Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-3

Contents

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pp. 4-10

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About this book

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pp. 11-13

...the camp, a species I was seeing next to the dining mess almost every day. I took a series of photographic images of that species, as well as Fork-tailed Drongo and Slatecoloured Boubou, and set about describing how best to separate these three similar black birds in the field for the benefit of the guides. Unfortunately, these...

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The habitats

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pp. 14-14

...and a strong bill that might be used for fishing, then maybe it’s a species of heron that has made a quick pit-stop before flying on to the nearest marsh. In...

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Plains

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pp. 15-15

...grass plains are continually grazed by the game and, in the conservancy lands, also by domestic animals. They provide limited protection for the birds that live there but do allow these species to see danger coming from afar...

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Marsh and water

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pp. 16-17

...The Mara River is the most significant water body in the reserve but various smaller rivers (e.g. Talek) and streams (e.g. Olare Orok) flow into it. There are also some impressive marshes (e.g. Musiara), ox-bow lakes (many in the Mara...

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Woodland, scrub & garden

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pp. 18-18

...Many camps and lodges are located amongst tall trees which afford some protection from the sun’s heat during the middle of the day. Camps such as Naibor, Rekero and Governors’ are...

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Acacia scrub

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pp. 19-19

...varied mix of hardy trees and bushes that support a unique selection of birds. Although you may see scattered acacia trees almost anywhere in the reserve, the best acacia scrub habitats...

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Village

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pp. 20-20

...As with every other human habitation around the world, the Maasai towns and villages around the reserve are home to some resourceful species that have adapted successfully to a world...

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Forest

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pp. 21-21

...The mature forest surrounding Kichwa Tembo/ Bateleur Camp in the north-west of the Mara is the largest fragment of mature forest found in the area and supports a number...

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Up in the air

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pp. 22-22

...Because they can cover such large areas in the course of the day, these birds are likely to be encountered over many different habitats – but their true habitat is the sky where they feed and, in the case of swifts, even mate...

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Nightbirds

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pp. 23-23

...Owls and nightjars are birds of the night and although you may be fortunate enough to see them during the day, usually roosting but sometimes active, your best chance of an encounter is during a night-drive...

Map of the Masai Mara

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pp. 24-25

BIRDS OF THE PLAINS

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Ostrich

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pp. 26-27

...wing plumes and short, white tail. The pink skin of the head, neck and long, strong legs becomes flushed when birds are excited. This is particularly so in display, which involves exuberant rolling and shaking of the wing plumes. Females and immature birds are greyish-brown in colour and lack pink...

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Secretarybird

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pp. 28-28

...grass in search of prey. Even from a considerable distance, the light-grey plumage with black flight feathers and knee-length ‘trousers’ is distinctive. The attractive face of bare, red skin is decorative, and...

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Grey Crowned Crane

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pp. 29-29

...black, velvety forehead, and below the clean white face disc hangs a red wattle. Although sometimes seen in large flocks, these birds are more often encountered in pairs walking sedately and feeding...

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Kori Bustard

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pp. 30-30

...are otherwise similar. The face, neck and breast are lightly barred with grey, the crown is black and there is a black stripe running through the eye. The back and flight feathers are greyish-brown and the upperwing is peppered with black and white markings...

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Black-bellied Bustard

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pp. 31-31

...A small bustard of long grassy plains. During the breeding season (March to May), males perform an amazing display, usually from raised ground such as a grassy knoll. They stand with their neck raised then throw back their head abruptly...

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White-bellied Bustard

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pp. 31-31

...A small, pale bustard of short grassy areas, often with scattered small trees and shrubs. The black-and-white face markings of the male, finished with...

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Temminck’s Courser

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pp. 32-32

...quite common to find them rummaging through a small dung pile, where various food items can be found. They are reluctant to fly, preferring to run from any threat, but when they do take flight they show a short tail, beyond which the long legs project, and...

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Crowned Plover

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pp. 33-33

...wing pattern which makes it easy to separate from other large plovers, either in flight or when wing-stretching – something it often does when a vehicle approaches close-by. These birds draw a great deal of attention to themselves when performing noisy intimidation flights aimed at distracting...

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Black-winged Plover

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pp. 33-33

...grey in the face and usually show a white spot above the bill, though this is less obvious in females. In flight, they show a distinctive wing pattern that separates it from other plovers. Black-winged Plovers are often found in loose flocks of up to 20 birds but...

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White Stork

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pp. 34-34

...These birds are non-breeding migrants from Europe that usually arrive into the Mara during October and leave in late April, although a few birds have been known to stay in southern Africa to breed. Depending on the rains, many...

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Abdim’s Stork

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pp. 35-35

...that arrives in vast numbers into the Mara. However, this bird is a migrant that breeds in central Africa where it is considered a good luck symbol and bringer of the rains. Like other grassland storks, this bird walks...

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Southern Ground Hornbill

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pp. 35-35

...birds and mature offspring of previous broods. Adults of both sexes show red facial skin and a saggy wattle, but the female can be separated by the small patch of violet-blue colour on the throat. Look out for the incredibly long eyelashes on this bird. They are reluctant...

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Marabou Stork

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pp. 36-36

...at the carcass where it uses its enormous bill to great effect. It will often wait for the more aggressive vultures to have their fill before stepping in to clean up the scraps. The head is mostly featherless which enables it to get deep into the carcass without getting blood...

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Rüppell’s Vulture

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pp. 37-37

...White-backed Vulture, Rüppell’s is reliably told from that species by its cream-coloured bill at all ages. Adult birds also show obvious pale scalloping to the wing feathers and never a white rump in flight. Numbers of Rüppell’s increase dramatically with...

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White-backed Vulture

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pp. 37-37

...the different species have different feeding behaviours and strategies. White-backs play the ‘numbers game’, benefitting most when ten or more of its kind are at a carcass, and use intimidation tactics to push other, larger species away. It can...

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Hooded Vulture

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pp. 38-38

...Hooded Vulture is the smallest of the resident vultures in the Mara and is usually found at the periphery of the carcass waiting for the other, larger vultures to have their fi ll. Its bill is especially slim for...

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White-headed Vulture

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pp. 38-38

...Instead, it prefers to seek out its own smaller prey items, although it will sometimes scavenge from a recent Bateleur or Tawny Eagle kill. Immature birds, which lack the crisp white head feathers of the adults, may struggle to fi nd their own prey once they leave the nest and are more...

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Lappet-faced Vulture

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pp. 39-39

...Lappetfaced Vulture a very impressive sight at any carcass, although the saggy, bare-skinned face tends to make it look rather unattractive. In flight, the vast, broad wings show a clear white line across the ‘arm’ and the white ‘leggings’ can give it a white-bellied appearance...

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Vultures in flight

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pp. 40-41

...An enormous bird with baggy white ‘shorts’ and an obvious white bar across the front of the underwing. The large, pink head is usually visible...

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Martial Eagle

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pp. 42-42

...are much whiter and lack the all-dark head. In flight, the underwing appears very dark. Birds are often seen soaring high in search of prey but will also watch for prey from a perch. This is a ferocious predator that is known to kill baboons, antelope and large birds...

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Bateleur

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pp. 43-43

...sometimes appears to have no tail at all. The black, cigar-shaped body and chestnut tail of the adult contrasts markedly with the white underwing, which always shows a black edge to the rear (this is narrow in males and broad in females). Females also show...

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Black-chested Snake Eagle

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pp. 43-43

...with three or four narrow black bars running across the flight feathers. Immature birds are mostly brown with a pale face and the underparts are mottled with untidy rufous patches. Snake eagles lack the baggy, feathered thighs of...

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Black Kite

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pp. 44-44

...An all-dark raptor with a distinctive silhouette in flight (page 47): the long wings are typically held with a strong angle at the bend, and it usually shows a noticeable fork in its long tail. In both adult and immature...

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Augur Buzzard

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pp. 44-44

...Two distinct colour variations are found in the Mara, known as light and dark forms, although the light form is by far the most common. Light birds show an all-white throat, breast and belly, whereas dark birds are mostly...

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Tawny Eagle

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pp. 45-45

...in their colouration, with some birds being pale-cream and others very dark with rich chestnut tones, but most are a light coffee-brown. When perched they show a bright yellow gape extending...

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Flying raptors

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pp. 46-47

...Like a small Martial Eagle but much paler underneath. The underwing is especially white, with a few narrow bars along the flight feathers only. It lacks black spots on the belly but shows a strongly barred tail...

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African Harrier Hawk

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pp. 48-48

...with darker flight feathers. The bare facial skin is yellow but this often flushes to bright pink when the bird becomes excited. Immature birds are mostly brown and nondescript. Food items include palm fruits and a variety...

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Montagu’s Harrier

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pp. 49-49

...colouration to the underparts and underwing. In the buoyant flight, males show black tips to the wing and a narrow black bar along the middle of the upperwing. The brown...

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African Black-shouldered Kite

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pp. 49-49

...dark patch on each ‘shoulder’. A close view will reveal bright-red eyes. When perched, notice how the long wings extend beyond the very short, white tail. When...

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Grey Kestrel

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pp. 50-50

...tree, especially along the lower reaches of the Mara River, where it watches patiently for a variety of prey...

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Lanner Falcon

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pp. 50-50

...size of a small bustard, in mid-air can be just as exciting as a Cheetah in full chase. Sometimes they will attempt to tackle even larger prey, such as small antelope and monkeys, but this is quite unusual...

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Common Kestrel

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pp. 51-51

...small prey before diving steeply onto their quarry. The sexes are fairly similar although males show more grey in the head and tail; young birds are mostly brown. In flight, all birds show a dark...

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Yellow-throated Sandgrouse

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pp. 52-52

...encountered alone, these sandgrouse are usually found in flocks that may exceed 100 birds. Their diet of grass seeds is especially dry, so flocks routinely seek water twice a day – at first light and again late in the afternoon – preferring shallow, open puddles...

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Lilac-breasted Roller

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pp. 53-53

...it reveals brilliant blue feathers in the wings. These rollers nest in tree holes and are very territorial, chasing mammals and other birds, including huge eagles, away from the nest area. This is when...

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Eurasian Roller

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pp. 53-53

...in flight, a richer chestnut ‘saddle’ on the back. The tail is also shorter and lacks the long tail streamers. The Eurasian Roller arrives from Europe during the October...

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Red-billed Oxpecker

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pp. 54-54

...Both species of oxpecker can be found on a variety of mammal species from which they famously collect ticks and other skin parasites. However, this apparently symbiotic relationship is...

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Yellow-billed Oxpecker

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pp. 54-54

...found on mammals. The bill colour and pale rump, which contrasts noticeably with the darker tail and back, separate this species from the similar Red-billed Oxpecker. Both species nest in tree holes, which are occasionally...

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Wattled Starling

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pp. 55-55

...disturbed by the game rather than directly off the game itself (unlike the oxpeckers). In flight, they are easily identified by their white rumps that contrast with their black flight and tail feathers. A close up-view will...

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Rufous-naped Lark

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pp. 56-56

...patch – the only lark in the Mara to show this. Sometimes, birds will run in front of vehicles and avoid taking flight. If so, look out for the obvious crest. The song of this bird is the quintessential sound of the grassy...

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Pectoral-patch Cisticola

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pp. 56-56

...A tiny darting bird of long grass plains. At only 9 cm from bill to tail, this is the smallest of the grassland birds – but what it lacks in size it makes up for in energy and abundance. Many pairs occupy...

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Red-capped Lark

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pp. 56-57

...An attractive small lark with a preference for short grass plains. The rich-rufous cap and chest patches on this bird contrast with the otherwise plain plumage, making it easily separable...

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Buffy Pipit

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pp. 58-58

...legged bird that habitually makes short dashes before braking suddenly with a pumped tail. The back is quite plain and the breast and belly are whitish, although some birds show a warm buffy patch along the flanks. The flight is strong...

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Rosy-breasted Longclaw

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pp. 58-58

...the Yellow-throated Longclaw, the male Rosy-breasted is one the prettiest birds in the Mara. Females and immatures show less pink than adult males but all birds have whiter...

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Yellow-throated Longclaw

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pp. 59-59

...It is common across the Mara and easily identified by its bright plumage. Females and immatures are duller than males but still show some yellow on the front. Birds are often seen along tracks and are...

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Capped Wheatear

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pp. 60-60

...upright stance, the Capped Wheatear is difficult to confuse with any of the other resident birds. It is found singly or in pairs in areas of open, short grass with scattered rocks, often close to Maasai villages...

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Northern Anteater Chat

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pp. 60-60

...Mara, Northern Anteater Chats are less common than the similar Sooty Chat, and are usually encountered in extended family groups, rather than in pairs around termite mounds. Good areas to find them...

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Sooty Chat

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pp. 61-61

...When perched, the glossy black males show an obvious white patch on the ‘shoulders’, though this is lacking in the browner females. Very similar in both appearance and behaviour to the Northern Anteater Chat. The two species are best...

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Yellow Bishop

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pp. 62-62

...Yellow Bishops always show a bright yellow rump in all plumages and never a long, black tail. Yellow Bishops are more likely to be encountered close to water and in areas of tall, wet grass. Here you are likely to...

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Jackson’s Widowbird

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pp. 62-62

...brown ‘shoulder’ patches and a sickle-shaped tail. Look out for displaying birds between February and June (during the second rains) when they fly up from the long grass before parachuting down again. Females and non-breeding...

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Yellow-mantled Widowbird

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pp. 63-63

...Long-tailed, black birds of the long grass plains, with bright-yellow flashes. Pairs and small groups are often flushed from long grass quite unexpectedly and will often perch on small bushes. In flight, the yellow...

BIRDS OF MARSH AND WATER

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African Open-billed Stork

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pp. 64-64

...non-breeding seasonal wanderers that arrive in vast flocks, sometimes numbering thousands, when the marshes are wet. They are specialist snail-feeders that use their stout bills, which...

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Woolly-necked Stork

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pp. 64-64

...the eastern conservancies are a good place to out for the purple gloss In flight, the white neck separates it from 35), which is a similar size and also has a white rump...

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Yellow-billed Stork

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pp. 65-65

...of aquatic creatures, including fish and amphibians, by moving its bill slowly in the water until it feels a food item. The bill is then snapped shut and the prey swallowed. This bird is not beyond...

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Saddle-billed Stork

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pp. 66-66

...fun watching them tackle larger prey. Males have a dark eye and females a yellow eye, and both have bright-pink ‘kneecaps’ which gives the impression that someone has attached a sticking plaster to each leg! Young...

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Sacred Ibis

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pp. 67-67

...that they superficially resemble. They are generally active feeders and will walk around wet and grassy areas probing their thick, strongly decurved bill in search of frogs, fish and invertebrates. The head...

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Hadada Ibis

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pp. 67-67

...a bland brown, but sit and watch and the sunlight reflecting off the wings may reveal a stunning glossy sheen of blue, green, purple and copper; this can often be seen clearly when the bird is in flight. Like the...

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Squacco Heron

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pp. 68-68

...at Musiara Marsh in the north of the reserve, and is easy to identify given a good view. Appearing short and bull-necked, birds in breeding plumage are beige with long, cinnamon plumes down the back and a series of black and white...

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Striated Heron

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pp. 68-68

...the bird is excited or agitated. In the breeding season, its legs change from yellow to pink. Immature birds are similar but heavily streaked on the throat and spotted on the back and wings. In fl ight, the short legs and tail are obvious, and this is when...

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Rufous-bellied Heron

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pp. 69-69

...Kichwa Tembo. It is a dark, sooty-brown heron that reveals rich chestnut plumage on the belly and underwing in flight, when the bright-yellow...

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Great White Egret

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pp. 70-70

...should show a strong kink, sometimes two, and the line of the bill opening, known as the gape, which extends below and well behind the eye. As with other egrets, the plumage varies slightly according to the time of year. Birds in breeding plumage...

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Cattle Egret

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pp. 71-71

...visit rivers and marshes, where they preen and roost. It is here where they may be confused with other egrets that are associated with water, but this is the only egret that habitually gathers in large flocks. Cattle Egrets have far shorter necks than the other species shown here, and are...

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Little Egret

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pp. 71-71

...similarities with the Great White Egret. However, it always shows black legs with bright-yellow feet, and a fine, black bill that contrasts with a yellow patch of skin in front of the eyes. A good view will also reveal a long...

Goliath Heron

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pp. 72-72

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Goliath Heron

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pp. 72-72

...rich-chestnut underwing and very broad wings. It is not likely to be confused with any other bird and all good safari guides will know it well. Take time to enjoy this bird fishing and, if it appears to be resting, you may be lucky enough...

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Black-headed Heron

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pp. 73-73

...flight feathers (back half of wing). Often found on open marshes with other herons, the Black-headed is also readily seen walking the grassy plains in search of lizards and snakes. Because this heron has a slower and less deadly approach to killing snakes, than...

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Grey Heron

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pp. 73-73

...more grey in the face and lack the adults’ black facial plumes. In flight, birds show darker flight feathers on the upperwing, while the underwing is uniform grey with no contrast. An accomplished fisherman, the Grey Heron is not beyond taking other prey...

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African Fish Eagle

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pp. 74-75

...plumage of adult birds should pose no issues with identification. However, immature birds can appear a strange mix of brown and white patches, and only acquire the classic white head after several years. It is common to see these majestic birds soaring on broad wings over wet areas or perched...

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Hamerkop

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pp. 76-76

...African herons because of its all-brown colouration, peculiar head-shape and short legs. However, like other members of the heron family, it is an accomplished fisherman and is often found at the water’s edge waiting for frogs...

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Water Thick-knee

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pp. 77-77

...quite common in the Mara, these birds can be tricky to find as they prefer to sit motionless rather than fly away from danger or disturbance. If seen well on the ground, look out for the crouched, horizontal...

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Spur-winged Goose

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pp. 78-78

...white face and pink legs. This is a regular visitor to the flooded grasslands of the Mara, especially at Musiara and in the Mara Triangle. The black on the back and neck appears glossy green in strong light, contrasting...

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Egyptian Goose

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pp. 78-78

...goose with a dark eye-patch. It is a regular feature on game drives that include rivers and marsh. This attractive goose probably looks its best in flight, when it show a large white panel on the upperwing and iridescent green inner flight...

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White-faced Whistling Duck

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pp. 79-79

...medium-sized, upright duck is at home along the grassy margins of open marsh and quiet rivers, but less so along the busy stretches of the Mara River. These ducks have a very distinctive call, a sweetly whistled “wer-wi-wooo”, which you are likely to hear before you see them. They are long-necked...

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African Jacana

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pp. 80-80

...vegetation, especially water-lilies, the African Jacana shows an attractive blue bill and shield on the forehead. Its breeding behaviour is particularly strange because the typical roles of the sexes are reversed. The larger females...

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Black-winged Stilt

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pp. 80-80

...deeper water than other wading birds of the same size. Although not resident in the Mara, it is not unusual to see them wading gracefully through shallow water, dipping their long, thin bill from side to side or picking insects off grass...

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Black Crake

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pp. 81-81

...if seen well, look out for the bright yellow bill and pink legs. They prefer to remain hidden in dense vegetation but lucky observers may see them on the backs of...

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Long-toed Plover

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pp. 82-82

...floating vegetation. Although superficially similar to the other pied plovers, this is the only species to show a white forehead, face and throat, together with a red-and-black bill and red legs. It appears taller than the other...

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Spur-winged Plover

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pp. 82-82

...its bold plumage – so you don’t need to waste time searching for the bony spurs on the wings, after which it is named, as these are usually hidden. Even in flight, the white cheeks stand out against the dark breast but, if seen from above, look for the white bar running from the...

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Blacksmith Plover

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pp. 83-83

...Less restricted to freshwater marshes than the Long-toed Plover, this bird may also be found on the edge of the plains and along the rivers of the Mara reserve. It is the only plover to show black cheeks extending to the breast. In flight...

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Three-banded Plover

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pp. 84-84

...eye-rings and pink legs, is often very confiding and accepting of a close approach, especially in muddy roadside pools. It is also common along sandy river banks where your attention may be drawn to its very high-pitched...

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Common Greenshank

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pp. 85-85

...towards the tip and is used in a swinging fashion through the water. Greenshanks are energetic feeders and will oft en run through the shallows chasing small fish and invertebrates. In fl ight they appear...

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African Wattled Plover

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pp. 85-86

...streaked head and neck, and spectacular yellow wattles hanging from between the eyes and the bill. This is complemented by a yellow bill tipped with black, and long, yellow legs. The wattles of male birds are generally...

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Green Sandpiper

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pp. 87-87

...and wings, which have little in the way of flecking in them, and the white belly. The face is usually quite dark, making the white eyering very clear if seen well; it lacks the pale eyebrow extending beyond the eye, which is a feature of Wood Sandpiper. Both the bill and the legs...

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Wood Sandpiper

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pp. 87-87

...carry some soft barring. Th is combines to give the bird a more streaked appearance and less ‘black-and-white’. The bright yellowish-green legs are a very useful identification feature. In flight, they show a pale...

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Common Sandpiper

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pp. 87-87

...regularly ‘pumping’ its rear-end. Unlike the other two sandpipers shown here, the Common Sandpiper’s tail projects well beyond the wing-tips. The belly is crisp white with no barring on the flanks, and a...

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Giant Kingfisher

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pp. 88-88

...and has a thick, shaggy crest at the back of the head. Males show a chestnut-red breast-band, whereas females at home along the Mara River...

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Malachite Kingfisher

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pp. 89-89

...sits and watches for any small fish or tasty morsel to surface, snatching it with a rapid dive. It then proceeds to slam the unfortunate fish on its perch to kill it and make swallowing it, head first...

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Pied Kingfisher

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pp. 89-89

...and their metallic “chit” contact calls are frequently heard in unison. Males are easily told from females by their two solid black bands across the chest; females show just a single...

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African Pied Wagtail

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pp. 90-90

...edge of rivers. These dainty birds with striking plumage habitually pump their tails when perched and when walking. The frequently heard call is a strong, whistled...

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Moustached Grass Warbler

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pp. 90-90

...warblers, this one has pale eyes and such distinctive face markings that it is easy to identify. You are quite likely to encounter it in camps and lodges where the habitat is suitable...

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Common Waxbill

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pp. 91-91

...seed-heads, these dainty little birds show a bright-red waxy-looking bill, red bandit’s mask and white on the chin. Otherwise they are mostly brown, though a close-up view will reveal fine barring throughout and a...

BIRDS OF WOODLAND, SCRUB & GARDEN

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Long-crested Eagle

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pp. 92-92

...distinctive silhouette may be seen as it perches on top of a tree. It watches patiently before dropping down to prey upon reptiles and small mammals. In addition to the...

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Brown Snake Eagle

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pp. 92-92

...face. The dark chocolatebrown plumage appears uniform when the bird is perched, scanning for reptiles and snakes. It has a rounded head and forward-facing bright-yellow eyes...

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African Hawk Eagle

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pp. 93-93

...strong and stealthy hunter of gamebirds such as Helmeted Guineafowl and francolins, and mammals such as Scrub Hares. They frequently hunt in pairs and even in family parties once young birds have left the nest. Although uncommon...

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Scaly Francolin

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pp. 94-94

...has been misnamed, as it does not look example. It prefers to keep to cover but it is quite tame if stumbled upon when on foot. It is less vocal than the Red-necked Spurfowl and you’re more likely to hear its soft purring...

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Red-necked Spurfowl

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pp. 94-94

...A grey-brown francolin with red bare parts. Common in lightly wooded country towards the west of the reserve, this distinctive gamebird always shows a red bill and legs but only males exhibit the red skin on the neck. They are...

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Hildebrandt’s Francolin

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pp. 95-95

...You will almost certainly hear this francolin before you see it – and heaven forbid that you are trying to nap when it gets going! The shrieking territorial...

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Coqui Francolin

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pp. 96-96

...beautifully marked gamebird is often encountered on the edge of plains where the bush thickens into open woodland. Males are rusty-brown on the head and heavily barred underneath; females show dark, painted...

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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pp. 96-96

...needs trees nearby in which to roost and take refuge from its many predators. It is a favourite with small cats, such as Serval, and stealthy birds of prey such as the African Hawk Eagle. The chicks exhibit rapid wing growth...

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Crested Francolin

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pp. 97-97

...francolin has a preference for dry, open bush in the east of the reserve but does wander westwards from July. It often gathers in large family groups. The sexes look similar, although...

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Laughing Dove

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pp. 98-98

...flight, it appears slender and shows large white corners to the long, dark-centred tail that are more obvious than those of Ring-necked Dove. It has a wide distribution, being found from south-western Europe, where...

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Red-eyed Dove

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pp. 98-98

...Ring-necked Dove, this species is a rich dark-brown on the back, has grey on the belly and, in flight, shows a smokygrey tail with a thick blackish band across the middle. Although the red eye and eye-ring can be...

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Ring-necked Dove

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pp. 99-99

...this feature is also shared with the larger Red-eyed Dove and the African Mourning Dove (not shown), the latter not being found in the Mara. In flight, the upperwing shows a pale-grey stripe which contrasts with the darker flight feathers, and the light-brown tail has...

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Speckled Pigeon

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pp. 100-100

...around villages surrounding the Mara, as well as in wooded gardens around camps and lodges. The brown wings are peppered with white spots and in flight the rump shows as pale-grey and the tail is bordered with black. The grey head shows a patch of bare...

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African Green Pigeon

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pp. 101-101

...A spectacular bright-green pigeon. Usually found feeding in the top of fruiting trees, especially fig, these gorgeous lime-green birds have a peculiar call that is quite unlike that of other pigeons and doves. It starts...

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Emerald-spotted Wood Dove

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pp. 101-101

...pulsating flourish. This will make sense when you hear it! The glossy emerald wing-spots may appear black or shinyblue in some lights, but be careful not to confuse this common bird with the Bluespotted...

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Speckled Mousebird

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pp. 102-102

...bushes and thick vegetation, where it feeds on seeds and fruit. As its name suggests, it does appear quite mouse-like apart from in flight when its long tail is a useful identification feature. Good views will also reveal pale cheeks and...

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African Grey Hornbill

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pp. 102-102

...white eyebrow and scaly brown plumage. This bird prefers to feed in a variety of trees where it eats mostly fruits and invertebrates. It travels between trees and bushes with an undulating flight, when it looks like a flying walking stick on account of its slim lines and decurved bill. Birds stay...

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Meyer’s Parrot

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pp. 103-103

...in pairs and small family groups. Meyer’s Parrot is also known as Brown Parrot, which seems a shame as it carries so many other bright colours. The noisy screeches in flight and when perched mean that you’re...

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White-browed Coucal

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pp. 104-104

...own young and make grassy, domed nests in tall grass or thick vegetation. They are weak fliers and rarely wander far from their territory. Coucals appear rather ungainly on the ground but spend much of their time walking stealthily through vegetation in search of a meal – this...

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Bare-faced Go-away-bird

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pp. 104-104

...trees in great excitement, often hopping from one to the next. The face is mostly black and the tall, grey crest gives the bird a comical expression. It is a close relative of the brightly coloured turacos (page 154–155) but lacks the bright colours of those birds...

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Red-chested Cuckoo

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pp. 105-106

...during the well-known rainy seasons – and quite frequently after the rain has already started! Adults are dark-grey across the upperparts, show a pale-grey head, and have a rich-chestnut band across the chest. Like most African cuckoos, they are broodparasites, laying their eggs in the active nests of other...

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Diederik Cuckoo

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pp. 107-107

...Superficially similar to the Klaas’s Cuckoo, the Diederik Cuckoo is a slightly larger bird with many white spots on the wing and barring on the underparts, including the underwing in flight. The bird’s name derives from its loud call, a...

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Klaas’s Cuckoo

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pp. 107-107

...especially the tiny Collared Sunbird (page 133). Males are iridescent green on the head and back and white on the front, whilst females are browner and heavily barred. Both sexes show a fleck of white behind the eye. In flight, they reveal white outer...

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Little Bee-eater

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pp. 107-107

...A colourful darting bird of open scrub. As the name suggests, these birds and most of the other species in this family specialize in a diet of bees, wasps and other insects that they catch in flight at breakneck speed. They are often found perched low-down on the edge of bushes, where they wait for their prey to fly by, and call...

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Striped Kingfisher

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pp. 108-108

...invertebrates. The bill is dark above and red below – the reverse of Woodland Kingfisher – and it shows a dark mask through the eye. Like the Grey-headed Kingfisher, its blue colouration is restricted to the wings and tail. Although shy and...

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Woodland Kingfisher

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pp. 108-108

...a favourite among guides and safari-goers alike. Usually found in lightly wooded areas, the Woodland Kingfisher is the bluest of the bush kingfishers and shows a bright red upper half to the bill and black lower half. Like the Striped...

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Grey-headed Kingfisher

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pp. 109-109

...sometimes close to water, this kingfisher shows a chestnut belly below the grey head and breast, whilst the wing-tips and tail are bright blue – most obvious when seen in flight. Its bill is all-red, although young birds may show a dark tip. It is less vocal...

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Common Scimitarbill

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pp. 110-110

...plumage lacks any green gloss, although in excellent light you may see a purple gloss on the back. In fl ight, it is similar to the Green Wood-hoopoe but shows a narrow white bar in the wing and lacks the...

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Green Wood-hoopoe

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pp. 111-111

...iridescent gloss to the plumage, mostly violet on the wings and tail but green on the head and back. Th e strong, pointed red bill shows a slight curve and is used to probe tree bark on boughs and trunks for invertebrates. Th e feet are red. Its long tail is dark with white spots along the outer...

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Hoopoe

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pp. 111-111

...orange to light-brown according to the time of year. It feeds on the ground with a stitching motion, probing the ground with its decurved bill for grubs and worms. On take-off , it shows an elaborate pied decoration of stripes through the rounded wings and tail...

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Greater Honeyguide

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pp. 112-112

...which shares the same feature. The basic plumage of this species is grey below and dull brown above, but the sexes and immature birds can be told apart: males show a black throat and white cheeks; females do not; while immature birds have...

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D’Arnaud’s Barbet

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pp. 113-113

...light. Barbets are close relatives of woodpeckers but this species tends to be more terrestrial in its habits. The longish tail is heavily barred, while the body is mostly yellowish with black spotting, giving the bird a rather scruff y appearance. Often seen in...

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Lesser Honeyguide

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pp. 113-113

...Unlike the Greater Honeyguide, it does not attract people or Honey Badgers to bee colonies – but still has a sweet tooth, enjoying beeswax and insects in equal measure – and is happy to feast on the spoils aft er a bees’ nest has been raided...

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Nubian Woodpecker

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pp. 114-114

...underparts, pale spots on the upperparts with some fine, pale barring on the wings, and yellow shafts to the tail feathers. Males can be distinguished by their red cap and red ‘moustache’ (known as the malar stripe), whereas females show a black...

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Cardinal Woodpecker

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pp. 114-114

...is where a collection of animal skulls is exhibited, for they routinely feed on the insect larvae that bury inside the horn of Wildebeest, Eland and Buffalo, to name a few. Unlike the other woodpeckers shown here, the underparts are streaked rather...

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Green-backed Woodpecker

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pp. 115-115

...gardens. Although superficially similar to the Nubian Woodpecker, both sexes show a speckled throat (this is unmarked in Nubian). Like Nubian, adult...

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Black-headed Oriole

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pp. 116-116

...green. The flight feathers are mostly black but edged in white with a small white patch at the base. As with so many woodland birds, getting to know their calls is a great help when trying to locating them – so listen out for the oriole’s...

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Tropical Boubou

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pp. 116-116

...with the male Blackbacked Puffback (page 119), which shares the same habitat – but the puffback is much smaller and has a red eye. As with most bushshrikes, one feature of their behaviour is synchronized calling, known as an antiphonal system. This involves one bird starting the duet with a...

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Grey-headed Bushshrike

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pp. 117-117

...of prey, including small reptiles, large insects and, sometimes, young birds. Despite its bright plumage, it can be diffi cult to locate – so it is well worth familiarizing yourself with its unmistakable call, a drawn-out, mournful whistle “pheeeeuuuu”, although it can...

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Brown-throated Wattle-eye

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pp. 118-118

...distinctive bright-red, fl eshy wattle above the eye that contrasts with the otherwise black head. Males show a white throat and black chest-band, while females have a marooncoloured throat. Both sexes show a white fl ash in the wing and the back is black (rather than grey...

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Chin-spot Batis

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pp. 118-118

...Both sexes show a grey crown and back, yellow eyes and a broad, white line through the wing. Male birds show a thick black band across the chest, while females have a distinctive rusty-brown spot on the chin (hence the name) and a thinner breast-band of the same...

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Black-backed Puffback

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pp. 119-119

...larger and there is only a subtle difference between male and female. Males show a greater contrast between a white belly and black back, while females are brownerbacked and greyer below. Both sexes have a red eye...

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Grey-backed Fiscal

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pp. 120-120

...masked appearance of this bird, with grey crown, neck and back, are the best features for separating it from the Common Fiscal. Groups are sociable and engage in fits of tail-wagging while emitting...

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Northern White-crowned Shrike

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pp. 121-121

...unique among shrikes in the region. When compared with the fiscal shrikes shown here, the Northern White-crowned Shrike is a much stockier bird with a shorter tail and shows an obvious white rump in flight. Young birds lack the white crown and are grubbier-looking. Social...

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Common Fiscal

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pp. 121-121

...Fiscals are blackish above and white below with an obvious white bar across the upperwing when perched and in flight. The sexes look similar although females have a small chestnut patch on the flanks. It is frequently encountered...

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Common Drongo

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pp. 122-122

...are browner with black flecks in the plumage. They are insect hunters and often sit in exposed positions waiting for their quarry to fly by before swooping onto their prey, revealing lighter matt-brown flight feathers that contrast...

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Northern Black Flycatcher

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pp. 123-123

...spotted with light-brown dots. It lacks the forked tail and pale flight feathers of the drongo and has dark rather than red eyes. The song is a soft, sweet refrain of quiet whistles and chips but it will sometimes mimic other species...

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Slate-coloured Boubou

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pp. 123-123

...along low-lying branches and consequently has longer, sturdier legs. It rarely perches high in a tree so this should be a consideration when separating it from the other species shown here. A really useful identification feature for this bird is that the top of the bill obviously...

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Common Bulbul

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pp. 124-124

...African birds and there are few places where it is not found. In the Mara, you are most likely to see it in the grounds of camps and lodges where it becomes very familiar and invades food halls and buffets with regularity. The common call is a...

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Arrow-marked Babbler

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pp. 125-125

...species lives in extended family groups and its noisy scowls leading into raucous disarray are usually the first sign of its presence. The many small, white chevrons down the throat and chest account for its name. Adult birds show bright-yellow eyes, while those of immatures are darker...

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Brown-crowned Tchagra

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pp. 125-125

...rank grass. Pronounced “chag-ra”, this small, attractive bushshrike is common in suitable habitat across the Mara. As an indicator of habitat suitability, if there are Rattling Cisticolas...

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African Paradise Flycatcher

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pp. 126-126

...before resting on a perch to eat. Males in breeding plumage show an impressive long tail that can be at least three times the length of the head and body combined. Outside the breeding season, the tail streamers are lost and the males then look similar to female and immature birds...

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White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher

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pp. 127-127

...quietly on an exposed perch waiting for prey to fly by and swooping to catch it in mid-air, but sometimes feeds by dropping to the ground. This bird lacks the bright colouration of the African Blue Flycatcher and appears a soft...

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African Blue Flycatcher

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pp. 127-127

...can sometimes be found along the riverine woodland at Kichwa Tembo and Governors’ Camp. Look out for their delightful displays during which the adult birds raise their fanned tails and dance with...

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Rattling Cisticola

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pp. 128-128

...bill. It shows a brown crown that is lightly streaked but this is more chestnut in tone in immature birds. The tail is broad and rudder-like, edged with white spots that are evident...

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Red-faced Crombec

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pp. 129-129

...greyish-brown, as is the micro-short tail that may even appear to be absent. You will find it climbing and hopping through bushes and low trees, one after the other, in search of food, and...

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Tawny-flanked Prinia

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pp. 129-129

...It is often found in small, active groups and engage in frantic bouts of tail-swinging and calling – a zipping “cheerp-cheerp”. Birds can be quite tame at times and a close approach will enable you to see the red eye and...

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Grey-capped Warbler

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pp. 130-130

...but you may have to be patient for a bird to reveal itself. The grey crown contrasts with a narrow, black face-mask and, with a very good view, you may...

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Grey-backed Camaroptera

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pp. 131-131

...feature you may observe when birds are hopping through the lower branches of dense vegetation is how white the feathers are under the tail. Birders will sometimes jest that it is called the ‘camera-operator’ because its call is...

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Yellow-breasted Apalis

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pp. 131-131

...breast that often shows a black spot. The head is bluish-grey and the back and tail moss-green. A busy little bird of open bush and scrub, the Yellow-breasted Apalis is often found in pairs and has a...

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Scarlet-chested Sunbird

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pp. 132-132

...blue. In very good light, they also show a green forehead, throat and moustache; the rest of the bird is black. Females are dark chocolatebrown with light streaking towards the vent. Immature males appear similar to females but...

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Collared Sunbird

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pp. 133-133

...are quite similar – green above and lemon below – but males show an iridescent green breast underlined with a narrow, purple border. The song is less harsh that the other sunbirds – a sweet, piercing “see-yu” repeated many times...

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Variable Sunbird

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pp. 133-133

...yellowish-green below, but the variety of colours in the male is a sight to behold. These are very busy birds that barely keep still – which doesn’t help when you are trying to identify them! To separate the male from...

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White-browed Robin Chat

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pp. 134-134

...the near-identical Rüppell’s Robin Chat (not shown), a montane forest species, does not occur in the Mara. The cyclical song starts quietly but increases in volume and pace. Pairs will often engage in powerful duets, especially when rival pairs are nearby, and the noise can be deafening. It is common to see...

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Rüppell’s Starling

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pp. 134-134

...known, shows a long, graduated tail that befits the old name. Its obvious white eyes are set in a matt-black head. The colouration of the body plumage varies among birds of different age and sex. Most show a deep-purple...

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Greater Blue-eared Starling

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pp. 135-135

...This green-glossed starling shows a violet-blue sheen around the ears and belly in good light. It can be quite bullish in the company of other birds. The song is a jumbled mix of chittering warbles, but the...

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Hildebrandt’s Starling

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pp. 136-136

...clean white line between the blue breast and orangey belly. The belly also tends to be more light-peach in colour than the bright orange of Superb Starling. In addition, its back tends...

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Violet-backed Starling

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pp. 137-137

...accounts for its other names – Amethyst or Plum-coloured Starling. It sings a series of quickly trilled notes. Females are lightbrown above and pale below but show dark streaking throughout. Flocks of these birds move with the seasons and the...

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Superb Starling

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pp. 137-137

...its name with its ‘coat of many colours’. When separating adults from the similar Hildebrandt’s Starling, look for the obvious white line that divides the blue breast from the orange underparts, and the white...

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Baglafecht Weaver

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pp. 138-138

...family groups. Males have black cheeks, neck and back, with fi ne, yellow lines down the wings and tail. Th e similar females show an all-black crown and face. Th e bill is black, slender and pointed and the call is a buzzing...

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Village Weaver

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pp. 138-138

...identifi ed by their black face that extends above the forehead, and the heavy, black stripes running down the back. Females and non-breeding males lack the black face and heavy streaking on the back, instead showing greyish backs and a yellow throat and...

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Spectacled Weaver

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pp. 138-139

...wooded areas, this unobtrusive weaver is aptly named on account of its narrow, black eye-mask. Th e face of both sexes has a warm glow and males also possess a black throat. Like the Baglafecht, this weaver has a...

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Purple Grenadier

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pp. 140-140

...A stunning purple -and-brown waxbill. Widespread in dry bush and scrub though rarely seen in numbers, this beautiful little bird shows a brown back, violet-blue rump and dark tail in both sexes. Males have...

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Bronze Mannikin

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pp. 141-141

...belly. Often occurring in small numbers in well-wooded areas and gardens, these birds also gather in flocks to feed on grass seeds at the woodland edge. The mostly dark-brown plumage shows barring on the flanks, while...

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Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu

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pp. 141-141

...A delicate waxbill with bright blue underparts and light-brown back. Frequent in open bush, gardens and lightly wooded areas, you may also see them in villages, often in pairs, mixing...

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Golden-breasted Bunting

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pp. 142-142

...and a striped head. These birds are widespread in the Mara where there is open woodland and scrub. They are shy and often take flight when disturbed from the ground (where they feed), but often just into a nearby tree or bush allowing close inspection. Given good...

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Yellow-fronted Canary

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pp. 142-142

...generally found in drier areas, especially where acacia scrub abounds. However, beware, for the bright-yellow breast and eyebrow is common to both species. These close...

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Pin-tailed Whydah

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pp. 143-143

...of plumages. Breeding males display impressive long tail streamers which they dangle in a hanging flight over the drab brown females while calling continuously “tsweet-tsweet-tsweet”. Non-breeding males look similar to the stripe-headed females...

BIRDS OF ACACIA SCRUB

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Blue-naped Mousebird

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pp. 144-144

...acacia. Its plumage is mostly grey, rather than brown as in Speckled, the cheeks are plain (rather than white), and it has a red eye-patch extending to the base of the bill. It also shows a more pronounced, stiff crest which adds to its elegant appearance...

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Abyssinian Scimitarbill

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pp. 144-144

...A slender black bird with a long, strongly decurved bill, which is orange in adults and dark in young birds. Very similar in appearance to the Common Scimitarbill (page 110), the Abyssinian prefers much drier...

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Von der Decken’s Hornbill

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pp. 145-145

...this species seals the entrance to the nest hole to deter predators and nest-site rivals, the imprisoned female incubating the eggs and raising the young while being fed through a small opening by the male...

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African Grey Flycatcher

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pp. 146-146

...small, grey bird with a lightly streaked crown. It shows a rather large head for its body size, the black eye on the plain face giving it a rather ‘beadyeyed’ appearance. Often found sitting upright...

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Silverbird

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pp. 147-147

...plumage makes the adults unmistakable given a good view, but immature birds are more difficult to identify, as they are brown and lightly spotted with buff and black. It is...

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White-bellied Canary

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pp. 147-147

...drier country with acacia scrub, although sometimes the species mingle where habitats meet. It is a seed-eater that feeds mostly on the ground and always shows a white belly and less heavy facial...

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Grey-capped Social Weaver

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pp. 148-148

...A very small, brown weaver likely to found in large colonies in the dry lands. A busy colony may exceed 100 birds and you are likely to find them by hearing their busy calls, a series...

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Speckle-fronted Weaver

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pp. 148-148

...around the outskirts of villages. It is best identified by the chestnut-brown patch at the back of the neck, but also look for the speckled forehead, although this can often be difficult to see. It has a pale face and appears rather beady-eyed, setting it...

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Vitelline Masked Weaver

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pp. 149-149

...easily separated given a good view. Although both species have red eyes and a warmchestnut border to their black face-mask, the black on the male Vitelline’s head does not extend onto the crown or down onto the breast, and its back does not have strong black ‘tramlines’ as in Village Weaver. The female...

VILLAGE BIRDS

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Grey-headed Sparrow

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pp. 150-150

...in the Mara. Th is local race of the variable Grey-headed Sparrow “super-species” is known as Swahili Sparrow, has the smallest bill of the group and may well be a species in its own right...

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Kenya Rufous Sparrow

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pp. 150-150

...Sparrow that is common in and around villages, but also around large hotels and tented camps, especially in the east of the Mara. Both sexes can easily be told from House Sparrow by their white eyes...

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House Sparrow

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pp. 151-151

...visitors from most parts of the world. Th e House Sparrow was introduced to the coast of East Africa around 100 years ago but has spread to the Mara and beyond and is now a regular in Maasai bomas and villages. Males show a distinctive head-pattern: white cheeks; a large, black throat-patch...

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Red-billed Firefinch

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pp. 152-152

...doves in villages and towns, oft en in flocks of 20 or more, but may also be found in leafy gardens. Males are deep-red, like a fine claret, with a redand- grey bill. The back is brown and you may be able to see many tiny white dots around the breast area...

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Village Indigobird

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pp. 152-152

...association with the Red-billed Firefinch, male indigobirds are easy to pick out in the crowd. Females are slightly trickier due to their drab brown plumage but can be separated from the very similar female...

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Pied Crow

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pp. 153-153

...for leaner times. The larger, but otherwise similar, White-necked Raven (not shown) is sometimes seen in the Mara but can easily be separated from the Pied Crow at a distance by its black breast and smaller white patch at the back of the neck...

FOREST BIRDS

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Schalow’s Turaco

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pp. 154-154

...Given the incredible colouration of these birds, it is perhaps a surprise that they are usually heard before they are seen. The call is a series of up to ten raucous “caw” notes that rises in volume and intensity...

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Narina Trogon

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pp. 155-155

...rather difficult to locate in the wooded areas where they occur but they can be very relaxed around people and a good local guide should be able to find them for you. Look out for the bright splash of colour as birds make short flights to catch...

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Ross’s Turaco

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pp. 155-155

...feathers, which are most easily seen as the bird glides through the tree canopy. Close views will also reveal a red crest. Immature birds are similar but lack the yellow face and bill. These birds are reluctant fliers but are very adept at running and hopping through the...

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Grey-throated Barbet

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pp. 156-156

...of year, these birds can be seen gorging themselves on fruit, especially fi gs, at camps and lodges where tracts of rich forest remain, especially Kichwa Tembo. Th ey prefer to arrive at fi rst light to feast on the fruits before small...

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Double-toothed Barbet

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pp. 156-156

...horn-coloured bill. Th is stunning barbet is another fruit eater that is very fond of figs, amongst others. As with the Greythroated Barbet, your best chance of seeing it is early in the morning when they attend fruiting trees before...

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Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill

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pp. 157-158

...forest cover. They conduct circuits of their territory, visiting their favourite trees, which they will sometimes defend against marauding monkeys. Males show a distinctive raised protrusion, known as a casque, on top of the heavy bill, while females...

BIRDS OF THE AIR

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White-headed Saw-wing

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pp. 159-157

...a white head. Th ese delightful little birds breed in the sandy banks of rivers usually where there is a tangle of tree roots to conceal the nest hole. Although they are most frequently found along...

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Black Saw-wing

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pp. 158-158

...The best identification feature is the long tail which shows a very deep fork. The plumage is blacker than the dark chocolate-brown of White-headed Saw-wing, although this can...

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Eurasian Bee-eater

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pp. 159-159

...seen migrating overhead in sizeable flocks. Birds typically appear on their southward journey between the end of September and early November, and then again heading north in March and April, although small numbers are suspected to...

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Barn Swallow

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pp. 160-160

...the most cosmopolitan of all bird species. It is a common migrant to the Mara between September and April, but stragglers have been recorded in all months of the year. In flight, it appears glossy-blue above and cream-coloured on the belly. When perched, good views...

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Wire-tailed Swallow

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pp. 160-160

...Mara occurring almost everywhere. It frequently breeds close to water, including under bridges, and may also be found nesting in outbuildings, especially at airstrips. The end of the tail is straight and, in...

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Plain Martin

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pp. 161-161

...observed along the Mara River but less so along the Talek River. Other bird species, including swifts, swallows and other martins, frequently take over the nest holes. Two other brown martins occur in the Mara: the Sand Martin, which is a long-distance migrant from Europe and Asia; and the larger Banded...

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Lesser Striped Swallow

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pp. 161-161

...where it frequently nests under bridges. These attractive birds will also nest in camps and lodges wherever an overhang provides shelter, such as under the fly-sheets of tents or the eaves of lodge roofs. Although not as common, three other ‘red-rumped’, blue-backed...

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Little Swift

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pp. 162-162

...separated from the White-rumped Swift by its very short, square-ended tail. It is very common around villages where it often forms large, chittering flocks overhead. Birds range widely across plains to feed and are often...

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White-rumped Swift

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pp. 162-162

...forked tail, although in level flight the fork is not always visible and the tail looks long and pointed. To be sure of your identification, just wait a while until it banks and spreads its tail. Another feature to look out for is a thin white line along the rear edge of...

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Nyanza Swift

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pp. 163-163

...Kenya (breeding mostly in the Rift Valley), and so can be seen year-around in the Mara (and not just between October and April as with Common Swift). It is often seem singly or in small numbers rather than vast flocks. Its call is a trill rather than...

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Common Swift

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pp. 163-163

...can number in excess of 10,000 birds and may take hours to pass overhead – a great example of bird migration that you can actually sit back, admire and enjoy! Like other swifts, they fly very quickly, so getting a good view requires some dexterity...

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African Palm Swift

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pp. 163-163

...and it can often be found hawking for insects in their vicinity. It is common at Keekorok Lodge in the south of the reserve and wherever palms are abundant. The long tail often appears fused at the tip but when banking in the air...

NIGHT BIRDS

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Pearl-spotted Owlet

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pp. 164-164

...nocturnal but can also be active during the day. The large, bright-yellow eyes glare and you may also notice the neat pair of white eyebrows. On the back of the head is a pair of black ‘false eyes’ which may intimidate predators. The chest is...

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Slender-tailed Nightjar

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pp. 164-164

...hawk for insects at dusk and dawn, sometimes coming to feed on moths at the lights of lodges and camps, when it looks like a falcon or a large swift . This is the most...

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Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

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pp. 165-165

...cats and large snakes. Th ey are highly territorial birds and adult males may fi ght to the death. Birds are occasionally encountered at night at some camps and lodges, as well as on night-drives in the conservancies. However, they are more...

References and useful resources

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pp. 166-166

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Acknowledgements and photographic credits

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pp. 167-167

...Such a book would not be possible without the help of many people – so I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have given me generous assistance along the journey, or safari. First and foremost, I would like thank my wife Vicki for so many things: for bringing me to Africa, indulging my bird obsession, taking on the lion’s share of office...

List of scientific names

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pp. 168-170

Index

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pp. 171-176