"Notes from the Field" provides frequent updates and pictures from our biologists and students who are working in the field or at our headquarters, the World Center for Birds of Prey.
Found 8 entries matching your request:
Adventures in the Triangle
It is always an adventure to go to the Triangle. It is also rather far away. So we started off early and travelled to the two hours to the entrance along the Mara Bridge. There is only one bridge to cross the Mara and this is it (unless you dare to travel the long rocky roads to the north of the park which will take you out and around the mighty river). On our way to the bridge, we came across a carcass and we drove off the road to get a closer look. As we neared the rowdy flock of vultures, we heard a small bleating shriek, the noise of an animal making one last plea for life. Oh God, I thought, we ran it over. We looked left to see a reedbuck doe leaping from the brush and with eyes squinted closed in disgust, I looked right to see the inevitable – the calf we had run over. The brown fuzzy mass was more adorable than I could have imagined and lay flat tucked into a small sedge behind us. We reversed for a closer look. With a deep breath of despair, I looked at the small creature but there was no blood and no sign of a track mark. Was it dead? Suddenly the ears wiggled and I assumed the worst – we had injured it severely but not killed it. A friend joining us for the day stepped from the car and lay a hand slowly and gently on the animal’s back. The same mournful bleat emerged from its body and it pushed itself up on the wobbly legs of an infant designed for hiding and promptly, decisively, ran away. We hadn’t killed it after all. We had run over it, but hadn’t actually hit it, just covered it with the car for a few frightening moments. My feeling of relief quickly returned us to the task at hand and the observations at the carcass began.Read more...
Pile of Vultures
It isn’t often that you get to watch a carcass from start to finish, but I got lucky. We came upon a single lioness finishing off a fresh wildebeest kill. On her own, she was only able to consume perhaps a quarter of the carcass and with vultures, hyenas, and jackals gathering around the lion was beginning to feel the pressure. So she left. Two hyenas moved in first feeding for a half hour they ate the bulk of the carcass with the occasional jackal or vulture rushing in to steal a soft piece of organs. Then it was the jackal’s turn. The pair rushed the vultures viciously, leaping and snarling to keep them away. The little dogs fed greedily, but their small stomaches were soon rounded and they slowly moved away. Down to the last half, the vultures swarmed, forming perhaps the most perfect pile I am yet to have seen. The wriggling brown mass of wings bounced above its prey as all fifty heads vanished into the food. Occassionally a full bird would eject itself from the mass standing on top of its comrades to gain enough leverage to leap away. Even with the mammals gone, the feeding frenzy of White-backed vultures was soon interrupted by their larger brethren, the Lappet-faced vultures. A pair jumped onto the mass, biting down on the backs of the birds beneath it. Once removed, the damage to the carcass was clear, perhaps only ten percent remained. The Lappet-faced vultures fed slowly and laboriously, ripping and tearing the last few tough pieces of tissue, while Hooded vultures wandered the edges of the carcass finding small treasures in the intestinal remnants. A pair of Tawny eagles made a brief appearance, but could do little more than steal a small piece of organs to fly away with as the vultures so clearly dominated the scene.
The Unexpected Carcasses
It is the wet season (although we haven’t actually had any rain yet) so I wasn’t really expecting to find many carcasses – and I haven’t. But what I have found has been particularly interesting. A zebra carcass with three dogs and a handful of vultures, a hyena carcass with eight Lappet-faced vultures, two lion kills in a day (both of which got eaten by lions, not vultures), and the mutilated mass of a cow that was partially eaten by hyenas, then slaughtered for human consumption, and finally nibbled on by the birds.
What a day!
What a day! Let me start from the beginning. I woke up this morning at 5 AM. It was day two of trapping. Day one had been less than successful and I was beginning to wonder if I had been crazy to think that I could trap vultures during the low season. You see when the wildebeest come to Masai Mara in July so do the vultures. For three months, the park is overflowing with carcasses and scavengers. Trapping is made easy during this time, at least trapping African white-backed and Ruppell’s vultures, which are exceedingly common with upwards of sixty birds at each wildebeest carcass. But trapping Lappet-faced vultures is tricky. Only a few birds come to each carcass, they come late which means they are less likely to get trapped (since you have to put the trap down at the beginning and can’t go back and add it to a carcass without scaring all the birds), and they just tend to be a bit more cautious. So I had the “brilliant” idea that the low season would be the ideal time to trap Lappet-faced vultures with fewer African white-backs and Ruppell’s around. But after spending all of yesterday trying to trap with no success, I was starting to worry if I could trap anything this time of year. Nonetheless I awoke with a feeling of mixed panic and hope and set out to trap.Read more...
Lions, lions, and more lions
It has been a week of lions. Everywhere we turned we saw one or the other. Unlike last week’s scrawny injured lioness, the big cats we have seen the last few days have been healthy and well-fed. A 12-member pride with two adult males, a juvenile male, and a female that resembles “Scar” from The Lion King (thanks to a warthog tusk that nearly removed her eye) sat happily with a buffalo kill. Then we saw a lioness with three large cubs – two girls and a boy. We stopped to watch them as they slept along the road. The male cub decided to cross right behind the car and I had a moment of panic as I absorbed the fact that I was only a few feet from such an impressively large animal with the windows open. He stopped just to the right of the car and lied down in the road. With the roof popped open, I stood staring into his deep yellow eyes while snapping a few shots. He yawned – big and I got a nice look at his teeth. When he finally went to join the girls on the other side of the road, his affectionate head rub was welcomed with a snarl from one of the other cubs as he collapsed onto his side for a further nap.Read more...
Rumble in the Jungle
Large carcasses are scarce this time of year. With the tall grass, the herbivores have plenty to eat and the big cats and hyenas have a hard time catching their prey, who have freedom to roam wherever they please. The cheetahs seem to be the only ones having any great success, perhaps because they rely more on speed than stealth. There also aren’t a lot of animals dying this time of year, precisely because there is so much lush food and water to go around. There are still calves being born, some of whom won’t make it and the occasional diseased or injured animal that might keel over. Needless to say, the vultures have to work hard to find their food and when they do discover something, they work even harder to ensure they get a bit.Read more...
The world is a scavenger’s stage
We sat at a carcass for nearly five hours yesterday. Not because nothing came, but because the vultures refused to leave. Jackals found our carcass early and I’m afraid the birds didn’t get much, but it didn’t stop them from coming. We had 11 African white-backed vultures, 5 Lappet-faced vultures, and a couple of Hooded vultures. The white-headed vultures have been noticeably absent but the Hoodeds seem to be coming back this year.Read more...
Lions, hyenas, and dogs, oh my
The sky is speaking. It grumbles and rumbles and crackles, squealing with rage like a toddler unable to get its way. Then finally it breaks like the thunder that accompanies it, the rain crashed to earth and splatters the floor. Luckily, I am done for the day. For some reason, it has been raining mainly in the afternoons. This is good news for me since the rain virtually shuts down vulture activity. As is I have time for my carcass experiments and transects in the morning and seem to get done just as the sky is threatening to fall. It is a hard rain and I sit outside under canvas surrounded by the droplets. Within seconds pools of mud form and I can only wonder what the roads will be like tomorrow. Oh my God, it is hailing!! I can’t believe it. At first, it looked like little frogs were jumping around magically erupting from the soil (which they are, one just joined me under the tent), but that was actually hail. I just got up and grabbed a piece to confirm and indeed, ice just fell from the sky in Africa. Be amazed! But now it is just raining again.Read more...
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