Serengeti National Park, Part II
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Fun activities in Serengeti. Besides cruising on the grassland searching for wildlife, you can also overlook the endless savanna from a hot air balloon.
This page covers mostly Reptiles, Birds, and other interesting subjects.
Start with Reptiles. The Red-headed Agama Lizards (Agama agama) are social animals, with a colorful dominant male leading a group of females and several younger males. The name come from the color of the dominant male's head. The females are grayish with hint of light blue (last 2 pix). In the last pic, a female is moving cautiously on a very hot stone at high noon, lifting her totes and tail so she won't burn herself.
Although Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) carry the reputation of killer, they actually rarely attack human. Their sizes can be scary though, with an adult measures up to 5-6 meter long. Nile crocodile is a more advanced species among the reptile, with a four-chamber heart that's similar to that of the mammals.
Birds. There are reportedly over 500 species of birds living in Serengeti National Park, from the tiny nectar-seeking sunbirds to the largest bird in the world, the ostrich. Here let's start with the most colorful ones, which includes King Fishers, Parrots, and their allies. These are tropical birds are with large beaks and often showy feathers.
Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus, 3 pix) should be voted "the most colorful feather." An closed contender for the title will be these Fischer's Lovebirds (Agapornis fischeri, last 3 pix).
And there're more. Check out this pair of Little Bee-eaters (Merops pusillus, 2 pix), followed by a Bearded Woodpecker (Thripias namaquus, 3 pix), and a Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis, last pic).
Hornbills are tropical birds with a large bill shaped like the horn of a bull. That big horn-shaped bill is apparently very useful when this African Gray Hornbill (Tockus nasutus) crushing the shell of a Dung Beetle and sucking up the meat and juice inside.
These red-faced birds are Southern Ground-Hornbills (Bucorvus leadbeateri).
Raptors. The Secretary Bird's (Sagittarius serpentarius) got to be the most fascinating raptor we met in Serengeti. The funny name probably came from the feather crest resemble those old-fashion English secretaries who carried quill pens behind their ears. Secretary bird has an eagle-like body but cane-like legs. Although capable of flight, they spend most of their time on ground, preying on small mammals, lizards, snakes, and insects. There're occasional reports of them killing young gazelle as well.
Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax, 4 pix). Live on fresh carrion but prey on small mammals, reptiles, and birds as well. In the last pic is a Snake Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis). They can take on snakes up to 3m long, including cobras.
Vultures are scavengers but not raptors. In western culture they've long been considered an "evil" bird: filthy-looking jacket with an ugly bare head, living on rotten animal carcass and leftover of predators' prey, awkward movement, greedy and messy feeding habits... Well, the fact is, vultures are an important part of the ecosystem in Serengeti. They clean up and recycle hundred thousands of herbivores drop dead on the savanna every year. In the first 2 pix are mostly Hooded Vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus), with a hooded red face and black feather. In the 3rd and 4th pix are Rupell's Griffon Vultures (Gyps rueppellii).
More pix of vultures. White-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) and nest (2 pix). Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos, 4 pix) is one of the lager species of vultures. The name come from the lappets of flesh behind their bear head. In the last 2 pix, a heavily-injured or ill Leppet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) was lying on the ground.
If you think vultures are ugly, wait till you meet the Marabou Storks (Leptoptilos crumeniferus). These guys easily won my vote of "the most disgusting bird in the world." Just check out their speckle, scabby, pinkish bald head and that huge meat cleaving bill - trade mark for scavenger birds (if a scavenger got feather on the head, it'll soon clot with blood and flesh). Other than the ugliness, Marabou Storks are also known for being one of the largest flying birds, with a wing span up to 3 meters.
Ok, that's enough for the stomach. Let's switch to the Song Birds. How about these slick little Superb Starlings (Lamprotornis superbus)? Their metallic-looking feather changes tone under different light conditions. Love that row of diamond-like spots on the wing.
Similar species: Hildebrandt's Starling (Lamprotornis hildebrandti, 3 pix) and Shelly's Starling (not sure? Lamprotornis shelleyi, 3 pix), and a not so similar species: Wattled Starling (Creatophora cinerea, last pic).
Introduce a very special group of talented song birds, the Weavers. The name come from their delicate nests woven with grass, leave fiber, and sticks. The shape and size of the nests differ from species to species.
Common species of weavers: White-headed Buffalo-weavers (Dinemellia dinemelli, 3 pix) and Red-bill Buffalo-weavers (Bubalornis niger, 3 pix). Note that all weavers have thick cone-shaped beaks adapted for the weaving..
Roufus-tailed Weaver (Histurgops ruficaudus, 2 pix), a pair of Speckled-fronted Weavers (Sporopipes frontalis, 2 pix). Not sure about the last pic.
Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja, 1st pic, female) can be considered the counter part of hummingbird in America: small, fast, and feeding mostly on nectar. The next 4 pix are Lesser Striped Swallows (Hirundo abyssinica) and their nest.
Yellow-fronted Canary (Serinus mozambicus, 2 pix); White-rumped Helmeted-shrike (Eurocephalus rueppellii, 3 pix). Not sure about the last one.
The Bare-faced Go-away Bird (Corythaixoides personatus, 1 pic) has funny voice sound like shrilling "go, go..." Next, a few Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) is feeding on the parasite in a giraffe (2 pix). In the last 3 pix, an African Mourning Dove (1 pic), a Ring-necked Dove (Streptopelia decipiens, 1 pic), and a Greater Honeyguide (Indicator indicator, 1 pic).
Terrestrial Birds. First ought to be the largest bird in the world, the Ostrich (Struthio camelus, Maasai race shown here). An adult male can be up to 9 feet (2.7 m) and weigh up to 340 lbs (155 kg). Note that the darker one of the pair is male. When make's head and face turn red, it's on heat (3rd pic).
Guinea Fowl (Numida meleagris, 2 pix). These lovely walking birds can be domesticated by simply take their eggs and hatch. "Taste like chicken", I was told by our guide Hamisi. Next is a Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori, 2 pix). Weigh up to 35 lbs, Kori Bustard is mostly incapable of flying. Lastly, this shy little bird hiding in grass is Coqui Francolin (Francolinus coqui, last 2 pix).
Shore Birds. A Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea, 3 pix). A pair of Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus, 1 pic). A Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus, 3 pix).
Lastly, take a look at the Wildlife Lodge that we stayed. Located at the heart of the Serengeti, we practically lived among wildlife. We shared the path with a huge family of Mongooses, watched Vervet Monkeys outside of our window and Impalas right at the garden...
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