Birds of Samburu


Weavers' nests in acacia trees


Paul, our guide at Samburu National Park in Kenya, knows everything about wildlife.  He is a wealth of information, especially about birds.  He knows the name of every bird, which I especially appreciate, being a bird person.  Also, Paul is exceptionally patient, being asked endlessly to stop and start so we can take photos.

There are Helmeted Guineafowl that resemble the Vulturine Guineafowl—easy to spot by the roadside.  Distant relatives of the jungle fowl that one can see in the forests of India—who are the original chickens, since transported all over the world.  They are also related to peafowl, turkeys, pheasants, grouse, and quail.  All these birds are ground dwellers, running about on the ground, hiding, and nesting undercover.  When startled they spring into the air and fly just a short distance.  These Helmeted Guineafowl we actually saw at Nakuru, before visiting Samburu.  You can see the little helmets on their heads.  The males and females are alike; the ones without helmets are the young ones.


Helmeted Guineafowl at Nakuru


Amazingly, although the bird species of every continent are different, the families are pretty much the same, and one can easily identify the general family of bird: dove, eagle, heron, raven, and the hundreds of other families, but not the specific species, which are nearly all different. The Birds of Africa book that I bought was so heavy that I left it at home and didn’t bring it, which I very much regretted—though I guess if I had, I might have spent most of my time with my nose buried in the bird book.  The birds in Africa have such startlingly beautiful colors.

Two or three Common Scimitar Bills flying among the trees reminded me of the Phainopeplas in Utah.  They’re not related, of course, and the Scimitar Bills have long curved beaks which they use for digging through leaves.  The similarity is the white patches on the wings of the black bird, which in flight, give an illusion of transparency.

In several places, including in the treetops of the lodge where we are staying (the Serena Sopa Lodge), we see Red Billed Hornbills.  They are big and easy to spot.  They have white heads, with black backs, and black and white spotted wings, with brilliant red bills.  Apparently, when the female is nesting, she is encased in a hole in a tree and the male brings food for her and the babies, until they are ready to fledge.  Doesn’t sound very pleasant to be stuck in a hole in a tree, but maybe it is for protection, and it may feel like a place of security to her and the babies.

Many of the trees are filled with weaver nests, which are lovely.  They look like special decoration for the trees, hanging from the branches, swinging gently in the wind.

There are over 50 different species of weavers, many of them gold colored, or gold and black.  Standing near one of the trees (not too near), it’s easy to see them dart in and out of the hole in their nest or pause perched on the outside.  They’re very lively and chatter constantly.  They also land occasionally, as do some of the other birds, on the tables in the dining room. Thankfully, they are not chased away, since people here don’t seem to feel that anything that moves is likely to be life-threatening.

Near the lodge, just in front of the open dining area, there is a water hole, maybe fifty feet away.  Clearly it’s been placed there so that we can watch the animals, and there are a steady stream of birds and animals that come there to drink.  One is a Tawny Eagle.  He is there quite a while.


Imperial Eagle


At another time, on a game drive, we see another bird that was thought to be a Tawny Eagle, but looking at the photos (very far away and fuzzy) I felt that this must be a vulture, because his or her head seemed to be bald, and an eagle can’t have a bald head.  Looking again though, it’s possible to see two white patches on the back—and that the head is not bald, but golden-colored, and this is an Imperial Eagle.  I am remembering now that Paul did identify this bird as an Imperial Eagle, but since I’d never heard of an Imperial Eagle, I’d simply forgotten until this moment.

The Eagle was very hard to see at first, gigantic, but on the ground and blending into the dry grass, perhaps protecting her food.  She turned around, but didn’t move otherwise—an enormous presence, as old as the world probably.

There are two species of Imperial Eagles, the Spanish and the Eastern Imperial Eagle, which is the one that migrates to a central strip in Kenya, where we are (as well as to other parts of Africa and Asia) and who comes from Hungary and Slovakia, from the Carpathian Basin (as I am finding in Wikipedia), which is the only place where these eagles are increasing in number, though they are rare and endangered.  As well as Hungary and Slovakia, the Carpathian Basin comprises parts of Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Austria and the Ukraine.  In Hungary, there are 105 breeding pairs of Imperial Eagles left.


Imperial Eagle at Samburu


And there was this amazing enormous bird, in the wild lands of Kenya, with a wingspan of 33”, who had come here from so far away, who looked like she had always been here, like the great, winged mother of the earth.


Top image:  Sharon St Joan / weaver nests in an acacia tree

Second image: Sharon St Joan / Helmeted Guineafowl at Nakuru

Second image: Wikipedia / Public domain / Eastern Imperial Eagle

Third image: Sharon St Joan / Imperial Eagle

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