Birding Without Borders

Day 220: Red Elephants

On safari again in Tsavo National Park.

August 8, 2015: Voi, Kenya — The largest national park in Kenya isn’t the famous Maasai Mara (a big reserve north of the Serengeti)it’s a place called Tsavo, in the southeast part of the country. Tsavo National Park encompasses a huge swath of dry savanna and scrubby forest; it attracts half a million visitors each year, but because it’s bigger than the entire state of New Jersey, the park feels more crowded with animals than people.

Joe, Alan, Justus and I spent the day in our pop-top minibus, slowly cruising various dirt roads in search of birds. The vehicle is tall enough to stand up in when the roof is open (you’re not allowed out of the car because of lions and other predators), and I rarely sat down during an action-packed day. The birding was fantastic, but we kept getting distracted by furrier animals; I added things like eland, gazelles, and dik-diks to my year's mammal sightings, and the landscape was full of elephants, zebras, and giraffes, which I haven’t seen since I visited Kruger National Park in South Africa last month.

The elephants at Tsavo are interesting because they are stained by the iron-rich soil and generally appear a deep red color, much different than their natural gray skin tone. The zebras, giraffes, and other animals are all stained, too; I laughed out loud when two bright red warthogs ran out of the bushes, with tails held straight up!

The birds do a better job of staying clean and keeping their natural colors: The pink throat of the Rosy-patched Bushshrike, the yellow underparts of the Golden-breasted Starling, the black belly of the Black-faced Sandgrouse, and the intricate patterning of the Red-and-yellow Barbet seemed supersaturated this afternoon. When people think of Africa, this is the landscape they imaginewide open, colorful, full of ridiculous wildlife, and baked by the sun.

New birds today: 22

Year list: 3883

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