in the twilight times of the day. It was a lucky sighting to see this individual hiding in the reeds next to the open water of a swamp. These snipe are cryptically coloured which makes them difficult to see in the reeds. During the breeding season male snipes perform dramatic flight displays which consist of steep dives that create an eerie, winnowing sound, which can last as long as 10 seconds. As the display proceeds, the volume of the sound increases steadily. Drumming displays are best seen and heard early in the morning or in the hour before sunset.

A breeding pair of Grey crowned cranes with two chicks. Generally, this crane breeds in the summer season when rain is plentiful to ensure an abundance of food. Like all cranes, the Grey crowned crane is an omnivore eating grass seeds, small seed bearing plants and insects. Grey crowned cranes are plentiful in Amboseli and their familiar “ooh up” can be heard all over the park. I love their spectacular mating displays which involve dancing and jumping with open wings, and the dancing is punctuated with respectful bowing to each other between the dance sequences.

We saw generous numbers of Pied avocets in the open water sections of the several swamps. The next pair of avocet were in a courting display where the female looked to be trying, unsuccessfully to get away from the male. This species of avocet is known to have impressive nuptial displays involving acts of dance, flight and song, If the male is successful, the egg incubation period would be around 22 to 24 days and the eggs would be laid in a nest built of grass and reeds on the ground. The nest is built cooperatively by both male and female.

“Ride the energy of your own spirit.” ~ Gabriella Bach

It was a bright overcast day and we were shooting into the brightness so I converted the images into black and white to suit the colouration of the avocets, though they do have light bluish legs. Surprisingly, these birds are known to live for over 20 years.

I am always intrigued by the shape of their beak. At first glance it does not look effective. Yet they successfully feed mainly on small crustaceans, insect larvae and small fish which they find visually and by by touch. This wader uses its beak like a scythe to forage for food as it wades through shallow water it sweeps its head from side to side much like a spoonbill in search for food in shallow water.

This post is the first of three showing a selection of the birds you are likely to see in Amboseli and we were not especially trying to photograph birds so a dedicated trip to photograph mainly birds in Amboseli would be highly productive.

“Photography is a love affair with life” ~ unknown

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike