Posts Tagged ‘Hammerkop’

The Hoopoe

“You have to know the past to understand the present.” –Carl Sagan          

A Bird from my Past — and Present

No. That bird at the feet of the zebra isn't a Hoopoe. It's a Hammerkop, and one of the 182 life birds I saw on my African safari. -- Photo by Pat Bean

No. That bird at the feet of the zebra isn’t a Hoopoe. It’s a Hammerkop, and one of the 182 life birds I saw on my African safari. — Photo by Pat Bean

I had never heard of such a thing as a Hoopoe until I read John Michener’s novel, The Source. That was a long time ago. The book was published in 1965, and if I remember correctly I read it right after it came out. I was a Michner fan back then.

This is a Wikimedia photo of a Hoopoe. Sadly I didn't get a good photo of he bird when I saw it, which is actually more normal than not. -- Wikimedia photo

This is a Wikimedia photo of a Hoopoe. Sadly I didn’t get a good photo of he bird when I saw it, which is actually more normal than not. — Wikimedia photo

He wrote 27 fictional novels – and not skinny books either – between 1947 and 2007. The first was Tales of the South Pacific, and the last was Matecumbe, published in its unpolished form a year after his death.

Of all Michener’s books, The Source was my favorite. I think it was because of how Michrner used the bird as a literary device, how described it, and how he named one of his characters Hoopoe, and then claimed he had been named after the bird.

When I read The Source those many years ago, I never expected I would ever get to see a Hoopoe. But I did, while on an African safari in 2007. That trip was one of the top two travel experiences of my life. The other was the 1991 trip when I paddled the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I still don’t know which trip should lead off my travel adventure tales. .

It wasn’t until 1999 that I became a passionate birdwatcher. It’s a hobby that caught me by the heart right when my 20 years of passionate white-water rafting heydays, were coming to an end. Wasn’t I lucky?

I’ve found that life always has questions and surprises – like the Hoopoe – to keep my days interesting. And these days, such surprises seem to engage my brain to make connections with my memories. Life is good. Especially since my back is no longer hurting.

Bean Pat http://tinyurl.com/o2jye94 A fascinating tale of the Hoopoe Bird.

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“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and the wonder surrounding him. – Ansel Adams


Vermilion flycatcher: Unlike many flycatchers that look alike, there is no mistaking this species. -- Photo by Pat Bean


Bird Talk

I’ve always wanted to know the names of things, but I wasn’t exactly pathetic about the need until I took up birding back in 1999.

I came late to this addictive passion, suddenly being amazed at all the birds around me. Where once these flying creatures were invisible, as if existing in a parallel world with a curtain drawn between them and me, suddenly I was seeing them everywhere.

My fascination with birds can be annoying to non-birders. A shadow flicks across the landscape and I lose my place in a conversation as my eyes turn upward searching for the source.

I constantly scan the tops of utility poles looking for familiar profiles. The sight of a red-tailed hawk sitting atop one causes me to yell “stop” to the car driver. A rustle or movement of leaves and I am distracted from a task. No roadside pond goes unscanned. Well, you get the idea.


The unique profile of a hammerkop makes it a hard bird to misidentify. But you'll have to go to the African continent if you want to see one. -- Photo by Pat bean

But seeing a bird is not enough. I must know what bird it is.

Is that a crow or a raven was one of my first identification problems. The raven is larger but size, without a comparison, is not much help. So I learned that a crow’s tail is razor straight at the end, while a raven’s tail is wedge-shaped. Ravens also are the ones who suffer bad-hair days.

Many flycatchers, meanwhile, still puzzle me. Quite a few look almost exactly alike. A long look through a good scope, and knowing preferred ranges and habitats of each species, is necessary for identifying these birds.


You won't find this bird in any field guide. It's a mallard hybrid. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Knowing that you’re looking at a flycatcher is easy, however. One usually sees them sitting up straight on a branch. They fly out to catch an insect and then most return to the same branch to repeat the process. If I have long enough to watch, and a good field guide, sometimes I can even figure out whether it’s a dusky or a willow, or one of several other flycatchers showing off for me.

When I was first learning to bird, there was this one particular duck that completely stumped me. While I had a really good look at the creature, I couldn’t find it in my field guide. I finally gave up and asked one of my birding mentors, who immediately broke into laughter.

The duck in question was a mallard hybrid. Since then I’ve seen a lot of these unique, but sterile offspring. Mallards, it seems, are sluts.

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It was peaceful watching this mom and young charges splashing in the water until ... -- Photo by Pat Bean

 ” We live in a world full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. ” – Irving Wallace

"Hey guy's! There's a hammerkop over there with the zebra." -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: Holding Our Breaths

Our afternoon game drive with Bilal took place in Tarangire National Park, which is known for its elephants. The park , except during its rainy season, is mostly hot and dry. We missed the rainy season, and our August visit during Africa’s winter was made before the heat and dryness claimed the land.

The elephants, as almost all of the park’s wildlife did, made their way daily to the park’s only water source, the Tarangire River for which the park is named. Bilal knew exactly where to go and where to park for spectacular views of wildlife visiting the river.

One of the places was in the shade of a tree right next to a bank. On the far side of the river, we watched zebra and waterbuck peacefully drinking together. While we were watching a couple of giraffe joined them. It was fun to watch how they splayed their legs apart so as to be able to get low enough to drink.

Kim got this photo of a really big elephant that didn't scare us a bit. Perhaps because it was shot with her zoom lens. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

As I watched in awe, my eye was drawn to a bird at the feet of the zebras. It was a hammerkop, a strange looking bird with an elongated head. It was yet another lifer, which I excitedly pointed out to Kim and Bilal, both of whom failed to see birds when larger, more exotic, wildlife was in view.

On our side of the river were three elephants, a mom and two young ones. They were splashing in the water near were Bilal had parked the Land Rover. They looked like they were having so much fun that even I forgot to look at birds for awhile.

As we watched, the three began to climb out of the river beside our vehicle. As the young ones made their way up the bank, the mom got in front of our vehicle and engaged us in a stare off. She was close enough that she could have easily touched the hood of the vehicle with her trunk.

We could hear her snuffling as she glared intently into each of our eyes.

We can't say we weren't warned. -- Photo by kim Perrin

Kim and I, who were both standing up in the vehicle, stopped breathing we were so still. Bilal had his hand on the keys in the ignition but he didn’t move a muscle either. While this wasn’t the largest elephant we had seen, we all knew how fierce the protective mom could turn in an instant if she thought we were a danger to the young ones she had in tow.

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only about two or three minutes she turned and led her charges off. All three of us took a big breath.

Bilal said he had been afraid if he started the vehicle to get us away, it would have caused her to charge.

Kim and I had wanted to have an adventure when we came to Africa, and this day certainly provided one. But we were both irked that neither of us had taken a photo of the face off. I would remember that later during another close-up wildlife encounter

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The Luck of the Hammerkop



While the zebras are striking, it was the hammerkop at my feet that got my attention. - Photo by Pat Bean, Tanzania, 2007

The trio of zebras drinking from the Tarangire River in Tanzania tickled my senses with their black and white carnival appearance. But it took the strange wading bird at their feet to elicit an outcry of “Look!” to my friend, Kim, who at the time was focused on a trio of elephants on our side of the river.

 The largest of these three elephants later engage us in a stare off from directly in front of our vehicle. It had ALL my attention then. -- Photo by Pat Bean, August, 2007, Tanzania It was early enough on in our shared African safari that she hadn’t yet muttered her angst against my constant bird watching. That would come later. Actually it was more my jumping around in the Land Rover for a better look, which jiggled her camera, that disturbed her most – especially when it was three generations of elephants, a tree-climbing lion or a rare leopard that had claimed her attention.

Now that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy watching these large mammals, or that she didn’t enjoy birds. We’d enjoyed many pleasant bird outings together back in the states. It was just that faced with choices, her deeper passion went one way and mine the other.

Kim gave the hammerkop I had pointed out a quick look and went back to her elephants while I studied the bird, one that had been high on my wish list of things to see while in Africa. Its elongated head reminded me of a hammerhead shark. In fact, hammerkop is the Dutch word for hammerhead.

This brown bird with the quirky profile is a member of the stork family. Killing one, according to superstition, is supposed to bring bad luck. I wondered if just seeing one would bring good luck.

I guess it did. Kim and I survived our different passions and are still the best of friends.

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