Mirror, mirror

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A house sparrow that, whenever he had a minute, tried madly to defend his territory against his mirror image. Fortunately for me, every now and then his dropping energy levels forced him to take a break, and this shot was taken during one of his brief escapes into normality.

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Early risers

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This shot was taken in August at Lake Nyabikere (The Lake of Frogs) in Uganda. And indeed, every night thousands of frogs staged a cacophonous concert of high-pitched calls that individually sounded very much like someone hitting a high note on a marble xylophone. Despite getting our sleep cut short by the frogs, the anticipation of encountering new animals and interesting people made us get up early anyway. The first sight were usually local fishermen on the lake, followed by ducks, vervet monkeys, hadedah ibis, various king fishers, and great blue turacos.

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Boys guarding a sorghum field close to Bisidimo, Harar province, in Ethiopia. The slingshot is used to drive away birds, either by pelting them with stones or by using it as a whip to make noise. It’s a tough job to be on these platforms the whole day and it’s not only boys doing it, but we’ve seen also girls guarding fields. Some put up shawls and other pieces of cloth to get some shade, but most just sit or stand there bearing the hot, harsh sunshine.

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Fall’s here

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Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea). The red and yellow coloring of the trees and bushes around my parents’ house reminds me strongly of the colors we’ve seen in Africa. Now that the night temperatures started to become frosty, my parents began to put seeds out for the birds, which by now have become quite used to the presence of people. Hence, they’re great subjects to photograph.



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Beauty it ain’t

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Let’s just say that marabou storks (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) will never win a beauty competition, at least not if members of any other species participate. Like vultures they’re mainly scavengers and adapted to sticking their heads into bloody carcasses. But unlike vultures they also like lake shores where they can catch the odd fish, frog, and even small birds, well, basically everything that they can swallow. And they especially like landing sites of fishing boats, from where they happily clean up all the left-overs of the daily catch.

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Hell’s Gate National Park

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One of the great things about Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya is that you can ride through the park on a bicycle, or take a guided walking tour. The other great thing is the landscape. With a guide you can descend through a beautiful gorge (see photo) to the Devil’s Bed Chamber and Bathroom, which is powered by hot springs. We went there with a bunch of friends, rented the remaining 7 semi-usable bicycles, and took off into the park that is supposed to have inspired the landscape drawn in the movie ‘Lion King.’ After about a mile we ran into the first zebras and antelopes, and a little further we saw warthogs, a giraffe, and eventually African buffalos. You can see a few more pictures from Hell’s Gate in the Africa Gallery.

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Fading glory

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One of the many kites that frequent the Wildebeest Camp in Nairobi. We have seen many kites in Nairobi and also in Addis Ababa that seem to have adapted to city life by becoming scavengers. When I saw these graceful fliers going dumpster diving, I thought: “What a shame!” But that’s just my brain having trouble connecting the image of a beautifully equipped arial predator to its activity of collecting garbage, a niche in which it’s now competing with vultures.

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These guys were transporting grain with mules and horses across the Bale Mountains. In the south we saw many people on horseback, and in the mountains horses seemed to be the most common means of transport. And this didn’t seem to be a mere monetary issue as we’ve seen quite a few wrecked or temporarily abandoned trucks that couldn’t cope with the steep and rough roads. One bus stopped on its way up in a small stream that crossed the road and the driver was scooping water onto the steaming engine with his hands, while the passengers took the opportunity to stretch their legs, use the bush toilet, and/or have a smoke.

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Bale Mountains National Park

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I took this shot on our second and last day up on the plateau of the Bale Mountains National Park, just before we drove down to Hawassa. It’s been amazing to be up there in such a wonderful, unique, and harsh environment, and to see these beautiful creatures that live up there. The elevation on the plateau is above 3000 meters and we went up to about 4370 meters on Mount Tullu Demtu, Ethiopia’s second highest mountain. The low rocks and shrubs were no obstacles to the winds that haunted us. Windchill, rain, and hail turned down the felt temperatures quite a bit, but brief spells of sunshine in between made for nice contrasts. We plan to come back to the Bale Mountains, but next time we will stay for at least six days and do a trek on horseback from camp to camp. This will allow us to be up in the park for longer periods of time. On our recent trip we had to be out of the park at 5 p.m. and in the morning we first had to drive up, which took valuable time.  And with the slow speed of the horses, we hope to see even more animals.

Considering how few Ethiopian wolves are left (about 550 in total), it’s been surprising to us how little the local authorities do to protect the Ethiopian wolves. The biggest danger for the wolves seems to be rabies infections, which killed about 200 wolves in the Bale Mountains National Park last year alone. The wolves are infected by dogs that herders bring with them when they graze their cattle in the park. Finding the right balance between providing local communities with sustainable income and the protection of endangered species is hard, but to us it seemed as if the potential role and impact of low-key tourism was not fully explored yet. There are great examples where this seems to work very well, like the Lewa National Park in Kenya, where most of the income generated through park-entrance fees and lodging supports local schools and community development projects and where the impact on the local community from tourism is very direct. We hope that the wolves and the other endemic species will still be there when we come back.

sgid: lat: 6.88928 lon: 39.90976
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Augur buzzard

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I took this shot of an augur buzzard (Buteo augurlast week on the Bale Mountain plateau in Ethiopia. Like the wolfes, the buzzards are after the thousands of rodents, such as giant mole-rats, that dash back and forth between feeding and hiding places on the plateau. The birds perch on larger rocks that provide a good view of the surrounding burrows and every now and then they dive for their prey or glide to another boulder to find less cautious prey.

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