Ethan Kinsey Safaris

Adventures in East Africa

Guide Training May 2012


A couple of years ago when I started blogging, I started a blog called Encounters in East Africa to write about some of the exciting little things that we encounter while training guides and on safari. This blog quickly got overwhelmed by another one called Safari Ecology and in all honestly I couldn’t find the time needed to write for three blogs.

Having just spent another 4 weeks with guides in Tarangire National Park, I thought I’d share some of those little things on my adventure blog. Tarangire ranks very high on my list of favorite parks and often I’m asked why I don’t prefer Serengeti for guide training. Of course I’ve been coming here since my first word “dudu” (Swahili for insect) meant any animal including elephants. It’s a classic Acacia savannah habitat and has amazing diversity. It also epitomizes why East Africa is such a unique destination.

A beautiful animal- the Fringe-eared Oryx. The population has declined by over 90% in the Tarangire ecosystem.

When it rains in East Africa, mammals head (migrate) for volcanic grasslands. Soils high in phosphorous and calcium give them the nutrients they need to produce milk for their young. Often these grasslands have very limited water in the dry season so animals then return to permanent water supplies. This results in massive migrations of wildlife. In southern Africa, the older less nutritious soils tend to produce palatable grasses in the growing season, so animals disperse to these areas only to return to floodplains in the dry season, again for water but also for the nutritious grasses found in the flood plains- often described as sweet grasses. I find this distinction between sweet and sour veld quite hard to make in East Africa but it does happen to an extent in some parts of Tarangire. With dispersions and migrations happening in the same place, it’s a great place to study savannah ecology.

The Tarangire ecosystem encompasses the Maasai steppe, which represents an ecological transition zone between Somali-Maasa

i arid habitat and the more typical Acacia savannas. It is so productive in insects during the wet season that even Northern Wheaters from Alaska fly here in their winter to feed on insects. It is a fantastic place to fatten up for their flight back home. The Maasai steepe is virtually unprotected except for some small initiatives that are successfully working to protect pastoralists and hunter-gatherers’ rights while maintaining these important calving and feeding grounds. It’s a great example to use when discussing human-wildlife conflict and land conversion.

Simulated accidents to give real-life scenarios.

Jo Anderson on Behavioral Ecology... or Jo, were you teaching economics? I saw cost-benefit analysis somewhere in your notes.

Contemporary Conservation Issues in Tanzania (and the role of the individual in making a difference).

Gina Kirkpatrick brings light boxes and prisms to understand light and the foundations of understanding color.

These brilliant blues found in feathers are NOT the result of pigments but the result of a phenomena called Tyndall scattering. The feather should actually be brown because of the melanin in it, but air pockets in the outer layers of keratin refract shorter wavelengths of light- i.e. the blues. 

Talking about melanin- if you have deficiencies you turn out a bit whiter than the rest. Extremes are albinism, but less extremes are referred to leucism.

Aposematic coloration of a blister beetle on a beautiful Purple Mallow (Hibiscus cannabinus). Some animals warn you.

Theory can help to explain and give insight to real life observation.

The 4 shaping factors in savannas.

Read more.


A crepuscular owlet. This little fellow has false eyes on the back of his head that might confuse birds that mob him to thinking that he's watching them. Little brother is always watching you.

Great photo by Pietro Luraschi. The tip of an extraordinary organ.

Fungi- a Kingdom more closely related to Animals than Plant, yet a major player in the role of decomposition and completing the nutrient cycle.

Precocial is the opposite of altricial. These are not discrete but a continuum. Animals born more able to help themselves are more precocial than animals born that need parental care. One could also learn what nidicole or nidifuge is... A nidifuge leaves its nest when it is born instead of staying for a while- more extreme precocial behavior.

When frogging beware of frog predators... this Black-necked Spitting Cobra would much rather display than expend the energy on spitting venom or biting.

Read more on snakes.

The Commelinas- not just a pretty flower we used to pick to feed our rabbits.

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What bird is that? After 4 weeks our list was 175 species strong.

Identifying tracks.

An Ant-lion. These amazing insects spend months to a couple years in a nymph stage digging little conical traps in the sand to catch ants.

Practicing using the Key to 100 Trees of Tarangire National Park.

Yes we also watched large mammals.

A guide explains the down feathers that Sunbirds have chosen to line their nest.

Observation followed by a lesson.

First we identify using the key in Zimmerman's Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania. Then we put the Identification in Context- we discuss behavior. Next we explore the role in the environment.

It is a Slender-tailed Nightjar.

Nightjars are nocturnal insect hunters. Looks like a small bill? Open wide (see picture below

A big mouth is like a big net- the easier to scoop you out of the sky. Hairs on the side of the mouth are also very sensitive and help it to aim its mouth.

The Hairy Rock-fig (Ficus glumosa) gets a hold.

Elephants push down trees to get at the leaves. This is a Desert Date Tree (Balanites aegyptiaca)

This tree normally has green thorns up to 3 inches long... but why waste energy on producing defense when your already out of giraffe-browse way?

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Harvester termite soldier and Sungusungu ant in battle. The Sungusungu won. (Videos coming soon on