Gave Up Flying, Took Up Running

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You can see the city high rises in the top left behind the hen ostrich. She is standing in Nairobi National Park (some 40 square miles) which nudges up against the perimeter of Kenya’s capital, including the industrial zone and the main airport highway. In our time, the park still had an open wildlife corridor to the south, though even then there were problems of settlement encroachment. These days too, there is another kind of incursion – in the form of a super-duper elevated Chinese railway that cuts across the park on tall concrete pillars. This line replaces the old Uganda railway built right across Kenya by the British administration between 1895-1901, also known in its day as the Lunatic Line.

The colonial railway cost British taxpayers a lot of money, and was built entirely to satisfy UK strategic interests (i.e. not at all for the benefit of local populations). In order to recoup the cost, settlement by British gentlemen and especially members the ‘officer class’ was actively encouraged. It was envisaged they would engage in large-scale ranching and planting along the line of rail and produce valuable cash crops for export.

In the early 1900s the chaps who came out to British East Africa all had notions of making big fortunes. One of those notions involved ostrich farming, or rather ostrich feather farming, since those airy plumes were just then in high demand for ladies’ hats. These same chaps also knew that some other chaps down in South Africa had made it rich from feather production.

Unfortunately the  ostriches of British East did not prove especially accommodating within what turned out to be a very small window of opportunity. One way to set up business was to collect eggs from the wild (a single nest might have twenty or more eggs) and then incubate and rear the chicks. But then robbing a nest could be hazardous; ostrich parents are fierce guardians, taking it in turns to protect their offspring. (N.B. a kick from an ostrich can break a man-leg).

Early settler Lord Delamere thought to speed up operations by recruiting a cohort of mounted Somalis to organise an ostrich drive across the open plains of his Rift Valley estate, thereby separating flocks of part-reared chicks from the hens and driving them towards the farm dairy where farmhands, stationed behind thorn trees, had been charged to grab any passing chick and imprison them. It did not go well. Even ostrich chicks can wrestle.

And then the captured adult cock bird proved most unbiddable, even with a sock over his head (an approach that was supposed to calm him down). He was last seen sprinting across the plains, still be-socked, having broken from his pen. And by the time all this had been gone through, the bottom had dropped out of the hat feather market because some idiot had invented the motor car wherein ladies’ plumed headgear proved most unsuitable and was apt to blow clean away.

All of which is a bit of a deviation from the point I intended to make. Ostriches may not fly, but they can certainly run: over 40 mph (70kph). The fastest birds on the planet. Just look at those legs in the next photo. They also come with huge, clawed feet attached.

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Square Up #13

Signs Of Squirrel-Dupery? Who knew?

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Grey squirrels don’t hibernate, though they are said to do less scampering in wintery weather, and when it is very cold, they will curl themselves up, using their tails like duvets.

These photos were taken before the snow when the big oaks at the top of the Linden Field were alive with squirrel-kind seeking out acorns. They were also pretty busy after the snow, doubtless seeking out their respective stashes. But here’s the thing. It seems they are a sneaky lot and will make a big pretence of burying nuts in particular places to fool other squirrels. The little dupers.

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Square Up #6

Becky has a wonderful sun for us today.

Always Up For A Spot Of Breakfast: Superb Starling

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A surreal image – over-exposed so you can see the colours of this Superb Starling, one of Kenya’s commonest birds. But surreal in other ways too. Did we really eat breakfast on the shores of Lake Elmenteita and share it with such birds. (See previous post). On fine days the tables were set out under the fever trees. The soundtrack: incessant chatter of Speke’s weavers from their thorn tree colony by the camp kitchen, fluting call of the black headed oriel, squabbling of babblers, warbling of robin chats, distant grunting of flamingos out on the lake.

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Under the fever trees. Can you spot the superb starlings?

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Delamere Camp reception and dining room

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The ‘Sleeping Warrior’ an exploded volcanic cone on the western lake shore, Eburru hills beyond.

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Kenya is of course a serious bird watcher’s paradise. The capital Nairobi boasts a species list of 600 plus. And if I were there now, even if equipped with only the digital zoom of a modest ‘point and shoot’, this blog would be bursting with wonderful bird photos. An irritating thought. For most of the time we lived in Kenya I had only a little Olympus-trip – which was great on landscapes and immobile subjects, but otherwise limited when it came to wildlife photography. Here are my better efforts from Elmenteita: a black headed oriel, glossy starling,  grey heron with egrets, Speke’s weaver, Abdim’s stork and greater flamingos.

Square Up #4

Apple Snaffling

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For the last couple of days this male blackbird has been tucking into our garden crab apples. He has a technique. Using his beak like a dagger, he jabs downwards with great vigour, slicing off morsels. Sometimes, though, he ends up with a mouthful he cannot swallow, which then requires a descent to the garden path where sets about cutting the apple down to size. All part of the morning’s seasonal entertainment at the Farrell establishment.

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Lens-Artists: ‘A’  This week Patti asks us for subjects that start with the letter ‘A’.

Going Kinda Nutty

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I’m back on home turf and in the current time zone for today’s wildlife squares. They were snapped in the Linden Field earlier in the week during a sudden spell of dry weather. Everywhere I looked along the Windmill Hill perimeter there were grey squirrels scurrying, nibbling, delving, tail whisking, scooting up and down the big oak trees. Acorns, acorns acorns – the big autumnal stuff ‘n store imperative in action. Squirrels being kind to themselves.

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KindaSquare #30

A Topi On Top

Topi can be found across Africa in various local races or subspecies. They also look like Coke’s hartebeest, but are distinguished by their handsome damson coloured thigh patches – very fetching on their chestnut coats. The males are keen on showing themselves off by posing on top of termite mounds – keeping an eye on their females (usually 10-15) and showing would-be rivals that they are on the look-out.

Square Tops #4 Becky has a very special ‘square top’ this morning.

A Funny Thing Happened This Morning ~ And Not Just Lockdown

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So that was two things that had never happened before: to wake up this morning to find the nation was in lockdown and then to see a red-legged partridge atop the garden shed. Well I ask you: a partridge on the old privy roof. How odd is that. Given the choice, partridge are usually ground-hugging birds, more inclined to run than fly whenever threatened. They even make their nest on the ground.  In any event, I have never seen either the birds or their nests in our vicinity before.

So it struck me as an irony that just as we humans were being ordered to isolate and stay indoors, here was this bird breaking bounds, and elevating itself in order to advertise readiness for a spot of socializing. Much scanning of the field and earnest calling then ensued.  It anyway gave me plenty of opportunity to take these photos. I do hope it finds a willing mate to make a nest with.

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Abermawr Cove ~ It’s The Seal’s Whiskers

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It was hard to tear myself away from Tregwynt Mill; unexpected burst of hot September sun or no, there was a strong inclination to curl up among Welsh tweed quilts and cushions on the showroom bed. To distract myself from wool-lust I suggested we walked down to the sea. It’s not far, I tell Graham, he who too often suspects me of total map-reader-error. I was surprised when he agreed.

We followed the course of the stream that had once powered several mills in the valley. The lane was bosky, enclaves of deep and mossy shade, then sudden sprinkles of sunlight through sycamore, ash and alder. There were old walls, built in the local style of vertically laid stones wherein strap ferns and pennywort had found a root-hold.

After about half a mile we found the sign to the coastal path, and almost at once, there we were, looking down on Abermawr beach. The cove itself was sparse in humanity, and we found out why when we got down there. The pebbles were so heaped up and huge they were almost impossible to walk over. Most people were passing by, following the cliff trail that crossed at the back of the cove.  We perched on some rounded rocks and tried to locate the source of the strange barking calls to seaward. And then we saw it. And it saw us. And in between sunning its face, it watched me taking its photo. Nor was it alone. Its partner (parent perhaps) was somewhere out in the bay, doubtless doing some fishing, but whenever it returned to the cove it did not seem keen to show much of itself.

And so a chance walk proved to be one of life’s blissful moments, a piece of happenstance that won’t be forgotten, sitting by a blue sea, under blue sky, dreamy warmth, blue coastline of Llyn Peninsula barely there on the sea-line, and now and then meeting the eye of a sun-bathing seal.

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Line Squares #6