Kenya is for the Birds
From the ugly marabou stork and the very gross hornbills to the beautiful weavers and shiny Guineafowls, Kenya has quite the variety of birds. Taking advantage of my camera which will take up to 20 frames a second, these bird photos will often be shown here as a series of photos. To not lose my audience too quickly, I’ll start off with the attractive African weaver birds before getting into the ugly and gross.
The abandoned weaver bird nests from prior years were a common sight while bouncing around on the dirt roads of Kenya. Each year the Spekes weaver will build a new nest, which takes them only a day or two. It occurred to me that if someone gave me a table full of cut grass stems, a pair of tweezers and an acacia tree limb, I would never be able to build such a nest in a day. Worse, after the male weaver spends many hours on home construction, the female weaver comes by to inspect. She may reject the nest entirely. I know the feeling. Poor guy. He gets rejected and does not know exactly why. She cannot tell him. But he will try again and hopefully build a nest of acceptable quality.
Notice this nest hangs from a single, thin branch. I hope he knows how to tie a double bowline half hitch securely. Weavers hang out in a colony, so the tree was full of activity with 20+ weavers frantically flying about with nesting material.
This seems a bit like crocheting but with only a beak.
Weaver Nest Building Techniques
Taking photos at 10-20 frames a second, I have many hundreds of these photos I can share with you….
For the photographers reading this, these blog photos were taken at 600mm with a Sony 200mm-600mm zoom lens, handheld at 320th of a second. The photography shutter speed rule has historically been to not set the shutter speed below the millimeter length of the lens you are shooting. In this case the shutter speed should not go slower than 1/600th. However, the improvement of modern digital cameras with built in anti-shake and vibration reducing gyroscopes, now allow us to shoot at slower speeds. This lets in more light but possibly introduces blur from bird movement or camera shake. Photography, like life, is a series of trade-offs. I would shoot in bursts of 50 or so photos and hope one photo would turn out.
The widest this zoom can shoot is with an f-stop of 6.3. Unfortunately, this did not blur the background enough so there are distracting branches in these weaver photos. As you look at the rest of these bird photos, notice how the more pleasing photographs are those with a very distant background and/or a wider f-stop which blurs the background so the attention is strictly on the main subject, the bird.
Fish Eating Malachite Kingfisher
This was just a snack for this tiny bird. It seemed like we saw the same bird gulp down at least five of these fish. The kingfisher would slap it against the branch and toss it around to make sure it was dead before swallowing it.
The Superb Starling
This bird is another example of me being scoffed at and belittled for requesting a Jeep stop for a photograph. These superb starlings are very common, like sparrows, so the other photographers either already had photos of this bird or did not care to have a photo of such a common bird. It is so beautiful ‘superb’ is part of its official name! This photo was taken at a lunch stop, otherwise I would never have had the chance to photograph it.
The safari food at both the tent lodges and in the field was always very good. For lunches when driving around the savanna, a shady place was selected. We stopped at the same spot several days in a row. Though I never saw any indication of a village nearby, this guy was always walking around our lunch site with a stick and a slingshot to ward away danger. The most apparent danger were monkeys jumping into the Jeeps and stealing our food when windows were left down.
He failed miserably at keeping the monkeys out of the jeeps. Photographers also failed to keep the windows rolled up and doors shut…
The African Fish Eagle
Situations like this are often created by photographers. In spots with a great many eagles, like parts of Alaska, a photographer may capture such a photo without planting a fish. Earlier this day our canoe operator puttered up to some fishermen on the lake and bought several fish. We would then motor around the lake shore looking for fish eagles. When we spotted one in a tree, we would toss out the fish and wait a couple minutes for the eagle to swoop down, firing our shutters the whole time. This side view is quite common and it seems to me like a head-on shot would be good as well.
From a photographic viewpoint, these are very difficult photos to properly expose and process. Bright sun on the bird’s white head means you wish to let in less light to not overexpose. The dark under the wings means you want to let in more light.
Backlit objects are often avoided in photography, but in this case the sunlight from the back helps lighten and accentuate the hair-like neck feathers. These feathers are likely overexposed, but unlike the head of the fish eagle, there is no detail to see in them so it does not matter.
We saw large flocks of these iridescent birds running around in the morning light. Those photos all had backgrounds which were too busy. I chose to wait for these birds to walk by a small cliff next to the dry river to provide a more blurred background, better isolating the bird.
The Martial Eagle
We watched the martial eagle rip up the bird and eat much of it. Unfortunately, when the eagle flew off its back was facing us so those photos were not very good. A photographer in our local camera club pointed out that when birds look directly at you, they often look mean. Certainly seems to be the case here.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
In my previous blog I pointed out how keen the competition is for food in Africa. Most animals spend their entire life, every day, searching for the next meal. One way to ensure you find enough food is to look for food where no other animals dare to tread. One day the hornbills decided to rummage through the dung droppings of the eland, oryx and zebra. Much to their delight, they found a plentiful supply of maggots and worms! Their long, stained beak seems fairly well suited for this task. They can keep their distance and still plunge into the meal. Personally, for me, I think I would want a longer beak.
Apparently other hornbills saw this easy, untapped source of food and joined in the hunt. So now there is competition even for the maggots in the droppings of African herbivores.
These photos show how important it is to be able to shoot at 20 frames a second. How else could I get photos of the maggots in midair?
(My editor-in-chief made me clean up the language in this entire section….)
And now for the ugly. I enjoyed photographing this stork. Apparently at times they will inflate that red bump on their back. The marabou stork has few feathers on its head for the same reason a vulture has a bald head. When sticking your head inside the rib cage of a dead rotting animal, you do not want extra stuff clinging to your head feathers.
Is this a face only a mother could love?
A Photographer’s Vision
The skilled nature photographers of the group did not wish to spend much time with this unfortunate looking bird. When photographers select their subjects based on what others may like or what may sell in a gallery, it seems the photographer is no longer following their own artistic vision or path. Personally, I’m still fumbling around trying to find my own vision, which is why I recently have experimented with macro photography. The subject of ‘Vision’ is big in the photographer’s world. Here is a link for serious photographers. It is written by Cole Thompson, a favorite photographer of mine. In this blog he discusses a photographer’s vision. Remember, ONLY serious photographer’s: How to Improve your Photography
Interior Decoration Ideas (a/k/a sales pitch)
Do you wish to be a trendsetter? Tired of following the crowd and tired of the same ol’ sunset and mountain photos in your living room? Here is your chance to show your individuality and give the neighbors something to really talk about.
For a limited time only, these quality fine art prints are being made available to you at unheard of deeply discounted prices. Fifty percent off all ugly bird photos. But wait, there’s more! Shipping and handling will be included for free.
For you realtors, this could help you set yourself apart from the others on the parade of homes. Buyers could remember the homes and say “Let’s buy the kingfisher home or let’s buy the marabou stork home. ”
Sales offer expires February 11, 2023.
So what is NEXT? Soon, I’ll get a blog out on the big cats of Kenya.
A bird in the bush is worth 20 frames in a camera.
Another well done series capturing the vivid detail coupled with facts while maintaining that great sense of humor.
Thank you as always Lou. I hope your Super Bowl team, the Philadelphia Fish Eagles do well.
I look forward to your incredible photography, as well as learning about the critters you share!! Thank you for enriching my life through your experiences.
I will continue to work on the blogs for friends such as yourself. Thank you.
These are great- as are your comments. Looking forward to seeing more.
Good to hear from you Dorsey. You played a big roll is getting us to start our international travel with a few month stay in San Carlos, Mexico. Hope you are doing well.
Very good, very nice photos.
Thanks Rich, always good to hear from you.
Way cool. Thank you for this “birdy” installment 🙂
In my now long ago only trip to Africa I got only one opportunity for the Malachite and it was not eating.
I have a cool angry bird photo of a Ground Hornbill running at me … but no maggot toss.
Love the African Fish Eagles but no fish tossing and fish taking shots for me.
Like you I found the various starlings gorgeous.
Having been on a photo safari with the emphasis to ignore the birds I had very few opportunities and back then only 12 fps not 20 fps as I do now.
Finally some bird photos for Ken. I’ll have a few more like the secretary bird and birds feeding on the backs of zebras, rhinos and giraffes. Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond.
Love the photos, Harold, and as always your entertaining commentary. You got some amazing shots and I admire your ability to use such complex cameras. I seem to have stopped at the iPhone! Keep ’em coming! Bonnie and Dave too
Bonnie, the iPhone is a terrific camera, especially their latest model 24. Three different Xoom settings, water proof, capable of shooting raw and several useful apps. Professional photographers often hate the great results of the iPhone. Also has the advantage of not attracting attention. You can even play like you are taking a selfie, but taking a photo in the opposite direction. As always, in awe of your travels.