Readers’ wildlife photographs

The first two photos today come from reader John Harshman. Oxpeckers! He originally called the photos “Spot the oxpeckers,” but of course it’s not a challenge.

In Botswana, the oxpeckers are all over most of the large mammals. How many can you count? These are yellow-billed oxpeckers Buphagus africanus, specializing on animals with thick skin. The other species, red-billed oxpeckerBuphagus erythrorhynchus, is most often found on thinner-skinned animals. Both of them eat ticks and other arthropod parasites, and so we have a fine case of mutualism. You can probably identify the large mammal. If you look closely at the fellow at upper left, caught in mid-hop, you might be able to see the two-tone bill, reminiscent of candy corn, that gives the bird the first half of its name. You can also distinguish it from its congener by absence of a prominent yellow eye-ring and, even better at a distance, absence of a light brown rump.

OK, this isn’t a hard problem. There are 8 oxpeckers, and no nightjars.

giraffe with oxpeckers

This is a closer look at a couple:

yellow-billed oxpeckers on giraffe

OK, maybe not mutualism. The oxpeckers here may in fact have inflicted the wounds you can see on the giraffe’s rear leg in order to drink its blood and/or attract insects.

And, continuing our African theme, we have photos from reader Benjamin Taylor, who went on a camping trip around southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia) in November of last year.

Southern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicoides):


Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus):


Baobab tree (possibly Adansonia digitata):



The border between Botswana and Namibia:


Two african savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) playing beside the Chobe River (Chobe National Park, Botswana):


Southwest African lion (Panthera leo bleyenberghi), Chobe National Park, Botswana:


African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana), Chobe National Park, Botswana:





  1. Frank Bath
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Jerry, did you see news item on giraffs being four separate species not subspecies?

    • Christopher
      Posted September 11, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      That was exactly the first thing I thought of when I saw the pics. In light of that article I was wondering which species the giraffe was, though it appears to be shy and didn’t want it’s picture taken.

      And did anyone notice the BBC article contained a quote from a certain professor of zoology at University of Manchester?

      It must be noted, however, that the reclassification of giraffe species has been in the works for quite some time. I believe back in 2007 or so, Darren Naish, of Tet Zoo fame, mentioned the probability of such things.

  2. rickflick
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    What an amazing continent. These images recall for me my trip to S. A. some years ago. Probably the best trip of my life.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Very good! I did not know that oxpeckers might also inflict wounds.

  4. Posted September 11, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Great pix! Remind me of our trip to Tanzania in 2012. Wonderful birds animals and landscapes. Africa is a must-see — while it is still there.

  5. Hempenstein
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Baobab trees beside the river spotted, too. There’s something about them that’s so cool. But I once casually mentioned that I liked baobab trees to a biologist with whom I was more than casually acquainted. To great astonishment she replied, “I HATE baobab trees.”

    Go figure, I guess.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted September 11, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Speaking of infelicitous remarks made to scientists, decades, no, eons, ago I worked as a volunteer preparator and scullery maid, so to speak, in the paleontology dept. at the Los Angeles County Museum. I’d wanted to work with the Tar Pits people, but when I began, the paleo-icthyologist (also a cetacean man) needed help with his fossil herring, so I said okay. Then got stuck doing that and meantime, another volunteer and I began palling around with him after hours, as Sara Palin might say — he loved his weed, even back then, and was a great raconteur — we had many great conversations. But because I was so closely associated with him, it seemed that I was seen as “his” worker, and it wouldn’t be possible to work at the Tar Pits without creating hard feelings and tension. Quite some time later, he was planning a trip to the Egyptian desert to dig for fossil whales and intimated that I could be part of the dig. I was beyond excited, and in my excitement I made an unfortunate and indiscreet remark that I thought was innocently amusing — I told him that I’d be so glad to quit sorting herring bones (which, to me, were pretty boring to look at, ancient or modern) and that I couldn’t stand herring, either pickled or in sour cream. Well, herring were his passion. He took great umbrage at my attempt at levity and. Our friendship quickly cooled and no more was said of the dig in Egypt. I soon left the museum altogether, especially since I couldn’t work at the Tar Pits — which would have been my passion and I’d hoped would be the spark for me to return to school and actually become a paleontologist. I hung out at the Tar Pits as a child, used to sneak out of my parents’ house after they were asleep, ride my bike to the Pits, wander around in the darkness — all alone in the middle of the night — the place was mine alone! and scare myself silly fantasizing that all the old Pleistocene creatures had come alive. It was so cool.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted September 11, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        Correction re herring bones: not “pretty boring” to sort, yhr ertr excruciatingly boring.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted September 11, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          “yhr ertr” translates to “they were”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 11, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Ah, the delicate taste of one’s own toenails. How well do I know it.

  6. Posted September 11, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Hah, is that a “Southern giraffe”?

  7. ladyatheist
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    “OK, this isn’t a hard problem. There are 8 oxpeckers, and no nightjars.”

    …that we know of

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