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

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