Mara wings

This is the second last post from my Masai Mara trip in Kenya in October 2021 with photgraphic safari company, Wild Eye. It was a productive photographic trip with some wonderful sightings of wildebeest crossings, many predators, incredible scenery and a diverse variety of birds.

“Photographing birds will improve your knowledge of them. You see them in finer detail and be better able to discern differences. Understanding their behaviour will provide greater photographic variety.” ~ Mike Haworth

This post shows just a small selection of the birds I saw and photographed during my trip. This was not specifically a birding safari but there is a huge diversity of birds in the Mara Triangle. Of course, we saw our fair selection of raptors due to all the predation in the Mara area.

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”
~ John Lubbock

We saw many Tawny eagles and all the morphs from dark to blonde and all the variations in between. The Tawny’s were often at the remains of a carcass before the vultures.

A light coloured young Black-headed heron was fishing successfully at one of the small ponds next to the gravel road. The heron was fishing amongst all the wildebeest and zebra milling around the waterhole.

Early in the morning, a pair of Lappet-faced vultures were warming up in the early more sun and waiting for the thermals to start developing after 9h00 so they could get airborne without too much effort.

“In the bush there is a reason for everything. If the vultures are on the ground and they are not feeding, it is too early for them to catch thermals” ~ Mike Haworth

This looked to be a wet and cold Zitting cisticola. It had been raining the night before and this small character was perched on top of a thorny branch trying to dry out and warm up.

Lappet-faced vultures are large when perched but when flying they are huge. This vulture was flying in to join its mate on top of a Balanite. The pair looked to be building a nest.

“I am totally absorbed when trying to photograph birds flying. Capturing images of large birds is easier and small birds much harder. To capture the skill and amazing changes to their wing and tail shapes is a thrill.” ~ Mike Haworth

While we were looking for a female leopard along a drainage line close to the border with the Serengeti, we were entertained by this Yellow-throated Longclaw very busily string through the grass looking for insects.

We found a pair of Black crakes at a lush waterhole which was festooned with many waterlilies. The crakes shared the waterhole with a large hippo and a lone Spurwing Goose.

Early one morning just as the sun was rising and the grass was still very wet from the night before, we saw a pair of White-bellied bustards. This pair were busy preening each other on the opposite side of the game vehicle to where a large male lion was roaring to his coalition partner across the valley.

“Get out there early. The birds are already active. Look around you might be surprised at what you see behind you.”~ Mike Haworth

We saw many Sooty chats around the Mara Triangle. They were usually perched on a prominent rock for anthill declaring their territory. They prefer lightly wooded grasslands.

An adult Black-shouldered kite perched on top of a high lookout point. Those ruby red eyes were gazing across the grasslands for potential prey.

A backlit portrait of a male ostrich. His red face was an indication that he was ready to mate. We did not get to see him go through his elaborate mating dance which can be quite a performance.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ~ Confucious

A wet and cold Spur-winged lapwing. These lapwings are usually found next to water. The spur on its wing was evident and particularly sharp.

A portrait of a Grey Crowned crane preening itself. The texture of its grey feathers and that golden crown were eye catching. We saw many Grey Crowned cranes in the Mara Triangle foraging in the grass near water for insects and grass seeds.

A Common sandpiper with its distinctive white eye stripe and white underparts which form a wedge at the shoulder. These small sandpipers are usually seen along the banks of a waterhole or small dam. They forage for crustaceans, insects, worms along the water’s edge.

We saw several Grey kestrels. This one was perched on a prominent lookout branch. It was scanning for its next meal. It will eat everything from insects like grasshoppers to small reptiles like chameleons, lizards, and snakes to frogs and rodents. This kestrel is capable of hovering like a Black-shouldered kite.

“The eye sees all but the mind shows us what we want to see.” ~ William Shakespeare

A Hooded vulture seen on the periphery of a kill zone where all the Lappet-faced, Rüppell’s Griffon and White-backed vultures were squabbling over the remains of a carcass. The size of the beak indicates that it feeds on scraps dropped by the larger vultures. Hooded vultures have excellent eyesight and are often the first vultures up in the sky partly because of their smaller size.

A Red-necked spurfowl was foraging around our game vehicle while we were waiting for a wildebeest crossing. It looked to be a young male judging from the good condition of the spurs on the back of his legs. His spurs had not been worked down in numerous fights over females.

A Rüppell’s Griffon vulture in flight. This is a large vulture bigger than a White-backed vulture but smaller than a Lappet-faced vulture. It is an aggressive feeder at a carcass. The endangered Rüppell’s Griffon vulture of central Africa is the highest flying bird in the world and has been confirmed at least once at an altitude of 37,000 feet. The adaptation that allows this species to fly so high is an alteration of one of its proteins in its haemoglobin which allows the bird to fly efficiently despite lower pressure and available oxygen.

“When you look at a bird what do you see? Looking will give its “giss” (general impression of shape and size), and colour but watching its behaviour will yield its unique adaptions, socialisation and position in the natural hierarchy. Then you will begin to see and understand the bird so much better. Just looking is not the same as seeing.” ~ Mike Haworth

Judging from the colouration of this Martial eagle it was a juvenile. Adult Martial eagles have a dark brown back, head, and chest. The underparts are white with black spots and the females typically have heavier markings than males. This juvenile must have recently had a good meal judging from the size of its crop.

On another occasion while waiting on the western bank of the Mara river for a wildebeest crossing we saw two Tawny eagles flying in and landing in a tree near us.

Ever the opportunist, this Tawny eagle was waiting in a tree above the west bank of the Mara river for any casualties after the crossing took place. Tawny eagles are predators, but also opportunistic scavengers so they will feed on anything from insects to smaller birds, hares and small reptiles, or fresh carrion.

This was a small selection of the birds you can see in the Mara Triangle and we did not go out to specifically photograph birds. I am sure a dedicated bird photography safari in the Mara Triangle would be highly productive. We saw many birds which we could not photograph from Augur Buzzards to coucals and coursers to varieties of Go-away birds and Plantation-eaters, ducks, teal and geese, widow birds and whydahs.

“To survive and even thrive in a changing world, nature offers another great lesson: the survivors are those who at the least adapt to change, or even better learn to benefit from change and grow intellectually and personally. That means careful listening and constant learning.” ~Frances Arnold

In the forests at the foot of the Oloololo Escarpment you are likely to find many varieties of barbets and hornbills, woodpeckers, robin-chats and turacos. East Africa boasts a wonderful selection of savannah birds with a wider selection of barbets, bee-eaters, sunbirds, lovebirds and parrots, weavers and starlings than is found in southern Africa.

“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” ~ Robert Baden-Powell

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

Have fun, Mike

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