A whirlwind of little swifts (Apus affinis) bursts in the skies at the mark of the wet season in late April. Before the rains swifts were scarce, but they became abundant by the thousands every day since without fail. Like all sickle-winged swifts and swallows, little swifts are incredibly adept at flight, piercing the air like a boomerang. They navigate the beams at the dining area with ease, and only once did an unlucky bird erroneously bash into one of my friends who was enjoying a cup of coffee. Apparently little swifts are thought to be incapable of taking flight from the ground. Much like many bats they must fall from a high perch to catch wind and take to the air.
Little swifts like to build cozy nests. Dry grasses and debris make up the outer layers, but comfy soft feathers are stuck inside for the nestlings. Feathers are not necessarily from their own species, but they are picked up carefully by the parents. The spotted feather in this photo is actually one from a vulturine guineafowl, a bird that leaves plenty of fallen feathers within Mpala Research Centre. Although nestlings are attentively cared for by their parents, they do not have such a carefree lifestyle. When very young, hatchlings will be so eager to obtain food that some do not differentiate well between their mothers and other outside disturbances. Sadly, this sometimes results in nestlings begging to an incoming predatory snake, or in this case just a human causing commotion beneath the nest. Red-winged starlings will also remove swifts from their nests by force, killing them and feeding them to their own young. Around the station we’ve seen over half a dozen fallen swifts removed from their feathery chambers, and an hour before I took this photo, Wilson spotted a snake perusing this nest. Despite the fatalities, little swifts undoubtedly thrive in the wet season. If I were to keep count of how many I could spot in a single day, it would number in the hundreds if not thousands.
I don’t usually share landscape photos, but I think it’s nice to show these snapshots of habitat. After all, they are the very places so many of the animals I talk about call home. To start, here’s a jump back to late April of this year. Just four days after the first monsoon rains arrived to end an atypical prolonged dry season, the Ewaso Ng’iro river began to fill up. This event caused much of the megafauna to disperse in search of other pockets of flourishing vegetation. Just a few minutes before I took this photo, we saw a lioness retreat from the water’s edge and wander up the slopes into secrecy.
River road and an umbrella thorn tree (Acacia tortilis spirocarpa) at the beginning of July. Compare with my previous photo to see the drastic change in seasonality! One hour before I departed from Kenya, a leopard was spotted along this road lounging in a shepherd’s tree (Boscia sp.) with a warthog kill. Warthogs are apparently the most delectable item on the menu for the big cats. By the time we arrived the leopard had slipped away, surely to return to its meal at a more peaceful time.