Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 14/07/2012

A Small Problem.

Perhaps I should explain, you know, about the Red Elephants. Some of you may be excused for applying the Darwinian Theorem that the elephants living in this region of Africa have evolved a red pigmentation to their skin to allow them to blend into their environment. Actually, much Kudos if that had been your thinking, but sadly.. you’re wrong. We were able to witness this type of mutation whilst we photographed the beasts; even at such an early hour of the morning, the sun was heating up our surroundings, and in this arid wilderness the only way these huge animals could keep themselves cool (apart from flapping their enormous ears, which they did do*) was to coat themselves in the brick red dust of the reserve. It’s something I’ve seen on numerous documentaries, well seeing it for myself I can’t stop grinning.

The elephants do move off but at their own pace and are totally unconcerned by our presence. From the look of the vegetation, they’ve stripped most if not all the greenery from the vicinity which now resembles a set out of a spaghetti western.

Moving off, there are more and more birds flying about us, on all sides of the vehicle. A little way ahead of the minibus, we spot a number of ground birds scratching away in the dust for food. There are a number of what look like guinea fowl from a distance but as we approach the turn out to be more attractive, and certainly less vocal, than their brethren, these are Yellow Necked Spurfowl and unlike the other birds we’ve tried to photograph they are as unconcerned with our presence as the elephants had been despite our driver telling us they they are very good to eat!. I spot movement in my peripheral vision and turn to see smaller, sandy coloured birds scuttling around but as soon as I move my 600mm in their direction, they move off at speed, they’re obviously some sort of Grouse with very distinct head markings but I’ve not seen one of these before (with access to reference materials… yes, I mean Google, I identify them as Black Faced Sandgrouse. A lovely looking bird, pity the photos weren’t particularly good).

The Grouse head towards the safety of a nearby bush some thirty feet from the road where we’ve stopped. There are plenty of other birds flitting from branch to branch here but one in particular catches my eye, all I can make out is a white blob in the depths of the foliage where the shade makes it hard to get a good look at the bird. Luckily my telescope (most people think my 600mm is a telescope when they see it, as do a lot of airport security!) should quickly rectify this problem, and fitting a 1.5 and 2.0 times extenders to the lens can now clearly see the bird and my heart skips a beat. The bird is no more than 20 cm in height, it has a white breast and face, with a blue, grey crown and back but the real give away is the hooked beak and talons.. this is a type of falcon, in fact it’s Africa’s smallest falcon, appropriately called an African Pygmy Falcon. With a strong backlight, and at such a distance, we have very little chance to take any great photos of the bird but we’re in luck, there’s a bit of a track we can follow to get closer to the bush, we drive slowly toward the bird which watches us intently but doesn’t seem concerned by our approach. “Don’t fly, don’t fly” I repeat over and over in my head as I move my 600mm into position and it must be telepathic, as it remains on its perch, keeping its beady eye on us. The lighting isn’t perfect but Simon has manage to maneuver us to a spot that has uninterrupted views of the bird, despite its location in the bush and we’re able to snap away. It’s now obvious why those Sandgrouse were rather skittish, with this little demon around… apparently sandgrouse make for good eating as well, we’re informed!

*Their ears contain many fine blood vessels which helps the elephant to cool down when they do flap them back and forth.



  1. What a lucky catch! Beautiful bird!

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