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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The Elephant who walks on the bank

Elephants and Vulturine Guineafowl at Samburu, Kenya

To go into the valley

Of veering shadows,

Of iron bands,

Of clamps and traps,

That shut and close

All round and round,

Is to forget the very stars of being,

To leave behind the sound

Of the peal

Of the bells,

To lose touch with the bright soul

Of the elephant,

Who walks on the bank

Of the river of peace,

Yet, only the blank


Of death will die, in the end.

For there, within the lilies on the shoal,

Among the green reeds and glimmering shells,

Live the lands

Of many

Worlds, clad in clouds of beauty,

Dressed in the lace caps

Of the blue sea,

And the silver rings of the brilliant


There, where

The voice of the mother of eternity

Is calling, clear

As the waters that bend

Over the stones, and so, to hear

The pure song

Of the mountain air,

To watch only

The mist-winged pair

Of storks who take

Flight over the dawn lake

Is to belong

At last to the shining


Of innocence, ever real,

Beyond the rift of time and space.

September 19, 2010

The Rocks of Samburu

Two lion cubs

One of a pair of lion cubs nudges their mother.  Mom, who is resting, doesn’t want to get up to play and swats the cub.  So the pair of cubs wander off to find something or someone to play with. They go through the dry, yellow grass of Samburu National Park, pausing behind a bush now and then.  After a while, they find themselves on one side of some tall brush, while on the other side a very large giraffe is having his dinner of leaves.  After the cubs scratch around the bush for a bit, the giraffe moves away.  Though the giraffe has a powerful kick, which could easily dispense with a lion cub, he seems wary of them.

Perhaps he only smells them and doesn’t know how small they are.  Anyway, he moves away across the road.  They follow, but as he continues to move away, they give up the chase—just as well since they are in some danger if he were to decide to kick them.  They head back together towards their sleeping mom.

One of the lion cubs

The next day two female lions are lying down, resting in the grass—they seem entirely unafraid of people—and don’t getup or move away.

Superb Starling

The Superb Starling is genuinely superb—rust-colored underneath with an iridescent blue-green back, a black head and cream-colored eyes, they hop along the ground feeding.

In a more wooded area, with a few taller trees, a young leopard circles the van—and other vans of visitors.  He walks along a tree branch on the ground, pauses, crosses back across the road, walking slowly right along the side of the van, and then off into the brush.  He is breathing hard and is clearly stressed, yet does not seek to run away from the people watching him, though he easily could.  Perhaps the cause of his stress is not the people at all. Perhaps instead he is hungry. He is very beautiful with all his spots.  Hopefully, he will find enough to eat and will lead a long and peaceful life.

The next day, another leopard appears in the grass, off to the left.  Crossing the road, he moves through the yellow grass and brush up a hill, at a measured pace, not running and seemingly unafraid of people.  He also is breathing rapidly. After a while he moves farther up the hill, disappearing into the grass. Perhaps he is angry and agitated, rather than frightened, at this intrusion by unwelcome human visitors into the peace of his existence.  Not knowing the leopard’s behavior, I don’t know.

Giraffes nibbling on an acacia tree

The giraffes tower over the prickly acacia trees, whose flat, feathered tops of leaves are dotted across the plain.  Samburu is arid, and the dry habitat seems to suit giraffes, antelopes and gazelles.  It is hard to imagine that these are really giraffes, standing there, tall and graceful—and not the sort of fairybook characters that some fanciful author has invented.  They look just like all their pictures—elegant and aloof.

On the horizon, a few hundred meters away, stand the rocky hills of Samburu, with dark gray rocks that meander up the hillsides and along the top.  In this desolate place, that is teeming with life, but that is mercifully devoid of the turmoil of human existence, there is a profound sense of being present before the world began—of being at the origin of all things.  The visitors’ vans—including our own—seem inconsequential, like a mirage that will soon vanish; they seem not to touch the underlying serenity that is here.

Samburu rocks

In the silence, broken only by the calls of birds, the rocks speak, telling tales of long ago—not thousands of years—but tens, even hundreds of thousands or millions of years.  Of a time when a visitor came this way from ancient Egypt—and of a time many eons before that, when the consciousness of the rocks was a part of the eternal presence of the earth itself.  Of a time before time when the awareness of the lions, the gazelles, the giraffes, of the acacia trees, and the speaking rocks were one, indefinable consciousness of innocence—the sacred life of the earth.

Ancient hill

Then, since that time when there was no separation of one consciousness from another, no distinction between the language and thought of man and that of the animals, the awareness of the cosmic dream has been remembered and spoken of by the eternal rocks, the guardians of spiritual awareness—the rocks who write, record and take note of the magical worlds that have always been—and will be again–beyond time and space—until one day when the passing smoke of an alien modern existence will have wafted far away on the wind—forever gone—leaving once more only the songs of the birds and the beauty of the gray rocks on the hills.