Tanzania has an enormous variety of exquisite birds but unfortunately it has an equal number of distractions that can interrupt your birding experience. Take these pesky Lions for instance. While seeking out tiny brown birds in the drizzle, we came upon this amorous duo and for some reason everyone in the car decided that the birds could wait.

The Lioness sat regal in the rain and the chatterboxes who thought nothing of telling raucous tales while we crept up on a Tawny Eagle or a Variable Sunbird suddenly fell silent. Her breathing was audible over the sound of rain on the roof.

Some signal passed between the two Lions and they both rose together and began circling each other. They seemed antagonistic and restless but moments later we discovered we clearly had no idea how to read Lion behaviour.

The looming clouds transformed from ominous to atmospheric as the couple began mating. Then we heard something thunderous. They began to roar at one another and the sound was a physical, visceral, deep-in-your-chest sensation… simply astonishing.

Apparently the male, like most cats, has some strategically placed small spikes down there that play a role in the receptivity of the female but make this act, shall we say… uncomfortable. A firm bite to the back of the head helps keep them together but the roars of displeasure reach their zenith at this point.

Still reacting to the experience, the female sends a clear signal to the now retreating male.

She looks displeased and he looks confused and groggy. But after 10 or 15 minutes they would be at it again, around 30 times a day for several days.

This was my first encounter with big cats in Tanzania and of course I’ve never seen anything like it since. I thought I’d share the photos with you in the spirit of Valentine’s day. Yes I’m a few days late but shouldn’t we treat every day like Valentine’s Day? Next time we’ll explore the beautiful nastiness of Marabou Storks, a strange bird that people either hate or love with not much middle ground. I happen to like them (even though they do freak me out a little).

Written by Walter
Walter Kitundu is an artist and designer, instrument builder and bird photographer. As an artist he has created hand built record players powered by the wind and rain, fire and earthquakes, birds, light, and the force of ocean waves. Walter has performed and been in residence at art centers and science museums internationally. He has performed with the renowned Kronos Quartet, bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, the electronic music duo Matmos, and the legendary Marshall Allen - in venues from Carnegie Hall to a high school library in Egilstaadir, Iceland. In 2008 Walter became a MacArthur Fellow. Walter loves photographing birds and is an ongoing volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. He was hooked when a Red-tailed Hawk landed at his side, ate a caterpillar, then refused to leave. He is a Senior Design Developer for the Studio Gallery at the Exploratorium in San Francisco where he designs and builds environments for learning. You can see more of his work on his blog, Bird Light Wind.