Bush stories and anecdotes

The heart of the blog, where I present observations, accounts, funny stories, etc.

Snake attack… [1]

There are two important venomous snakes in the Gallinato area of Salta where our small farm is located: the Cascabel (South American rattlesnake, Crotalus durissus) and the Yarará (crossed pit viper, Bothrops diporus) [2]. The former’s venom is neurotoxic while the latter’s can cause severe tissue damage although, contrary to general belief, it is not often a cause of death. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bothrops_alternatus).

Enoc, a boy of eight was returning from school after lunchtime with his brother Angel and his father Juliano, our caretaker. When fording a small river, the boy either stepped on or near a snake of about 120 cm. The snake reacted angrily and bit him. “I saw the snake going for him and heard him shouting that he had been bitten” Juliano told me later, and then he added “I hit it with a couple of stones but it hid under some large stones. I left it as I thought that taking Enoc to the nearest clinic was more important”.

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The small river crossing showing the stone at the centre of the picture used to step across. Tee snake was above my shadow.

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Another view of the crossing.

Juliano, wisely, calmed the boy, ran to his house, got the boy in his car and drove straight away to the public clinic. He was also shrewd enough to stop at the Police post located 5km from our farm to report the accident. In turn the Police radioed the Vaqueros [3] clinic and, by the time of Juliano’s arrival an ambulance and a Doctor were on standby! The boy was taken immediately to the Hospital Público Materno Infantil in Salta city  for treatment.

While this was taking place we were returning from the city of Salta after having dealt with pending administrative issues as well as getting some essential farm supplies. We were near our farm already when we got a recorded message from Juliano telling us of the accident. We immediately turned around and tried to get in touch with him. I was concerned about the availability of anti-snake bite sera at the Vaqueros clinic (I was unaware that Enoc was on his way to the large hospital in Salta!).

We failed to talk to him but we met him at Vaqueros and collected him to follow the ambulance. Bea, Enoc’s mother was already with him and over the phone we learnt that he was stable and -apparently- well. The hospital has an emergency unit to deal with these kinds of problems so I should. Juliano believed that a yarará was the responsible snake but was not sure.

We managed to get into the emergency room (against the rules). Enoc was calm and already they had given him all needed medication for snakebite. I expected to be told to leave the room any minute so I had a quick look. His vital signs were normal (great relief!) Further, a rapid look at his leg revealed that he had been bitten just below the right knee and, apart from some small amount of dried blood I failed to see any fang marks but only a small scratch. Then, as expected, I was told to leave!

The conclusion was that the snake failed to take hold of him, perhaps because of him wearing long sweat pants. The medical personnel were very keen on the identification of the snake so we drove back to the farm to look for the culprit. Unfortunately, we failed to find it and informed the hospital accordingly. We learnt that the boy would be kept under observation for 24 hours but he was stable.

The following day in the afternoon I went again to look for the snake and this time I found it. It had died, probably from Juliano’s stoning and it had been already partly eaten, probably by a fox that had pulled it out of its final resting place and had a “snack_e”.

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The rear end had been eaten but, the marks were not those of a yarara! It was a rattlesnake!

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The dead snake markings.

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The markings of an earlier rattlesnake caught at the farmhouse and later released far away (See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/rattled/). 

I immediately informed Juliano of this but by then the boy had been discharged from hospital as he continued to be healthy.

As the snake had a clear bulge, I spent a bit of time doing a post-mortem that revealed that it was busy digesting a large rat that it had caught a couple of days earlier. My conclusion was that it was sunning itself digesting its meal when Enoc stepped on it or too close for comfort and this prompted the snake’s reaction.

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The fangs that failed to reach their target!

Luckily the incident ended well but I still I wish to highlight the excellent public health coverage that exists in Salta where after an accident such as this not only there was an ambulance on stand-by to take the patient to the specialized hospital but also that it was immediately given the correct treatment and kept under close medical supervision until the doctors considered that he was out of danger!

Liking snakes but being a coward, I am buying myself a pair of wellingtons that I plan to wear from now on instead of my usual sandals!


[1] This event took place about ten days ago but, because of communication “challenges” I am only able to publish it today.

[2] Moschione, F.N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato, La Caldera, Provincia de Salta. Informe Relevamiento 2013-2014. 55pp.

[3] Vaqueros is the small town located about 10km from the farm on the way to Salta city on the national road No. 9.


Note: for those of you curious to see the stomach contents of the snake, I place the picture below. I warn you that some may not wish to see it and hence I place it here.




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Snow in the Chaco

Crossing the Chaco region of Argentina on our way to Salta is rather hot and monotonous as we are dealing with a rather straight road that goes on for a few hundred kilometres across this semi-tropical area of the country.

While driving we were talking about the news and pictures received from our daughter and our friend Lola from Rome where we learnt that snow had fallen a few days back. We agreed that we were lucky to be mostly in warm climates, away from winters most of the time!

We were in the middle of the discussion when we passed an area where, maybe because of the subject we were discussing, it was snowing!

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Or so it seemed to us for a few seconds until we realized that we were crossing an area populated by millions of white butterflies known locally as “pilpintos”.


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Apparently, these butterflies appear after the rains and live rather short lives and mainly stopped in the rain puddles to recharge water and salts.

We were happy to realize our error and continue on our way to our summer South American hiding spot!


Pink Bogoria

All the Kenya lakes have their own unique characteristics and attractions. To pick one as “the best” is impossible, at least for me. However, lake Bogoria was one of our all time favourites when it came to a short break. You did not go there to find the Big Five but in search of tranquility and to enjoy the views and bird fauna. It was here that I spotted my first and only three-banded courser (Rhinoptilus cinctus).

Credit John Gerrard Keulemans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Three-banded coursor

Three-banded courser. Credit John Gerrard Keulemans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

It was also a special place for another reason. It was my first camping experience in Kenya. It happened over a weekend with Muguga House colleagues Richard and Phillip. Of the outing I recall that we departed on a Saturday to return the following day. We left rather late as Richard had lots of work to do to keep the tsetse parasitoids in his lab going. A late departure meant that we could not enter the park that day and needed to camp outside the gate.

As I had no tent and only a borrowed camp bed, I slept “al fresco” as it was -I was told- a very arid and dry area. I still recall the thousand of honking flamingoes flying overhead throughout the late afternoon and well into the night.

Luckily I woke up with the first raindrops and before getting soaked -together with my bedding- I managed to enter Richard’s car. After a while I realized that it was going to be a tough night. The location of the hand brake made sleeping across the front seats of a packed Toyota Corolla impossible.

I slept in a seated position and the following day I was very tired and with a few aches. Despite my condition, the few hours we spent there were enough to appreciate the beauty of the place and to remember to come back.

Lake Bogoria is a volcanic lake framed by green-blue hills. Its waters are greenish saline (up to 100 g/L total dissolved salts) and alkaline (pH:10.5). It lies in the Kenyan portion of the Rift Valley, south of Lake Baringo and a little south of the equator. It is a rather shallow body of water that is no deeper than 10m of depth. This rather small lake of 34km long by 3.5km wide has been protected since 1973.

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Lake Bogoria from the space. Credit: NASA’s World Wind program copyright 2010

Lake Bogoria’s beauty is already evident at first sight! After climbing one of the several red hills you need to negotiate to get there through the Emsos gate a misty dark green body of water framed by pink startles you at first until you realize that the pink borders are tens of thousands oflesser flamingoes (Phoenicoparrus minor) with a smaller number of greater ones (Phoenicopterus roseus).

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The first view of Lake Bogoria.

While greater flamingoes feed on invertebrates, mollusks and tiny fish, l and insect lesser flamingoes feed primarily on Spirulina algae which grow only in very alkaline lakes. Although blue-green in colour, the algae contain the photosynthetic pigments that give the birds their pink colour. Their deep bill is specialized for filtering tiny food items.

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A view from the eastern shore.

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Moving pink islands.

These birds were part of the largest world population of flamingoes that migrated among several of the Rift Valley lakes such as Natron, Magadi, Nakuru, Elmenteita and Bogoria. For some reason, the latter is one of their preferred stopping places. At the time the flamingoes seemed to commute mainly between Bogoria and Nakuru although their breeding took place mainly on the caustic lake Natron in northern Tanzania.


Lesser flamingoes.

A few months after my first safari and following my wife’s arrival lake Bogoria was one of the first places we visited once we got our VW kombi and some camping gear. At first we camped at the Acacia campsite on the southwest shore but soon we realized that either camping at the Loburu hotsprings on the western shore or at the Fig tree campsite in the southeast were nicer alternatives.

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Loburu hotsprings with immature lesser flamingoes in the background.

The southern end of the lake is almost separate from the remaining body of water towards the north but for a small channel in the eastern section. It is in this area that large numbers of flamingoes were often spotted. It was a photographer’s paradise and I still remember a friend’s great idea of taking pictures of the birds in full moon only to arrive at the lake when there was a full eclipse!

Although staying near the Loburu hot springs added a few extra degrees l to an already high temperature, the various steam jets and hot water rivulets around camp contributed to make it an interesting and misty place. Although walking among the hot springs was hazardous, it was quite an experience and its water greatly facilitated the needed camping dish washing!


Hotsprings and flamingoes.

The springs are quite powerful and they create short streams that feed the lake and some had formed cones while others gave raise to small pools, some over two metres deep and very hot as the temperature of the springs varies between 39 and 98.5 °C . Unfortunately, instances of severe burning of campers falling in had occurred by the time we got there!

Our favourite camping ground was the Fig tree camp, a very shady area under a patch of magnificent fig trees that provided the necessary thick shade. The camp was traversed by a clear stream coming down from the Siracho escarpment just above the area. We sometimes drank from it in cases of need as a good friend assured us that it was clean water. It did taste great but a few years later we were in for a surprise: we discovered that higher up in the hills it went through a local village!

We spent many cool nights under the trees but there was one exception that, apart from cool it was “entertaining”. Unknown to us the rather large resident baboon troop had decided to spend the night up the fig trees above us! This had probably happened during earlier stays and it had gone unnoticed. The night in question, at about midnight, all hell broke loose as something seriously scared the baboons, possibly a leopard although we never saw it. We only suffered the consequences.

It seemed that the entire troop was above us! Their fright caused a number of them to violently empty their bowels and bladders. I leave the results of this barrage to your imagination! I will only tell you that the aftermath was a smelly night and lots of washing of our camp, including the car windscreen the following morning! There must have been lots of baboons! After that experience we learnt to sacrifice some shade to avoid a repeat of this situation!

During the earlier visits to lake Bogoria it was still possible to drive all around the lake and we did this a couple of times before the road collapsed. The most memorable of these round the lake tours took place with our friends from Uruguay Nazar and Aurora when we drove north from the Fig tree camp and we could slide the kombi door open to really enjoy the view. The drive was special as it offered great views of greater kudus that used to dwell on the eastern area of the lake where they could browse to their liking.

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Going round the lake would also enable you to see many of the more hidden hot springs as well as the some of the special features such as the Kesubo Swamp to the north. However, the geysers and hot springs along the bank of the lake were, apart from the flamingoes, the most interesting features.

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Kesubo Swamp to the north of the lake.

Unfortunately in recent years the population in the two key east African lakes, Nakuru and Bogoria, have been adversely affected by suspected heavy metal poisoning, while its primary African breeding area in Lake Natron is currently under threat by a proposed soda ash plant. So, despite still being the most numerous species of flamingo, lesser flamingoes are classified as near threatened due to its declining population and the low number of breeding sites, some of which are threatened by human activities.






Spot the beast 38

While I settle down for the next few months in our “new” continent of South America and attempt to produce a few interesting posts, I give you this mystery animal for you to find…

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Yes, a nice and healthy chameleon that turned up on the lemon tree in the patio, before they all got busy to reproduce as described in earlier posts from Zimbabwe.

Desperate ingenuity

Have you ever lived in a country with no embassy from your own? And if the whole continent has only three and the nearest is four thousand km away? Then, to ask you if you ever lost your passports in such a situation would probably be too much!

Well, this is what happened to us in Kenya so forgive me from what I needed to do to get out of that rather tight spot!

It was the end of 1983. My FAO fellowship was ending and we were getting ready to travel home to Uruguay -via Rome- after spending the last two years in Kenya as I have described in earlier posts.

We normally kept our passports at a safe place but we needed them to buy our tickets. It was during the second visit to collect our tickets that the worse thing that could have happened did happen: we lost them! It was only at that time that the location of the Uruguayan diplomatic representations became important to us! A couple of phone calls later (no internet then!) the news sunk in:

Johannesburg was the closest hope!

Luckily we had passport copies and our Uruguayan ID cards stored at home and we also had our Kenyan ID cards. While we could stay in Kenya (for a while at least), we could not do this indefinitely and absolutely not to travel on the 9 January 1984 as we had planned!

Although we immediately reported the loss to the Kenya Police, the passports had vanished and it looked like our journey had also gone down the drain as well! Before giving up hope completely, we decided to contact the Embassy of Uruguay in Johannesburg. We thought that in view of our “special” situation and the fact that we still have our original ID documents, a solution could be found.

After a frustrating phone call where I was repeatedly told that they would have had no problem issuing new passports but that we were required to be present in person in the embassy I gave up as they could or would not wish to understand that we were not able to travel from Kenya to South Africa without our passports!

My second hope -FAO- did not last long either as the Representative in Kenya -although very accommodating- could not help either. However, a couple of days later he told me that he could get FAO in Rome to arrange for our “special” entry to Italy [1]. That was some good news, albeit small.

Now we “only” needed to leave Kenya!

I can assure you that desperate situations enhances your imagination to find a solution. No, we did not walk at night all the way to Johannesburg to get our passports. Instead we decided that the most practical option was to tackle the Kenya Immigration authorities for a way out.

I booked an appointment and, not to go empty-handed, I decided to “prepare” a letter from the Uruguay Consulate in Rome as supporting documentation. I hoped that it would be not only a useful -and hopefully convincing- document but also a paper where stamps could be placed!

So, armed with our passports’ copies, Kenya IDs and the fake letter we ventured in the unknown recesses of the Kenya Immigration Department…

After going through a few offices as can be seen in the picture below, somehow we managed to get the needed clearance to leave the country! Very happy with the achievement but trying to be 100% safe, we found out the name of the officer that was to be at the airport at the time of our departure and we went to the airport to meet him and explain our predicament in person.

Clearly, the fact that we had the authorizations on the letter and also that we were leaving the country helped a lot and he kindly reassured us of our certain departure during his shift.

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The original authorization on top (19/12/83) by the boss of the office that instructs his junior to endorse the English translation instructing the responsible for shift 1/C to allow us to leave. We then went to meet the latter on 29/12/83 to get his agreement in person and finally departed on 9/1/84.

Luckily on the departure date Kenya Airways was on time and we managed to depart. The rest is history as we entered Italy, renewed our passports and continued our journey home to Uruguay, returning to Kenya a while later, now as a scientist with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology.


[1] I never found out the conditions of our entry but we were probably refugees!!!



I thought that for a change I will treat you to a bit of bird magic.

The sociable weaver (Philetairus socius), is a bird endemic to Southern Africa but mainly found within the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and, way before arriving to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, their nests start to appear by the side of the road in their hundreds of shapes and sizes.

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Sociable weavers drinking.

They are compound community nests and, as such, one of the unique and rather spectacular nests build by any bird! Nests are built around large and sturdy structures like acacia trees or sometimes even telephone poles.

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A large nest.

They can house several hundred birds that use the central -warmer- compartments to spend the nights while the peripheral ones are used to obtain shelter from the heat of the day as they are several degrees cooler than the outside.

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The many entrances to a nest seen from below.

Some of the nests can weigh several tonnes and are built over many years, sometimes even over one hundred! However, their size and weight are sometimes their doom -particularly during the rains- as they collapse as the tree branches/support cannot cope with their immense weight!

The nests offer shelter and vantage points to other birds such as the pygmy falcon and goshawks while red-headed finches and rosy-faced lovebird use them for breeding . Other bird species such as pied barbets and scaly-feathered finches, among others may use them for roosting while larger birds such as owls and vultures can build their own nests on top of the sociable weavers’.

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Pale chanting goshawk on a nest.

As it can be imagined, such nests are targeted by many predators including snakes (black mambas, cape cobras and boomslangs), baboons, rats and genets. To avoid their natural enemies, sociable weavers build their nests on electricity poles or trees with long naked trunks.

However, some of the birds near the Kgalagadi have taken their precautions much further: they build them on thin air!


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In this way they clearly avoid a lot of the usual predators!


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Well, in fact some birds have skillfully built their nest hanging on the electricity wires but, I am afraid, that was probably not such a good idea as it surely will be taken down by the maintenance team of the electricity company while it is possible thar their neighbours on the right may still be there next year!

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A short update of the situation with the gravid chameleon.

We saw the female again in the early hours of the 28 Jan and it was moving in the poinsettia bush. IMG_3156 copy

An hour later it had disappeared and despite our thorough search in the original poinsettia and surrounding bushes, we could not find it! We checked on the ground as we were convinced that it would not walk more than a few metres around the bush. Still nothing!

We got concerned about its fate as we know that pied crows are around and that they are capable of killing chameleons. However, there was not much else we could do. Stephen would have found it but it was his day off so there was no hope there.

There was lots of hope in other parts of the garden though. The female we saw digging the nest during the night of the 26 Jan (Live Cham 3) had finished its job as described and then it left quietly. The nest area is now fenced and protected.

In addition, a third female was spotted at a passion fruit plant and she was also gravid and very active.

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Yesterday (28 Jan) it changed position to a lemon tree, walking about 10m to get to it.

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The female moving through the grass.

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Searching for a suitable spot.

It climbed on the tree through a stick and remained on the tree for rest of the day.

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It eventually decided to climb up a lemon tree. The eggs bulging through the skin can be seen in its ventral part.

Luckily yesterday (28 Jan) Stephen returned home by mid afternoon and immediately located the missing female that we had lost earlier during the morning! It had moved 33m! to another area of soft earth and it was busy digging, despite its rather bulgy belly. By the time we left it last night, it could go in its totality inside the hole but it was already dark for pictures. We protected her again to avoid dog interference and left.

This morning, as with the previous female, it had finished and covered the hole, looking dark and rather quiet. I am sure it will soon recover and move away.

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So we are now left with the third female that has now climbed down from the lemon tree and it is -again- walking in the garden, looking for the right spot to lay her eggs.

As we are traveling to Uruguay before dawn tomorrow, this is the last post from Zimbabwe but I will resume once I touch down at the other end.

In any case, I am beginning to think that next year we will have a “chameleon population explosion”!



Live Cham 3

After the last post we have observed the gravid female until this morning (27 Jan) and she has hardly moved from the poinsettia bush. She is clearly waiting for her time to come. So, not a lot of news there, I am afraid. Only a few pictures of her.

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She spent most of the 26 Jan on top of this bush.

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Still there this morning (27 Jan)

However, lo and behold, three (yes, 3) more suspected females were found  in different places, looking in various degrees of gestation! The situation became almost out of control! But things got really bad when my post-siesta time was interrupted with calls of “it is digging, it is digging!” proffered by Stephen and my wife that were watching at the time.

After my first -sluggish- reaction I joined them to watch chameleon 2 effectively digging her egg nest project next to the bayleaf bush! I took a video (26/ Jan, late afternoon) of the action:

As the process was not done before dusk, we protected the site from our dogs and came back this morning.

The chameleon had finished laying, covered the hole and it is there, probably resting after such an effort!

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The female after the effort!

One done, three to go… More info coming soon…

Live Cham 2

As promised, I had followed the evolution of the gravid chameleon throughout the day. These are the observations so far from this morning:

09:00 Still in the same bush but its colour changed.

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12:00 Started to rain quite heavily. Cham still in the same bush when rain started.

12:30 Rain stopped. Found again. I had moved to another smaller flower bush about 1m apart:

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12:30 to 1515 Observer’s lunch and siesta. No data!

15:35 Moved another metre to a Poinsettia bush (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and climbed about 150cm high. Colour changed again. It appears that coloration is more a reflection of the animal condition than its surroundings!

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1600 to 16:20 hs Shower.

1627 The chameleon is still a the same spot but head down and green in colour.

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It is now 17:10 hs and I will have a last look before night fall.

Hope to find it tomorrow…

Live Cham

There was some excitement this morning when a chameleon was found in the garden. I thought it was a bit exaggerated for such event but I was not right (again).

Stephen had spotted a rather fat chameleon that on close inspection revealed that it was gravid! So, as this is happening right now as I write, I post a few pics to show this great creature on its bush.

I am watching her every hour with the binocs to avoid disturbing her but to follow her “progress”.

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“Spot the chameleon”. The Masau (Ziziphus mauritiana) bush where the female was found.

Here it is:

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There she is hanging on!

A few more pictures to show you her condition:

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From above to show her enlarged body. A true egg sac!!!

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The eggs can be seen protruding in the ventral area.

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A sideways picture that shows the mass of eggs better.

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Despite her condition, her eyes still keep track of you!

As I think it is quite close to laying time and I hope to see her digging her nest, I am checking on her hourly hoping that it will happen soon and before nightfall!

I will keep you posted on developments…