African Birds Encountered – 2008

Cameras have come a long way since I took these photographs. I am amazed at how much better the quality of my photographs are with my new camera. But….I am infinitely grateful that the day before I left on my trip to Africa I purchased a new Canon and a telescopic lens specifically for this trip. I was reading the instructions on the flight over and literally learning on the “fly”. The telescopic lens tried valiantly to give me the close-ups I wanted, but the vastness of the African continent, the sheer size of it all, can dwarf an elephant and effectively hide a giraffe in plain view.

But here are a few of the birds I was lucky enough to see and capture on film even before I knew I was going to be a birdwatcher.

Ostrich – Personal photo – GKennedy
Saddle-billed Stork – Personal photo GKennedy
African Fish Eagle -Personal Photo GKennedy
Helmeted Guineafowl – Personal Photo GKennedy
African Sacred Ibis – Personal Photo GKennedy
Wattled Crane – Personal Photo GKennedy
Lilac-breasted Roller – Personal Photo GKennedy
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill – Personal Photo GKennedy
Pied Kingfisher – Personal Photo GKennedy
Meyer’s Parrot – Personal Photo GKennedy
Magpie Shrike – Personal Photo GKennedy
Burchell’s Coucal – Personal Photo GKennedy
De Plane

And the bird with which we spent most time interacting, was a very light wing bush puddle jumper that served us well throughout our entire adventure. Flying was never so much fun and being up in the air yet close to the earth, we had a bird’s-eye view of everything and it was magnificent.

Africa must be seen to be believed. I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this continent and to observe nature at its finest!  Happy bird searching!!!

A Zoo View

In 2008, I took a trip to Africa and my view on zoos forever changed.

Many years ago I went through the training at the Houston Zoo to become a docent. It was quite extensive with each of us receiving instruction from all of the different directors of various areas within the zoo. Lectures on mammals, birds and reptiles were designed to arm us with as much information as possible so we could provide educational programs to schools throughout the Houston area.

Boa Constrictor & Me

I had some trepidations about the handling of reptiles since snakes were never right up there on my list of favorite creatures, but time would prove to me that of all the animals and reptiles we took in the zoomobile, the snakes were the only ones that didn’t try to bite me! Prairie dogs have very sharp teeth as do ferrets, baby lambs would knock me down in their excitement to get to the bottle of milk I had for them and hedge hogs were prickly. The snakes were cool, smooth and dry and they were quite content to wind around my hand or arm with absolutely no thought of biting me.

Bull Elephant in the bush – Personal Photo GKennedy

I recognize the valuable role zoos across our planet play in promoting education and in some instances preserving a species from extinction. One of their greatest benefits is providing people with the opportunity to see a species that they might not otherwise be able to see. But once I viewed the animals indigenous to the African continent in their vast homeland, I lost a lot of the pleasure I once derived from visiting different zoos in each city I visited. I’ve seen good ones, bad ones and struggling ones doing the best they can with limited resources and I just can’t get past the fact that as nice as a zoo might be, they all still lack the natural environment and sheer space that promotes good health and well-being in an animal.

American Flamingo – Personal Photo GKennedy

I  acknowledge the benefits of zoos and as recently as last year visited the San Diego Zoo, considered one of the best in our nation. Here I was able to spend much time watching one of my favorite birds…The American Flamingo. I may never see one in the wild, so I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be up close and personal with these magnificent birds. There is a video that a friend recently shared with me that shows these great birds performing their mass courtship display where hundreds of them move together in what appears to be a coordinated dance of sorts. Check it out at science spirituelle -Projet Lumiere, the dance of the pink flamingos.  A group of flamingos is called a “flamboyance” which I think is the perfect word to describe their brilliance.

Lion & Lioness – Botswana Bush – Personal Photo GKennedy

I can still enjoy a visit to one of the great zoos, but now I find myself comparing the animals there with the ones I was fortunate enough to witness in the African bush.  No animal should be caged. So I am always transported back to that magical two weeks spent inhaling the sights and sounds of a place that every human being should visit at least once in their lifetime if at all possible. Save your pennies now and I promise you will never regret the African adventure.

Happy bird searching and “bushwhacking”!!!



Memorable Sunsets

Sunset in the Botswana Bush


A lifetime of sunsets. So many of them beautiful, some captured on film, others burned into my brain hard drive and still others unremarkable, but like the sun coming up each day, we know and expect that it will set as well. A never-ending cycle of life. The life of a day. Sunsets speak. Slow down. Rest. Be still. This day is finished.

One memorable shared sunset happened in Africa. My sister, daughter and oldest granddaughter and I had traveled into the bush to four different camps for the opportunity to view some of our planets most majestic mammals and birds in their native environment. An extraordinary trip, one which changed me forever.

Young Leopard in the bush – Personal Photo GKennedy

Each morning we would rise before sunup, dress and wait for our guides to come fetch us from our tent. Camp rules stated that we could not leave our tents once we were deposited there the night before unless we were accompanied by staff. And believe me, in Africa when nighttime visitors may include elephants or great cats, one stays put and follows the rules. In Africa people are prey, not predators. We ate a light breakfast around a campfire and then climbed into our range rover to begin our morning of bouncing about in the bush in pursuit of native wildlife to capture with our eyes and cameras. I wasn’t “officially” a bird watcher then, but my camera captured many birds that I have since added to my Life List.

Mid-morning we stopped for “tea” and then went again until around Noon when we returned to our campsite for a huge brunch followed by about two or three hours of free time before we started out once more in our vehicle. Right before sundown, our guides would pull our jeep to a halt, pull down the back tailgate and begin preparing our evening cocktail of choice as they passed hors d’oeuvres. This happened each night while in the bush and each night we sat and watched the sun set on one of the most fascinating continents on our planet. No time in the jeep was ever wasted for even as we returned to our camp after sundown, our guide would be scanning the land on either side with a huge infrared light trying to give us a glimpse of those animals who are nocturnal and only move at night.

Hippos spend the day in the water but come ashore at night to forage for greens to eat. – Personal Photo GKennedy

One of our days came to an end when we were in a small boat skimming over the waters of the Okavango Delta. Our guide simply stopped the boat, took out the necessary equipment to give us our nightly “cocktail hour” as we watched the sun sink below the horizon.

Sunset over the Delta – Personal Photo GKennedy

I fully intended this piece to be about different sunsets in my life….from my balcony overlooking Lady Bird Lake or from my car as I began my long drive home from Houston to Brenham after my 12 hour shift at the hospital. But my memories took me first to Africa sunsets and the many beautiful creatures that live in such peace in their vast homeland. So, another day, another post for those other memorable sunsets.

I’ll finish this piece with some thoughts that I wrote immediately after my return from Africa. My view of life, the sheer majesty of it all, was forever changed as I mentioned earlier.

Written in May 2008 – “Upon my return from Africa, many friends/family have asked me to “tell” them about the experience. I am frustrated by my inadequacies in describing this adventure and the incredible vastness and beauty of this continent. So, here is my first fragmented attempt  to relate how my trip there has impacted my life.

Giraffe Hiding Behind Tree – Personal Photo GKennedy

The scents of sage, wild basil, wild lavender, pretty lady, elephant dung, earth. The vastness of the countryside that swallows a huge elephant as if it were no bigger than a fly. How well the animals blend in and disappear into the grasses/trees, so rounding a bend in the road, a giraffe can be 100 yards away and remain invisible until someone cries out “giraffe!” and a large bull elephant bellows, flaps his ears, stomps his feet making himself look larger, with no clue of his greatness, to express his indignation for being surprised by our appearance.

Fruit bats crying in the night and the “rahoo” of the baboons up in the trees during the day. Having morning tea with two lions 100 meters away. Close encounters with eye to eye contact with the big cats… lions, leopards, cheetahs. The infinite patience of observing our guide Teko tracking a leopard for 45 minutes driving over bushes/shrubs and around trees to suddenly be face to face with a male leopard.

The large wealth of medicinal trees and shrubs within Africa. The incredible patience, knowledge and teaching skills of our guides who demonstrated such pride in their homeland. The graciousness of the people who cared for us so diligently, providing for our every need even when we had no idea of what that “need” was and protecting us from ourselves as well as the danger that lurked around every corner within and without our camps.

Sunset in Downtown Austin – Personal Photo GKennedy

I sit here now in my apartment listening to the “sounds” of urban life…cars, freeway noise, and view the many lights of the city…the sights and sounds of humanity. I have returned to civilization.  But I am afraid I have left my heart in Africa. A land that can change one’s view of just what is important in life.  The sights/sounds/experiences/ vastness/ graciousness, sheer beauty of Africa are burned into my brain and soul. I want to return, to revisit and explore more. And, hopefully I will be able to do so in the not so distant future.”

Happy bird searching wherever you might be!!!!