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Kafue: Musekese / Ntemwa, some random observations September 2022


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The Eyes Have It


Having added a fair bit to Musekese/ Ntewmwa: A September Saga started by @wilddogI thought it might be practical to start a new thread, so that other STers who were there can add and extend the 'Saga'.


 My contribution to the  Musekese/ Ntemwa TR was about travelling with David, a now legendary safari virgin, who managed to tick off major sightings, multiple times in a remarkably short space of time, as you can see in the 'Safari through New Eyes', section. But this got me thinking about eyes, and how much they figure in our sightings.  You know that great photo when you get the elusive eye shine? And the photo when a critter is looking straight at you? Or, most importantly, when you get the laser stare? And it struck me how different all these eyes are and how differently they strike us. And also, just how different their eyes are from human eyes. 


I think the instance that really struck me about 'eyes' was the night drive from Musekese when we saw three different leopards.  We spent some time watching a leopard, very calmly sniffing around and exploring. Then she turned, sat down and looked directly at us. Her pale eyes lasered into us and, in total silence, we all froze. Just extraordinary how something like that could be so scary when a) you're sitting in a vehicle and b) if she'd leapt in, she'd have got the guide first! But that focus sent a chill down all our spines. This is the leopard - and you just have to imagine the ice-cold, Cruella de Ville stare when she turned!




Another aspect of eyes that's always struck me is that when big cats are on a mission, whatever that is, they are totally focussed. We saw this a lot with the lions in Busanga Plains. Whether they were moving round to take advantage of the shade offered by the safari vehicle or moving off to use the shade at Shumba Camp, they had this total focus. These two males were moving off towards the camp but, in the time we'd been watching them and they'd come very (uncomfortably!) close to the vehicle, I'd already picked up a real difference between the two. The larger black-maned male was just as I would have expected, but the other guy, well, I felt uneasy about him. There was something in his eyes. He looked mean and bad-tempered. I dismissed this thought as anthropomorphising but, later, Gilbert our guide told us that he'd been injured and wasn't well. And all of that had come from his eyes, I reckon. Look at this and see what you think.




It's interesting how lions have this entirely unwavering focus.  We saw this youngster from the boat and, although s/he's not looking directly at us, just look at that focus. You sort of feel you don't want to be the object of that focus!




You can see the same with this one-year-old leopard, part of the three-leopard food fight reported by @Zim Girlin Stuff Doing Stuff




So, there we are. Eyes are extraordinary and, the sightings we have of the big cats' eyes are remarkable. I'll leave you with this male, one of the two Lumbeya males coalition. It's that kind of soft focus that you know can change in a nano-second. And one of the reasons why it's so exciting watching them.





A few musings on the cats, and now I'll move on to the birds which, whilst less threatening, are so very much weirder! 



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@GalagoThanks for this posting, interesting to take eyes as an angle. It occured to me that I looked at eyes more intensely when looking at my pictures after the trip. 

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The Eyes Have It #2


It struck me when looking at eyes that birds have the most extraordinary variation when it comes to eyes: size and colour, of course, but also 'expression'. Now that's a bit of a dodgy topic, isn't it, expression being something that entails interpretation and anthropomorphism. In the past I have been intolerant, without exception, of anthropomorphism but, several safaris later, including watching kills plus conversations with guides who know far more than I ever will, I'm a lot more relaxed about that now. (If you're sceptical, try Lawrence Anthony's The Elephant Whisperer).  Nevertheless, I'm not going to be talking about long-lived, intelligent mammals here. Here I'm looking at birds. You may find my comments fanciful or even downright wrong but, it's just a bit of fun, so I hope you'll go along with it and enjoy it.


Looking at my photos, which aren't very good owing to a combination of cloud and smoke haze plus just a little bridge camera held by shaky, arthritic hands, it struck me that there are different 'looks' with birds.  The first one is what I would call:


The Glare


When it comes to 'the glare', the most obvious contenders in the category are the owls, but we didn't see any on this trip. However, a very close diurnal contender is this Black-shouldered Kite. At first its stare is striking:




But then it turns on the full laser glare, and you realise that those owls in Twin Peaks had nothing on this guy.





I've Got My Beady Eye On You


This is a category that entails a combination of shiny eyes sharply focused on something.  In a short diversion from birds for a moment, in terms of shiny eyes, one of the first things we saw on arrival (after the leopard, of course), was this cicada on the window mesh of our tent.  It's actually greeny coloured but the light made it sparkle like a diamante brooch and the eyes were like semi-precious stones, large and nocturnally adapted. Noisy critters but, up close, so beautiful.





There are those that sit out on a branch, alert to anything that might be prey and, as a consequence, their eyes are just so beady and alert. 


A Chestnut-headed Bee-eater on the look-out




Even when it's preening it's got a beady eye out





Similarly, the Ashy Flycatcher which posed so nicely at Musekese, was beady eyed and always alert. It reminded me of the European Robin in my garden, ever alert for the chance of a morsel as I sweep and move pots around. Smart birds!





And then there's a real beady eyes number, a Black-collared Barbet at Ntemwa, sitting there, eyes bright and shining. I'm not sure what it was doing, because it would sit there for ages, not hawking, but those beady eyes tell you it just isn't missing a trick. 





Finally in this little meander round those beady eyes, there's the all-seeing eye, the kind of beady eye that you really don't want fixed on you if you're small mammal or reptile, the Tawny Eagle











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The Eyes Have It #2


The 'I'm really not happy with you' eyes


Have you ever watched a Lilac-breasted Roller go on the attack? If so, you'll know the way they can fly up, almost freeze and then swoop. This happened as we were tootling along in the vehicle. We heard some squawking, (the LBR's voice is at total odds with its beautiful plumage), a whirring of wings and a hammer attack on the canvas roof of the vehicle. It turned out that an LBR had taken exception to our presence and had gone into attack mode. I was thankful we had the canvas roof as I'm not sure my faithful Tilley hat would've withstood the ferocity of the attack. Well, that particular individual scarpered but later we met another. For a while it posed most obligingly (and unusually, in my experience), but then it decided it had had enough of us and our intrusive photos. At first it was a kind of, 'Ok, that's enough' look, but that soon changed into a much more aggressive glare.










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  • 2 weeks later...

Love the insightful intro on eyes, and the ocular photos.

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30 minutes ago, Galago said:

Thank you very much@AtravelynnA bit more to come soon!

I see the eye theme continues.  Very clever.  Those red eyes of the black shouldered kite are piercing.  Not only the eyes but the whole body of the cicada are surprisingly lovely.  LBR does indeed look it had enough of your clicking.

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The Eyes Have It #3


'Weird' staring eyes


This is where anthropomorphic interpretation goes into overdrive because, of course, 'weird' is my evaluation and not a fact. But just take a look at some of these eyes - and tell me they're not weird!


The female Saddle-billed Stork has a yellow eye which, at times, gives her a somewhat unfocussed look, almost glassy-eyed. A kind of 'wide eyed and (not) legless' - with apologies to Andy Fairweather Low (on You Tube, 1976).




But she also has a look when she's feeding like she's possessed. The intensity of that focus is remarkable.





And yellow eyes seem to intensify this kind of look. This Miombo Starling is also channelling that glassy-eyed look. It's not a great photo but you can see the eyes. Weird, eh?





And, as for the Hadeda Ibis, it looks as if it's seen something quite shocking or, given the pupil dilation, it's entirely tripped out.  All the same, I think this is a highly underrated bird, common in many places with one of the harshest calls but, when the sun shines, that iridescence on the wing, contrasted with the red on the bill, is a winner.





Another glassy-eyed job is the African Spoonbill, fondly referred to as a Spoony. This one makes me smile because the expression is such an 'Oops, hope no one heard that'.





And then there's the yellow eyes that do the 'I can see you behind me' look. 









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The Eyes Have It #4


The Make-Up Job


And then there are those birds that have just extraordinary markings around the eye that look like make-up. Leaving aside those birds that have bare patches around the eye, from the Palm-nut Vulture to the Hoatzin, I'm looking at those that have feathers doing the cosmetic job. Why some have this, and the majority don't, is beyond my knowledge but, if anyone knows, I'd love to hear about it. For the time being, I'm assuming it's part of the overall 'look at me' plumage.


A great bird for illustrating the eye make-up is the Spectacled Weaver. Its eye markings remind me of the eye make-up we all tried to emulate in the 60's following Liz Taylor in Cleopatra. Unfortunately, my photos are rubbish. I had the most splendid opportunity with them nest building high over the path outside tent 3 at Musekese but, as explained before, my hands let me down because I can't hold a camera steady at height! Here's a rubbish photo, but you can see the wonderful Cleopatra style eye kohl.





And then there's the African Quail Finch. I'd only seen it once before and fleetingly but, this time, we were out on all day trip from Ntemwa, on our own with Gilbert. He's a great birder and we spent the first couple of hours doing the small stuff and the detail. It was such a treat! This little bird is just 10 cms long and weighs between 10 & 14 gms - less than 1/2 an ounce! It was early, the light was poor and the bird is titchy, but anyway, isn't it great - look at the eye make up! And look how it highlights the eye!





And finally, there's one of my all-time faves. During my first visit to the Kafue in 2006 I'd spent the whole morning looking for this bird, along with Ferrison Kalembelembe, then at Lunga River Lodge, only to find it in the chicken coop at lunchtime. However, at Musekese, they are all over the path and in the leaf litter. Just a top bird and the white round the eye reminds me of the way we did eye make up in the mid-60s. We did that because it makes the eye look bigger. Do you think it's the same for birds?





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Edited by Galago
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The Eyes Have It #5


The Most Important Eyes


On safari we entrust our guides with our lives.  All the time, while we are ooh'ing and ah'ing and taking photos, they are on the alert, most especially when we're enjoying a sundowner.  I reported on the 'Please get back in the vehicle' with the lion in Musekese/ Ntewmwa Safari - a September Saga, just when we'd been joking about this. But the thing is, while we are just enjoying ourselves, our guide is all senses on alert. This photo of Gilbert, top guide, just sums it up for me. He's casually setting up the sundowner table but, look at his eyes - not on us but just checking around, always attentive to the task in hand, ever watchful.










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Beautiful red throated twinspot and quail finch.  They both consult the same makeup artist.  The most important eye post is so true!


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