A night in the life of three lion cubs (and their mother). Part 1 : Waking up in the Mara

Back to Africa for a couple of weeks of blogs. My camp Saruni Wild was in the Lemek Conservancy, one of several Maasai conservancies that adjoin the Maasai Mara National Park. These lions are part of the eponymous Lemek Pride

The rhythm of a lion’s “day” is out of sync with ours. They wake up in the late afternoon, hunt and eat at night, and go back to sleep once the sun rises. These first photos were taken one evening starting around 4.30pm. In Part 2: Bedtime on on a full stomach the photos were taken the next morning from about 6am.

The cubs are 3 or 4 months old, and still nursing at least occasionally:

The mother-cub bond is still extremely close:

Their mother will only have brought them out into the open fairly recently, so our vehicle is unfamiliar and a heady mix of fascinating:

and scary, though there is always one braver the the others:

Our proximity doesn’t stop them chasing each other,

and venturing away from their mother to explore:

A rocky field offers great terrain for ambush :

and wrestling:

The rules of the game also do not preclude pouncing on your mother:

or grabbing her by the neck:

It is all play, but it is also good practice for hunting, as is hiding in the long grass (look at the top left of the photo below)

A stick is the next best thing to a bone, and thus worth fighting over:

During most of this, if you look closely their claws are sheathed, but every now and again they appear, a glimpse of their budding weaponry. And the teeth are growing fast too.

As dusk fell, we left them to it and returned to camp for a G&T.

Housing House Wrens

Last fall I bought a lovely gourd from a local farm, to decorate my doorstep. By mistake, I left it out all winter, and come spring it was hard and dry. So I googled “How to make a bird house”, landed on https://www.thespruce.com/gourd-bird-houses-4070291 , and this was the result (my son drilled the big 1 1/4″ inch hole, I did the rest!). I hung it from some bushes near my vegetable garden, where I could see it, and waited.

As you can see, to my delight a pair of House Wrens, Troglodytes aedon, moved in, and this is their story. As you enjoy these photos, remember that the nest-hole is only 1 1/4 inch in diameter !

It was quickly clear there were young inside, and both adults came every few minutes with food.

They brought a huge range of delicacies. A bright orange grub or pupa:

a grasshopper:

which fought an unsuccessful rearguard action:


a rather large spider:

(They brought two of these in quick succession!).

Also moths:

some of which were the awful Spongy Moth, of which see my footnote!

bright green caterpillars

and other things I can’t identify:

On one occasion she excelled herself by bringing in two bugs in a single delivery, albeit rather small ones:

After handing over the food, the parent usually went back into the nest for a diaper (nappy!) change. Baby birds’ excretions come packaged in a convenient membrane called a fecal sac (oh, how I wish human babies had the same tradition) and the adult just picks it up and carries it off:

They had a sort of musical routine. They flew in to the clump of bushes, and made a call. Then they moved to a closer branch and called again. Sometimes it took more than one of these rest-stops, but eventually they moved to the branch the nest was hanging from, and called again. and then they launched themselves, landed very briefly on the tiny perch I had thoughtfully provided for them, and then leant in and proffered the morsel.

The “perch-to-mouth” time frame was usually only a second, unless the prey fought back.

For most of the time I was watching the nest, the actual young were invisible, deep inside their appropriately womb-like gourd. But one day they peeked out:

There were in fact three, glimpsed but not photographed. They got braver:

and braver:

and braver

Until one morning I photographed this one gripping the edge of the nest, poised to conquer the world:

I left for two hours, and when I came back, they were gone, launched, fledged. Well done those parents.

PS House Wrens are really tiny, and very successful. Adults weigh about 10 to 12 g (0.35 to 0.42 oz). are 11 to 13 cm (4.3 to 5.1 in) long, with a 15 cm (5.9 in) wingspan.  They are found the full length of the Americas, from Canada to southernmost South America, and are the most widely distributed native bird in the Americas

PPS One of their catches was a Spongy Moth, Lymantria dispar, and I cheered. Formerly known as Gypsy Moth, they came from Europe, and they erupt in locust-like infestations that last several years. Right now they are stripping our trees down to skeletons. Much as I love nature, they are stretching the limits of my tolerance. If you can bear to read about them, here you are https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lymantria_dispar_dispar

Beavers in June: just hanging, and mudding

In June beavers have a banquet of soft green leafy things and succulent roots to eat. They tend to eat less in the way of woody stuff (twigs and cambium), and they move around their territory, browsing. If the dam needs repairs, they take care of it.

My beavers have been behaving somewhat differently. In early morning and late afternoon they have been sitting on a tiny island just behind their lodge, munching on what looks like twigs and logs. As a result, I have been privileged to watch them out of the water, a rarity (remember, they are largely nocturnal, and only leave the water when they have to).

I have seen two together, mutually grooming,

and clearly very affectionate

and while I was watching these two there was a distant tail slap, so there must be a third one around.

They were coming and going. This one was swimming around my kayak yesterday afternoon:

Not very scared, but curious:

When they were back at the lodge, they would either swim up with a mouthful of mud and gunk, or do a short dive and then surface with the mud supplies:

then climb up the lodge and plaster it on top:

Sometimes they just seemed to take a rest:

then back to more mudding:

Then off to find more.

I am wondering if there might be young in the lodge. They are born in May and June, venturing out after only two weeks or so. Typically they would be cared for by both parents, and also last year’s young, which would explain the trio, and their tendency to stay close to the lodge and keep it in good repair.

So I waited till now, mid-July, in the hope of seeing young ones, but no such luck. The adults are around, slapping their tails, but either the young are a figment of my wishful thinking, or they are only allowed out at night. Time to send out this post.

“..vast parrots as red as new carrots..”*

Growing up in England, birds were not my thing. There is a reason that I first got interested in birds in Africa. A lot of them are brightly colored, and in the dry season the trees drop their leaves and the birds are visible.

This is a male African Orange-bellied Parrot, Poicephalus rufiventris:

The orange continues under his wings:

Even his eyes are orange and the underside of his tail is bright green:

The female lacks the orange belly, but she still has the green belly feathers.

Another orange and green bird is the tiny Fischer’s Lovebird:

Orange, but no green this time, is the Red-and-Yellow Barbet (not a parrot, but just as brightly colored):

There are two in this shot:

Even the misleadingly named Brown (or Meyer’s) Parrot is dazzling when seen from below. These two in Tanzania are feasting on baobab flowers.

It is all much more exciting than the world of Little Brown Jobs, or LBJ’s, as birders rudely call the dowdier birds of temperate climes.

*PS My title is a quote from Edward Lear, of limerick fame, who was also an accomplished artist whose parrot paintings rivaled Audubon’s. He drew them from life at London Zoo, and wrote a letter to a friend including this poem, which I recommend reading aloud for the full rhythmic effect:

“Now I go to my dinner,
For all day I’ve been a-
way at the West End,
Painting the best end 
Of some vast Parrots
As red as new carrots,—
(They are at the museum,—
When you come you shall see ‘em,—)
I do the head and neck first;
—And ever since breakfast,
I’ve had one bun merely!
So—yours quite sincerely.”

As far as I can tell, he didn’t paint any of the specific parrots in this blog, but here is one of his scarlet macaw, now in the Houghton Library at Harvard.,

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