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A Wild Variety Show



There’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of wild things over the past few days so I’m going to have to tell you about them all in fits and starts, as I find the time…one thing which is extraordinary is how much the big beach down at Hippo Bend has changed with the high flood waters while we were away. The high ledge has been cut away completely, and now the beach is just huge and flat, with a sudden very tall step up to the riverine vegetation right at the outer edge. The Vervet Monkeys have babies in tow at the moment, as do the baboons. They’re very cheeky and cute, riding “under-slung” beneath their mother’s belly.

Vervet Monkey mother & baby

It’s strange not to see our swallows or sandpipers around – they’re up in Europe by now. Nonetheless, it’s certainly been a bird watcher’s paradise recently, with a great variety of eagles soaring on the hot winds, all sorts of other fine-feathered visitors (more about them in upcoming posts) and quite a few comical avian sightings too.

Tell me: what is it about storks and standing on one-leg? The other evening we saw this Marabou Stork performing a “one legged ballet” in the treetops – it transpired (I think) that it was merely trying to balance on a rather precarious perch on a decidedly windy day. It seems that standing on one leg is something the Yellow-billed Storks like to do too…and speaking of Storks, a couple of Woolly-necked Storks are back at Hippo Bend again. They’ve been there for several days in a row now. The light was bad when I photographed them, but nonetheless they deserve to be featured here too, I feel!

Marabou Stork performing one-legged ballet in the wind

Yellow-billed Storks (in dull light unfortunately) get in on the one-legged act

Woolly-necked Storks (in even worse light - sorry!)

Speaking of all these different storks, brings to mind something which always amazes me, and that is the staggering diversity of nature. Even “small shifts sideways” create amazing varieties of creatures and plants. Take, for example, the three different types of Hornbills we’ve seen around the house in the last couple of days – similar to each other, yet each so different…

Grey Hornbill

Von der Decken Hornbill, male (for female, see here)

Red-billed Hornbill

Mongooses are another case in point. A few days back we saw a band of Dwarf Mongooses carrying their tiny babies across the road, en route to a termite mound where they would have been spending the night. Dwarf Mongooses are fascinating little creatures. They’re like bees in the sense that one animal cannot survive alone without a certain number of others. In order for these tiny mongooses to survive, each band needs to comprise a minimum of four-five members, each with strictly designated roles: the Alpha Female (leader of the pack and the only female to bear young), the Alpha Males, at least one Look-out, and at least one Nanny (if there are two babies in the group, then the Alpha Female will carry one, the Nanny will carry the other. If there are more than two babies, another Nanny is needed.) The mongooses move sleeping sites every day within their territories, carrying their babies in their mouths, in order to lessen the threat from predators, chief among which is the Grey Spitting Cobra.

A Dwarf Mongoose look-out sits on top of a termite mound where the band's babies are hidden

Another social mongoose is the Banded Mongoose, which is bigger than the Dwarf Mongoose and more heavily set than the Black-tipped. As luck would have it, a band just passed by the house this morning. My view of them was not very clear, there were bits of vegetation in the way, but nonetheless I hope you can see their distinctive striped coats which give them their name. This band had big babies with them, already capable of foraging for themselves.

Banded Mongooses, slightly obscured by vegetation

The Verraux Eagle Owl and the Pearl Spotted Owlette are also examples of large and small...

The other evening we saw a Verraux Eagle Owl, a giant among birds, in the big riverine trees by Hippo Bend. These owls are HUGE, and they are all the more extraordinary for their pink eyelids, which you see each time they blink. The light was already very low when we spotted the owl, so the photo is slightly fuzzy but I hope it gives you an idea of the sheer size of this bird:

A giant among birds: the mighty Verraux, very late in the evening

At the other end of the scale, a diminutive Pearl-spotted Owlette

As we were walking back to the house, we turned and looked back over our shoulder, and there he was again, this time right underneath the Marabou with a penchant for one-legged ballet…


Kulafumbi Tsavo Landscapes


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