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1724670-982768-thumbnail.jpg 'Kulafumbi' is our family home in Kenya, East Africa. 'Kulafumbi' is a play on the Kiswahili words "kula vumbi", which mean "eat dust", because it was so hot and dusty building our house in this remote, wild, wonderful place. Kulafumbi borders the Tsavo National Park - with no fences between us and the Park, the wildlife comes and goes of its own free will and treats our land as its own, which is exactly how we like it. In turn, we provide a protected area for the wild animals to do as they please. This protected area also creates an important buffer for the river, which forms the boundary between us and the park.
House & Land - more info
My Family & I - more info


1829439-992202-thumbnail.jpg Look how many species of animals & birds we've spotted to date at Kulafumbi:


BIRDS: 199+
INSECTS: Too many to count



"We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems..."



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« 12th March 2008 : Big Game, Tiny Chicks & Wind Storms | Main | 9th March 2008 : Memories & Mount Kenya »

10th March 2008 : Morphs & more early birds of 2008

Pumping water is a palaver...here are Ian and Pius on our well...
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Sometimes it all gets a bit too much!

The irony of us living by a river is that water is our greatest challenge. We are 15 miles from the nearest water mains, which means we have to be completely self-sufficient when it comes to our water needs. We alternate between pumping from our well and pumping direct from the river, depending on where the river is (the course changes so much from week to week), how clear the water is (when in flood the river is very muddy), and how much water is seeping into our well. It’s practically a full time job trying to keep enough water in our tanks for our day-to-day use, and one which drives Ian a little bit crazy from time to time…such as this morning, for example: we returned late last night from Nairobi, only to find our water had run out. I’ve been bathing from a bucket today, splashing around, a bit like one of the birds in our birdbath.

Speaking of birds, I am aware that I have been somewhat remiss on the blogging front of late, as I have been been so busy, and many bird-and-beast tales have been missed out. So, I am going to try to do a quick “creature catch-up” over the next few days, starting today with this bird journal, recording some highlights of my avian sightings so far this year.

Around the Kulafumbi area, we get a few morphs amongst our birds – one being the Purple-banded Sunbird which here in Tsavo (somewhat confusingly) has no purple, maroon or violet on it at all (nectarinia bifasciata tsavoensis). Another morph we observe here (though it is by no means the norm, so is always the subject of conversation when seen), is a white-backed Bateleur Eagle, one of which is resident in this area. (Most Bateleurs have a rufous brown back.) You can always tell a Bateleur, even from a distance, by the distinctive up-turned shape of its wings. Whether white-backed or not, the male and female birds can be distinguished from one another in flight as the male has a broader black edge to his wings. When perched, these eagles look ungainly and stocky, but they are in fact the ultimate aerial acrobats – their aerobatic displays take your breath away, as they tumble out the sky, male and female talons linked, or diving out of the blue at an incredible rate, then throwing their heads back and emitting their haunting cry…

White-backed Bateleur morph
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The distinctive upturned wing shape...
A beautiful Bateleur male - photo courtesy of my husband Ian

African Paradise Flycatchers are also prone to morphing in this part of the world. Sometimes these striking, normally chestnut coloured birds, with their blue eye-wattle, black heads and, when breeding, long chestnut tails, are instead snow-white. We often see a handsome white male flitting across the road as we drive to Mtito Andei (our nearest town), his long tail like a magic wand wafting behind him.

In mid January, I started seeing some Paradise Flycatchers around the house. One looked like it was a subspecies (terpsiphone viridis ferreti), because of its shorter-than-normal tail and white flashes on the wing. Another one looked almost like it was half way between the white morph and the short-tailed subspecies…it’s hard to keep up with exactly what’s going on with these birds!

A shorter-than-normal tailed Paradise Flycatcher
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More white than chestnut on this chap...

Pin-tailed Whydah, male in breeding plumage (being blown about in a strong wind!)
African Indigobird (male)
Grey Hornbill in the bushes by our bedroom

Another long-tailed bird that we have seen around the house recently is the breeding male Pin-tailed Whydah. This is another extraordinary bird (quite dull when not breeding), which is unmistakable in its black and white breeding plumage and bright red beak. These birds are known to parasitize the nests of other birds, so it’s no surprise the male Indigo Bird was chasing the Whydahs away across the river at every given opportunity. They also compete for the same food source, both being seed-eaters, attracted to the seeding grass on our Hippo Lawn (which is still not attracting any hippos, in case anyone is wondering.)

The Grey Hornbills are also getting a lot tamer, and we often see them in the bushes and trees right by the house. In time, they may come to our bird table. A pair of Speckled Pigeons (which normally nest on cliff ledges) turned up at the house and starting scouting around for nesting sites. They had a good look under our eaves, and up on the roof, but after a few days they disappeared and we have not seen them since – what a shame – how lovely it would be to have a pair of these pigeons nesting and cooing in the house somewhere. Who knows, they may come back…

Second round: Village Weavers nesting above our stores for the second time this year
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Diederik Cuckoo fledgling
Adult Diederik Cuckoo

There have been a lot of young birds about, evidence of a successful nesting season. The Village Weavers even embarked on a second round of nesting this year, as the rains persisted longer than usual, which also kept the thieving Diederik Cuckoos interested – they are always on the lookout for nests which they can parasitize, laying their eggs in the nest of another bird, which then unwittingly proceeds to incubate the eggs and carry out all the hard work of feeding the chicks when they hatch. To prove a point, the young Cuckoos could be seen begging from their surrogate Weaverbird mothers in the bushes around our house. They may be rather stunning birds, with their electric green plumage and fire-red eyes, but the Diederik Cuckoos are not the friendliest of birds – no sooner were the fledglings (lovingly raised by the weavers) out of the nest, than they were being hounded by their adult brethren.

Young Diederik Cuckoo begs from its surrogate mother, a Village Weaver

Fledging sunbirds have also been appearing – sweet little pompom-esque creatures, perched tweeting in the bushes awaiting sustenance from their parents. Young Barn Swallows have been perching on the wispy acacia thomasi branches, joined intermittently by a flock of adults. At the end of February, my father saw a pair of Crested Francolin with a clutch of tiny, newly hatched chicks down near our gate, but as yet I haven’t managed to locate them with my camera.

A baby Sunbird, chirping for its parents
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A young Rufous Chatterer in the thicket to the left of our house
In the very same thicket, a Rufous Bush Chat, flicking its rufous tail up and down - a characteristic habit of this bird

I was alerted to the presence of a young Rufous Chatterer by its piercing supplications from the bush to the left of our verandah – adding another new bird to our Bird List, now numbering 177+++. Early in February, the same bush delivered up another newcomer to the list, a Rufous Bush Chat (aka Rufous Scrub Robin, cercotrichas galactotes).

In fact, the thicket to the left of our house has been the stage for many a bird sighting this year. Two Yellow-vented Bulbuls, almost impossible to photograph in amongst the twigs and branches, were courting, displaying to each other with wings wide open and flapping, and ending with an equally dynamic mating ritual.

Bulbuls courting
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Gabar Goshawk hunting in thicket to the left of our house
Gabar Goshawk close-up

The very same day in the very same thicket, I watched a handsome Gabar Goshawk hunting in amongst the tightly-twined branches, its eagle-eyes searching for smaller birds or lizards. Compare this with the equally good-looking juvenile Pale Chanting Goshawk (below), which I saw in Tsavo West at the end of January, posing in a tree right by the road. (I saw him in the same spot several times, just waiting for his photograph to be taken – or so it seemed.)


Tsavo West delivered up some other wonderful bird sightings too, including some common birds which I had as yet failed to photograph properly: the somewhat comical Yellow-necked Spurfowl, the painterly Helmeted Guineafowl, and the colourful European and Lilac-Breasted Rollers, visiting in their dozens. The half-eagle-half-stork that goes by the name of a Secretary Bird is a frequent sight in the grasslands too, although my photograph here is less than impressive.

Yellow-necked Spurfowl on the road in Tsavo West
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Helmeted Guineafowl
European Roller

Of course, it’s not just the brightly coloured birds which are beautiful – the ones with more muted, neutral tones are equally pretty, like these Black-faced Sandgrouse (below), poised for take-off in the middle of the road home to Kulafumbi.


Back at the house, we’ve had other avian passers-by, including African Spoonbills, four of which flew by the house on the dull, grey morning of 17th February, and today a Yellow-billed Hornbill, which is wonderful, as they’re not as common as their Von der Decken and Red-billed cousins. The resident African Fish Eagles are still laying claim to this stretch of river, as are the less-than-pretty Marabou Storks, while the Glossy Starlings continue to make themselves at home, dominating the bird table. There is also a Yellow-billed Stork who seems to have found a favourite fishing spot right below the balcony and is always there beak-down fishing at sun-up.

african-spoonbills-17feb08-.gif 1829442-1026365-thumbnail.jpg
African Spoonbill stands on one leg at Hippo Bend
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Female Von der Decken Hornbill
Early morning Marabous on the beach

One of our resident Fish Eagles
Glossy Starling tucking into some pawpaw on the bird table
Constantly around these days: a Yellow-billed Stork fishing below the house

I saw a Red-fronted Tinkerbird in the bushes by our bedroom the other morning too, which I hadn’t seen so close to the house before. The Barbets, close relatives of the Tinkerbirds, are becoming more and more accustomed to the house too – I frequently hear a pair of Red and Yellow Barbets singing a duet in the thicket behind the house, and I managed to photograph a pair of the smaller D’Arnauds Barbets on one of my evening walks.

The Carmine Bee-eaters turned up for their annual visit on the 9th February, so indescribably stunning with their scarlet feathers, electric blue heads and scimitar tails. Unfortunately, none of my photos really do justice to the true colour of these incredible birds. I also recorded a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater on 24th January, another new arrival on the Kulafumbi Bird List.

A pair of D'Arnauds Barbets
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The extraordinary Carmine Bee-eater, seen here hunting for insects on the wing
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

The Red-billed Quelea have arrived. Famous for their huge flocks, numbering several million at a time as they start to congregate and breed when the grass turns green with the rain. From a distance these enormous flocks of tiny seed-eating birds resemble clouds of smoke: the most dramatic sight as they roll over the grass plains like massive airborne shoals of fish, or banking low over the river in the late afternoon light, their wings shining golden in the sun’s last rays. So far this year, the flocks on the river have been fairly small, but nonetheless they have been attracting the attention of hunting falcons as they come down to drink, massing on the reed islands before fluttering down to the water’s edge to quench their thirst, and attracting our attention as they bank and shimmer in the sun…

Red-billed Quelea pair: male top, female bottom
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A flock of Quelea coming in to drink, above a silhouetted Grey Heron in the river
Weighing down the reeds with their combined weight

And to end on something completely different: Who's this looking in my office window?!


More Bird Pictures:
from January 2008
from February 2008

Reader Comments (9)

The photos of those birds make my heart sing but more importantly I am just really happy to have re-found your blog. My computer crashed and I lost all my bookmarks. I had just about given up trying to remember where I had found your blog when today I decided to be creative and tried to remember words from your blogs. I googled squirrels, hippos, Kenya and didn't find you and then, a flash of brilliance, I entered Tanya and lo and behold,there you were right at the top. I should be an internet detective. LOL.

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Perazzini

Hi Suzanne - Glad to have you back... I'm grateful both to Google and your flash of brilliance! By the way, don't you just love computers when they work, and hate them when they don't? ;)

March 10, 2008 | Registered CommenterTanya

Great photos. Whydahs are funny birds. My parents have a resident in the garden at home. He spends his entire time trying to scare off the firefinches and sparrows from the two seed tables. The weavers just tend to ignore him of course!

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternuttycow

Wonderful catch-up and I loved seeing all those amazing birds. You make me want so much to visit Africa again. It's such a special and unique place. Thank you for sharing a bit of your world.

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSandpiper

Wow. What wonderful pictures. I get excited when I see bullfinches in my garden, but to have all these around where you live. You are blessed! I love the last picture as well. So cute. Thanks for sharing them with us. Jane

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Hey Tanja, great to read about all the things you've been up to and see how the wildlife is doing around Kulafumbi. Several times a week we check your website and think about the few incredible days we spend at Kulafumbi. Say hello to Ian from us !
Audrey & Bart

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAudrey

Thanks for all the comments...yes, I am very fortunate to live surrounded by such an incredible array of birdlife. I think Kenya is one of the best birding destinations in the world - we have over 1,100 species in the country, I believe - although apparently Ethiopia has even more, and places like Costa Rica beat us on total numbers of species too...It's the variety that astounds me, and the abundance of colour and detail in each and every bird...

Imogen - when I was in Nairobi last week, we were having lunch at a place where they were feeding the birds in the garden, and there were no less than 15 male Pin-tailed Whydahs - all in full breeding plumage - and a bunch of females all feeding together - it was quite an amazing sight! You can imagine there weren't too many other birds around at the time...such bullies they are. I'm glad our little Indigobird turned the tables here and gave the Whydahs some of their own medicine!

Audrey - thanks for stopping by - yes, Christmas was certainly fun, and we were glad that you were able to share it with us and take some good memories of Kulafumbi with you back to Holland...

Jane - I was reading your blog this morning - I love the way you bring your surroundings to life through your vivid descriptions and humour...it just goes to show, no matter where you are, there is always something in nature which is astonishing and captivating. I hope that your council will see sense in the end and not destroy that special part of England where you live. (Don't get me started!)

Sandpiper - that seals it then: you'll just have to come back to Africa some time!

March 12, 2008 | Registered CommenterTanya

Great catch-up! I'm having fun catching up, too. I tried a couple of times to come here recently, but my computer froze. This time it's all working though. (The trouble was at my end, not yours.) You have the most beautiful birds. I love the little vervet. I remember sitting at breakfast one day in the bush in SA and watching the little rascals getting into mischief. Such fun!

March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSandpiper

I'm glad you're enjoying catching up, Sandpiper (in between computer crashes - what a pain for you)...I think the vervets are so sweet too - but cheeky as you say! Here at Kulafumbi we have not had any problems with baboons [yet - touch wood], but the vervets are just itching to come in the house and see what they can steal...

March 13, 2008 | Registered CommenterTanya

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