1. Oh, All The Places to Go!

Last Friday The NYTimes posted its annual “52 Places to Go” for 2020. Mount Kenya is on the list. The mountain is home to some of the world’s last remaining tropical glaciers. However, glacier monitoring suggests that any permanent ice on Mount Kenya could disappear completely before 2030. According to The Times, “Now is the time to go.”

Uganda also made this year’s list, as it’s leading the way in sustainable travel. We have purchased a permit for a one day gorilla trek in the Bwindi Forest. Uganda limits the number of trekking permits. Parties no bigger than 8 are allowed to visit a gorilla family for one hour. Once you come upon the troupe, the clock starts ticking. Sixty minutes later you’re escorted back to camp.

2. How Big Is It?

Pretty darn big!

The Republic of Kenya is the world’s 48th largest country by total area (224,084 square miles), and the 27th most populous. English and Swahili are its two official languages.

Black band = the natives of Kenya
Red band = in memory of the blood sacrifice of freedom seekers
Green band = Kenya’s natural resources
White fimbriation = peace and honesty
Warrior’s shield and two spears = the traditions and cultures of Kenya.

4. Wednesday’s Word: Jambo

Jambo” is Swahili for “hello.”

In hopes of arriving in Africa with a number of useful Swahili words and phrases at my fingertips, I’m attempting to learn one new word per week.
I’m using the YouTube video “Easy Swahili – Basic Phrases for Greetings” as a pronunciation guide.

I shall begin by cheating, and choose a word I already know.

21. Friday’s Flyer: Lilac-Breasted Roller

We’ll be visiting a country that boasts 1,137 species of birds.
I can identify an ostrich, a penguin, a chicken and a flamingo. Clearly, I’m going to need a bit of preparation to take advantage of this birdwatcher’s paradise.

Every Friday, a single bird, said to be common to Kenya, will be highlighted on this blog.
I don’t imagine for one minute that I’ll be able to shout out, “Look! There’s a Northern Long-Crested Hornbill on our left!”
But I’m thinking that some familiarization with just a few of these winged creatures might cause me to stop and take in the beauty of all that I see.
I’ll start with the National Bird of Kenya.

Lilac-Breasted Roller


The Lilac-Breasted Roller is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world with its pastel colors and long tail streamers. 
Although mostly silent, it announces itself with a harsh, raspy call during the breeding season or when it feels its territory is threatened.
These large-headed birds are often found in a grassy clearings, atop a tree that serves as a hunting perch.

The Lilac-Breasted Roller does not migrate. It stays right in Kenya and breeds there. I guess what happens in Kenya, stays in Kenya.
It nests in a natural hole in a tree where a clutch of 2-4 eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs.

All rollers, including the lilac-breasted, are known for their acrobatic, agile flight, aided by their tail streamers which they use as rudders while flying.

Source: YouTube, SafariLive 10 30 How the Lilac-breasted roller got his name

Next week: A Bird of Prey.

25. Before We Meet

Linda B here.
Greetings from the east coast half of this traveling duo.



It’s cloudy and cold in
Winchester, Virginia today.

The map below shows my flight plan from Washington, D.C. to Nairobi, Kenya.
Denise and I won’t join forces until we arrive at our hotel in Nairobi on August 19.

First leg, Washington Dulles to Zurich:  9 hours
Layover: 1:50 hours
Second leg, Zurich to Nairobi: 6:45 hours
Total travel time: 17:35 hrs

26. Friday’s Flyer: Lappet-Faced Vulture

Lappet-Faced Vulture *

The Lappet-Faced Vulture is Africa’s largest bird of prey. It has a pink head, blue and ivory beak, and heavy wings. The feathers on the upper part of its legs make it look as though it’s wearing a pair of white trousers. Like many vultures, it has a bald head, which is advantageous, because a feathered head would become spattered with blood and other fluids, and thus be difficult to keep clean.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture is a scavenging bird, feeding mostly on animal carcasses, which it finds by sight or by watching other vultures. Its vision is practically unmatched in the animal kingdom.
Ranking among the world’s most powerful flyers, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is capable of soaring on upward air currents for hours.


The Lappet-Faced Vulture is the most aggressive of all the African vultures, and other vultures usually cede a carcass to the Lappet-Faced if it decides to assert itself.
The first few seconds of this video remind me of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Source: DougNorrisFam, YouTube

Lappet-Faced Vultures are considered endangered, mostly due to habitat loss. In some cases, dozens at a time are poisoned by poachers who fear the presence of vultures will alert authorities to their illegal killing of protected species.

Source: BirdLife International, Saving Nature’s Clean Up Crew, YouTube (Time: 1:22)

 Why feature the Lappet-Faced Vulture?

These guys are the stars of every safari movie’s After-the-Kill Clean-up Scene that has ever been produced.
Their ill-gotten fame shoots them to the top of the Friday Flyer List.

27. Cameras, Lenses, Bags and Books

The following three images are representative of what I’ve been doing to prepare for our 2020 trip to Africa. If you’re not already aware of my great passion for photography, it will be apparent with the reading of this post.

This is an image of all my gear – everything I own except for the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 lens which is wait-listed. Supposedly it will come in June.  It will be worth the wait, as it will allow me to get up-close-and-personal with the wildlife.  It was my big lens purchase for my new mirrorless full frame Nikon Z6 camera.  I took the Nikon with me to England last year where I got incredible shots.
 I added a Tamron 100-400 mm lens to bridge the gap with my older Nikon 5200.  Yes, I am taking 2 camera bodies.
The green Mindshift bag is a dedicated camera bag with all kinds of organizational nooks and crannies. That, along with my orange REI duffle, should hold all of my cameras, photographic equipment and clothing.


These are just a few of the photography and travel books in my self-imposed curriculum.  They include a catalogue from the Shangri-La of Photography: B and H Photo in NYC. 
For me, B and H is every bit as much of a temptation as a fine ladies boutique.  Their tech assistants can answer any question and give really great recommends.  My slogan?  Never travel without B and H!

This final picture, taken with my Nikon Z6,  is probably over Newfoundland.  I was on a flight to England that left Dulles around 6:30 PM.  It was August and the sun was above the cloud cover so I had amazing views as the sun dipped below the horizon.
One of my photography books actually has a chapter on taking photographs out of airplane windows! Carol, our Tour Agent Extraordinaire,* arranged a window seat for me, so my camera will be ready! 

*Carol Flax
Luxury Travel Advisor
An independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel
Virtuoso Member
carol@mccabeworld.com

31. Friday’s Flyer: Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher *

 The Pied Kingfisher, with its black and white plumage, hovers over clear lakes and rivers before diving down sharply to spear a fish with its beak. The video below shows this amazing skill in slow motion.
Males have a double band across the breast while females have a single patch of color on the throat that is often broken in the middle.
They’re usually found in pairs or small family parties. When perched, Pied Kingfishers often bob their heads and flick up their tails.


The Pied Kingfisher is the largest bird in the world
that can hover in still air.

Video source: BBC Studios

* Why feature the Pied Kingfisher?

This bird is one smart athlete. The whole hovering/split-second timing/vertical diving thing is incredible.
He’s shaped a little like a blue jay which might help me to recognize him in a perched position.

Getting Personal

HOW:
Denise and I are Machatunin.  That is Yiddish for two mothers-in-law.  So far, it happens to be the only known name for such a relationship among the languages we have looked up.  It started with a wedding (her son to my daughter).  

Coit Tower, San Francisco, 2017

We’ve shared some get-togethers, a few holiday celebrations,  a small trip to San Francisco and a bigger two week trip on the Viking River Cruise to Portugal with excursions into Spain.  We both have celebrated BIG DECADE BIRTHDAYS recently (eg. important decade life landmarks) carrying us along into “senior land”.

WHO:      
I (Linda) am a retired choral director, piano teacher and still keep a church job as Organist and Choir Director.  As I started babysitting when I was 12, I have been working ever since,  just shy of 60 years.  I have held my teacher’s certificate for 50 years.  I lived in Spain and appreciate how close people are when they can communicate together.  My daughter once told me I have the “largest box” to hold all the people I admire and call my friends of anyone she knows.  That box has almost limitless boundaries for diversity.  I love people, therefore I love the travel. 

WHERE and WHEN:
It was a mix-up—probably the only time we started on two different pages.  Over three years ago we planned a big adventure trip together.  Denise has connections to Portugal and as I lived in Spain.

Lisbon (2017)

 It seemed that the only choice for our first big trip together was to go to Spain and Portugal for her birthday.  It was a huge success. I highly recommend the Viking River Cruise on the Duoro River with excursion extensions to Spain (www.Vikingcruise.com).  

My big birthday was a little over a year later, but Denise was already booked on another trip with a close friend. 
I have a friend, a Retired Marine Lt. Col who is a marathon runner and all around never-sit-still kind of a guy.  He did a tour of England and walked Hadrian’s Wall. Hey!  I could do something similar.  Surfing the Net brought me to a site for ACTIVE ENGLAND  – a small group company for bikers and hikers around southern England.  I booked two two-week tours of Devon/Cornwall and Windsor, Blenheim, Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Cotswolds and Bath with layovers in London and Oxford  . .  all by myself and going to travel!!!  In just over two weeks I hiked over 100 miles.  (**This is where I tell you  that I was just diagnosed with sufficient damage to be eligible for  knee replacements  in both knees. More about that  in the chapter on senior issues and health care.

With the best guide, Helen of Active England walking miles along the Southwest Coast Pathway on the edge of the Cornwall coast. Think Doc Martin and Poldark, Hound of the Baskervilles and Wuthering Height

 Well, Denise still wanted to plan another trip. I thought of the customary destinations:  France, Germany, Scandinavia  et al. —  even Canada  But, we weren’t on the same page.  “Guess where I really REALLY want to go” and before I could guess she blurts out “ AFRICA!”  Not in a million years of dreaming would I have seen the possibility of going to Africa.   And, Africa is a continent, NOT A COUNTRY!

 But, I am a good sport and I have a fabulous travel agent, CAROL FLAX OF MCCABE TRAVEL IN McClean, Virginia (see chapter on WAYS TO PLAN).   One can never say no to one of Carol’s adventures  And before you knew it,  we’d paid the deposit and were getting into more trouble by adding on exciting things to explore.  So, as first time travelers on an African safari we chose Kenya with an add-on to Uganda to go gorilla trekking.  I’ll let Denise tell you about how we arranged to see the Gorillas.  Suffice it to say it will be the trip of a lifetime, which is why we want to share a blog about it.

WHY BLOG?  
• To let friends and family take a virtual trip along with us
• To share thoughts on who, how, why, where and when to plan travel adventures
• To showcase our exploration of the new, ancient, unusual and rare 
• To inspire our BLOG BUDDIES to share their travel dreams 

Move Over, Rick Steves

Move Over, Rick Steves

I have plans to author my very first (and most likely my very last) travel guidebook. Tentative chapters can be viewed under the drop down menu at the top.


It will be an ongoing, ever evolving creation. There’s no set timeline for post entries. Chapters may be introduced out of order and revised or added to at any time.


I’ve asked Denise to add her perspective now and then.

Keep watch.
Linda B.

36. Friday’s Flyer: Red and Yellow Barbet

Red and Yellow Barbet *

The Red and Yellow Barbet is a smallish bird with black, red and yellow plumage. It lives in low woodlands, scrubby savannas and rugged, semi-arid terrain. It’s omnivorous, feeding on seeds, fruit, and invertebrates.

Red and Yellow Barbets are very tame wherever humans feed them.

* Why feature the Red and Yellow Barbet?

It has polka dot wings for heaven’s sake! Hard to beat that.

41. Friday’s Flyers: African Hornbills

African Hornbills *

There are 24 species of hornbills found throughout Africa.
They are characterized by a long, down-curved bill which is often found to be brightly colored.
Hornbills are omnivorous and use their beaks to pluck fruit and forage for seeds, small insects and spiders on the ground.
Most all species of hornbills are monogamous. A pair will bond for a single season. Upon bonding, the male will courtship feed the female with either solid items or regurgitation. (Yucky, but true.)



They nest in natural cavities in trees and sometimes in cliffs.


*
Why feature Hornbills? 

Zazu, the prim and proper bird in The Lion King, was a red-billed hornbill.  His character, who acted as advisor to the king, had a great sense of self-importance. Hornbills can’t be overlooked after one of their species has found Hollywood stardom.

46. Friday’s Flyers: Oxpeckers

Oxpeckers *

There are two species of oxpecker, the yellow-billed and the red-billed. The Yellow-billed Oxpecker (image 1) is the more common of the two in Kenya.
Both species, also called tickbirds, have olive-brown or grey-brown bodies, wide bills, stiff tails and sharp claws. They cling to cattle and big-game animals to remove ticks, flies, and maggots from their hides. When alarmed, the birds hiss, alerting their hosts to possible danger. Though they rid animals of pests, oxpeckers also take blood from the sores, which may be slow to heal.

Source: WildEarth, The Oxpeckers Role in the Animal Kingdom, YouTube (Time: 2:33)

The oxpecker populations have been adversely impacted by relentless poisoning, but they live in such a wide range across Africa that they have not approached the classification of Vulnerable.

The Curious Case of the Giraffe and the Oxpecker

Oxpeckers are commonly seen riding along on large mammals while they search their hosts for ticks or open wounds. What’s not so common are the camera-trap images of giraffes at night with these birds using them as movable roosting spots. It is thought that this habit is an adaptation to save the birds time looking for the right animal the following day.

Night images of giraffes show that yellow-billed oxpeckers seem to prefer settling between the hind legs of the giraffe. This may be because it’s a warm spot in winter and keeps them safe from any nocturnal predators.

*Why feature the Oxpecker?

This week’s posts have a sort of Giraffe Week feel to them. Oxpeckers, having a rather important connection to giraffes, fit the theme.

52. Friday’s Flyer: Saddle-Billed Stork

Saddle-Billed Stork *

The Saddle-Billed Stork is one of the more easily identifiable birds in Kenya. Instant identification is made possible by its brilliantly colored kneecaps and bill.

The beak is red with a black band going around the middle, and on the upper side is the yellow “saddle” that includes small wattles that hang below the underside of the beak at the base that look like stirrups.

It is the tallest stork in the world with an 8-1/2 ft wingspan.

The saddle-billed stork has a diet based on fish, crustaceans and amphibians. Because the storks will use their beaks to stir up the water to flush out the fish, this causes the water to become muddy as well as the fish so they often wash their fish before consuming them whole.

The saddle-billed stork is silent because it doesn’t have a syrinx (the vocal organ of birds). Baby chicks must make a hissing sound when wanting their parents’ attention, but in adulthood they are mute. The following video a very quiet view of the saddle-billed stork.

Source: Saddle-billed Stork Fishing in Kruger Park, African Adventures, YouTube (Time: 2:35)

*Why feature the Saddle-Billed Stork?

Even for a novice birdwatcher, this bird should be fairly easy to identify.

Plus, you’ve got to love its built-in orange knee pads.

59. Friday’s Flyer: Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird *

Adult Secretary Birds have a featherless red-orange face and black coloring on the wings, thighs and elongated central tail feathers. They also have very long eyelashes.
The Secretary Bird gets its name from its crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens office workers tucked behind their ears in the 1800s.

Secretary Birds walk up to 20km a day in search of vipers, cobras and other snakes.
They are good fliers and nest and roost high up in acacia trees at night.

Researchers in Hampshire, England have been studying the kicks of a male bird called Madeleine. They’ve found that when a secretary bird kicks a snake in the head, the killer blow can transfer five times the bird’s own weight in a hundredth of a second.
They say that studying extreme examples of animal movement could help design fast-moving robot limbs or prosthetics.

*Why feature the Secretary Bird?


I was drawn to the bird because it reminds me of how one of my aunt used to apply her make up.

Its kick is pretty impressive too.

Feathers the Bird and Aunt Gertrude

67. Friday’s Flyers: The Doves of Africa

Doves *

Aside from the Sahara and Antarctica, doves are found all over the world. Kenya has more than a dozen species of doves.
Doves have stout bodies, short necks and short, slender bills. Their colors are mostly dull in nature.

Doves feed on seeds, fruits, and plants.

Pigeons and doves are in the same family and are sometimes referred to interchangeably. As a rule, doves have longer tails than pigeons. “Dove” tends to be used for smaller species and “pigeon” for larger ones.

Both doves and pigeons are incredibly swift flyers.
Most doves are thought to mate for life.

* Why feature doves?

It’s a bit of a circuitous route.
Trees Week > W. Maathai, mother of trees > W. Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate > Nobel Peace Prize > peace > peace symbols > doves

The dove is often associated with peace* – and peace is a natural extension of the successful tree planting programs promoted by Wangari Maathai in the fields of Kenya.

“Trees are living symbols of peace and hope.”
Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace laureate

Update, April 14, 2020: I have subsequently learned that doves are not associated with peace in African folklore. Apparently, the lilac-breasted roller is thought to bring peace and happiness. Well, darn.

* Update, April 14, 2020: I have subsequently learned that doves are not associated with peace in African folklore. Apparently, the lilac-breasted roller is thought to bring peace and happiness.
Well, darn.

75. Friday’s Flyer: Cattle Egret

“As our city streets quiet, as people hang back from parks and paths,
and the busy noise of daily life recedes,
listen for the birds.”
David Arnold, President of the Nat’l Audubon Society


Cattle Egret *

The cattle egret has a relatively short, thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. It spends most of its time in fields rather than streams.
The cattle egret’s breeding plumage highlights its beautiful peach feathers, and it often appears to be wearing spiked topknots. Its legs and feet even change from black to a dramatic orange.

Cattle egrets feed on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, lizards and earthworms.
They forage at the feet of grazing cattle, heads bobbing with each step, or ride on their backs to pick at ticks.

Sonyanga Ole Ngais, a Maasai Warrior Saves a Cattle Egret

* Why feature the Cattle Egret?

This is the last day of what has turned out to be Elephant Week, and elephants have a special relationship with the cattle egret.
The cattle egret, while relieving the elephant of parasites, receives a free meal and a free ride as the elephant walks along. But the egret enjoys this same kind of relationship with a number of different mammals.
Elephants, on the other hand, aren’t involved in any other symbiotic relationships except that of the cattle egret. For the elephant, it’s the cattle egret only.

84. Friday’s Flyer: Bee-eaters

Bee-eaters *

You’re probably wondering what they eat. . . . . . . . OK, maybe not.

There are about 20 species of brightly-colored bee-eaters in Africa.

Cinnamon-Chested Bee-eaters have bright green heads, upper parts, and tails. Their chins are outlined in black. Their diet consists mainly of honeybees.
Little Bee-eaters have green upper parts, yellow throats and brown upper breasts fading to ocre on the belly. Their beaks are black. They’re the smallest of the African bee-eaters.
White-Fronted Bee-eaters have white foreheads, square taisl and a red patch on their throats. They nest in small colonies, digging holes in cliffs or earthen banks.

The Northern Carmine Bee-eater has bright red feathers and gathers in large colonies of hundreds or thousands of individuals. It makes quite a dazzling spectacle. In quite a few of their regional homes in Africa where the birds are known to nest in large numbers year after year, they are a major tourist attraction.


Besides eating bees, bee-eaters chow down on lots of different insects, especially wasps and hornets. Before eating their meal, a bee-eater removes the stinger by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface.
Bee-eaters don’t just fly around catching insects willy-nilly. They target a particular insect, follow the movements it makes, and hunt it down by following its twists and turns. Despite its slight appearance, its bill is quite strong and chomps down on prey insects’ hard shells with a loud snap.

Source: National Geographic Wild



Bee Eaters are a competitive bunch. To find and woo a mate, they need balance and skill.

* Why feature bee-eaters?

As it turns out, there is a tiny connection to this week’s Zebra Theme.
Bee-eaters have a habit of using large, moving animals as temporary perches. This can be any number of local animals, such as storks, ostriches, warthogs, giraffes, and (?) . . . . . . . . you guessed it, zebras.
When they do this, not only does it provide them with an elevated lookout, but as other animals pass by, they stir up insects for the birds to go after as they move along.