The Water Birds of East Africa
Birding is one among the fastest growing hobbies within the world. In America, bird watchers rose from 21 m in 1982, to an astonishing 68 million in 2000. In the US, birding is now the second hottest outdoor recreation after gardening. Technology advances have made this hobby more fun and appealing. it’s now easier with powerful binoculars and other equipment to look at birds from a distance. And Global Positioning Systems have improved navigation in unfamiliar places. Parents also are ready to amuse their youngsters by luring birds from the bush with recordings of bird songs.
Africa may be a storehouse for birding. The continent has over 2,050 bird species recorded, two thirds of which are found nowhere else. East Africa, especially , has a tremendous sort of birds, perhaps thanks to a light climate barren of extremes. The region has 4 of the highest Ten Birding Sites in Africa as rated by the African Bird Club (www.africanbirdclub.org) -an world organization dedicated to the study of Africa’s birds. These sites are: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda), Bale Mountains (Ethiopia), the valley Lakes (Kenya) and Murchison Falls Park (Uganda).
East Africa’s birds are scattered altogether kinds of habitats: mountain forest, lowland forest, seacoast, deserts, savannah, lakes, marsh, swamps and mudflats. during this article, we shall check out the region’s water birds. This category refers to those birds that depend directly on water for food, habitat and breeding or indirectly for a particular component of their life cycle. Most water birds linger along the shallow shoreline of lakes, temporary waters within the inland ecosystems and rivers and really few venture distant from shore. Water birds delight birders, being easier to identify and photograph, as they have a tendency to be larger and live more within the open.
Flamingo’s, on account of their size and large numbers rank as East Africa’s foremost water birds. Out of a world population of about 4 million, an estimated 95 % reside in East Africa . Flamingos are found only in saline water, and East Africa’s valley lakes are their favourite habitat, particularly Manyara and Natron in Tanzania and Nakuru and Baringo in Kenya. Small populations also are found in Lake Abiata in Ethiopia and at the Etosha Pans of Namibia.
The flamingo is extremely biologically unique among wildlife species. it’s highly gregarious and lives in large groups. In Kenya’s valley Lakes, up to at least one million birds are known to gather- forming the most important bird flocks anywhere. The birds are characterised by pink plumage, which is particularly thick on the underside of the feathers and is gracefully exposed during flight. Young flamingos are however more grey than pink – they turn full pink at sexual maturity. you’re then likely to ascertain them in courtship displays that appear as if mock fights.
Flamingos’ beaks are S shaped and pink in colour, while the legs are straight and webbed to facilitate wading in water. They prey on microscopic blue chlorophyte plants that only thrive in saline waters. These plants are suspended in water and to extract a meal they swallow large volumes of water, which is filtered by the beak through specialised anatomical devices. For this reason, flamingos are said to be filter feeders, a standing they share with variety of other aquatic animals.
Lake Natron on the Kenya-Tanzania border is that the principal tract of East Africa’s flamingos. Scientists don’t know needless to say why they do not breed within the other alkaline lakes. But research indicates that Natron is favoured on account of its ecological stability and minimal human disturbance. By reason of its remoteness in location, it’s recorded little change in soil chemistry – a critical think about nest formation.
At Lake Natron, incubation of eggs takes about 3 weeks, after which the mothers fly back to their preferred habitat, mostly Nakuru, Baringo and Manyara. a few week later, the hatchlings usually follow their mothers northwards.
There are two sorts of flamingos, the greater and lesser flamingos. The casual observer could also be unable to inform them apart. But the greater flamingo is considerably larger and features a whiter plumage. the bulk of flamingos in East Africa are of the lesser species. The greater flamingos prey on invertebrates like molluscs and crustaceans. this is often the ecological factor which will largely explain their smaller numbers in reference to lesser flamingos, which are primary consumers within the organic phenomenon .
The pelican is that the other bird likely to be found in large aggregations in East Africa’s wetlands. These are large, stout birds with Pieris brassicae beaks specially adapted for catching and swallowing fish. Most water lakes in East Africa are generously stocked pelicans. you’ll see them swimming most gently and graciously as they look for fish, their primary food. They habitually swim during a team of three and offer a spectacular show as they dive for fish rhythmically and simultaneously.
Though a saltwater lake, pelicans teem in Lake Nakuru, where over 44,000 are recorded. they’re a stunning sight to behold as they spiral upwards in huge columns. In Kenya they only breed at Lake Elementaita. Pelicans are found in plenty round river mouths hosting high fish populations. Other popular sites to ascertain them in East Africa include Kazinga Channel in Uganda and Lake Victoria .
Cormorants are a bird species closely related to pelicans. Of these, the foremost common type is that the greater cormorant. Cormorants are mostly grey and black and are usually slightly smaller and fewer gregarious than pelicans. They favour lakeshores well sheltered by vegetation; they prey on fish and other aquatic invertebrates and breed in trees accessible . For this reason, cormorants are less easy to sight than pelicans.
Cormorants are observed swimming under water in pursuit of fish. After making a catch, they emerge from water and resume their lofty positions on the banks. you’ll see them at East Africa’s inland waters, and particularly Kenya’s valley lakes.
Herons and storks constitute an outsized category of water birds. Herons are tall slim birds with long forward pointing necks and elongated stout beaks. There are about 10 species of herons in East Africa , the foremost commonly sighted being the Goliath heron, the Grey heron and Black-headed heron. The Goliath heron, because the name suggests, may be a huge bird which will attain an overall length of 5 feet.
With few exceptions, herons are mostly sighted around marshes and shallow waters, but also can be seen around inland grassy habitats. Their favourite menu includes snakes and other small vertebrates that sleep in wet areas. one among the herons -the Green-backed heron is noted for its use of the advanced technique of baiting fish with live insect. Herons are quite common throughout East Africa .
The shape of the beak distinguishes storks, and from this feature they derive their name. With about 10 species around East Africa , only the marabou and therefore the Ciconia ciconia aren’t directly water dependent. Marabou storks are very large and in contrast to the opposite storks fly with head and neck retracted. This bird is sort of common within the urban areas where it feeds on refuse and carrions, and hence its dirty reputation.
Marabou storks also are common around water shores where they aim fish and other small and young animals especially the weak and injured. they’re thus happiest in areas with high populations of other birds, like flamingos. Another unique stork is that the Saddle-billed stork, easily noticeable thanks to its red beak with a black patch at the center and yellow base. This stork is sort of common in shallow waters and swampy areas.
The Hamerkop may be a popular medium size bird related to storks. Its name springs from the Afrikaans word for hammerhead, the form formed by its head and beak. they’re common everywhere East Africa’s wetlands. it’s uniquely popular among bird watchers on account of its massive nests. Built with many dry vegetation, the nests average a depth of 1.5 m, and may take upto 6 weeks to finish .
Undaunted by the labour of putting up the ostentatious nest, hamerkops continue to create as many as 6 nests during a territory. The mystery is that they occupy only one! This apparently irrational behaviour isn’t lost to other birds; Egyptian geese and Verraux eagle owls frequently take over a number of the nests. Thus the old saying that you simply cannot tell a bird’s size from its nest rings most true with hamerkops.
The Shoebills and Spoonbills are two other species of water birds that are uniquely identified by their beaks. The shoebill may be a large and dark grey bird that appears almost prehistoric. The bill is formed like – you guessed it- a shoe. it’s often found in large swamps but isn’t easily sighted.
The spoonbill derives its name from the form of its beak, whose posterior part enlarges into a “spoon”. the foremost common type is that the African spoonbill, which is well distributed in East Africa especially round the shallow ranges of huge water bodies and swamps. because it wades in shallow water, it uses the sensitive inner bill surface to sense food- usually fish, frogs and snails.
In the East African wetlands, you’re definitely sure to encounter one or two species of ibises. they need narrow beaks of just about uniform thickness that curve forwards and slightly taper at the top . The Threskiornis aethiopica is that the commonest and typically features a black and white neck and beak. they have a tendency to be gregarious and are mostly found around marshlands and lagoons.
Another common ibis is that the hadada ibis. it’s usually grey and features a glossy patch on each side of wing coverts. They stand out on the idea of the loud distinctive calls they create during flight. they’re at their most vocal at dawn and dusk. they’re quite common throughout East Africa around wooded streams, marshes, lagoons and moist grasslands.
The hadada ibis is surrounded by many legends among African communities. it’s often related to long life and witchcraft. Among the Kikuyu of Kenya, an individual of advanced age is claimed to be as old as Kagogo, the vernacular regard to the hadada ibis. Indeed Kenya’s leading writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo has recently published a completely unique titled in Kikuyu Murogi wa Kagogo, literary “The Witch of the Hadada Ibis”. Conceding that this ibis features a rather haunted look, my considered opinion is that this is often not sufficient ground to sustain such a significant charge as witchcraft.
In the wetlands of East Africa , also lives Grus , which is usually called crested crane. Several species exist, but the crested crane -sometimes mentioned because the Uganda crane- is that the commonest . it’s mostly found in tall grasses and cultivated areas, but breeds mainly in wet areas like marshes. Grus is widespread in Uganda’s numerous swamps and estuaries and is indeed the national symbol.
Despite sitting on Uganda’s court of arms, the elegant crested crane is taken into account endangered. In most parts of East Africa , suitable breeding habitats are increasingly being converted to agricultural use and therefore the crane is now confined to only a few areas. additionally , Grus features a most peculiar social behaviour, which in how further jeopardises its long-term survival. Cranes practice true and maybe absolute monogamy. Often, they’re found in pairs and share strong bonds that are never broken, even unto death. When one among a pair dies, the opposite never pairs up again for the remainder of its life.
The African Jacana is another bird that has unique social and mating behaviour. it’s one among only a few within the Animalia that exhibit “reverse polygamy”, -technically referred to as polyandry, where females date and mate with multiple males. Under this practice females are always busy. the feminine starts off mating with one male, which it leaves incubating the eggs, then shamelessly hops off for an encounter with another male then on and on.
The way the African Jacana brings forth young ones is very specialised and rather shocking from the attitude of humans. it’s easily recognisable by its purple-brown plumage and yellow chest. you’ll find it in wetlands especially shallow lakes, ponds and swamps.
The plovers also are related to lakeshores and large swamps. the foremost common types are the blacksmith plover, kittlitz’s plover and spur-winged plover. The blacksmith is known as after its sharp, distinctive extra high “metallic” voice which will remind you of the goings on during a blacksmith shop. this is often usually an alarm call whose pitch is raised when a threat stalks her eggs or chicks. you’ll find many blacksmith and spur-winged plovers at Amboseli.
Geese also are quite common in lakes and ponds throughout East Africa . the foremost common type is that the Egyptian goose. This bird is thoroughly adapted and may even be found in shallow waters in cities. Africa’s largest waterfowl is that the spur-winged goose, which may reach a length of 100 cm. you’ll sight it at the swamps of Amboseli and within the marsh areas of the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
Most people on safari are after the large five- lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. But you’ll get more value if you’ll also look out for the birds. Unless you’re a very specialised bird watcher, you’ll get to ascertain the common water birds on a classic wildlife safari, especially in Kenya. As many birds are found outside national parks, real birding enthusiasts choose a custom itinerary amid expert bird guides.
East Africa may be a year round safari destination. The rains come around April- May and November-December. This however doesn’t much affect the travellers’ ability to urge around. Generally the simplest time to travel on safari is over the drier months when the grass is brief and sighting animals is such a lot easier. the height season falls around January to February and July to August. April to June is that the low season and costs for accommodation within the lodges can fall by the maximum amount as 40% compared to the busy season.
On safari, wear light cottons and linen. Warmer clothing is required for the evenings and for your early morning game drive. Some rainwear is advisable between March and June and October and December. you ought to bring along an honest pair of sunglasses. The glare you experience in bright tropical light may be a new and uncomfortable experience for many . you ought to also pack an honest pair of binoculars to bring the birds and other animals closer.