Birds of the Okavango Delta, Part 2 of 2

Lilac-breasted Roller, Africa

When you joined me in Botswana Africa’s Okavango Delta last week, I presented birds that frequent the water.  See Part 1 here. Today we’ll complete the series with birds that tend to occupy the grassland and woodland habitats of the Delta.

 

The lilac-breasted roller is a favorite for many people, because of their astounding beauty. So-named for their aerial acrobatic rolling, they are about the size of a crow.

 

They hunt for insects and lizards, and perch in open spots, then flutter out like a ballerina in the air, and spin and roll with dazzling beauty.

 

Another very colorful and acrobatic bird, bee-eaters can be found on numerous continents; in Africa there are 20 species, with seven in Botswana.

 

Little Bee-eaters, Botswana

 

As you might have deducted from their name, the bee-eaters hunt bees; and are often seen on a limb whacking a freshly-caught bee–they are eradicating the bee’s stinger before consumption.

 

And then there’s the comical oxpeckers.

 

Sable with Oxpeckers

Usually found on the body of a large mammal, they eat the pesky ticks, and sometimes ear wax and dandruff. Not a charming diet, but a bird that is a fun to observe. Just looking at this photo starts you wondering where they venture….

 

Post by Jet Eliot about oxpeckers.

 

Another resplendent beauty, the Greater Blue-eared Glossy starlings shimmer in the blazing African sun.

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Long-tailed Shrike

Other birds pictured here are the long-tailed shrike, a thrill to watch flying as his tail waves through the air like an unfurled flag; and the coppery-tailed coucal with their copper tail and scarlet eye.

Coppery-tailed Coucal

 

Common in Okavango Delta, hornbills are known for their massive casque bills. There are seven hornbill species in Botswana alone. A previous post on the hornbills.

 

Yellow-billed Hornbill

 

Then there’s the very cool hammerkop, whose name translates to hammerhead, in describing the bird’s unusual hammer head-shape.

Hammerkop, Africa

 

One bird has so many unusual features, you don’t know what to think of it: the secretary bird.

 

Secretary Bird

This elusive bird of prey has the body of a raptor and the legs of a crane, with funky quill-like feathers on the head. They use their half-pantaloon/half-bare legs to stomp prey. Funny-looking but ferocious, they also use their large, hooked bill to strike prey.

 

The secretary bird is one of my favorites, read more at Loving the Secretary Bird by Jet Eliot.

 

Giant Eagle Owl, Botswana, Africa – aka Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

The largest owl in Africa, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is a towering force in the woods, eating mammals, birds and insects.

 

But even this bird, also known as the Giant Eagle Owl, has a soft side: when you find them sleeping, you see their pretty pink eyelids.

 

Because it’s an African safari and birds are only part of the adventure, I’ve also included a few other creatures we observed in the Okavango Delta.

 

Thank you for joining me on this two-part series, celebrating the wide variety of birds in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

 

Zebra, Okavango Delta

 

Leopard, Okavango Delta, Botswana

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Kudu with Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on back

 

 

 

Birds of the Okavango Delta, Part 1 of 2

Saddle-billed Stork, Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta, in the southern African country of Botswana, is a most astounding place. A desert in the dry season, and an extensive wetland the other months, it is home to thousands and thousands of birds, mammals, and myriad wildlife.

 

This is the first of a two-part series highlighting birds we saw at this Unesco World Heritage Site.

 

African Jacana

Due to seasonal flooding, the Okavango Delta swells and shrinks dramatically in the course of a year.   In January and February, rainfall from Angola drains down the Okavango River and floods this flat plain for 4-6 months–an attractive opportunity for parched wildlife.

 

Wattled Cranes, Botswana, Africa

As part of the Kalahari Desert, the Delta’s water eventually recedes from the sandy terrain; and high temperatures cause the water to transpire and evaporate.

 

African Skimmer, Botswana

This annual cyclical pattern creates a permanent or temporary home for hundreds of thousands of African creatures.  Wikipedia Okavango Delta overview here.

 

A 7,000-square-mile area, there are over 500 different bird species here. For comparison, in all of Canada (3.8 million square miles) there are 400 bird species.   Bird list here.

 

African Fish Eagle, Botswana

Aquatic birds and raptors populate the waterways, swampy areas attract crakes and swamphen, while open waters attract waders. The variety of habitat, from reedy swamps to forests and grassland, is what makes this an attractive panoply for birds.

 

Egyptian Goose

Some birds are rare or threatened, like the Wattled Crane and African Skimmer; others, like the African Fish Eagle, are commonly seen.

 

Yellow-billed Storks, Okavango Delta

 

Hippopotamus, Okavango Delta

More than 200 species of mammals graze, drink, and live primarily nomadically, following the water or the growth it produces–buffalo, hippo, numerous antelope, zebra, wildebeest, to name a few.

 

Elephant herds number several hundred. And of course, predators (lion, hyena, cheetah and more) follow the herds.

 

Wild Dog, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is also home to the endangered Cape Wild Dog. We had the blissful pleasure of finding a pack of wild dogs at nearby Chobe River, read about it here.

 

Today I showed you some of the water birds in the Okavango Delta, including a few cameo appearances by non-birds. Next time we’ll take a look at more terrestrial-oriented birds. Stay tuned!

 

All photos by Athena Alexander

Painted Reed Frog, Botswana, Africa

 

Yellow-billed Stork, Okavango Delta

 

 

 

 

 

Location of  Botswana  (dark blue)– in Africa  (light blue & white)– in the African Union  (light blue)  –  [Legend]

Botswana in dark blue. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Wishing you this holiday season…

 

Lioness, Africa

Lioness, Africa

 

 

Time to relax,

 

 

 

 

Otter, Alaska

Otter, Kenai, Alaska

and enjoy~~

 

 

 

 

Denali, Alaska

Denali, Alaska

Plenty of beauty on your path,

 

 

 

 

Elephants, Tanzania, Africa

Elephants, Tanzania, Africa

lots of love,

 

 

 

 

Purple Finch, California

Purple Finch, California

health,

 

 

 

 

 

Kangaroos, Australia

Kangaroos, Australia

and hoppin’ good times.

 

 

 

 

 

Elegant Trogon, Mexico

Elegant Trogon, Mexico

Happy Holidays, my friends, and many thanks for your valuable friendship~~

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

 

 

 

Golden Gate GraveyardA good last minute gift is a digital e-book, and I know just the one — it’s hot off the press, suspenseful, and written by someone you know. Also available in paperback.

Purchase from the publisher or Amazon or any major online book retailer.

 

Rock Hyrax

Lilac-breasted Roller, Africa

Lilac-breasted Roller, Africa

One day years ago we were traveling through northern Kenya, not far from the border of Somalia.

 

We were isolated, on dirt roads, en route to our next lodge when our driver  heard that a different tour bus ahead of us had come upon bandits.

 

The unlucky tourists had stopped on the side of the road, were looking at something, and subsequently robbed.

 

We were warned we were not going to be making any stops until we reached our next lodge, except for one bathroom pit-stop. They assured us we would be fine, but no dallying was the strong message.

 

Eventually we stopped for our bathroom break, privately dispersed behind the rocks. The guides watched for suspicious travelers while we hurried.

 

I was there behind a rock when a terrifying, shrill scream erupted.

 

I didn’t know what to do. So I waited a minute, heard nothing more. Then I peered out from behind the boulder, shaking and rattled, ready and resolved to surrender my precious wedding band and binoculars.

 

But the only vehicle there was ours, and my safari mates were calmly filing back into it.

 

Back on the road, my heart still pounding, I asked what that horrible scream was. That’s when I learned what a rock hyrax was.

 

Rock Hyrax. Photo B. Torrissen, courtesy Wikipedia

Soft, furry creatures, the wee size of a guinea pig.

 

Procavia capensis live in rocky outcroppings in Africa and the Middle East (see range map below).

 

A small mammal, the rock hyrax have a hearty diet. They eat quickly, never lingering long.

 

Leopard, Africa

Leopard, Africa

There is a good reason they hide inside rocks and don’t linger, they have many predators:  wild cats, like leopard, as well as hawks, owls, and eagles.

 

Cobras, puff adders, pythons, and wild dogs also hunt them.

 

Egyptian Cobra, Africa

Egyptian Cobra, Africa

More rock hyrax info here.

 

The rock hyrax have many tools for survival, including more than 20 different vocalizations.

 

They communicate within their large colonies with growls, twitters, whistles, and songs. When the sentry senses danger they scream and shriek.

 

Apparently I was the perceived danger.

 

Hyrax Family.jpg

Rock Hyrax. Photo: Siegmund K.M., courtesy Wikipeida

Click here for the shriek.

 

What a crazy little animal. Small body, ferocious scream. I was glad we were not accosted by bandits, but I could’ve used a gentler introduction.

 

Rock Hyrax area.png

Rock Hyrax Range Map, courtesy Wikipedia

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

 

 

Golden Gate GraveyardHere’s my newly released novel. Suspense that will rock you.

Click here to purchase or at Amazon or any other major book retailer.

 

African Antelope

Oryx, Kenya

Oryx, Kenya, Africa

There are 91 species of antelope in the world, and over 70 species live in Africa. Here’s a brief overview of a few favorites.

 

Hoofed mammals in the Bovidae family, antelope are herbivores with a keen sense of smell and hearing. They have long legs; and all males have horns, some females have horns too.

 

Male Kudu, Boswana, Africa

Male Kudu, Botswana, Africa

Everything else about antelope varies among species.

 

Some are very small, like the duiker and steenbok at 12-16 inches (30-40 cm) tall. The largest antelope, the eland, is 5 feet tall (1.5 m) and weighs over 2,000 pounds (942 kg).

 

The horns, as you can see from the photos, vary widely among species.

 

Klipspringer, Botswana, Africa

Klipspringer, Botswana, Africa

African antelope typically occupy the savanna, but there are species in different habitats too. The African Klipspringer, for example, lives in rocky mountainous areas.

 

We spotted this klipspringer leaping onto rocks about 200 feet above us.

 

A few antelope species prefer desert or cold regions, forest, or water.

 

Sable, Botswana, Africa

Sable, Botswana, Africa

Most are various shades of tan and brown, but some are not. The sable was oh so elegant, we saw only one.

 

Antelope information here.

 

Gerenuks feeding. Photo: F. Salein. Courtesy Wikipedia.

I love to come across the gerenuks. They’re the only antelope I have ever seen standing on two legs. The long, slender, back legs were on the ground, and the front legs were up in the air while they foraged on tree leaves.

 

A different time, in my periphery and across the river, I saw the most beautiful antelope ballet. Fortunately it went on for a few seconds so I could watch.

 

Stotting gazelle. Photo: R. Wilhelmsen. Courtesy Wikipedia.

It was a small group of gazelle zealously springing into the air in the most glorious way. They were not leaping over anything, it was more of a bouncing, like balls.

 

I later learned it is called stotting, when all four feet spring off the ground simultaneously. There are numerous theories about the purpose of this.  You can read more here.

 

Kudu, Africa

Kudu, female, Africa

In the African grasslands, whether coming upon a sprinting impala or a sauntering kudu, it is an honor to observe this diverse and graceful mammal.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander (unless otherwise specified)

I know of a fun mystery that just came out. Written by the same mammal who brought you the antelope today.

Golden Gate GraveyardPurchase here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painted Reed Frog

Painted Reed Frog, Botswana, Africa

Painted Reed Frog, Botswana, Africa

This tiny frog, also called the marbled reed frog, can be found in African marshes, reed beds, and other water sources.

 

An abundant species in sub-Saharan Africa, Hyperolius marmoratus are insectivores; they eat crickets and a variety of other small insects.

 

Their colors and patterns are extremely variable.  And although their psychedelic backs look wild and dramatic, this tiny frog blends in to the surroundings.

 

Knowing what to look for, our guide hunted around in the marshy grass and found this frog in an instant.

 

Less than two inches long (43 mm) and hidden on a reed, he was quietly resting in the sun.

 

Frogs are fascinating creatures for their calls.  This species spends the day basking, and then at night the male takes up his specific calling site.

 

He calls consistently from dusk to midnight.  This occurs for a few nights in a row, and eventually the female makes her selection.  The eggs are laid in the water, between 150 and 650 eggs.

 

More about the African painted reed frog here.

 

The frog has a relatively large vocal sac that amplifies his call.  During mating season when all the frogs are calling, the chorus is loud and constant.

 

Walking to my tent after dinner in the dark, the striking chorus emanating from the reeds (that are silent during the day) stopped me in my tracks. We visitors do not linger, however, outdoors in the dark in Africa.

 

Click on this BBC You Tube clip to hear and see this delightful frog.

 

A wildly-patterned thumb-sized frog that fills the African night with his earnest song…another reminder of the grandness of life on earth.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

 

Watching Elephants Eat

African elephant, Zambia

African elephant, Zambia

As the largest land animal on the planet, the African elephant spends a lot of time browsing. They are a fascinating mammal to watch eat because of the many ways they use their trunk.

 

The trunk is an extension of the upper lip and contains nostrils and two small finger-like projections at the tip for handling small objects.  They use the prehensile trunk to breathe, forage, touch, shower, grasp, drink, and amplify sound.

 

African elephant, Zambia

African elephant, Zambia

A very complex tool with an astonishing 150,000 muscle fibers, the trunk, or proboscis, serves the elephant as a fifth appendage.

 

The earth was once home to many members of the Proboscidea family (trunked mammals), but elephants are now the only surviving species.

 

African elephant, Zambia

African elephant, Zambia

The teeth of Loxodonta africana are so essential that they have several sets in a lifetime.  One molar weighs about 11 pounds (5 kg).

 

Upper incisors grow into tusks on both the male and female; and are used for digging, foraging, fighting, and defending.

 

Weighing (male) 11,000-13,200 pounds (5,000-6,000kg), they eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark; and can eat up to 300 pounds (136 kg) of vegetation a day.

 

African elephant, grey heron, Zambia

African elephant, grey heron, Zambia

Read more about the African elephant here.

More about elephant teeth and trunk here.

 

One day we sat in our jeep under the hot midday sun, watching the elephants browse the surrounding forest and shallow lake bottom.  We were in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, and we did this for hours.

 

Athena, Zambia

Athena, Zambia

They were relaxed and protected, the herd spread out around the whole lake. Grey heron, kingfishers, jacana, ibis, and other birds quietly foraged too.

 

The African elephant population, as everyone is aware, is dwindling and this is a sad fact. Much has been done to protect this distinguished creature.

 

African elephant adult and calf, Zambia

African elephant adult and calf, Zambia

But on this day under the African sun, they taught their youth and fed themselves and everything was right in the world.

 

African Elephant distribution map.svg

2007 Loxodonta distribution. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander