In this weekend edition I’d like to introduce to you our next door neighbor, the Great Blue Heron. He calls our beach and the nature reserve home. Like we do.
Airing his feathers
Contemplating his next move
At cruising altitude
Going in for landing…far away
When he’s not at work – fishing in the marsh, he likes to go to the beach. Like we do. He usually checks out the scene from the rocks at the end of the reserve. His preferred pastime is to watch people fishing. Sometimes he even volunteers to guard the fish bucket. And he doesn’t mind company. Provided it’s of the right kind.
I also have to update you on the situation regarding other important residents, namely the osprey family. I now know for sure that the couple has one offspring, not two. He is growing fast and seems to be hungry all the time. The papa osprey is away on fishing trips most of the time and the mama osprey seems to be responsible for grooming and feeding the nestling.
Sometimes I hear her talking in loud voice to the little one. School starts early! I witnessed such a teaching session earlier this week.
At the end of the session the youngster flexed his wings…probably dreaming of the wind carrying him out of the nest. One of these days he’ll be lucky. I’ll try to keep an eye on him and report on any new developments.
That’s right! Those of you who have followed my adventures in the nearby nature reserve will remember that about a month ago I witnessed a drama in the resident osprey family. I then thought that the female was laying on the eggs – and I was right!
This afternoon I went there again and saw at least one nestling, maybe two. A brown feathered nesting, almost half of the size of the mother lifted his (or her) head when I approached their nest pole. And there might have been another youngster on the other side of the nest. I was too slow with the camera so I can’t be sure.
The nestling I saw clearly was already flexing his wings. That means he’ll fly in 10-15 days! If I am lucky enough to catch on camera some of the practice sessions, where the parents apparently drop fish in the water for the youngster to catch it, I’ll be sure to share those pictures with you. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
I have an alarm event to report. I witnessed it all yesterday on my walk in the nature reserve. My regular readers remember the resident osprey family, right?
So after making my rounds in the park marveling at the clear signs of spring, like the tiny light green leaves on some of the trees, I wanted to end my walk by greeting the osprey family. I was curious to see if the nest would be ready and if the female bird would already sit on the eggs. From the distance the nest looked empty. I hoped that was good news. I also noticed that it was well-built. Nothing moved around and nothing fell down despite the strong winds that had already thrown a few palm branches on my path.
After I walked around the marsh and stood up on a bench nicely camouflaged under a tree, I could see her sitting in the middle of the nest. Her head would pop up to check the surroundings every so often. She was there, happily sitting on her eggs! Her hubby had probably gone to fetch some fish for lunch. All was good. I was just about to leave my observation post when I heard her high-pitched alarm.
You can see her here sounding the alarm while looking away from me towards the left side of the marsh where nobody usually walks. I looked down too and saw two people with two huge dogs approaching on the grassy strip. Her alarm sound intensified for a few seconds.
Suddenly she flew off – towards the “intruders”. In that moment I saw her hubby approaching like a fighter jet from the bay-side of the reserve. He had heard her cries and was coming to support her!
He flew straight into the nest. To check on the eggs, I assumed.
He then checked around quickly to scan the situation. No danger from anywhere in the air.
He waited there for a few seconds, until the mother-to-be returned to the nest.
He then flew off and patrolled around the nest platform in an aggressive manner. He came down towards the people and the dogs a few times. Like here when the dogs were just passing the spot where I stood under the tree.
The “intruders” hurried away! The father-to-be circled the nest a few more times. He looked straight down at me and apparently decided I did not pose a danger.
He then returned to her in the nest. I thought he was looking at her to ensure everything was alright, while she was looking down in the direction behind me where the dogs had gone.
I remained silently under my tree observing the harmony return to the nest.
The female was soon feeling safe and returned to sit on the eggs, but the male kept an eye on me from the edge of their home. He had decided to interrupt his fishing trip until everything was absolutely safe. So I said my goodbyes. I thought their collaboration in protecting the offspring was exemplary. And the speed with which the hubby came to her side was admirable. An alarm call responded to in less than a minute! True love.
I hope you enjoyed the reporting despite the fact that during this tense, less than ten minute intermezzo, I didn’t have the time to think of camera adjustments. I just kept shooting. These are the few pictures where you can actually see a bird 🙂
Have a wonderful week filled with collaboration and love.
Just came back home from a big city urban safari. A trip loaded with work and all the stresses of the modern world. Although it was good, or what’s commonly called successful, it was nothing like the safaris I’m used to. The big city certainly makes me run faster, speak louder, listen less, and in general adjust to the rapid urban pulse of human achievement.
A big city definitely is a place where people rule. An urban jungle where the huge buildings provide some shade from the sun and the cars roam the streets. They can certainly kill you if you’re not constantly on your watch. A manmade kingdom with a few implanted, lonely pieces of the nature providing some warmth to the stone filled environments. A few representatives of the animal kingdom can be seen walking the sidewalks, tightly in the leash for their own protection.
On a nature bound safari, whether in the north or in the south, I immediately feel the deep connection with the nature. And I realize that I am a visitor in the nature’s wild kingdom. That is a very special feeling. There is a keen awareness of not being in charge in that environment, but at the same time a deep sentiment of being part of it. A sense of oneness, peace and awe. Such a contrast to the urban jungle and the modern life we are so accustomed with.
At home relaxing after my “urban safari”, I was reminiscing over the safaris we were so fortunate to go on in the past. We always preferred to drive ourselves, whenever possible, and tried to avoid the most “touristy” safari parks in an effort to find some truly genuine wild kingdoms. That of course came with two “givens”: not to disturb the wild, and be prepared to encounter some unscheduled adventures along the way. I hope we minimized the former, but we certainly had our share of the latter. I have already told many stories in my earlier posts but there are countless more…
After my sweaty walks in the big city, I came to think about the most spectacular bath I’ve ever taken. One late afternoon in Ethiopia we were searching for the hot spring we knew would be located in a small oasis in the Awash region, which for the most part was dusty, dry savannah. We were fairly close to the location and could already see the tall trees reaching for the sky, when we came across a group of hyenas. They were many and some of them were huge. They were probably planning for their evening meal. Right after that encounter, we found the hot spring. The surroundings were incredibly beautiful with flowers and lots of green vegetation. And the water was warm and crystal clear.
We were a bit hesitant to jump into the inviting water. Perhaps we would see six hyena heads watching us from the high edge of the spring. But we jumped in anyway, couldn’t resist the opportunity to wash out the day’s dust as we didn’t have any shower at our simple camp grounds. And we were lucky, no hyenas guarding our clothes when we finally climbed up after our refreshing bath and swim in the desert oasis.
The traffic jams in the big city reminded me of another “jam” we came across while driving in a national park in Kenya. We came across a huge herd of water buffaloes crossing our trail. They had the green light, we had the red. There must have been between 150-200 animals. We stopped immediately and very quietly, literally holding our breaths. And tried to be invisible while they passed on all sides of our vehicle, some nudging it. It seems we had stopped a bit on the cross walk.
Dining out in the big city also reminded me of another time when we dined out in the wild on one memorable New Year Eve in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. We had several adventures and encounters packed into a single day. First in the morning we spotted a huge male lion. It was quite rare as they tend to move very little in the day time and often get their meal served by the females at night. Then on our afternoon drive we found a small herd of elephants. They were covered by some trees and high grass so we just stopped on the trail and watched them quietly. Somehow the mother sensed our presence. She took a few quick steps in our direction and showed clear signs of dislike by raising her trunk. Having learned from our earlier encounters with elephants, we didn’t need another warning. It was time to retreat immediately.
When coming back to the lodge, we met the man-eater. A lion who had killed a park ranger a couple of years earlier. She was of course now in the small museum at the lodge for everyone to see, after being hunted down and killed by other rangers. A legend was circulating in the park about the ghost of this man-eater. She had been seen walking along the dirt road to the lodge at night…
After a nice late dinner outside at the lodge, we all decided to celebrate the New Year on our little terrace with the view to the river. We had a bottle of Champagne saved for this occasion. So a few minutes to midnight we walked back to our accommodations in the moon light under the African starry sky. It was a very beautiful and clear night. Suddenly we hear a sound in the dark. We all stop in our tracks and listen. It was a repeating sound of big feet. Like something big and heavy walking in the shadows…in our direction. We decided to retreat behind some tall trees next to the path we had been walking on. And past us walks a huge hippo straight towards the main lodge. He had a pink glow in the moonlight…
Later on when we enjoyed our night on the terrace, he came back to greet us. He obviously liked the grass next to path leading to the river and we could observe him in the moonlight for a good part of an hour. And now he seemed even more pinkish. I can still picture his silhouette against the moonlit river bank. It’s not every day one meets a pink hippo at midnight.
Many years ago when we lived in Uganda, we used to go on safaris or other adventures in the nature at least once month. Several of these Friday afternoon drives from Kampala brought us to Queen Elizabeth National Park (please also see my earlier post Elephants and Decisions). This park is located in the Albertine Rift and is the home of a rich variety of wildlife: mammals, reptiles and birds. Among its top attractions is the tree climbing lion, which we spotted once but did not manage to capture on film. It is also marked by several large craters and crater lakes formed after volcanic explosions. It is a wonderful place to visit if you want to be a guest in the wild kingdom. This particular Friday afternoon we were traveling with another family in two 4-wheel drive SUVs. On our way to the national park, we stopped at the equator for some pictures and arrived at the main gate just in time before it closed at dusk. Our first encounter with the wild on this trip came while driving from the park’s main gate to Mweya Lodge, where we always stayed. About half a mile before the lodge, we saw a huge lion walking on the gravel road right in front of my truck! She was walking calmly, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. She just walked and walked – and we remained at a respectable distance, until she decided to take a “side street” into the high grass. Early morning the next day we decided to go for a drive we had not done before. We looked at the map and saw that a small trail, marked only by a dotted line, led to a dry crater where we might find elephants. We set off driving and soon found the hardly visible trail leading to the crater. But we had no idea about the adventure waiting for us. The trail went up and up on the side of the crater wall…and then suddenly there was no trail! Just smaller stones mixed with big boulders…how would we drive there and how would we come back down? We couldn’t turn as we were in between big rocks and going forward was clearly a hazard. We quickly realized that we could get stuck right there. With no one knowing where we were and (of course) we had no cell phones at that time. So we navigated on up the crater’s side by the help of our spouses who stepped out of the trucks and showed us, truly inch by inch, how and where to drive. We stopped briefly at the top take a few pictures, with no elephants visible in the carter. Needless to say that we were no longer chasing Queen Elizabeth’s elephants. That would be for the next day. The whole effort was entirely focused on getting us out of there and safely back to the lodge. After a “drive” of about four hours, at less than walking speed, and moving carefully between the boulders, we came down and found a small trail to follow. Lots of gratitude right there! Our reward came when we approached the lodge. We spotted a young elephant, probably a teen male who had already left his mother’s herd. He was calmly eating from bushes just a stone throw from the lodge entrance and didn’t mind us observing him for quite a while. The next morning when we woke up, we noticed that we’ve had an overnight visitor. All the rubber lining around the windows of our friends’ Nissan Patrol was missing. Eaten up. The lodge staff told us it must have been the young elephant who had been staying close to the lodge for some time. They also told us that the trail we had followed to the carter was not meant for driving…that’s why it was marked on the map by a dotted line. Always something new to learn. On Sunday, we went on a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel and saw many more interesting sights from rare birds to hippos, water buffaloes, birds and crocodiles. The channel is an amazing sanctuary for so many spices of wildlife. I hope you can visit this park some day. If that’s not possible, there are wonderful pictures from the park, including of the tree climbing lion, at the web-site of a National Geographics photographer, Joel Sartore (www.joelsartore.com). In any case, it has been wonderful to relive the memorable adventure we once had. If there is any tiny lesson I learned from this trip, it would be that we need to ensure things are what they seem to be. Because that’s not always the case.