Archive for February, 2020

Birds of South Africa

My husband, Lee, and I are not birders, but he is a photographer with a good eye and a ready camera. Fortunately, as we’ve traveled together through Kruger National Park in South Africa (a birders paradise), whenever he spotted a beautiful bird, I would grab my camera and get some pretty good shots myself. My pictures aren’t as exceptional as his, but I enjoyed taking them, and I’d like to share a few with you. So here’s a tiny sampling of a half-dozen of our feathered friends.

1. Lilac Breasted Roller

Of the approximately 500 species found in the park, I believe the Lilac Breasted Roller is one of the most beautiful. If you’re in search of this colorfully feathered creature, you will usually find it perched at the top of a tree from which vantage point it can spot its meals of insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds or rodents on the ground.

Lilac Breasted Roller in Flight

I was fortunate enough to catch this one about to take flight. At this angle you can see the beautiful cerulean blue under its wings.

And then there’s Africa’s big bird with its long legs and weighing 140 to more than 300 pounds – the Common Ostrich

2. Ostrich in the wild
Ostrich hanging around the lodge

This large flightless bird is in the order Struthioniformes–yes, I had to look that up–along with kiwis and emus. The ostrich also lays the largest eggs. It has the fastest land speed of any bird and with those long legs can run thirty-five to forty miles per hour. But the ones I’ve encountered were in no such hurry as they enjoy the main source of their diet which is plants.

Now let’s take a look at a bird that’s a little–make that a lot–smaller. The weaver birds range in size from about 4 1/2 to 10 inches long.

3. Weaver Bird

It gets its name from the unique way it uses grass, leaves, twigs and roots to build their nests. You can tell this individual is a male by the bright yellow coloring, and using its beak and feet, it can actually tie knots with these materials. If she approves of it, the female, which is a brown and buff color, will help him to complete it.

4. Martial Eagle

One of the largest eagles, (and the largest in Africa) the martial eagle is an average of thirty-four inches in length with a wingspan of six to more than eight feet. It was a real treat to get a picture of this one. They have extremely keen eyesight, and can spot their prey from as far as three miles away.
You can often see the martial eagle soaring high above hilltops so that binoculars may be needed to get a good look at them.

5. Verreaux’s eagle-owl

And then there’s this unique fellow. The Verreaux’s eagle-owl is the only owl with bright pink eyelids, and he is also the largest African owl measuring up to twenty-six inches long. The fact that it’s nocturnal may explain why he is looking kind of sleepy in this shot. They sleep rather lightly during the day and wake quickly to defend themselves if attacked.

6. Wire-tailed Swallow

With the bright blue top feathers, the bright white underneath, and the chestnut cap, I think the wire-tailed swallow is gorgeous. He is of course named for the long thin tail feathers that look like two wires trailing behind.

Wire-tailed Swallow in flight
(Google image)

I hope you enjoyed seeing a few of my favorite South African birds. Let me know if you’d like to see more.

Until next time…

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Giant Giraffe

The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world reaching heights of fourteen to seventeen feet.

Have you ever stood next to a professional basketball player? Well neither have I, but I have stood next to some men who were 6’3” to 6’5″ and possibly taller. You can get a crick in your neck talking to one of these tall folks—though many are totally worth it—but can you imagine standing next to one of these giants and looking up?

It was simply amazing to see their height as they walked down the middle of the road past our safari vehicle. And driving through Kruger National Park, it is not uncommon to see the giraffe with his head above the trees snacking on leaves from the top of the branches. A whole lot of food goes down that long neck as they eat up to 64 pounds of tree twigs, grass and fruit a day.

This gentle giant may be a vegetarian, but the lion is not, and one of the big cat’s favorite foods is the giraffe. For this vulnerable beast, his best defense against predators is to sleep for only short periods of time—from ten minutes to two hours a day. (That kind of reminds me of my colicky babies first months of life.) Another way this otherwise docile animal can defend itself is by kicking–and he can really pack a wallop.

As we slowly made our way through the park, we were lucky enough to catch a group of giraffes visiting a watering hole, and it’s funny to watch them drink. Because of their height, they must part their front legs to lower themselves to the water. This little guy didn’t have quite as far to go as his elders.

And look at the hitchhikers on this guy. On first glance I thought there was something wrong with him, but upon closer examination (with the help of my camera’s zoom), I realized those were indeed little birds. I later learned these little winged passengers are called oxpeckers (or tick-birds), and they’re feeding on ticks or other parasites.

This unique and strangely beautiful animal is quite social, and if there is anything better than seeing one giraffe, it’s seeing three or four or even five standing tall above the trees like sentries looking out over their domain.

In each of our trips to South Africa, I have discovered its beauty was beyond my wildest imaginings. Many thanks to Andries and Steffi Van Wijk who have been our guides. Van Wijk Safaris never disappoints!

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Let’s look at the last three of the “Big Five” starting with the beautiful leopard.

Next to the lion, the leopard is the biggest of the African cats and perhaps the quietest. You won’t hear him roar. At most this silent creature will give the occasional cough-like call.
The leopard is a solitary animal. Male and female only spend a brief time together when mating, and then the male takes off. The female, of course, then raises the cubs on her own

If you recall, I said in a previous article it takes a bit of luck to actually get to see the lions, even at Kruger National Park. Well, it takes a whole bucket-load of luck or good fortune to actually spot a leopard. They lurk in the bush or rocky kopje (or koppies—small hills) usually hunting in late afternoon or at night.

They stalk or ambush their prey, getting as close as they can, and then, with a burst of amazing speed, pounce on it. They quickly end it, biting its neck and dragging it off. They carry it up to low lying branches in a tree to keep it away from scavengers and dine at their leisure.
We’ll be heading back to South Africa in a few months so wish us luck—maybe we’ll spot one this trip.

But we’re much more likely to spot this big guy–the White Rhino.

The white rhino and the black rhino are close to the same color which is gray. So how can you tell them apart? Take a look at the lip.

    Black Rhino – notice the pointed upper lip

                                                     White or Square-lipped Rhino

1-white-rhino-gc590aThe white rhino is primarily a grazer and not as aggressive as the black rhino, but looking at the horns (which are actually densely packed fibers–not real horns), I don’t believe I’d like to tangle with either of them. And in spite of their stubby little legs and massive bodies, they can run remarkably fast for short distances.
                                                 So don’t get too close!

Now, if you spend any amount of time in South Africa, I’m sure you’ll get to see the African or Cape Buffalo.
buffalo-2529508__340 (2)

But probably not this up close and personal. And not usually all alone. Since they are gregarious, you will more often see them running in herds of hundreds. Their grazing behavior changes the long grass lands into shorter grassy areas for other animals to graze upon.

buffalo-4450318_960_720 pixabay
(Picture courtesy of Pixabay)

So there’s a look at the Big Five, but there is so much more to see in South Africa. So many more animals. So many birds with amazing colors like I’d never seen before. So I’m not finished yet. 
There’s more to come!






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The Great Gray Gift

dsc01786-2My last post discussed the lion–the first of the “Big Five”–but now let’s take a look at the BIGGEST of the “Big Five,” the elephant.

The African elephant is an herbivore, feeding on grasses, creepers, herbs, leaves and bark and is the largest living land animal on earth. Bulls reach a shoulder height of up to 13’ while the females are about 8 1/2’. Both male and female have tusks, which erupt when they are 1–3 years old and continue to grow throughout life. 

We can easily differentiate the African elephant from the smaller Asian elephant by its much larger ears which he uses both to cool himself and to get rid of pesky bugs.

Most of us have seen this gigantic beast at the circus or in a zoo, but no matter where you see them, they are usually eating.

I suppose that’s not surprising since they may consume up to 600 pounds of food a day. But for me, having seen them in the circus didn’t begin to compare to seeing them in their own environment—

—especially when they were at play.

Or simply finding relief from the African sun by chillin’ in the cool water.

The African Elephant population has been declining dramatically across the continent. Thank goodness for places like Kruger National Park which protect large herds. Because of these parks’ conservation measures, the Elephant population in South Africa has grown from about 120 in 1920 in 4 locations, to 10,000 at 40 locations to date.  They’re going to stay around, and that’s an amazing gift for which I am thankful.

DSC02157 (2)

That’s two of the Big Five down, and three to go.

To be continued...


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