Sunday, August 31, 2014

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's hawk migrates farther than any other North American raptor. It winters in South America and spends spring and summer in North America. I saw these Swainson's hawks, three of them, a parent and two juveniles, just outside Alamosa, Colorado in August 2014, standing on or near a stick nest in a tree near the edge of a dirt road. 
An adult Swainson's hawk (right), apparently a dark morph, and a juvenile to the left, on a stick nest in a tree. 
This juvenile was standing a few yards away in the same tree. Note the incomplete bib on its chest.
Adults have a dark reddish bib across a white chest and a white throat and face patch, dark flight feathers and light underwing coverts, the feathers on the leading edge of the wing before the flight feathers. The tail has about six narrow dark bands and one wider bottom band. Juveniles usually have an orange hue and a bib missing the center portion. About 10% are a dark morph version which looks quite a bit different. The bib is difficult to discern and the flight feathers may look light in contrast with the dark body and darker underwing coverts. It has a light patch at the base of the tail. 
One juvenile takes flight while the other contemplates it.
This juvenile has an orange hue, the lighter leading edge of the wing feathers and the banded tail feathers. 
A side view of the flying hawk.

After taking flight, this juvenile landed in another tree down the road which also had a large stick nest in it. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Giant Forest Hog

The giant forest hog is found in portions of West Africa and Central Africa and can be found as far east in Africa as Mount Kenya and the Ethiopian Highlands. It is the largest member of the pig family and can get as heavy as 600 pounds. It has extensive hair which gets less pronounced as it ages. The hair nearest the skin can be a deep orange color. It has large pointy ears and its tusks flare outward. It has large cheek pads near its eyes. It is mostly nocturnal, but is sometimes diurnal in protected areas, like where we were, on Mt. Kenya. We viewed a giant forest hog from our lodge on Mt. Kenya. It had quite a large tusk, but was missing one on one side. It had long shaggy orange hair. We originally thought it was a warthog, but our guide later suggested to us that it was likely a giant forest hog as warthogs are not found in that area. 
Giant forest hog at Mt. Kenya NR. Photo by Michael Lewin.
Photo by Mark Edwards

Friday, August 29, 2014

Yellow-Billed Kite

The yellow-billed kite has been considered a subspecies of the black kite, but recent DNA testing suggests that it is a separate species. It is found in much of sub-Saharan Africa and is recognized by its entirely yellow bill. It is a brown bird with rusty streaked underparts and yellow legs and feet. We encountered this bird at the hippo pool in Ngorongoro Crater where it aggressively swooped down and stole sandwiches from visitors eating lunch in one of the few areas in the crater where you could get out of the vehicle and walk around. 
Yellow-billed kite
Photo by John Mirau
Photo by Steven Shuel
Photo by Steven Shuel

Thursday, August 28, 2014

African Leopard

I enjoy doing posts on animals as I learn a lot about them in the process. One of my big surprises has come from this post on leopards. I had always assumed leopards were limited to Africa, except for the snow leopard of the Himalayas. I am shocked to find that leopards have historically been found and are still found in small numbers in widely varying areas of the world, although the vast majority of them are found in Africa. Based on DNA tests done in the 1990s, it has been determined that there are nine leopard subspecies, none of which include the snow leopard (the closest relative of the snow leopard is actually the tiger, not the leopard). All of the leopards in sub-Saharan Africa are known as African leopards. Other subspecies are found in locations such as India, Indonesia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Russian Far East, Korea, China, Iran, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
Photo by Jack Duckworth
Photo by Michael Lewin
Photo by Michael Lewin
Photo by Esmee Tooke
The African leopard can run up to 36 mph and has an amazing ability to climb trees while carrying a heavy carcass. Coat color and patterning vary a lot by habitat type. The rosettes on the coat are circular in East Africa, but are more square in southern Africa and larger in Asia. The yellow coat is more pale and cream colored in the desert, more gray in colder areas and a darker gold in the rain forest. 

I only saw one leopard in Africa. It was in Serengeti National Park, laying on a tree branch high up in a tree, and we were able to watch it for quite a while. 
Photo by Michael Lewin
Photo by Mark Edwards
Photo by John Mirau
Others in our group in a different vehicles saw multiple other leopards, in the Serengeti as well as Masai Mara. 
I love this picture: the leopard and it's spots in the shadows. Photo by Michael Lewin.
Mixing in with the background. Photo by Michael Lewin.
Photo by Michael Lewin
It is a fascinating and beautiful animal. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Western White-Bearded Wildebeest

There are two species of wildebeest: the blue wildebeest and the black wildebeest. The wildebeest is an antelope and comes from the Dutch word meaning "wild beast." The blue wildebeest is also known as the white-bearded gnu and brindled gnu and has five subspecies. We saw the white-bearded wildebeest, one of the subspecies, primarily in Ngorongoro Crater, but also in Serengeti National Park. 

The western white-bearded wildebeest is found in southwestern Kenya and northern Tanzania west of the Rift Valley. It is the smallest of the subspecies and has the shortest horns. It has a broad, flattened, muzzle, cow-like horns, a short neck, and high shoulders. Their forequarters are heavy compared to the hindquarters. The horns protrude to the side, then curve downwards, and then curve up back towards the skull. It has a dark gray coat with black vertical stripes of longer hair on the forequarters, but it may also have a bluish sheen. The beard is white and it has a black facial blaze, black tail and black mane. 
I love this picture because of the diversity it shows. Several young gnu with horns, beards and manes in various stages of development. Different angles on horns and on various beards. Photo by Judy.
This looks like a picture from the geriatric ward. Knobby knees, scraggly beards, bad toupees, flat and hairy noses. So much to love. Photo by Michael Lewin. 
A face only a mother could love, and even she may be exempt. Photo by Mark Edwards.
An interesting head-bump with the horns. It almost looks like a beanie on top. Photo by Judy.
Striped hair on the side and very long and full tail. Photo by Judy.
Photo by John Mirau.
They are quite fast, reaching speeds of 50 mph and have what is known as "swarm intelligence," where they act as one in a large group to overcome an obstacle. For example, we learned that when crossing the Mara River, which is full of crocodiles, the wildebeest will gather for days on the bank, then will cross in one gigantic mass. The crocodiles will get a few of the crossing wildebeest, but the vast majority will make it through, much more than if they crossed at odd-times and gave the crocodiles more opportunity to pick them off. 
They are the most populous animal in the Serengeti ecosystem and take part in the great migration. Photo by Michael Lewin. 
Photo by Steven Shuel
Photo by Michael Lewin
They are kind of goofy and ugly, but I found them fascinating and loved to watch them. 
Not particularly bothered by the vehicle. 
Fall in line and follow the vehicles.
In Ngorongoro Crater, we watched them chasing each other about, and then males would go at each other at great speeds and crash heads and horns. 
These two get about as close to each other as possible. Perhaps this is why they have such flat faces. Photo by Esmee Tooke.  
These two prepare to crash head-on. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
These to have just crashed head-on and stagger backwards. Photo by John Mirau

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kirk's Dik-Dik

There are four species of dik-dik, a small antelope found in Africa: (1) Gunther's; (2) Kirk's; (3) Silver; and (4) Salt's. We happened to see Kirk's dik-dik, which grows to a height of 14 to 18 inches at the shoulder and weighs up to 15 pounds. It has a reddish/brown head, a trunk-like snout, a head-crest that stands erect on its head, large eyes with a white eye-ring, large ears and a gray to brown coat, with tan flanks and legs and whitish underparts. A bare black spot below the inside corner of the eye contains a gland that produces a dark secretion which they use to scent-mark their territories. The male has horns that slant backwards and are sharply ridged. They have good eyesight and can run up to 26 mph. 
Side profile of Kirk's dik-dik. Photo by Mark Edwards.
A male with his two small horns.
White undersides and horns. Photo by John Mirau.
Good view of scent gland below eye,  trunk-like snout, standing hair on crest of head. Photo by Mark Edwards.
Standing hair on crest of head on a female. Photo by Mark Edwards.
Eye with white eye-ring and a different angle on the snout. Photo by Mark Edwards.
Kirk's dik-dik is found from southern Somalia to central Tanzania and Namibia to southwestern Angola. We got pictures of them in Buffalo Springs NR and Serengeti NP and may have seen them in other places. They were also found on the grounds of the Serena Serengeti Lodge where we saw them right near our little cabins. They were extremely quick and moved around almost like a rodent. 
On the grounds of the Serena Serengeti Lodge. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
Photo by Mark Edwards
Photo by Michael Lewin.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Grant's Zebra

My last post was on the Grevy's zebra, one of three species of zebra. The other two zebra species are the mountain zebra and the plains zebra. The plains zebra has a number of subspecies, one of which is the Grant's zebra, the other zebra we saw on our trip to Kenya and Tanzania. The Grant's zebra is the most populous of all zebras.
I believe this big group of zebras was in Serengeti NP. Photo by Michael Lewin. 
Another very different landscape: in Ngorongoro Crater. Photo by Judy.
In the Serengeti. 
In a burned area of the Serengeti.
Another area of the Serengeti.
Ngorongoro Crater. 
Serengeti NP.
The Grant's zebra has vertical stripes in front, horizontal stripes on the back legs, and diagonal stripes on the rump and hind flanks. Some of the northern Grant's zebras do not have a mane. They grow as tall as four feet, seven inches (presumably at the shoulder), about eight inches shorter than the Grevy's zebra, and weigh as much as 660 pounds, about 330 pounds less than the Grevy's zebra.
We heard them bray on a number of occasions. It seemed like a warning to others that we were near. 
Mother and child in Buffalo Springs, also an area that had Grevy's zebras. Photo by Steven Shuel.
Mother and child in Ngorongoro Crater. Photo by Mark Edwards.
Youngster in Lake Nakuru National Park. The brown stripes will turn black as it gets older. Photo by Mark Edwards.
A youngster trying to nurse in the Serengeti. 
Photo by Michael Lewin
Photo by Michael Lewin
Photo by Esmee Tooke
Some of the Grant's zebras do not have manes, like this one in Lake Nakuru NP. 
By the time we finished our trip we were pretty blase about zebras. We saw so many of them. But as I come home and look at pictures again, some of the excitement is rekindled. They were a lot of fun to watch. So I share some of my favorite zebra pictures.
The transition of stripes in the hindquarters is very different from the Grevy's zebra. The stripes are more diagonal on the hindquarters. Photo by Steven Shuel.
Mother and child with Coke's hartebeest in Nairobi NP.
Youngster with impalas in Lake Nakuru NP. 
Photo by John Mirau
Note the stripes continue on down the tail.
The stripes continue on to the belly. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
Photo by Mark Edwards