Greedy groundsquirrels,pooping peacocks, and fifty thousand flamingos

There are four peacocks that run freely around the research house, three females and one male. Each day they wait patiently outside the front door for me to come out and give them some of my morning bread, which may explain the slight weight gain I’ve noticed in them since I’ve been here…Anyways, they are very funny creatures, each has a very different personality. One of the females is quite bossy and likes to get her way, knocking away any of the other peacocks that may get in between her and a bread crumb. I have named her Vanessa. The other two inferior peacocks (Valmerie and Stephanie) keep their distance, knowing that if they want to walk away from breakfast with the same number of feathers that they came in with, then they don’t mess with Vanessa. The male, Frankie (in memory of my explored companion back at the farm), is a bit of a klutz. He trips over this and that, and I think it’s due to the massive bouquet of tail feathers he struts around with. The peacocks add to the character of the house, but there is a definite downside to their presence. If anybody has seen – or better yet smelled – fresh peacock poo, then they know what I am talking about. I’m talking about a stinking, steamy pile of goo the size of a tennis ball and holy moley does this thing smell horrid. I used to think my cat Katy had smelly poo’s, but they were nothing in comparison to this. Worst part of all – these birdies are not potty trained. Not in the least…in fact not only do I wake up to find four hungry peacocks staring at me through the front door every morning, but I also wake up to four fresh peacock poops laying right there in the doorway. Talk about a nasty cleanup job. And just when you thought that was bad, they go around pooping in the little grassy patch out front where everybody walks through to get to the house. It’s not uncommon to walk inside, trailing that one brown footprint all through the house before you stop long enough to get a good whiff, then turn around to see the lovely brown smears you’ve just dragged all over the floor. Just one of the pleasant consequences of living amongst the peacocks I guess…

Morning Visitor - you better not poop on that rug Frankie!

Feeding Frankie

Chomp chomp chomp...Frankie loves my old bread!
Peacocks flock for their morning breakfast. As usual, Vanessa leads the pack (in front)

How nice of them to leave behind a little treat

The ground squirrels that live around the research house are very curious little buggers. They are constantly running around the lawn using their nose as a guide, nibbling on anything they can get those squirrely little hands on. In fact, if you walk out with a piece of bread and sit down for just a few minutes, you may very well be mobbed by those hungry little creatures. Even more fun, I’ve noticed, is to place the bread somewhere on your lap and wait for them to crawl up and start munching right there on your leg. I’ve been tempted to reach out and pet the little guy as he sits on my lap eating my bread, but something tells me he’d react something like my cat does – by turning around and biting me. My goal on this trip was to leave Africa the way I came in, and that means sans rabies or parasites, so I’ll do my best to avoid being nibbled by a wild animal. In spite of this, however, I’m quite surprised how delicately the squirrels end up taking the food from your hand. Unlike the peacocks who just peck at whatever is in front of them (I’ve learned to keep my thumb pressed against my other fingers when feeding the peacocks by hand because they end up just pecking anything and everything, including fingers that might be out in the open), the squirrels on the other hand are almost graceful when they take food from your hand. They will gently sniff the piece of bread for a second, then carefully grasp it with their fingers before slowly putting it in their mouth. It’s quite cute actually, unlike those stinking peacocks who just slam their beaks into whatever looks like food. And best of all, these little guys don’t leave huge piles of gooey poo all over the place!

Ground squirrel on the lap

Feeding the ground squirrel

About two months ago a guy who was visiting the farm decided to take a day trip to the city of Kimberly about 200km away. Kimberly is location where diamond mining in South Africa really took off in the early 1900s, and today holds tourist attractions like “The Big Hole” – the original diamond mine. I anxiously asked if I could tag along for the ride, eager to get off the farm and explore more of this country I was visiting, and he told me he’d be happy if I come with. “The Big Hole” was nothing short of a big hole…basically it was a 100 meter hole in the ground with some water on the bottom, about 300 meters wide. ‘Not too spectacular’ I thought to myself as we walked around it, but then again I am no diamond mining connoisseur. We looked around, walked through the museum, then grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to the farm. Just as we were leaving Kimberly he turned to me and asked if I brought my big camera lens. I told him I hadn’t (expecting we were just going to visit some big mining hole, I had no intentions of lugging around 30 pounds of camera equipment). He looked slightly disappointed and said ‘bummer – there is a lake with some flamingos just down this road coming up.’ Never having seen flamingos in the wild, I was not only shocked to hear that they were there in Kimberly, but a little upset he hadn’t told me about the lake before we left! I would have loved to visit the lake, but then again I was thinking to myself ‘yeaaah yeah what are the chances the flamingos would be there right now anyways…’ Knowing how birding works, whenever there is a species you’d like to see and you go looking for it, it is often not where it is supposed to be. Instead, you accidentally run into it in a Costco parking lot or some random guys back yard. Anyways, I justified not bringing my big lens with me by telling myself that the chance that flamingos were actually on that lake right now were minimal.

Well, this Black Footed Cat project is on a nature reserve right outside Kimberly. When I first arrived here, I had forgotten all about that day with the guy and the hole and the flamingos, so I didn’t have anything in particular on my mind. The last day the Germans were here though, they wanted to visit a nearby farm that had Sable and Rhino and other neat animals as their day off from all the hard work they had been doing in the last two weeks. On the way to the farm, we pulled off the highway onto this random dirt road that led up to some railroad tracks. They got out of the car, and I thought to myself ‘what is this…some kind of pee break or something?’ But then they told me to grab my camera and follow them. We jumped a barbed wire fence that read “Railway Property – Trespassers will be Prosecuted” which got me thinkin’ ‘hmmmm…I wonder what ‘prosecuted’ means in Africa. Does this mean I lose a hand? Or maybe just a finger? Do they stick me in jail or do they just shoot me on sight? I’m not sure I like the sound of trespassing in Africa…’ so I asked the guys where we were headed. They said there were some flamingos just across the railroad tracks, and at that the spark went off in my head. This must be the lake that guy was talking about! I was thrilled because I had wanted so bad to come here in the first place nearly two months ago, and now I had the chance to see it! I just hope there are flamingos here right now, they probably all buggered off because they knew I was coming.
Sure enough there were flamingos. Lots of flamingos... Never before had I seen so many birds in my life, and yet every single one was a flamingo! ‘Amazing!’ I thought to myself. The Germans then went on about telling me how this is the largest breeding ground of flamingos in the world and that there were no less than 50,000 flamingos on this particular lake. I believe it. What an incredible sight. We spent about 15 minutes watching the birds, then drove off to the wildlife reserve.
A week later, when everybody from the project had left, I drove back to the lake for an evening and sunset. This was by far one of the most gorgeous sights I had ever seen. The water light up orange, and in contrast with the pink flamingos the entire lake was set aflame in a stunning bout magnificence. It truly was an unbelievable and once in a lifetime sight, as I will never again see a sight like it anywhere else in the world.
Oh yeah and I thought I might add - as I was watching the sunset, a train slowly drove by. Thinking about that ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ sign I quickly jumped down into the thorn bushes below to hide from the unexpected visitor before he got a glimpse at me. I waited there for a few minutes, then crawled out covered in thorns, barbs, stickers, burs and whatever else nature’s most vicious vegetation could throw at me. It took days just to get all the plant junk out of my socks, pants and shirt! I’ve crawled through bushes in Colorado, no big deal. I’ve crawled through bushed in Costa Rica, no harm done. Now I’ve crawled through bushes in Africa…not recommended!!!!

Flamingo chaos

Flamingo Sunset

A Soft Landing

Landing in the Sunset