Category Archives: Africa

Too Full To Fly

Because vultures are never sure where their next meal is coming from, they are known to gorge themselves — sometimes, so much so that they become too heavy to fly. I’ve never witnessed this myself, but a lucky tourist visiting the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center in South Africa captured some interesting footage of a vulture in trouble. The bird appears to play dead in order to avoid being attacked by a pack of wild dogs. Once the dogs move off, the vulture works to unload some of its extra weight so it can finally fly away from the dogs.

Video posted by HESCCheetahCentre

Have you ever witnessed something like this? Hat tip to K. Wolfram for sharing the video on Facebook.

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Posted in Africa, Aside, Behavior, Video | Leave a comment

African birds in Holland

One day during our visit to Holland we went to an art and craft fair at a garden center. Arthur’s cousin had a table there and we went to see her pottery work (check it out, Dutch friends!) and the other artists.

One of the tables represented the metal sculpture gallery Birdwoods. A company now based in New Zealand distributes and sells metal sculptures of (mostly) birds made from recycled oil drums by families in Zimbabwe. That’s a mouthful; read more here, and enjoy these photos of the interesting and beautiful sculptures.






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Posted in Africa, Art, Netherlands | Leave a comment

My life’s vultures

Where I live now, in northern Illinois, there is only one normally occurring species of vulture: the Turkey Vulture. I see these birds flying on thermals quite often here in Lake County during the summer. In honor of International Vulture Awareness Day, taking place on Saturday, September 5th, I’ve been thinking about all the vultures I’ve had the privilege to see. These are the eight species of vulture on my life list, in random order.

White-backed Vulture

I saw this bird on a week-long trip to the Gambia in January 2007. My husband and I spent 4 days with some very experienced birders from Finland, with whom we shared our Gambian guide. We were totally out of our league with these guys, who had spent months before the trip preparing, learning the calls of the local birds and practically memorizing their Gambian field guides. We had a great time and tried our best to stay the heck out of their way. Unfortunately this is the one vulture on my life list of which I have no photo.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

The Turkey Vultures I see here seem to love flying, because that’s all I ever see them doing. When I’ve seen these birds in Florida, it was a different story. There, TVs seem to be everywhere, hanging out in groups along the roadside or in open spaces in nature preserves.

Palm-nut Vulture

This is another vulture we saw in the Gambia. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember the circumstances under which we spotted this extremely striking bird. Yes, the trip was a bit wasted on us – there was a lot of running around and nodding as we looked at the birds that were pointed out to us. We would have a different experience making the same trip today, that’s for sure.

Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vultures

When we visited Rajasthan in March 2006, we saw Egyptian Vultures several times. We even saw them at the Taj Mahal. I remember we were starting to be interested in birds, especially since we were seeing so many that were unfamiliar to us. We saw this large bird perched on one of the outbuildings by the Taj and wondered what it could be. I took a few photos and we looked it up later – eureka, an Egyptian Vulture! [Photo is of a pair at a nest near Kota, India]

Rueppell’s Vulture

Another beautiful vulture we saw in the Gambia, near Tendaba. Unfortunately I cannot remember much about this sighting either. ๐Ÿ™ Shame on me!

Black Vulture

Black Vultures

My second North American vulture is another Florida favorite. These guys also seem to hang out nearly everywhere we’ve been. On our last visit to Florida in June we spotted this large group milling about at NASA.

Griffon Vulture

This is another bird I spotted in India. This photo was taken in Jodhpur but we also saw these birds on several other occasions during the trip.

Hooded Vulture

Another Gambia bird! This time I remember exactly where we were when we found this lovely. Our hotel in the coastal resort area was a short walk from the beach. The walk took us down a sand-covered alley between the backs of several other resorts, and there was trash everywhere. Besides this bird we also saw Cattle Egrets feeding on the piles of garbage and a few unlikely birds like Red-cheeked Cordonbleus and Red-billed Firefinches.

What vultures are on your life list? I’d love to hear about them, so please leave a comment!

This post is participating in the International Vulture Awareness Day 2009 Blog for Vultures. You can click on the badge below to see the other participants in this meme.

IVAD09 Badge

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Posted in Festivals & Events, Florida, Gambia, India | 5 Comments

BPW: Pied Kingfisher

I’m digging into the archives for this one. The Pied Kingfisher was one of the most abundant species we came across during our visit to the Gambia in January 2007.

These guys are cute and noisy. We heard them almost everywhere we went if we were close to water. You can hear what they sound like here. We saw them perching in trees, where they would call one another, or, more interestingly, hovering above the water hunting for fish.

Here’s one relaxing on the rocks between hunting sessions.


This one appears to be taking the easy route – hunting from the side of a bridge. Scouting before going out there and hovering is probably a good idea.


This is how they look when hunting. They were so fun to watch!


Be sure to check out the other bird photos submitted for this week’s Bird Photography Weekly.

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Posted in Africa, Bird Photography Weekly, Gambia | 5 Comments

White Helmetshrike

Arthur just posted about where we were two years ago today on our personal blog: Abuko Nature Reserve in the Gambia. He ended the post with a photo of one of the strangest birds I’ve ever seen, the White Helmetshrike.

White Helmetshrikes, also called White-crested Helmet-shrikes, are between 7.4 and 9.8 inches long. Males and females are similar. They are common in parts of sub-Saharan Africa although I think this was the only one we spotted during our time in the Gambia. I couldn’t find too much information about these guys on the web besides here; unfortunately our Gambia bird guide is still in storage.

For more great bird photos, check out Bird Photography Weekly.

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Posted in Africa, Bird Photography Weekly, Gambia | 2 Comments

Morphing Owl video

This first came out over a year ago but it seems to be making the rounds again and I’ve just seen it for the first time. Watch how this Southern White-faced Scops Owl reacts to two different predators.

NOTE: the YouTube video to which this post originally linked has been removed from the site; I swapped in the clip below on 09-FEB-11

The first reaction occurs at about 1:00 and the second, more interesting, starts at about 1:40.

Read more here. NOTE: link also updated 09-FEB-11

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Posted in Africa, Offbeat, Video | 1 Comment

Senegal Coucal

We saw this Senegal Coucal at the Bijilo Forest Park in the Gambia in January 2007.

They are a type of cuckoo and were fairly common in the Gambia, but they were difficult to photograph as they were a bit shy.

Be sure to check out the rest of the submissions in this week’s Bird Photography Weekly.

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Posted in Africa, Bird Photography Weekly, Gambia | Leave a comment

Bird Photography Weekly: Hamerkop

We saw this Hamerkop (also Hammerkop or Hammerhead) on our trip to the Gambia in January 2007. This species occurs across sub-Saharan Africa and was fairly common in the Gambia.

These were among the cutest birds we saw in the Gambia. I think it’s the big black eyes.

These birds make huge nests, up to five feet across and strong enough to hold a man’s weight. Check out this one:

Apparently they are ‘compulsive nest builders’ and will build these huge constructions whether they are breeding or not. Sounds like bird OCD.

Be sure to check out the rest of the submissions in this week’s Bird Photography Weekly.

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Posted in Africa, Bird Photography Weekly, Gambia | Leave a comment

Mysterious Migratory Bird Deaths in Egypt

Today BirdLife International reported a large number of dead migratory birds found near the water treatment plant in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Locals found 27 Lesser Spotted Eagles and over 30 White Storks dead around the ponds.

We visited these ponds in October 2007. This area of the Sinai Peninsula is a major stopover spot for migratory birds, and during the fall thousands of White Storks pass through this part of Egypt during their journey south.

White Storks landing at Sharm el Sheikh sewage ponds.

We saw hundreds of storks flying towards the ponds from the mountains. As we walked around the ponds looking for other birds we noticed a lot of dead storks. Our Egyptian taxi driver, who accompanied us on our walk around the ponds (as ordered by the local police), was very interested in the dead storks and thought we should be, too. He made sure to point out each stork corpse to us so we wouldn’t miss seeing any. Nice. Anyway, it did seem like there were a lot of dead storks but we assumed they died of exhaustion from their long journey and did not consider anything was amiss. I don’t think we saw anywhere near 30 and we didn’t see any other dead species, either.

Read the whole BirdLife story here and check out Arthur’s Sharm sewage ponds mini-trip report here.

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Posted in Africa, Egypt, Migration | Leave a comment