Amboseli – wild date palm grove

Amboseli is a park with remarkable diversity of not only for wildlife but for scenery too. The previous post showed some of the diversity of bird and animal life along the Oltukai swamp drive. This post will take you to a wild palm grove.

“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”

~ William Burchell

Amboseli owes its panoply of wildlife to a tapestry of habitats. To the south, Kilimanjaro towers over the plains of Amboseli. To the east is the youthful 500 year old volcanic range of the Chyulus which reaches into Tsavo West National Park. To the north rise a series of ever darker and more distant hills stretching to the Kenya highlands.

Each morning we left the lodge at 6h30, just before the sunrise – brimming with anticipation. Andrew Beck, our photographic guide and Jimmy the driver and Kenyan wildlife guide from Wild-Eye took us to different parts of the park each day. On this occasion, we drove up to the wild palm grove. When we arrived the palm grove was shrouded in mist, which we were told was unusual. The mist was so thick that we could only see about 100 metres into the grove. The mist provided a wonderfully moody background with shafts of sunlight beaming onto the foreground.

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The mist seemed to be caught in the palms because the surrounding area was being illuminated from time to time by shafts of  sunshine piercing through the cloud cover. Two white bearded Wildebeest were sparring in one of the pockets of early morning light.

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On the opposite side of the of the road to the palm grove, was open grassland. A male Lion and his lioness were lying in the open in the cool early morning light. They certainly had the zebras attention who could not take their eyes off the cats.

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“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of men, instead, seek what they sought.”

~ Matsuo Basho

The light was extraordinary this particular early morning. It was generally overcast and quite dark and misty and then all of a sudden, shafts of light would beam through a break in the clouds. This small family of zebra were illuminated by one of those shafts of light.

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The mist started to lift after about fifteen minutes as the ambient temperature warmed up. As the mist lifted we could see deeper into the palm grove, and Andrew was the first to see a huge bull elephant in a gap between the palms – a big tusker!

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This bull was wandering around the palm grove looking for females. He back tracked into one of the open areas to go and test a group of  females.

“…few can sojourn long within the unspoilt wilderness of a game sanctuary, surrounded on all sides by its confiding animals, without absorbing its atmosphere; the Spirit of the Wild is quick to assert supremacy, and no man of any sensibility can resist her.”

~ James Stevenson-Hamilton

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This was one of Amboseli’s big boys and he was in musth as evidenced by his wet hind leg. Bull elephants have musth cycles. During musth, the bull’s testosterone levels can be as much as 60 times greater than their normal levels. It is not known whether this hormonal surge is the cause of musth, or merely a contributing factor. Obviously trying to test a bull elephant in this condition is tricky and dangerous. Bulls in musth are primed to mate, and will fight other bull elephants for that right. Musth bulls produce a distinctive low-frequency vocalisation, known as the the musth rumble, and have thick secretions from their temporal glands and continuously dribble urine.

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Andrew rightly decided to drive ahead along the road that followed the edge of the grove to the entrance to the elephant research centre. Sure enough after an anxious few minutes, this massive bull walked through the palms towards us.

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He had been feeding on something the palms had to offer and at times just pushed over a massive palm tree to get at it. The Vervet monkey sitting close by in the grass was impressed.

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“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.”

~ Frank Herbert

The palm trees in the background with the elephant in the front of the palms gave the scene a “David Livingstone” feel.

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The bird life was active on the edge of the palms. This African Hoopoe must have decided it was too early to forage on the ground and just sat watching the passing parade from a palm frond.

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There were plenty of Little Bee-eaters hawking insects from the palm fronds at the edge of the grove.

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The grazing looked to be good in the area surrounding the palm grove and kept this herd of (mainly female) Impala occupied.
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The palm fronds themselves made interesting subjects providing different shapes and textures. 

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There must have been plenty of insect life in the grasses below the palms because it attracted a few White-browed Coucals.

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“The further one goes, the less one knows.”

~ Lao-Tzu

This Rufous Chatterer was  having a wonderful time foraging through the base of new and old palm trees.

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We only saw Little Bee-eaters which must be endemic to the area. I thought we might see White-fronted Bee-eaters, but no luck.

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Lying in the grass on the periphery of the palm grove was this hyaena. It must have been a scout. It lifted its head as we passed by, otherwise we would never have seen it lying flat in the grass.

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The palm grove was fascinating and not what you would expect when you enter the dry outer rim of the park. This very different flora region of the park provided hours of interest and intrigue.

“…… Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home.”

~ Beryl Markham

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

Have fun,

Mike

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