We’d left the lodge when it was still dark, and now we’d spent about three hours on the drive. I was beginning to feel hungry. There was some trail mix and some fruits to keep us going for a while, so I didn’t mind when we stopped at a little pool of water to look for birds. There must be many such pools around, because this wasn’t thickly populated. The first one I spotted had noticeably long legs and knobby knees. A thick-knee clearly. It turned out to be the water thick-knee (Burhinus vermiculatus) We were lucky to see this nocturnal bird, perhaps it was half asleep, or just a little late in seeking cover. Little seems to be known about this bird except that we were in one of its breeding ranges.
A fixture at all water bodies in the Maasai Mara, at least in this season, is the Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca). We saw a pair here. This was the closest I ever got to one, and got to take this very satisfying photo which shows that little fleck of orange on its beak.
But the most intriguing sighting was this little bird, standing on what could be its nest. I haven’t yet managed to identify it, and any help would be highly appreciated. Could it be the Golden pipit? It has been seen before in the Mara triangle. But this one lacked a crest and the black neck markings of the male. The photos I have seen of the female are very drab, not the bright yellow that it looks here.
A bend in the river Mara lay a little way down from the hotel that we were in. This part of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve was called the Mara Triangle, and lay pretty far from the main entrance to the reserve. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, and left for a game drive soon after lunch.
Although we spent a long time waiting for wildebeest to cross the river, an iconic sight, we managed to see quite a variety of wildlife that afternoon. The slideshow above has a selection of what we saw: from butterflies to lions.
When you use the words five and big together in the context of East African safaris, people think you are going to talk about The Big Five: the elephant, the leopard, the lion, the rhino and the Cape buffalo. That’s not really what I want to show you here. Instead I want to introduce you to five things in Amboseli national park that came as surprises (and very pleasant ones) because I had no idea that I would see them. In fact, until Anthony pointed out a East African black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) I didn’t even know of this creature. The sight of it running through the grassland with a stolen part of a kill, an antelope’s hindquarters, was an exciting sight. I met this species later, for a much better sighting, but it wasn’t as thrilling as this.
Seeing an Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) for the first time also counts among my big memories of Amboseli. I should have been aware of this species, it is after all visible in ancient Egyptian artwork. For a moment I thought I was looking at a ruddy shelduck, but Anthony gave the correct identification immediately. The red eye and the patch around it is a dead giveaway.
The huge dust devils which spring up through the national park in this season also count as a big surprise. I’d noticed little whirligigs of dust spin across the plains for a while, but this spout was amazing. I’d read about the dust, and was prepared with a breathing mask and lots of antihistamines. But nothing had prepared me for these incredible tall devils.
Meeting the iridescent glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) definitely counts among the big ones. Not because it was a lifer, but because it was like meeting an old friend for the first time in a decade on a street car halfway across the world. This was something I knew, but hadn’t given much thought to. The fact is that it is one of the most widely distributed of Ibis species.
The Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is definitely one of the Big Five, no matter which way you think of it. I thought it surprising that it looked so much like an Indian water buffalo. But then I began to notice differences: its more robust build, and the way its horns meet at the center of the forehead. Fortunately I never got to test the bad temperament which has led to its genes never being mixed into domestic bovines.