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January 20, 2019

When a grasshopper suddenly turns into a bird

The place is Masai Mara. The season is after the rains when the grass is as tall as half the height of the van. For those who are looking for the big five, woe unto them. They will go back home with nil find. My client is standing on the roof of the van. He knew the season will be like this. He is not interested in the big animals. If they come, that will be fine. But his main interest is in birds and the insects. He did not carry the state-of-art cameras with a big name. He carried a point and shoot, just in case he needed to carry some exhibits back home from the safari. As a person with a passion for birds and insects, he had with him the most modern and expensive binoculars; the Swarovski. This type of binoculars has a zoom lens, a stabiliser, and a night vision capability.

He had the binoculars on his face, straining on an object not far away. I could see it was a flying object. As it came closer, I could identify it from the shape and colours of the wings. It was a grasshopper. I left him to observe the insect and went back to what I was doing, setting up the shooting options for my camera to suit the cloudy situation. It wasn’t long before I noticed something was wrong with my client. He had been quiet for far too long. I stopped what I was doing to check on him. He was standing on the same spot as before, but he was not looking through his binoculars anymore. He looked disturbed. His hands hang on his sides. He was a man in deep thoughts. "Steve," he called softly, as if he was not sure of his voice. "I have heard about strange things happening in Africa but I never thought I would ever be a witness to any. I am either going crazy, or I have just seen one of the craziest things happening in the wild. I had been watching a very beautiful grasshopper with sky blue flight wings underneath a greenish top cover wings, flying directly towards me. As the insect came closer, I tried to zoom out to see it better. When I recovered the focus on my binoculars, it was no longer a grasshopper. It was a bird! The bird had almost similar colours of the grasshopper. A sky blue hue, slightly deeper blue on the flanks and a large head. I can swear I was looking at a grasshopper. How it changed to a bird, I cannot tell," he concluded his strange story and looked at me for an answer. "This is African wild," I said to him. "What can happen, will happen," I said with such finality and conviction that I saw him getting scared. Scared of me, and scared of the African wild. He did not know what had just happened. I knew. His grasshopper had just been swallowed by a bird called Lilac-Breasted Roller.

Lilac-Breasted Roller is a species of birds that inhabit most part of Kenya. It is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the plains. One of its most interesting habits is flying low and displaying its magnificent coloured wings by turning upside down like an acrobatic plane. When hunting, it can pursue an insect and grab it midair, but will have to land in order to swallow it. One of the roller species, the European roller is a migrant from Europe. From December to March, these birds can be seen in most parts of the country, and especially in the plains and on lands that are being prepared for cultivation. With the tall grass in the Mara, the Lilacs are busy harvesting the grasshoppers and the butterflies that abounds during this season. In the Tsavo area, the European rollers and other migrants are enjoying the many insects like beetles and worms that appear after the rains. Luckily for the birds, the rains came at the earliest time this year, giving them enough food to build up energy that they will need when flying back home. By the end of March, or early April, the migrants will have to obey their natural instincts to navigate through the continent to reach their homes in time to enjoy the autumn.


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