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my kenya diary part two

2004-02-08 - 9:12 a.m.

This is Part Two of my Kenya diary based on my notes from my Raptours trip headed by Bill Clark, author of A Field Guide to the Raptors of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa as well as several other leading raptor guides. Visit right here for Part One. Click here for the bird list dated Jan. 11-25, 2004.

common zebra mother with foal
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

Jan. 13, 2004

On Monday I had forgotten to take my Lariam with breakfast and didn't have the opportunity to take it until I ate dinner, which was little more than soup and a Bloody Mary thanks to our huge picnic lunch. I want to record the results for my own records but, since there is little more tedious than reading other people's dreams or drug experiences, I invite you to skip ahead by clicking here if you want to bypass the long-winded description of my dream on the morning of Jan. 13.

The following dream notes are copied pretty much verbatim from my paper diary:

Around 1:30 A.M. I heard the Sacred Ibis cry -- note: it was actually the Hadada Ibis which cried from the rookery on the hotel grounds containing both species, but throughout the course of the dream, I thought of the cry as coming from the Sacred Ibis -- as they left the roost. I had a sensation of a rush of wings as the birds flew away. I kept jerking awake as I fell asleep (?) or perhaps I was already asleep and kept dreaming that I was doing so. I dreamed that there were earth tremors and that the bed rocked. (?) I thought this really happened.

The back door flew open and I went out around 3:30 A.M. and I saw the waning moon and a bright planet -- I would normally say Jupiter but Saturn is said to be unusually bright -- and moon, planets, stars glowed in a black velvet sky. It never gets this dark in Mandeville anymore.

I looked at the roost and the ibis had gone. I probably couldn't have seen the Hadada Ibis anyway in the darkness but the white of the Sacred Ibis had glowed against the trees on previous nights, and the birds were gone. I think this part really happened. When I awoke in the morning, the Ibis had moved off the roost although I could still hear them. On the other mornings, the Ibis had been a very visible part of the roost at that hour.

Yet other parts of the dream were clearly a dream. I had died and I was at the airport greeting people as you are no longer allowed to do. No one noticed me and I thought I was a ghost who had left my body. But as soon as I thought this, I asked the next woman leaving the gate, "Am I a ghost?" and she replied, "Would you die for me?" She was blonde, thirtyish, in a 1960s style stewardess dress but not such a short hem.

I don't remember what happened next or what I said. Then I boarded a truck which was a bus underneath. When it stopped at a hotel I felt uneasy as I heard two strange men boarding or adjusting the truck's exterior. So I became a bird and flew out of the bus without anyone seeing. As I flew up the side of the hotel, I saw that it was a small skyscraper with an unfinished tower. I also saw that the "bus" had a chemical tank on top. Then I was terrified that it was going to explode.

So I flew faster to get over the building but I saw the truck go off and the mushroom cloud come up and out from below. And I tried to fly over the shorter unfinished spire but there was a broad unfinished covered parking garage that I had to cross first and I couldn't get across before the flames reached me.

I don't recall the rest.

Whew. Needless to say, I don't advise anyone to take Lariam too close to bedtime. The odd reality of the experience was sufficient to cause me to inquire if there had, indeed, been any earth tremors in the night, which was laughed off by the rest of the tour participants. Even though I know it didn't -- couldn't have -- happened, it's like a tiny voice inside of my mind is whispering, But it did happen. A tad creepy.

I'm guessing that something frightened the Ibis away from their roost in the middle of the night, creating the sounds which inspired the whole dream. After all, unless I was still hallucinating on Tuesday morning, which didn't appear to be the case, the Ibis had definitely moved off the roost. But the other elements that seemed so real -- the balcony door coming open and leading into the starry night, the multiple earth tremors that made it difficult to walk, perhaps even the impression of getting up and walking around at all -- were likely all part of the dream.

16 yr. old lanner falcon female
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

Today we visited Simon Thomsett's raptor aviary. Among other birds, we met this 16 year old Lanner Falcon female who greatly dislikes Tawny Eagles -- she was once seriously injured by one -- and the good-looking 4 year old Crowned Eagle pictured a few entries back to whet your appetite.

Thomsett has been instrumental in breeding and restoring Crowned Eagles, but he has been almost too successful, since he could produce more Crowned Eagles than remaining habitat exists for them. Apparently the future of the forest is quite grim in Kenya, as it is in the U.S., since there is always an economic incentive to cut down the last tree. It is the same story the world over apparently, and I was sadly reminded of what is happening back home in St. Tammany, where I honestly wonder at times if there will be a real tree standing (and I don't mean a papermill jack pine) by 2030.

For their protection, Thomsett encourages wild raptors to visit his property, where they will not be hunted. Indeed, he has domestic doves and chickens running around to feed them, and we were delighted to see a wild Lanner Falcon take the bait. It came around and swooped twice before making a successful third strike. Another wild bird, a Gabar Goshawk, was hanging around nearby with its entire body language hinting for something to happen, so Thomsett flung some chicken in the air which it caught expertly. It was breath-taking to see wild raptors hunting so close. Many more soared overhead, some quite high. When the captive Lanner Falcon pictured above complained of a Tawny Eagle, we looked up to see a Black-Shouldered Kite attacking -- yes -- a Tawny Eagle.

It was another day with a huge bird list. Exciting species were everywhere. Hell, a good-looking male Trumpeter Hornbill was calmly cropping some sort of fruit off a tree in a gas station parking lot.

Around 5 P.M. we reached Tsavo West. Hornbills (Gray, Von der Decken's, and Red-Billed) were everywhere. A Secretary Bird was preparing to roost on a branch overhanging the road, so that we were eye to eye with the bird when we drove up. It stood, flared in a threat display, and finally removed itself a short distance away, leaving us in awe of a remarkable bird with its proud head of plume feathers and the will to display them. We also observed our first African elephant, a lone male with huge tusks.

We reached the Kilaguni hotel at sunset, where we were given towels and a fruit punch to enjoy as we overlooked the watering hole complete with Southern Ground Hornbills, jackals, the ever-unpopular baboons, and impala. My room overlooked the watering hole from the back porch. I could see Mount Kilimanjaro lost in the clouds.

mount kilimanjaro is actually in tanzania
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

It was dark by dinner, and we saw some interesting mammals during and after we dined -- black-backed jackal, African civet, spotted hyena, swamp mongoose, large-spotted genet. The genet came after dinner when everyone had left except for me, D., and A. It approached the restaurant slowly, first perching on a bird feeding station, and finally slinking into the building. I was thrilled when it checked around my chair for crumbs. It was house cat sized, and it moved with a sleek catlike grace, but its face wasn't feline and its tail was positively racoon-ly.

I had trouble sleeping and sat for awhile watching the zebras approach the pool. The male zebra takes his role as scout and guard seriously, and if he senses danger, he will not hesitate to bar the other zebras from moving forward. Impatient baby zebras get sent to the back of the herd!

New raptors of the day include Gabar Goshawk, Grasshopper Buzzard, Greater Spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, Martial Eagle (high - we'd get much better views later), Secretary Bird, Lanner Falcon.

steppe eagle
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

Jan. 14, 2004

At breakfast in the morning, I was favorably impressed by the Common Bulbul who visited our table, asked me for one crumb of bread, then went to another table instead of pestering me for the entire slice. He was a remarkably courteous bird who took care not to overstay his welcome at any one table.

We spent all day exploring Tsavo West, where we encountered four new raptors including Lizard Buzzard, Shikra, an adorable pair of Pygmy Falcons, and a splendid Palm-Nut Vulture. Yes, a vegetarian vulture -- well, partly vegetarian, anyway. Many Palm-Nut Vultures are said to be stained red from their favorite vice, indulging in palm nuts, but the specimen that we encountered at our picnic grounds boasted crisp snow-white plumage that set off his handsome features magnificently.

We visited a dizzying variety of habitats -- passing volcanic cones, natural ponds or watering holes, even ascending a mountain where I noticed huge numbers of beautiful butterfly species "hilltopping" in what I'm pretty sure was a sexual display. The variety of colors was amazing, from orange to purple. A notable black and white spotted butterfly actually flashed purple/blue when the light caught it right.

D. birded the hilltop and also scanned the ground spread out 
for us below where we observed at least 50 cape buffalo
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

Among other interesting sights, we located a Brown Snake Eagle sitting guard by his incubating mate. Both birds had to sit low, because they were being mobbed by a pair of grouchy Common Drongos. We were to observe that Drongos are the self-appointed watchbirds of Kenya; without kingbirds or mockingbirds to police the wilds, it's up to the Drongos to try to move any Eagles out of small-bird territory. For the most part, the Eagles just pretend not to notice these high-spirited pests.

It was another day with a long bird list that I don't feel like typing out, so I'll just mention that Hoopoe and Green Woodhoopoe were two of the several impressive new species that we added.

We arrived back at the hotel in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background and the busy watering hole in the foreground. After dinner, and well after dark, a pair of surprisingly huge Verreaux's Eagle-Owls stopped by for a visit.

Jan. 15, 2004

It was a cool morning with a large influx of Marabou Storks gathered around the watering hole. Another day in Tsavo West, another huge bird list. The new raptor of the day was Verreaux's Eagle -- in fact, there were two of them being harassed by an Augur Buzzard. Not to be left out of the fun, a Tawny Eagle harassed a juvenile Martial Eagle, which nicely showed off the size difference between the two species.

some volcanoes of tsavo west
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

The Long-Tailed Fiscals were gathered into many small noisy flocks. One group commandeered the middle of the road for what is presumably their mating dance, as the birds were pairing off two by two as they strutted and wagged their tails.

Impressive birds of the day include Wire-Tailed Swallow, Wattled Starling, the marvelous Paradise Whydah, the equally marvelous Pin-Tailed Whydah, and a close look at a Somali Ostrich.

you have been warned!  the kenya wildlife service is not responsible if you 
are eaten by an irritable hippo
2004 by Elaine Radford

We studied a male elephant close to the road, but when D. pointed out the snake coiled nearby and attention shifted, the elephant became testy and took a threatening step or two forward in our direction. We had to laugh at the timing. It really did seem as if the elephant wanted our attention all for himself, although it's more likely that we'd simply overstayed our welcome.

A sad sighting was a Puff Adder, dead in the road, with a human footprint beside it. We were destined to see no other snakes while in Kenya. On a happier note, we did get good looks at Leopard Tortoise, which helped fill out our somewhat skimpy reptile list.

At dinner, the Verreaux's Eagle-Owl was back, as was the genet, although the little feline didn't climb up into the restaurant like the other night.

Jan. 16, 2004

We had to join a convoy of other vehicles that were being escorted through Amboselli National Park, in theory to provide protection from bandits, although I gathered that the actual risk of banditry is low and the escort service is really a sort of jobs program. It was an extremely wet, slippery day, especially for Kenya's so-called dry season, and, at one point, a vehicle ahead of us got stuck and had to be maneuvered out of the mud.

two white-bearded wildebeests in the rain
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most hilarious sight was an African Fish-Eagle, perched in the rain, not even trying to think about getting dry, just sitting there looking hunched and miserable in the gloomy weather.

The new raptor of the day -- even on a wet day like this there had to be one -- was Ayres' Hawk-Eagle, although it was distant and I'll put this one in the "better view desired" category for the great if and when I ever return to Kenya.

marketplace ladies
2004 by DD, all rights reserved

Poor D. had a small adventure in the marketplace where we anticipated nothing more exciting than a pit stop. As he descended from the vehicle, a colorfully dressed older woman asked him to take her picture. He agreed. Perhaps he should have been suspicious because the instant he got out his camera, a whole crowd of ladies piled into the picture. Then after he'd already snapped, the older lady said he was supposed to pay everyone $2 -- each. Does that ever work? We scooted D. back into the vehicle, and he said he'd pay the head con artist $2 but not everyone. When she started to argue, he said he'd just erase the picture. At that point, she decided she'd better take the $2 and call it even! I thought the whole point of cell phone pictures is that they were supposed to be sneaky?

We arrived late in Nairobi too tired to eat and with just enough energy for D. and I to enjoy a glass of red wine by the crackling fire.

Part One of my Kenya diary can be found right here. Or move on to Part Three right now.

a pleasant pair of african fish-eagles
2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

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