Pokemon GO players can find rich pickings in Battersea, if you know where to look. Even though the streets are full of pidgys and ratatas and the riverside walk groans under the weight of magikarp, there are also some rarities to be snapped up.
This little fella is a weaver bird – one of my favourite sights in Africa.
To be more exact, the bird pictured above is a male village weaver bird. Nest-building of any sort is an impressive skill, but imagine your nest is hanging upside-down from the end of a slender branch. And because its entrance is at the bottom rather than the top of the nest, the weaver needs to incorporate a cunning inner U-bend to stop the chicks falling out. Village weaver birds are sociable creatures and they usually build their nests close to each other, sometimes several nests to one branch.
This afternoon we had the good fortune to see a colony of five nests at different stages of completion. One of the finished nests looked to be occupied – there was a female going in and out. Another nest was in a very early stage of construction and a bright yellow male with a black face was flying to and fro with blades of grass and strips of leaf.
The male weaver bird uses the newly constructed nest as a form of display to attract a female. When the female arrives, she inspects the nest from the outside and then the inside. Local observers have told us that if she likes the nest she makes herself at home there – the birds will mate and the female will eventually lay two to three eggs. If, however, the female weaver does not approve of the nest, she will fly away. In that case, the irate male will destroy the nest (muttering irately, and who can blame him?) and start again from scratch.
I enjoyed writing the Fulani cattle drive scenes in my latest novel Outlaw. As I mentioned in the Afterword to the book, those scenes are based on a real journey that I took a few years ago, accompanying 4 Fulani herders and 96 cows on a loooong walk (nine days and nights, of which I managed four). We ate on the move, slept on the ground and had to keep a very sharp eye on those recalcitrant cows.
My main memories of the Fulani cattle drive are of the choking dust kicked up by 384 hooves, the sun’s blistering heat between 11am and 4pm, and the hilarious banter between Idrissa and his fellow herders. For the full story, have a read of this travel feature which I wrote for the Sunday Times.