I spotted this Royal Tern couple on the beach in the middle of all the spring break activity – and just couldn’t leave their story for my next post. I hope you enjoy.
I spotted this Royal Tern couple on the beach in the middle of all the spring break activity – and just couldn’t leave their story for my next post. I hope you enjoy.
Hello friends! I’m still on my summer break, but since I’m at home right now I want to give you an update on the affairs at the salt marsh. H.J’s visit early this month brought in the regular thunderstorms with downpours that belong to our summer. At the salt marsh, water levels are up and everything is fresh green.
A couple of days ago I took a walk on the beach and was invited to a beach party attended by hundreds of feathered guests. It was a jolly event with Black Skimmers, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, Laughing Gulls, Herring Gulls, including juveniles, enjoying the freshwater ‘lake’ formed on the beach by the frequent torrential downpours. The ‘lake’ occupied almost the whole beach, leaving only a wet, narrow strip of sand next to the salt marsh.
Some partygoers were flying back and forth looking for the perfect spot, others were catching up on the latest, bathing or preening. It was lively indeed.
Some guests were resting, and yet others had partied enough and fallen asleep on the sand. But in such a crowd you’d better sleep with your eyes open, like this Black Skimmer.
Despite being attired with my newly acquired cheerful rain boots, I decided not to test the water depth in the ‘lake’, but instead to walk to the salt marsh through the bay side.
That was a great decision. I was rewarded with a pleasant discovery. Papa Stanley had returned from his 4-week vacation!
He was perching on the wind measurement device at the Sailing Center, obviously planning his next fishing trip. I could hardly see him as the sun was right in my eyes, but looking at my photos I realized he had definitely recognized me. From there I went to see Mama Sandy. She was ‘babysitting’ the nest again, and greeted me with a friendly nod. And I thought she tried to tell me about the dismal condition of the nest. We both agree that the nest will not make it through the nesting season starting in December.
I was happy to let her know that I’ve finally started the process of getting the nest repaired – or perhaps replaced. This will involve several steps: evaluating the nest pole to see if it has hollowed and will need to be replaced, and if that is the case, evaluating the ground to see if it can carry the heavy equipment needed to replace the whole structure with a new, more durable one. If the answer is yes, then I’ll have to get busy approaching sponsors to get help with the fairly high cost of this project. If the answer is no, then we’ll need to come up with plan B and only replace the nest platform that is falling apart. I hope to have these answers in the next few weeks through the Clearwater Audubon Society. While they don’t have the money to pay for this project right now, they have the required permits and the connections to suitable contractors, and have kindly agreed to help. Wonderful news for our Osprey family.
I promised to keep Mama Sandy updated. As I walked around the marsh, I observed something quite interesting. Both the younger Great Blue Heron and the Mayor were present. Staring at each other from opposite ends of the marsh. Measuring strength. As many of you know, the young one is a colorful character. He is still much smaller than the Mayor, but clearly has the desire to be the king of the hill, so to speak. He has been frequenting the marsh over the last three months, while the Mayor has taken care of his family on the ‘bird island’ in the bay. Last spring the Mayor told us ‘I’ll be back’ – and he has kept his promise.
A Great Egret was following the developments with keen interest from a tree in the middle of the marsh.
And a female Cowbird was excitedly cheering on the Mayor from a nearby tree.
Miss Rosa was seeking shelter from the sun at her usual spot, but kept an eye on the two rivals as well. Particularly the youngster. She didn’t cheer.
The Snowy Egret was staring at the young heron too, and he didn’t cheer either.
A family of White Ibis was foraging in the grass close by, probably hoping their youngster wouldn’t need to witness any brouhaha on such a beautiful day.
Their wish was granted. The truce lasted, and each heron held on to its end of the marsh. I walked home and shot some pictures of flowers in our garden on my way in. Pink flowers. Just to celebrate summer.
I look forward to visiting my family in northern Europe early August. I may do a short mobile post from there. Otherwise I’ll see you after mid August. Lots to catch up on by then.
Thanks for coming along. I hope you are enjoying your summer too. Much love.
Late last night I was reading and watching TV in bed when I heard a strange rumbling noise. I didn’t recognize it. When it continued and the light started to flicker, I went to the window and peeked out. And immediately saw where the sound came from. A full fledged storm raged outside, probably the strongest one we’ve seen this year. Strong winds made the rain fall horizontally and palm trees bend heavily, their “hair” flying sideways.
The hen mother that I am, I was immediately thinking of Mama Sandy and the chick in the nest. They would lay flat, their heads pointing against the wind. The chick would be leaning to her mother tightly, or even lay partially under her, like in this picture from last year. I couldn’t see them, of course. It was pitch black over the salt marsh. I was hoping that Papa Stanley and all the other birds residing at the salt marsh were in safe shelters. The storm lasted for about an hour, and I made a mental note to go check on them in the morning.
We woke up to an almost cloudless sky. From my windows I could see the Osprey nest was still intact despite two of the four supports being loose. When I opened the blinds in my office, I saw Papa Stanley fly right past the window towards the ocean – going on a fishing trip, I assumed. Needless to say I was happy to see him.
So after Dylan had taken me for a walk, and I had enjoyed a cup of coffee, I went out to see how everything and everybody had fared the short but fierce storm. The ground was full of palm debris, but the first thing I saw arriving at the salt marsh was Sandy and the chick happily in the nest. Yay!
Sandy was asking for fish. It seemed Stanley had not yet returned from his fishing expedition. And Sandy was also making a series of alarm calls. I looked around and did not see any reason for alarm. It occurred to me that she might have done that to get Stanley’s attention. Bad thought. She would never do that. And then I saw the young Great Blue Heron hiding in the high grass very close to the nest. Too close for Sandy to be comfortable.
To my delight I found many permanent residents at home. The great Egret was watching his village from on the beach end of the marsh.
The juvenile Little Blue Heron, who is growing fast, had found a hunting companion, a Tri-colored Heron.
They were happily foraging in the shallow pools formed by the heavy rains over the mud flats. I saw hundreds, if not thousands of fish fry swim around in those brand new pools. These two birds had a blast.
And so did the Reddish Egret. He caught a bigger fish at the shallow end of the marsh.
The “resort island” was occupied by a Snowy Egret and a couple of blue-eyed White Ibis. They seemed to enjoy the freshness brought by the rains. No pollen blanket floating on the water.
Just when I was crawling my way up from the natural “hide” close to the little island, I discovered Papa Stanley was finally flying in with a fish. I missed the fish, of course, as he had just landed when I could stand up and shoot a picture from the distance.
Walking towards the nest again, I saw that even the Night Heron couple had made it through the storm.
The fish Staley brought must have been a big one because he stayed in the nest and all three started having their brunch together.
The chick is eating by herself now, and was done first. She was looking happy having both her parents in the nest for brunch. And so was I.
All was well. And with those good news, I wish you all a wonderful weekend and a great week ahead. I hope that you too can make it out to enjoy the nature.
The chick closed her eyes and snuggled close to her Mama. Mama Sandy has been sad lately. She’s been grieving. Staying a lot in the corner of the nest where I now know the little chick’s earthly remains rest. The big chick is about 6 weeks old now, alert and following everything around her with healthy curiosity. I think it’s a she, but I might change my mind in the next couple of weeks.
I haven’t been taking Dylan on walks at the salt this past week. The poor guy still has to wear his cone. His vet told us to keep it on until Monday’s check-up. Needless to say Dylan is not a happy camper. He feels just fine, but the cone prevents him from doing so many essential things. Such as eating properly from his bowl or reading his daily newspaper in the grass. It’s like I would be trying to read the morning paper without my reading glasses. Not fun.
So today I decided to take a solo walk to check on our friends. It was lunch time and quite hot. I anticipated the marsh would be fairly quiet as birds tend to seek shelter from the midday sun. But I was happy to see many palm trees in full bloom.
When I arrived at the Osprey nest the chick was snuggling close to Sandy. Like taking care of her Mama. Then she started preening. And Sandy discovered I was there. We said our customary hellos.
After ten minutes of diligently cleaning herself, the chick settled down and started to check out her environment, including me.
She is a beautiful young Osprey now, and it will take only a couple of more weeks, if that, before she’ll be flying. I walked around the marsh and saw the young Great Blue Heron at the other end of the marsh. He didn’t dare to come close to the nest, which was probably good for his wellbeing. Mama Sandy was keeping an eye on him.
I also spotted my newest friend, the juvenile Little Blue Heron foraging in the shade of some bushes. She is turning more blue every week, which unlike for us humans, is a good thing for a Little Blue Heron. She seems to be doing great.
Walking back towards the nest I saw two Florida Mottled Ducks tanning themselves in the midday sun.
When I reached the nest again, I spotted the Reddish Egret. It was too hot to perform tricks, I guess, as he was just checking the marsh in quiet contemplation.
But the Osprey chick was not quiet. She had started her “getting-ready-to-fly routine” up in the nest. I made a short GIF so you can see all her elaborate moves. This young lady will take off soon!
Down in the pond this new routine didn’t go unnoticed. The Reddish Egret turned and followed the chick’s performance with great interest.
I left the salt marsh with mixed feelings. Sad that nature had decided there would be only one chick in the Osprey family this year, but happy knowing this young bird would have great odds to make it to maturity. Sandy and Stanley would feed her for a long time after she fledges, and take her on countless fishing trips to make sure she knows how to catch a fish before she leaves the nest towards the end of June or early July.
Waking home, I was delighted to find new palm flowers on my route, the White Bird of Paradise was in full bloom.
Thanks for coming along. I wish you all a peaceful weekend and a great week ahead.
Happy Mother’s Day to Mama Sandy! Being a mother is wonderful, but also exhausting and full of trials. Mama Sandy knows. She looks weary. I am not sure this picture shows two chicks, but this is the closest I’ve come this week to confirm that there still are two of them.
But that doesn’t mean that the younger chick didn’t survive. S/he could just be in the middle of the nest and not yet looking out much. And even in the next picture s/he could be right in front of Sandy’s head.
The bigger chick is certainly thriving. S/he is wingersizing already. That long, out-stretched wing belongs to him/her!
This morning I took a solo walk to check on them. See, Dylan is not allowed to take long walks until next Thursday. He had surgery to repair a Cherry Eye in his left eye, which is still red. He has a cone to protect his eye, and is on three medications. Needless to say he doesn’t appreciate his current restrictions.
Anyway, this morning I heard Mama Sandy give a sharp alarm call several times. I looked up in the sky, but couldn’t see anything flying overhead. At one time she was making herself ready to fly out, but changed her mind at the last moment. I was baffled. What was making her so upset?
I walked closer to the nest and discovered the reason she was on edge. The young Great Blue Heron was watching the nest intensively from the other side of the deep pond.
After being discovered, he flew across the pond landing almost below the nest. And Sandy gave another sharp warning.
Sandy was on her toes and ready to defend the nest. Because Papa Stanley didn’t fly in to assist her, I gathered he was out fishing. So I walked around the marsh to see who else was at home. The first one I spotted was the small Tri-colored Heron. She was hunting and didn’t pay much attention to me.
The tiny juvenile Little Blue Heron, whom I saw last week for the first time, was also there. I think she’s made the salt marsh her new home.
On the north side of the marsh, two baby Mottled Ducks were having breakfast. Diving so often that I had a difficulty in capturing both of them up on the surface at the same time.
Mr. Mallard was also visiting the marsh for the first time this year. He posed nicely for the camera.
Walking further towards the beach end of the marsh, I had to laugh at this Northern Mockingbird.
As soon as I walked by his tree, he started serenading me in advance of Mother’s Day. I took a 30 second video so he can serenade you too. The master of the songbird universe.
Reaching the end of the marsh, my attention was drawn to a Great Egret, who seemed very upset.
He was vocal too, and soon enough I saw why. The young Great Blue Heron was flying right towards him. I guess the GBH had decided he didn’t want to get his butt kicked by Sandy again, and wanted another piece of land to conquer.
The Great Egret flew away, and the young GBH soon was the King of the Hill at the west-end of the marsh.
I walked back towards the Osprey nest on the south side of the marsh. The only bird I saw there was a Blue Jay. He was moving all the time and gave me a hard time to get a shot.
While I was occupied with him, I saw Papa Stanley circle around the nest with a fish. Mama Sandy did not say anything so he flew away with the fish. After reaching the nest, I sat down on “my” bench to change the battery in my camera.
I could only see Sandy. Then I saw a dark shadow flying over my head. It was Stanley coming back with the fish.
He landed at the corner of nest. But nobody was hungry. This was around 10 a.m. and I guess Sandy and the chick(s) had just eaten. So he took the fish and flew away, presumably to eat it himself.
I’m sure he’ll need that extra energy as he’s fishing at least four times a day now, and probably eats less than any of them.
It was a gorgeous day and an eventful walk. Reaching our driveway a Mourning Dove was welcoming me home.
With that I wish all mothers and grandmothers a wonderful Mother’s Day tomorrow.
Every evening on our walk Dylan and I have passed by the Osprey nest in a quest to see the Baby. But nothing since the picture in my post last week. So one evening I took my camera along for the evening walk. I thought I might as well teach Dylan to sit or lay down completely still when I lift my camera so I can use both my arms as a “tripod”. Well. That was easier said than done. See, there are too many traces of squirrels and other small animals around the salt marsh. Sitting or laying still is not an option. Although we do it very well in the house.
On that walk we saw Papa Stanley eating dinner on the very lamp-post where he used to keep an eye on the three chicks last year. Since we were on the sidewalk, Dylan agreed to cooperate and I got one relatively shake-free picture of Stanley. He was looking over to Sandy in the nest. He had already eaten the head of the fish and was now working on the tail. The best parts would go to the nest.
Mama Sandy was in the nest, but we couldn’t see the Baby. We walked around the marsh trying to spot a small head. But could only see Sandy half asleep, lit by the last rays of the setting sun (featured image). And we saw a Red-winged Blackbird. He was shaking a bit too. In the camera view, that is.
Those were the three somewhat usable images I got with Dylan as my assistant. And believe it or not, I haven’t had a minute to go out there on my own. See, my big project has entered its final stretch. And someone I know fairly well being a terrible procrastinator, the final stretch always means a long spurt. Of the kind that keeps me clued to my computer for at least 12 hours a day. I’m driven by deadlines, and I think I’ll never learn to pace my work properly. There is always something more interesting to do when there is plenty of time. So instead of getting out to the salt marsh on my own, I have taken in the natural world by admiring the orchid blooming in my office.
But I have to confess something. One day last week, when the deadline was still about three weeks away, I decided to reward myself for all this hard work. Prematurely. Around midnight, after another grueling work session of about 13 hours, I splurged on all new camera gear. I thought I had learned the basics and deserved something more than my super zoom birding camera. Or asking to borrow my hubby’s big Canon.
The five packages arrived this week. I had to open the boxes as they took up half the entry hall. It took about an hour. I placed my new treasures carefully on the living room table and asked Dylan to guard them. He took up his duty immediately.
In that process I also discovered the Easter eggs next to the living room orchid. Remnants from the Easter party. They have since ended up in the trash, and Dylan has since been relieved of his guard duty. But my fingers itch. I want to try the new camera and all the new lenses.
Surprise, surprise. For once I have demonstrated I have a backbone. The gear will stay on the living room table, untouched mind you, until next weekend. Just like that. Because by then I should be much closer to the goal I rewarded my self for.
But despite nightly walks at the salt marsh, the mystery of the Osprey Baby remained unresolved. This morning I was observing the nest from my living room window with a cup of coffee in my hand. I saw Sandy’s back and nothing else. Suddenly Stanley flew in with a fish. I rushed to get my birding camera and ran out onto the very windy terrace. This is what I saw zooming all out while leaning heavily on the wall.
Stanley was still there, and Sandy was tearing out small pieces of the fish feeding the Baby. Yay! It seems Sandy and Stanley have only one nestling this year, just like in 2014. And that means this little one will get a royal upbringing until it is completely ready to fly off and fend for itself. Much better odds to survive his/her first year than what the three chicks had last year. I am excited and feel privileged to be able to follow the childhood of this little Osprey.
And as to my big project, I can now see some light at the end of the tunnel. And the delightful orchid still blooming in my living room. Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week ahead. Peace.
Dylan and I have been following the Osprey family’s baby saga this past week. Every evening we’ve walked past the nest and seen Mama Sandy fussing with her chick(s) – without us spotting even a little head. Earlier this week she stopped brooding so I concluded the chic(s) have to be more than 10 days old.
I’ve explained to Dylan that I love birds, and that Mama Sandy is having at least one baby in the nest. His hunting instinct is strong, of course, like for any poodle. He’ll follows the trace of a squirrel with his nose sweeping the ground. His ancestors were used as hunting dogs already in the 15th century, but may have come to Europe as early as the 8th century traveling with the Moors from North Africa.
Last night he actually sat down and listened attentively when I was talking to Mama Sandy. And later to Papa Stanley, who was eating the head of the fish on his perch before bringing the dinner to Sandy and the chick(s). I didn’t have my camera so you just have to take my word for it.
Today at lunch time I took a solo walk at the salt marsh with my camera. And saw Sandy shielding a chick (or chicks) from the sun with her wings. I stood on the benches again, and all but climbed the trees, hoping to capture a little head. But no luck. So I walked around the marsh and enjoyed the other birds. Particularly the antics of the Reddish Egret.
He looked at me and said hi. Then he put up a show knowing he had a captive audience.
He was hiding, jumping, flexing, flying and finally he caught his lunch item. He was thoroughly entertaining as always. The little clown of the marsh.
I also saw papa Mottled Duck swimming around guarding the nest, where I assume his mate was sitting on the eggs. He tried to look nonchalant, but checked several times on the place where their nest was hidden last year. Now I’m sure we’ll see little ducklings quite soon.
I also saw the Mayor, the Great Blue Heron. He flew in to get his lunch items from the marsh drive through.
Suddenly Sandy sounded a short warning. A male Osprey was flying low over the nest, as in wanting to land. First I thought it had to be Steve, the Osprey who often comes close to the nest. But looking at my pictures, I realized it was Stanley.
He tried to come to the nest at lunch time without a fish! How dare he! Hence the brief warning from Sandy. Her call soon changed to a much friendlier, but equally important message. Bring us fish, husband! Fish! He landed at the top of a tree to make fishing plans, and after a while flew towards the ocean.
I couldn’t wait for him to return so I walked home. When on the road I looked back towards the nest. I thought I saw a little head. Yes! The picture is not good as I had to zoom all out without a tripod, and cars flying by. But here it is, this year’s first picture of a chick! I would say s/he is about two weeks old.
I waited for a while on the side walk and finally got another picture of a little head right under Sandy’s wing. It could be the same chick, or chick number two. We will soon know 🙂
And with that, we all wish you all a wonderful weekend!
I don’t even know where to begin the salt marsh news as I’ve been away far too long from here. Completely buried in work trying to get my project finished. But there’s been a couple of walks around the salt marsh, one around sunset more than a week ago and one yesterday morning. And there’s been looking for a small homeless dog to adopt. Bumble whispered to me from the rainbow bridge that it was okay to fall in love with another homeless poodle. So we’re in the process of applying for a job as adoptive dog parents. Again.
It was late. Hardly any light reached beyond the beach where the sun was about to dive into the ocean. I spotted Papa Stanley on a lamp-post at the parking lot next to the marsh. As per his usual routine, he was eating the first part of the fish before bringing the rest to Mama Sandy, who was still sitting on the eggs in the nest. I heard her calling to him asking for dinner.
While working on the fish he was constantly checking on Sandy. He knew she was hungry too. And that the hatching was imminent.
He landed very close to Sandy who was not even visible from the ground, and sat on the egg(s) immediately.
So that Sandy could take the fish and have her late dinner. I was really taken by his loving look when Sandy took off with her half of the fish. She settled down to eat it on the same lamp-post close the nest.
I walked around the marsh and spotted a few birds that had not yet settled down for the night, like this tiny Snowy Egret who was still fishing in the shallow waters.
And the White Ibis, who was patrolling the marsh, no doubt in search for some munchies before the night fall.
Then I walked on to the beach just in time to see the sun dive into the ocean. And the darkness fell over the earth.
I kept an eye on the nest from my office window during the whole last week. And discovered a change of pace. There was no quick shift change when Stanley came in with the fish. Instead both stood up and it looked like Sandy was feeding a tiny hatchling while the proud father looked on.
So yesterday morning I went to see them again. Sandy was sitting in the nest, probably brooding the newly hatched chick(s). She will do that for about ten days, until the hatchling(s) are too large to fit under her. It was hot and humid, and she was cooling herself with her tongue hanging out. She acknowledged my presence, but Stanley was nowhere to be seen.
So I continued my walk and spotted the young Great Blue Heron. He was very close to the Mayor’s office, but didn’t dare to step on that little islet in his elder’s absence. That was good.
At the other end of the marsh I found a couple of Florida Mottled Ducks, but got a picture only of the female.
That’s when I realized Stanley was back at the nest. I quickly walked back and found the Osprey parents attending to the hatchling(s), whom they were effectively shielding from all attention by the paparazzi.
Stanley was wet. He’d obviously been fishing. And Sandy was eating the fish and I assume, also feeding small pieces of fish to the chick(s). So I sat there, walked round the nest and climbed up on benches in the hope of capturing a small head or hearing a little peep. But nothing. Not yet.
Then Stanley flew off with the rest of the fish. I spotted him and his fish on a tree branch nearby when walking home. He looked at me as in saying “have patience lady”. So I walked home happy knowing that things seem to be fine with the Osprey family.
This Northern Mockingbird and I wish you all a great week. Keep well. Peace.
I hear a stern warning from the nest. I hear another warning from somewhere close by. Then I hear a perfect duet of loud Osprey warnings. And I look up and around. Up in the air a male Osprey is circling low over the nest, looking down and making sweeping fly-bys towards the nest where one of the parents is sitting on the egg(s).
The parent in the nest turns out to be Papa Stanley. Because Mama Sandy happens to be on her break. She is perching on a lamp-post at a parking lot just outside the park boundary. She has a straight line of sight to the nest and helps Stanley to warn the unwanted visitor.
The “Mayor”, a Great Blue Heron, happens to be just below the nest when all this unfolds. Being an old friend of the Osprey couple, he finds such a disturbance highly unfortunate too. Hair-raising in fact.
As the drama progresses, and the guy in the sky continues his stalking, Sandy decides it’s best to return to the nest, take over from Stanley and let him handle the defense department.
The shift change is fast, two-three seconds tops. Stanley leaves immediately to take care of the threat.
He chases the intruder away from the salt marsh. And continues patrolling the sky above the nest for at least 20 minutes afterwards. Impressive.
Peace returns and I can move on to enjoy the entertainment provided by the Reddish Egret at the other end of the marsh. The “Clown” has returned while I was away. He is as exuberant as ever and puts up quite a show. So please check it out.
He runs around, jumps, flexes his wings, covers his head from the sun so he can see the bottom, and has a generally jolly time in search of that perfect lunch item. I’m smiling. But I’m not alone watching the spectacle. A Great Egret is following the hunting party at a safe distance with great interest.
The newly returned Mottled Duck couple have their eyes nailed to the Clown’s performance as well.
In a nearby palm tree, the female Red-bellied Woodpecker almost twists her neck trying to see what’s going on.
But at the other end of the marsh nobody cares. The gracious Tri-colored Heron has the fishing waters all for herself.
Well, almost. The tiny Grebe and a few Moorhens are there too enjoying the sunny afternoon. But my buddy, the Muscovy Duck, has left the salt marsh – possibly to search for a mate, just like last year.
Another returnee, the Green Heron, and his cousin, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, are both taking in the now peaceful scenery close to the Osprey nest.
And up in the nest, Mama Sandy is sitting on the egg(s) after her interrupted break. We may have some tiny hatchlings in a couple of weeks 🙂
Just when I am leaving, I spot the tiny Snowy Egret I first saw in January. She may be one of the many wading birds that were born here last year.
Walking back home, I find Papa Stanley close by on his new “nesting season perch” from where he can see and hear everything that happens at the nest.
I am happy I could finally visit my friends at the salt marsh (twice) after almost a month of absence and before my next work trip at the end of next week. I wish you all a wonderful weekend.
Have you rested enough? The sun is getting lower now, and we have so much more to see before night fall. So let’s climb back onboard our sturdy safari van.
On the savannah between the many small hills, we encounter more giraffes. They are further from our trail now, enjoying a variety of afternoon snacks. Did you know that no two giraffes have the same pattern? It’s just like our finger print, or a snow flake. The pattern is unique to each individual.
Holding on to the bar while we bob and hop forward, we look at every tree and every bush. And suddenly something really big flies over our van! A surprisingly nice looking Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture settles on a tree a bit away from the trail.
This is a remarkable bird. It holds the record as the highest flying bird, spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet/11 kilometers. Like watching it fly alongside a jumbo jet. It also has lots of throttle. It can fly over three miles in six minutes from a standing start- a Ferrari of the skies – and can venture about 90 miles from its nest in search of food. That is quite amazing.
Not far from the vulture, but miles away on the beauty scale, we find a family with kids. Beautiful Grey Crowned Cranes. The chicks travel safely between mom who leads the way, and dad who checks the surroundings for any dangers.
This tall, colorful bird’s French name is Grue Royale, and they certainly look royal to me, with a golden crown and everything.Our journey continues up and down the hills. And soon we spot some familiar looking birds. Actually they are the cousins of two salt marsh birds. The tall Black-faced Heron would get along great with our GBH, the Mayor, and the small Striated Heron could easily be mixed up with our Green Heron.
Nice to see some faces that look a bit familiar, isn’t it?
After a while we arrive into a grassland (phew, it’s flat and the ride gets a bit easier) where several different antelopes enjoy their afternoon. The first one we spot is the graceful Thomson Gazelle. He’s close to the trail and gets scared by our “zebra-van”. But he doesn’t show us how fast he can run…up to 40 miles/64 kilometers an hour. I guess that speed is reserved for real dangers, like lions and cheetahs.
Then we notice a little head reaching up from the tall grass. A baby Bushbuck is observing us. She’s well camouflaged to stay safe. The Bushbuck calves don’t follow their mom until they are about four months old, so this little one must be younger than that. Stay safe baby, you mom will come back before nightfall.
The next sightings throw us directly into the “large department”. It’s aptly represented by the Eland, one of the largest antelopes. And the Cape Buffalo.
These buffalos are quite surprising animals. They have an extraordinary memory – and they never forget. They’ve been known to approach people they like with great affection even after a long time. Similarly, they are known to ambush and kill hunters who wounded or hurt them many years earlier. And they are the strongmen of the bush, with four times the strength of an ox. We better be friendly.
We drive down a hill towards a small lake. We spot herds of antelopes and buffaloes on the other side. Down by the water, we find a couple of Egyptian Geese, and two other beautiful smaller birds: the Black-smith Plover and the colorful Crowned Lapwing.
This Lapwing has a black crown intersected by an annular white halo, and is really easy to spot in this short grass because of it’s bright red legs.
Much of this rough ride we’ve been standing up and looking out through the raised roof. I was hoping to spot a lion or a cheetah. You too? But in this vast park they could be anywhere. My hope to find any of these cats is fading with the setting sun.
But what is that? Looks like a bird running for her life. It’s a Yellow-necked Spur Fowl scooting across the trail from the tall grass to open land. She is obviously in a hurry.
Now look where she came from! Our fantastic driver/guide points to the other side of the trail. There’s a cat. Not one of the big ones, but a serval looking for dinner. No wonder the fowl was scurrying away, it has about 50/50 chance to escape.
While bigger cats on the savannah catch a prey in one of five to six tries, the serval only needs two chances. It’s sometimes referred to as small cheetah – because they look alike, but also because the serval is the next fastest runner of the cats on the savannah.
Just as we approach the east gate of the park at the end of our drive, we get company on the trail. A gorgeous young man comes to say hello and goodbye. A heart-warming send-off. A perfect expression of the savannah’s state of mind.
I hope you enjoyed our afternoon in the wild. Nature is amazing. Let us take better care of it.