Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lilac-breasted Roller (Africa Series)

(Africa Series)
I recently traveled to Africa, with the intent of finding new birds to photograph. I found over fifty 'new' bird species, but not just birds.

I went with my good friends Barbara and Don Gilmore.  Barb is a tour organizer and owns Many Hats Travel. She led eighteen women and four men through Sweetwater Tented Camp, Lake Nakuru National Park and the Maasai Mara in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The experience was enlightening, eye opening and exhausting all at the same time. There was little downtime, chiefly self-inflicted because you don’t want to miss anything.  Missing a game drive could mean not seeing an animal others saw.  As our African host, Atonio Marangabassa stated, "If you want a vacation, go to Hawaii…you’re here to see animals!"

But Feather Tailed Stories is not a travel blog…it’s about birds and I will keep it as such.  Nevertheless, there were many interesting animals stories in Africa and to NOT tell them would be unfortunate. My focus here is still on birds, but for this series I will include four-legged animals, too. I hope you agree with this major deviation, but I will start with birds. 

Lilac-breasted Rollers are common in Kenya and not hard to find throughout East Africa.  Conspicuously colorful, the Lilac-breasted Roller holds little hope of going unnoticed. Prominently perching in the open, his sightlines are long, both for finding prey and avoiding being preyed upon. He is the National Bird of Kenya.

The only North American bird I’ve seen that approaches the spectacular color palette of the Lilac-breasted Roller is the Painted Bunting. The Painted Bunting (referenced below) lives in South Carolina. They mainly reside in the United States’ southern tier.

Monogamous and highly territorial, rollers get their name from their acrobatic courting displays of rocking and rolling, culminating with actually mating in the air.  This pair looks to be guarding something inside this tree. They made several trips into the hole, entering briefly only to leave again quickly.

Whether snatching an insect out of the air or pouncing on a grasshopper on the ground, Lilac-breasted Rollers have proven to be beautiful, although not necessarily delicate. They are hardy and capable of surviving in a sometimes harsh environment. They are listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN*

Sub-Saharan Africa is a tough place to live when I compare it to rural Wisconsin. Kenya is on the equator and the heat can be brutal in the Maassi Mara. We were there in November, though, and at higher elevations it was quite pleasant. 

Countless thousands of animals make this place home.  A lot of what I encountered there either had thorns to keep you away or could eat you.  I avoided both.

Fires, started by lightening, can rage through the dry grasses of the Mara, but the Lilac-breasted Roller has learned the leading edge of the flames is a good place to find fleeing insects.  That adaptation, maybe a few million years in the making, points out there is a brain in that pretty green head, too.  Males and females look alike. 


Click on any picture to enlarge.

Wildlife of East Africa: Martin B. Withers, David Hosking
National Audubon Society: Field Guide to African Wildlife, Knoff
Birds of Kenya: Zimmerman, Turner, Pearson
* IUCN: International Union for the Conservation of Nature