Monday, June 30, 2014

Masai Ostrich

The ostrich is the largest bird in the world and the fastest, running up to speeds of 43 mph. It also lays the largest egg of any bird.
It is hard not to look at this bird and think drumsticks. A male in Nairobi NP. The legs, neck and head are extra pink because it is breeding season and love was in the air.
Same male. Good look at two toed feet.
There are five subspecies of the common ostrich, or perhaps two species, the common ostrich and Somali ostrich, with four subspecies of the common ostrich. While in Buffalo Springs NR and Shaba NR we were in areas that have Somali ostriches, which have distinctive necks and thighs of gray blue. Unfortunately, we did not see any of them. We did see the Masai ostrich, one of the four subspecies of the common ostrich, characterized by pink neck and thighs, with the male's neck and thighs becoming brighter pink during mating season. The Masai ostrich is found in southern Somalia, Ethiopia, southern Kenya and eastern Tanzania. 
This guy really had the pink. Also in Nairobi NP. Another male is in the distance.
Female in Ngorongoro Crater.
Adult male ostriches have mostly black feathers with white primaries and a white tail. The feathers of females and young males are grayish brown and white.
Males and female together in Ngorongoro Crater. Photo by John Mirau.
Female in Ngorongoro Crater with male and female in background. Photo by John Mirau.
Their heads and necks are nearly bare, but have a thin layer of down. The skin of the females ostriches neck and thighs is pinkish gray. As previously indicated, the male Somali ostrich has pink neck and thighs. The male can get as large as 320 pounds and 9 feet, two inches in height.  The female is smaller, getting up to 220 pounds and 6 feet, seven inches in height.
Female in Nairobi NP.
Female in Ngorongoro Crater. I love the mixture of blacks, whites and grays and shadows in the female.

A male and two females in a burned area near sunset in Serengeti NP.
Male in Masai Mara. Photo by Steven Shuel.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Carnivore Restaurant - Nairobi

Many years ago, when my brother Layne was alive, he visited Kenya on a number of occasions and told me about a restaurant called "Carnivore" that served wild game such as zebra, wildebeest, cape buffalo and eland. When we determined awhile back that we would visit Kenya, one of the first things I did was do a Google search for Carnivore so that I could make sure we got it into our itinerary. I was horribly disappointed to learn that over ten years ago the game laws of Kenya were changed and game animals can no longer be hunted, which also means that wild game can no longer be served on restaurant menus. Carnivore had to adjust to survive and it did so by becoming more of a Brazilian type restaurant, with typical meats such as beef, pork and chicken served on spits and carved and served in front of you at the table. They've maintained a semblance of the old aura by serving meats of some exotic animals that are raised on ranches, such as camel, ostrich and crocodile. We were visiting Kenya with a tour and I was going to arrange to visit Carnivore on my own, but upon learning about the changes in the menu I decided it was not worth making a special effort to get there.
Our Land Cruisers pull up to Carnivore.
Judy and I with the greeter in the front. The lighting is horrible, but I had to use the picture anyway. The greeter remembered me at the end and the fact my brother had been here many years ago. 
As we got closer to tour time, Fun For Less Tours called and asked if we wanted to go to Carnivore to eat on our last evening in Nairobi. We happily said yes, although with much less anticipation than I'd felt earlier. 
A most distinctive sight: red light emanating with steam and an incredible cooking meat smell.
I am so glad we visited. It was much more fun than I anticipated, particularly because our entire tour group of about 35 people all attended. As we entered we were witness to a dark room with a circular pit with glowing red lights and steam rising into the air. Meats of various shapes and sizes were on spits over coals in the pit. 
A picture with the flash takes away some of the magic, but gives more detail.
We were directed to long banquet tables outside and under a canopy. It was nice to be outside. Circular serving trays with two levels were sprinkled strategically on the table and they contained various kinds of sauces for the meat like garlic and tikka masala, among others. The tray also had some salad fixings, such as lettuce (which we were trying to avoid for safety reasons), sliced tomato, cucumber and red pepper and coleslaw. We were told what types of meats the sauces were particularly good on (which turned out to be correct) and then the meat barrage started. Men dressed in straw hats, zebra striped aprons and colorful African shirts started visiting each person at the table, offering to slice them off pieces of various types of meat. Although not majorly exotic, the variety was impressive.

Doesn't this look fun!
I had chicken livers, ox balls (their words not mine), lamb pieces (they called them chops), ostrich meat balls, crocodile, rare beef, leg of lamb, pork spare ribs, leg of pork, turkey (carved off a whole bird), chicken wings, chicken pieces and beef sausages. The menu said there were some items served that I did not get, including lamb liver and lamb sausage, both of which I would love to have tried. The best meats on the menu were the ostrich meat balls (very nice flavor and the recommended sauce on it was fabulous), leg of lamb and rare sliced beef with the tikka masala sauce sprinkled liberally on it. The ox balls were the first testicles I've eaten that were not breaded and fried. I now know why they are breaded and fried. Plain they have a weird texture, kind of soft, but also with some resistance, and they had very little taste. The bison, beef and turkey testicles I've eaten were much spicier and much more tender.
Carousel with sauces on top and salad fixings on the bottom.
Chicken piece with sauce, beef sausage, lamb and ostrich meat ball.
Rare beef with tikka masala sauce (yum), spinach.
Garlic mashed potatoes, liver?, I don't remember. 
Judy was feeling the effects of a bug and could hardly eat, which gave her some attention from the waiters, as the rest of us ate like Tongans at an eating competition. It was wonderful, except for Judy not being able to enjoy it. Glad it worked out. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Diederik Cuckoo

The diederik cuckoo, also known as the didrik cuckoo, is a beautiful bird with upper parts that are metallic green with a coppery colored wash and white blotches on the wing. 
Diederik cuckoo in Nairobi NP in Kenya.
The underparts are white with coppery green bars on the flanks. It has a distinctive white eye stripe, red eyes and a black bill. The female is more coppery on the back and wings and the immature bird has a red bill, which is what we found. It has a dee-dee-dee-deedric call which is how I assume it got its name. It is found in all of Sub-Saharan Africa except for true deserts. This has been one of the harder birds for me to identify. We only saw one, in Nairobi National Park.

Friday, June 27, 2014

White-Browed Coucal

The white-browed coucal has red eyes, rufous wings, a brown face and crown with a long white eyebrow, a dusky nape, chest and upper body with black and white streaks, a white belly and a long black tail. 
White-browed coucal in Nairobi NP, Kenya.
It is found from Ethiopia south through most of east Africa to Malawi, the Zambezi River and Angola. It is often called the "water bottle bird" because its bubbly call sounds like water being poured out of a bottle. We only saw one, in Nairobi National Park. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

White-Bellied Bustard

The male white-bellied bustard has a distinctive blue neck and chest, whitish belly, white face with black markings, a red bill base and a blackish/brown crown. The upper parts of the body are brown with dark brown vermiculations (dense, but irregular patterns). The female is more dull with a brown crown and hind neck and buffy orange to brownish gray fore neck. 
Male white-bellied bustard. A duller female is just visible on the right side. Photo by Mark Edwards. 
It is found in several zones: (a) the Sahel, a horizontal transition zone in Africa between the Sahara desert to the north and the savannah to the south, from Senegal to the west and Sudan to the east; (b) southern Ethiopia south to central Tanzania; (c) Gabon to west Zambia; and (d) South Africa. This is supposed to be one of the more common bustards in the area we visited, but we only saw one, I believe in the Masai Mara. We saw two other bustard species, the buff-crested bustard and the Somali Kori bustard.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


The bateleur is a very cool looking eagle found in central to southern Africa, except for the rain forest belt. Natonal Audobon Society's Field Guide to African Wildlife calls it the "world's most attractive raptor." The most striking characteristics are its bright red face (skin, not feathers), base of its bill and legs. The rest of the bateleur is mostly black, except for the balance of the bill which is yellow with a black tip, a very short chestnut-colored tail, gray or brown shoulders and a chestnut-colored back. It constructs a nest in a tree and lays a single egg. It mates for life. "Bateleur" is French for "street performer," because it rocks its wings from side to side when gliding, as if catching its balance like a tight-rope walker. 
Bateleur on nest in Buffalo Springs NR. Photo by Mark Edwards.
It flies most of the day, covering up to 250 square miles, and feeds on hares, dik-diks, guineafowl, bustards, doves, rollers, monitor lizards and insects. We saw one bateleur in Buffalo Springs NR in a nest up in a tall tree. I spotted it flying and our guide maneuvered our Land Cruiser to a good view of it from the side. It appeared to have a chick, but we did not get a good look at it. 
Beautiful red face, yellow bill, red legs just barely visible, chestnut colored tail and grayish-brown shoulders. Photo by Mark Edwards.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


The secretarybird is a bird that I remember seeing pictures of in my youth and thinking that I would love to see one someday. While driving in Buffalo Springs NR in northern Kenya, I saw one fly by, wings outstretched and feet back behind it, and I knew it was a secretarybird instantly. I asked our driver to go in its direction to see if we could find it, but to no avail.
Flying secretarybird. Picture from Wikipedia. On this one, the tail feathers are not longer than the back-stretched legs.
Sometime later that morning, we came across one walking through the bushes and watched it for several minutes. It was a thrill. One of our other groups saw one grab a small rabbit and swallow it whole. 
The secretarybird behaves a lot like our roadrunner, except does not appear to be as fast. Very fun to watch. 
One of the very neat aspects of the secretarybird is the long feathers on the back of the neck, especially when they are popped out for display. Photo from Michael Lewin.
In addition to the feathers, the red and yellow face and bill really stand out. Photo from Michael Lewin.
I love the intermingling of tan feathers among the gray feathers. It almost looks like it took a dust bath. Photo from Michael Lewin. 
The secretarybird is found in most of Sub-Saharan Africa and has an eagle-like body and head with a hooked bill and crane-like legs.
What is not to love about this bird? Photo from Michael Lewin.
Imagine how terrifying this sight has to be to a small rodent? Photo from Michael Lewin.
In flight, it has two elongated feathers that extend beyond its feet and it resembles a crane.
Flying secretarybird from Wikipedia. This one does have a tail that extends beyond its legs.
The flight feathers and thighs are black, while most of the other feathers are gray.
Photo by Esmee Tooke.
Unlike other birds of prey, it hunts mostly on foot, stomping on clumps of vegetation or waiting near fires to eat animals trying to escape. They will strike prey with their bill or stamp on the prey to stun it and then usually eat it whole although they can tear prey apart with their feet.
This rabbit was captured and swallowed whole.
This bird just wreaks coolness.
Their kicks are powerful enough to shatter a human hand with one kick and there have been reports of them killing humans. 

The secretarybird is featured on the coat of arms of Sudan and South Africa. Note that the coat of arms both emphasis the popped out back-neck feathers.
Sudan coat of arms from Wikipedia.
South Africa coat of arms from Wikipedia.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Verreaux's Eagle Owl

Verreaux's eagle owl is named after the French naturalist Jules Verreaux, who also has an eagle, coua, sifaka, white-tipped dove and golden parrotbill named after him. It is the largest African owl and the world's third heaviest owl. It is distinguished by a whitish oval disk face with a black border and pink eyelids. It has two fluffy ear-tufts similar to a great horned owl. 

We saw them on two occasions. The first was in Buffalo Springs National Reserve in northern Kenya. Our driver got a call over his radio that a leopard had been spotted in a tree. When we got there, several vehicles were parked and people were scanning one of several trees. It took awhile, but we eventually caught sight of a striped tail hanging down over the limb of a tree. Our driver got closer and he eventually said, it looks more like an owl. It finally became apparent, as more and more people got looking at it with binoculars, that it was an owl in the tree feeding on a large-spotted genet, a  carnivorous mammal related to the civet, which is nocturnal and has a striped tail. It was unbelievable to me that this owl could take down a carnivorous cat. 
Verreaux's eagle owl feeding on a large-spotted genet in a tree. Photo by Steven Shuel.
Another photo of the owl and genet. Photo by John Mirau.
After watching awhile, we left, but one of the Land Cruisers with us stayed awhile longer and saw the owl take flight with the genet - and they got pictures. Absolutely unbelievable. How it can carry that large cat is beyond me. 
The owl takes flight with the genet in tow. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
The owl carries the genet to another location where it can eat in peace. Photo by Esmee Tooke. 
Later in the trip we took a night game drive in Masai Mara NR in southern Kenya. Not too long after leaving the Serena Mara Lodge, a Verreaux's eagle owl was spotted by the people in the other vehicle I was not in. 
Verreaux's eagle owl near the Serena Mara. The pink eyelids were removed when getting rid of the severe redeye caused by taking the picture at night. Photo by John Mirau.