Tuesday, October 4, 2005

The Birds Part II

Back to our wilderness adventures with animals and our amazing double-jointed “guide mammal”, Jim. It was a fabulous birding morning, and I’m not that big on birds, after my experiences with the horrifying hardedar birds. But this was utterly different.

We saw lots of luries, which are gray birds with a clownish crest atop the head. They are also known as the “go away” bird, as their call sounds like someone saying.... ok, you tell me here, what’s your best guess? Yes, it’s “GO AWAY”. They are the early warning signal in the bush. When they detect a threat, they start calling and calling, and all the other animals around know to look up and pay attention.

We also saw tiny blue waxbills. These are quick in flight, and look like a little flash of pale turquoise -- the prettiest blue I’ve ever seen. They dart from here to there, lovely aqua brushstrokes against the brownish grey veldt.

Another interesting bird was notable for its nests. A single tree stood out alone, by a small watering hole, and in the pinkish orange sunrise, you could see big balls of nest material hanging from the branches (looking like mistletoe, in England.) These were the nests of the red billed buffalo weaver. The male builds a huge nest, with about 14 rooms, and then populates it with a harem of females. That would be the male “dream situation”.

However, to balance it out, there’s also the male “nightmare situation” -- and that’s the story for the poor yellow masked weaver bird. The gorgeous but browbeaten fellow builds a nest all by himself (the nest hangs from a branch, a small and gracious bower in the treetops). Then the female comes to check it out. If she likes it, she goes inside and lays her eggs. If she doesn’t like it, she rips it to shreds and he has to begin again. Ladies, here’s a model we could live with. You don’t like your house, you burn it down! There! Now, get me a new one!

No, too extreme.

Our rangers were also locked in a fierce competition around birds. There are almost 1000 species of bird native to South Africa (about 978?) and Jim was beating his supervisor, Dylan, in the contest. Jim was up to 485 at last count. Dylan gently accused him of making up some sightings, but you have to admire the single-mindedness of anyone willing to count up to 485 of anything. Not me. I have problems just with 52 cards in a deck, which is why I don’t play bridge. Or even the four kids in our family (once I lost two kids at once, in the Baltimore Aquarium. Believe me, those squirrelly little rascals were really hard to spot!)

Then we saw so many other animals. All kinds of game. There were steenbok and impala, both such small, delicate and graceful African antelope. Red haartebeest, so called because they are red (you saw that coming, didn’t you?), and their horns form a heart-shape in silhouette, We saw oryx (or gemsbok), which have meter-long straight horns that twist to dangerous looking points.

There were kudu, another animal that looks like a deer fitted with simply gigantic ears. And we saw rhino again, more zebra and giraffe, some ostrich, and another massive bull elephant that was quite honestly much too close for comfort. We stopped the Land Rover, and he started moseying over.... hmmm, time to move on.

One of the biggest lessons I learned on this morning’s game drive was, “Bring tissues!” Or better yet, a handkerchief. You’re tearing along in the Landie with the wind blowing in your face, dust flying everywhere, the sun shining in your eyes, nose running, eyes streaming. Such an attractive picture. But everyone in the vehicle is snuffling and sneezing and blowing noses. It sounds like the waiting room at the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic. This is why I was dubious about the out of doors. But you do get a nice tan.

We returned to the lodge via the watering hole, where we saw herons, a red-breasted cormorant, and a hippo wallowing in the mud. Once at the lodge, it was back to our cottages to shower and freshen up, and then to the veranda for a wonderful breakfast. If a “full English” is good, a “full African” is even better, especially after all that fresh air.

No comments: