Startling Starlings

[Birds today, but fear not, there will be more big mammals in the weeks ahead.]

Kenya is full of starlings. And not your common-or-garden European ones either. Here is a selection, ending with the most resplendent!

The two most common ones I saw were the Greater Blue-Eared Starling, Lamprotornis chalybaeus, iridescent blue with a yellow eye:

and the Superb Starling, Lamprotornis superbus, with its orange underside.

Also common is the Wattled Starling, Creatophora cinerea, member of a different genus from the glossy blue Lamprotornis starlings in the rest of this post. It has an entirely different and less flashy color scheme. The male (centre below) has a bright yellow patch behind its eye, and in breeding season it grows big black wattles, only beginning in my photos. The females lack all of this. Here is a trio (girl, boy, girl) hoping for insects stirred up by the zebra crossing:

The one below was part of a mixed group of birds attracted to a termite mound on the morning after a nighttime shower; the termites were emerging on the wing, causing a feeding frenzy, and this male got lucky:

Here is his catch in close-up:

Hildebrandt’s Starling, Lamprotornis hildebrandti, is burnished with orange and yellow below:

and iridescent blue above:

But the most spectacular by far is the Golden-breasted Starling, Lamprotornis regius, aptly named. I asked my guides Steven Sankei and Joel Gilisho at Il Ngwesi in Laikipia if they could find them, and Steven said he knew a place where they hung out. After ten minutes or so, not just one but a pair appeared, for once both equally resplendent, though the male has a longer tail.

Its back is iridescent purple and its head is azure:

Its breast and underwings are burnished gold, unmistakable in flight:

And the total effect is glorious:

PS The range of the Golden-Breasted Starling is limited to S & E Ethiopia, Somalia, E Kenya and NE Tanzania. It inhabits thinly populated regions, but is not endangered. It is found in Kenya during the rains, which are supposed to happen in April, but as of this week in Il Ngwesi (where I saw the Golden-breasted Starlings) they had still not yet arrived. The drought is taking a terrible toll, on both livestock (the Maasai’s livelihood) and wildlife.

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