Wings over Serengeti

We go to the Serengeti seeking experiences of predators but in reality you will see much more. The vast plains of the Serengeti demarcated with rivers and belts of trees provide a fertile hunting ground for another much less threatening group of predators, birds in all their forms from raptors to seed-eaters whose colour vary from cryptic to exotic.

“There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.” ~ Robert Lynd

The Serengeti is a wonderful place for birders and bird photographers alike to wander around. In this post I show you just a smattering of the enormous variety of avian species you can see in the Serengeti.

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence. One has to sit still like a mystic and wait. One soon learns that fussing, instead of achieving things, merely prevents things from happening.”~ Robert Staughton Lynd

In the open grasslands while searching for lions you are likely to see insect eaters such as coursers. We found this double-banded courser close to a pride of “flat cats” around mid-morning. This character was very busy search for insects in the grass.

A male White-bellied korhaaan. It was early in the morning and there was a lot of dew on the grass which is why this male looked so wet.

This White bellied korhaan’s mate was some distance away which is why he was calling to her. He was also searching for nibbles while he was making his way towards her.

“It is much better to learn the elements of geology, of botany, or ornithology and astronomy by word of mouth from a companion than dully from a book.”~— Ralph Waldo Emerson

A pair of adult Egyptian geese standing on the edge of the Nyasirori dam with their five remaining goslings. Usually a female Egyptian goose will lay a clutch size of 10 to 12 eggs but the predation of the young is high that only a few of the youngsters make it to adulthood.

Another Egyptian goose family following Mum in choppy water in the Nyasirori dam. They remained in the centre of the dam as several hyaenas were wading in the dam, drinking and generally staying out of the way of three brutish young male lions.

This was a adult Egyptian goose coming into land at the Musira dam where other family members had assembled.

“I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could.”~John James Audubon

Travelling around the Serengeti you will come across all sorts of unexpected sighting some are dramatic lions sightings and some are equally dramatic avian sightings. We watched these two Grey-backed fiscal shrikes feeding their family. The youngster perched on a branch of a tree while the parents flew repeatedly into the grass to collect insects which they flew back to feed their ravenous youngsters.

“Photography is the story I fail to put into words.” ~ Destin Sparks

This was a typical scene when the parent arrived back with a morsel and the two youngsters displayed to get the food from the parent.

Being January it was still cuckoo time and we were fortunate enough to see a Great spotted cuckoo. This looked to be a adult with its grey face and crest. The juvenile has a black face and crest but similar body colouring.

The Great spotted cuckoo is the largest of the crested cuckoos.

An ubiquitous lilac-breasted roller see down near the Grumeti river.

“Only photograph what you love.” ~ Tim Walker

It was wet and early in the morning as you can see from this damp Twany eagle drying out and waiting for some heat to develop thermals so it could get airborne.

For some unknown reason the Kori Bustards in the Serengeti allow you to get much closer than I have found in the Southern African environment. They stride around the grasslands with that watchful eye.

A quad of White-faced whistling ducks standing glaring at the Crowned cranes from the edge of the Musira dam.

A male Silverbird in full breeding plumage. This is from the flycatcher family and found from Sudan to Tanzania.

This Usambiro barbet had come down to a termite mound to feed on the termites emerging from their underground metropolis. This barbet is not to be confused with d’Arnaud’s barbet which looks very similar but has a black forehead and throat.

“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” ~ Robert Frank

This pair of Usambiro barbets were confidently dueting from a dead tree branch. They have such as characteristic sound in the Serengeti bush.

A female White-bellied korhaan making her way across the gravel road in front of us.

Having crossed the road this female white bellied korhaan gave us a display flapping her wings and jumping off the ground much like you see sandgrouse doing.

An adult Black-shouldered kite stretching its wing. They usually do this just before they fly off. That ruby red eye is characteristic of this species of kite. He was intently watching a small anthill which was housing a family of Dwarf mongooses.

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”~ William Thackeray

A pair of White- faced whistling ducks paddling across the Musira dam.

A Black headed heron scratching itself after having just walked through the long grass. These are effective predators which stalk through the long grass away from (but nearby) dams and rivers. They feed on everything from frogs to small birds, rats, terrapins and even small hares.

A black-headed heron looking down on the world from a safe place. The black-headed heron usually feeds away from the banks of rivers and dams and are seldom seen feeding near the grey heron.

A Southern Ground hornbill female offering food to her youngster, These are also formidable predators which stride through the grasslands foraging from everything from scorpions to lizards and snakes and even the occasional small tortoise.

This juvenile Southern ground hornbill has still to attain its distinctive red facial skin colouring of the adult.

Another formidable grassland predator is the Secretary bird. This is also a “strider” through the long grass. It will stomp and stomp on any potential prey and will feed on anything from snakes to baby birds.

This character had stopped to drink from a puddle of rain water on the side of the gravel road.

“For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.” ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

While we were parked alongside the Musira dam we watched numerous male Vitelline masked weavers building their nests from strands of grass which they intricately wove together to form a shell.

What made this weaver nest building exercise so amazing was they were doing it in among super sized thorns which were like sabres to them. They deftly flew in among these thorns never seeming to impale themselves on them. I was really impressed with their accurate flying skills in what looked to be a potential deadly zone.

I was surprised to see so few Southern red bishops in the western corridor of the Serengeti. This male was in full breeding colours dashing around a bush in the open grasslands trying to attract the odd passing female.

“Photography is the art of frozen time… the ability to store emotion and feelings within a frame.” ~ Unknown

A family of White-headed buffalo weavers displaying and being very vocal. We could not decipher what the displaying was about but they would regularly stand higher on the branch and flap their wings and call. Once they opened their wings you could see their distinctive orange rump and shoulder feathers.

The orange rump of the White-headed buffalo weaver was very distinctive. They also make rough untidy nests like their cousins the Red-billed buffalo weaver.

A Northern white-crowned shrike having just taken off from its perch. It is not often a bird will take off and fly towards you. East Africa has an incredible variety of shrikes.

Birding in East Africa is very special even for spoilt birders like us in southern Africa. In this part of the world there are a greater variety of of forest and savanna avians such as shrikes, starlings, sunbirds, barbets, hornbills, turacos and even go-away birds where as southern Africa has a wider variety of coastal birds.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” ~ Ansel Adams

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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