Black-winged stilts

I recognize the black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) pretty easily by its long red legs and the black wings on an otherwise white bird. Its name is highly appropriate. Interestingly, it is found across the world in a belt around the equator between about 40 degrees north and about that far south. Nor are they rare. I see them in the tidal waters around Mumbai whenever I’ve let myself get pretty rusty about waterbirds recently, but when we made a trip to Jamnagar, this was still one of the birds I remembered.

You can easily tell the difference between a male and a female: the male has glossy black wings, but the female has dark brown wings, like in the photo above. The very minor difference between the sexes means that they share the job of rearing their young. They usually stride about pretty confidently in shallow waters, so when I saw a female extract her toes from the water and wiggle it around, I knew that she was stirring up the water in the hope of bringing some insects to the surface, in order to pick it up in its long and elegant bill. It does plunge its head into the water sometimes, but it does that so seldom that I guess it is not something it really wants to do.

Some time back I found that birds sleep with half their brain at a time. Also, waders like to sleep out in the water, and retract the leg connected to the sleeping hemisphere of their brains. Ever since then I’ve had a little thrill of recognition when I find a bird standing on one leg. This one looked around once; there is really no human equivalent of this, but I could imagine me dozing on a railway platform and looking up sleepily at an odd noise.

First view of Lake Amboseli

Our first view of Lake Amboseli was enchanting. The lake is very shallow but extensive. We drove past rapidly, since our guide wanted to show us large mammals. But even in that quick pass I managed to take several photos. I didn’t want to stop longer because we still hadn’t got ourselves a field guide for the birds of Kenya, and we would not be able to identify what we saw. In retrospect that was a mistake, because we could have taken photos for later identification.

Looking at them later I discovered more than 15 species of birds. Here you see three plains zebras (Equus quagga) and a considerable number of greater and lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus and Phoenicopterus minor, respectively). If you look carefully at the photo you’ll see a black winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) and a Blacksmith lapwing (Vanellus armatus). The last species is found only in Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope northwards to Angola in the west and Kenya in the east. Although it is common, this was a lifer. We’d seen the other three in India.