An adventure in Kenya – at last!

Balwyn meeting report, 23 June 2015
Guest speaker: Sonja Ross

In October 2014, Sonja lived a dream of her lifetime. At last she got to see Africa. Sonja and Geoff flew into Nairobi and were immediately rewarded with their first view of Superb Starlings in the airport car park.

Superb Starlings. Photo by Sonja Ross
Superb Starlings. Photo by Sonja Ross

Preston, their guide for the trip, was a specialist birder who had contributed to finding birds for the field guide. In the off-season he taught local students, free of charge at his home, about African wildlife. While on safari, they could only walk around the vehicles on a main meal break but even then only after the guide had checked for predators from a high hill. Being restricted to the cars reduced Sonja’s ability to photograph birds, especially the smaller and faster ones. Nevertheless, in just 16 days Sonja managed to add over 265 birds to her life-list and to photograph many of them. Quite enough to keep her audience enthralled.

Because of the heat at midday, they met their guide at 6.30am and stopped for lunch at about 11am. From then to about 3pm they rested or spent time with chores and managing photographs. But they were ever made aware of danger and were required to be back at the accommodation by 6pm. When the sun goes down, danger outside increases.

Sonja presented her photos in taxonomic order rather than temporal. This probably suited most long-time birders by helping them relate to the birds they had already seen in other environments. My personal perspective is closer to the ecology of the birds and other creatures so I would have been more comfortable in a traditional approach. But then my bird list is very small, although I have travelled widely in several countries. Whatever one’s personal preference, Sonja’s presentation was a very professional one, with interesting and quality photos and videos expertly presented and enjoyed by all.

There were so many photos that I can hardly begin to do justice to them. It will have to suffice for me to recall some that stuck in my mind. For example, there were the Sand Grouse that nest far from water, causing problems when raising chicks that need water daily. The males have special feathers they can soak with water and carry it back to their young. They might have to fly 50 km several times a day when rearing young.

The Crowned Lapwing was nicknamed by Geoff as the one with the Collingwood beanie, which then gave Sonja the difficult task of explaining to Preston what a Collingwood beanie was.

The Secretarybird is a raptor with long legs that it uses to flush from tussocks the snakes it preys upon, requiring very fast reflexes.

Vultures are fascinatingly ugly birds that have few feathers on their necks. Well, wouldn’t you prefer that if you spent so much time with your head inside a carcass?

And there was a Yellow-billed Oxpecker that enjoyed the task of relieving a giraffe and other animals of its pest insects, which they eat.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker
Yellow-billed Oxpecker. Photo by Sonja Ross

We will all have to await with anticipation the story of her next adventure, now that Sonja and Geoff are both retired – if they really have; after all, photographers never do.

Contributor: Ron Garrett

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