Category Archives: The story behind the Expedition

The Great Expedition

Being slow-breeders and top-end predators, birds of prey are highly vulnerable to any persecution or change in their habitat and environment. These traits also make them good indicators of overall ecosystem health. Not enough is known about birds of prey at the expert level, or by the world at large. This has led us to devise a plan that would take us on an Africa-wide adventure which we are hoping you will join us on. It will involve travelling, mostly by car, through Africa, researching birds of prey and photographing them for what will ultimately lead to some books that will serve to raise awareness and increase knowledge of these sensitive animals.

We are in the process of making preparations for the trip, which include buying the necessary equipment, kitting out the car, and sorting out all the administration that such a big project entails. Sadly, it also means that Simon must find temporary homes for his birds. Once on the road, probably around mid-to-late-September, we hope to give you daily updates on the places we go, the people we meet and, most importantly, our wildlife experiences.

Our trip will include:
1. Doing a road count of the raptors as we travel through the continent.
2. Regularly updating a blog, Facebook group and MySpace page in order to keep you in-the-know.
3. Helping local raptor specialists with research as we move along.
4. Observing and photographing the birds with the overall goal of producing a comprehensive publication on all the raptor species of Africa.

We are looking for funding in the form of grants or any such scheme to support the expedition. Do not hesitate at any time to contact us with ideas and suggestions at [email protected]

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An idea is born

With my newfound passion for birds of prey, it was obvious that Simon and I would be crossing paths again. I was working at Kipling Camp by Kanha Tiger Reserve at the same time as Munir, Pat and Simon were planning their twice-a-year vulture census in India. As you might already have read from Simon’s entry, vultures have suffered a disastrous decline in South Asia due to poisoning by diclofenac. I was invited to join the team for part of the expedition and jumped at the chance. It turned out to be another great experience. We took a boat down the Chambal River, with cliffs on both sides on which we saw vultures, peregrines, eagles and owls. We also spent time in Ranthambore (where I saw my first wild tiger) and Bandhavargh National Parks.

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A Brahminy Kite fishing in Kerala, India

Another continent. A few months later. This time, I was studying primates in the tropical rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in south-western Costa Rica and helping to manage a lodge there. Simon had long been interested in seeing the birds of prey of the New World, for reasons that he can explain in his own entry. I thought this to be a good opportunity to repay Simon for his kindness in looking after me so well in Kenya. Knowing him to be going through a transition stage, with his mind open to travel, I invited him to come and stay.

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The stunning New World King Vulture

During the frequent rainy afternoons at Terrapin Lodge, Simon painted birds of prey as I went through photographs and attempted some of my own paintings (which I will not be showcasing). We started talking about producing a book, full of beautiful photographs and paintings, on the birds of prey of Africa, and what began as the germ of an idea started to take root and grow. As we bounced ideas off each other and started to make plans, we realised we would be embarking on an incredible adventure that would take us through much of Africa. More about that in my next post.

A reunion in the Mara

Simon and I joined forces again not too long after my time in Athi River, this time to take on the Mara. Our mission was to catch and tag vultures for research, this during the wildebeest migration. Our work involved tracing vultures back to a carcass, setting nooses on the carcass so that vultures would get caught in them, and then quickly removing the noose from the vulture, tagging its wing and releasing it.

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Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture

On the first day, we did a trial run, which was actually successful. I sat there, holding my first vulture, and was amazed at how beautiful it was. Having grown up with the same preconception as most that vultures are ugly creatures, I was stunned to find them to be elegant fliers, masters of the sky. Over the course of that week in the Mara, my respect for these animals increased. This only served to deepen my sadness about the poisoning of wildlife that is taking place, which ultimately affects a huge number of vultures that feed on the poisoned carcasses.

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Holding my first vulture

Spending a week in the Mara led to other wildlife treats. We came across what has to be one of the largest wild pythons on the planet. Cat sightings included leopards, cheetahs, and lions making a kill. Contrary to the average person, I am much more at ease bathing in rivers and eating camp food than having hot showers and fancy dining. There’s also nothing quite like going to sleep to the sounds of lions and leopards calling into the night.

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Volunteering with Simon

Thank you so much to those who have generously donated to Rosy. The funds will go towards getting him the care that he needs to make a full recovery. Any further donations over the coming weeks will also be used to this end. While Simon is rushing around Nairobi trying to sort out Rosy’s operation, let me introduce myself…

I first met Simon when I volunteered to work with him in Athi River, helping him to look after the birds. I suppose I shouldn’t really mention the fact that he failed to turn up at Nairobi airport to pick me up as promised due to a slight run-in with the police (expired insurance). And perhaps it should remain unsaid that, that same day, he had managed to annoy quite a few people by pulling out some gum trees (“damn exotics”).

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Simon with Duchess, who is posturing because I am there.

However, his unusual character aside, he did make sure I was picked up at the airport despite his “arrest,” and also made sure that not one moment of my stay with him was boring. Incidents that come to mind include hiding up a tree from a charging buffalo, almost backing the jeep into a bull elephant (this one was my doing), lessons in paragliding and many more. If he had not crashed his aeroplane earlier, he assures me I would have learned to fly as well.

The highlights were not the brushes with danger, though those were fun. The best moments were the times with the birds. I remember all too clearly the words that Simon said to me on my first day with him: “One mistake, and the bird could die.” Tim, a young injured Lanner Falcon, had just been brought to Simon and was perched in his living room. As we were introduced, Simon informed me that I would be training Tim, getting him ready to be released back to the wild. I was terrified that I would make that fatal mistake. But from the first time that Tim sat on my fist, I was hooked. And by the time I saw him flying free, watching him as he made his first attempts at catching his own prey, there was no going back.

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Flying Tim