Before the magic of Tanzania wears off: the warmth, the orchestra of bush noises, the blazing sky of stars at night and the endless plains of game and thorn trees by day, I must tell you about the Bad Birds.
We went to the Ngorogoro Crater, the huge caldera of an ancient volcano which is so brimming with game that you feel you are watching a TV programme and will shortly tune in to a whispered commentary by David Attenborough (“Here we have two black rhinos, armoured giants of the savannah …”). Whatever you want to see is ambling around looking photogenic: lions? Eleven lions setting out on a mission to kill (as it happens) a very small warthog, the starter for the approaching night’s dinner party. Crested cranes? Dozens of cranes dancing in pairs, with celestial dandelion clock hairstyles and Bolshoi ballet elegance. Hippos? A pile of hippos snoring fatly in a pool, with oxpeckers posing prettily around their ears. The list continues.
As we drove down to the crater in that lavender pre-dawn light, we met a friendly Maasai tribesman by the gate. He told us we would see many wonders (we did) but told us to watch out at lunchtime for Bad Birds. He held our gaze for a second, swung his red cloak around his shoulders and departed into the bush. We had been warned.
When lunchtime came, we drove into a pretty picnic site with nobody else around. We always heed local knowledge, and were braced and ready for the Bad Birds. Kites? Maribou storks, the ones who hang around garbage heaps looking like horrible old men complete with liver spots? Vultures? We didn’t have to wait long. The Bad Birds had clocked us and came whirring in from all corners. They were, reading from left to right: A weaver bird; a superb starling; a spotted morning thrush; and a guinea fowl.
It was like having the flower fairies arrive, armed with AK37s. They launched straight in –they had their Bad Bird reputation to keep up. The weaver bird, tiny and golden, tried my coffee, spat it out and plunged his beak deep in an open jar of honey. The superb starling grabbed a sandwich, winkled out a tiny piece of ham and departed in triumph. The spotted morning thrush which looks as savage as its name, ie not in the slightest, went big and got most of a muffin. The guinea fowl, the get-away driver of the bad ass gang, just rushed about getting in the way, pecking at crumbs and panicking. They were great and we loved having them around, but you could see from their shifty eyes and furtive movements that they were BAAAAD.
I took a photo of the weaver bird, king of crime, moving on to the cheese board. I’ll try and get it on the blog tomorrow.