Day 2 – June 26, 2008
The next day started with breakfast at 7 am. I was up by 6:30, looking for birds around camp. I was still at the stage when just about everything I saw was new. That is an awesome experience. Breakfast most mornings consisted of toast (with options of honey, butter, jam, or peanut butter), an egg type (either hard boiled or fried), and fruit (usually mango, pineapple, and banana, but some mornings the mango was replaced with papaya). On Sundays, they also had sausage.
By 8, we were ready to start our first game drive. We did very well on the game drive, accumulating many species of megafauna, including many elephants, Greater Kudu, Eland, Buffalo, and a Leopard! Later that night we discovered that the leopard was on a recent kill (Grant’s Gazelle). Over the next few days, I would see this leopard, and one other a total of 4 times. I also saw many new birds, including Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles, Martial Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Bateleur, Rufous-crowned Roller, and multiple Estrildid species. At one particular waterhole for cattle, I saw an African Spoonbill and Yellow-billed Stork standing side-by-side. Two other birds I added, in the same tree, were Red-fronted Barbet and Black Cuckoo-shrike, two birds that were high on my list of things to see. I also added my last sunbird species for the trip, Marico Sunbird (which I would see many of over the two weeks), as well as Crested Francolin, which I did not see again on the trip.
Interspersed in the acacia bushlands are areas of open grassy habitat called glades. These glades are formed from old cattle bomas (traditional cattle corral); Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) (photo by Jess Marion); African Spoonbill (Platalea alba), Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis), and Yellow-billed Duck (Anas undulata) along a cattle waterhole (photo by Jess Marion); African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla aguimp) (photo by Jess Marion)
Leopard (Panthera pardus) found on our first game drive (by Jess). Later that evening, we saw the same individual under the same tree. We proceeded to drive close when it ran off. We only later realized this Leopard was on a kill (Grant's Gazelle)
Other spectacular megafauna we saw were Reticulated Giraffe, and two species of zebra: Plains Zebra and Grevy’s Zebra. Grevy’s Zebra are larger than Plains Zebra, and are currently endangered, with approximately 2,000 left worldwide. They are found mainly north of the Plains Zebra’s range, in drier, more arid climates. The two zebras’ ranges overlap at Mpala. While at Mpala, we estimate that we saw nearly 200 Grevy’s Zebra, approximately 5% of the total Grevy’s population.
My first game drive, and I was not disappointed. Around 1 pm, we headed back to camp for lunch. Lunch and dinner were often very similar, and usually consisted of stewed beef strips, rice, and vegetables (beans, squash, carrots, and peas together, and often a salad). There was some variation though, as sometimes we had pasta, samosas, chapattis, and other similar, simple dishes.
That afternoon, we went to pilot our first project, which was surveying elephant damage to acacias near the river. En route to our study site, I saw a Black Crake foraging along the riverbank, as well as Cinnamon-breasted Rock-bunting, Pied Kingfisher, and Red-billed Hornbill. This was an appropriate project, as elephants were very abundant at Mpala this season, with an estimated 2000 elephants on the ranch while we were there. We encountered elephants on most days, sometimes at close range crossing the road. There was one particular family group that frequented the area near our camp, which included one nasty male, and many young elephants that were aggressively defended. Mostly, the elephants would merely mock-charge us, but at one point, when I was not in the van, the angry male charged the van for a good distance. The high abundance of elephants prevented us from working in certain areas for our final projects, and also kept us near the car or near the camp for most of the trip.
A view of Elephant damage to Acacia; View of the river from our camp (our study site was slightly down river from our camp); More elephants!
After piloting our project, and coming up with a method that the entire class would do, we headed back to camp to clean up, rest, and eat. We had our first paper discussion around the campfire that night, and then it was off to bed.