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

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