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offshorebirder posted a topic in KenyaThis trip report covers a safari I took to Kenya with my friend Tommy Graham. Tommy is a good naturalist who also knows his birds, though he is not a lister or twitcher by any means. Mammals are his primary natural history interest. Tommy went to school with my father and has been a friend of the family since before I was born. This was the first trip to Africa for both of us. Prologue By rights I should do acknowledgements first - because this exceptional safari would have been a much poorer experience without the safaritalk community at large, as well as several individual members who were extremely generous and helpful with their advice for this Safari newby. For key advice I am particularly indebted to @@Safaridude, @@armchair bushman, @@pault, @@Tom Kellie, @@madaboutcheetah, and @@Geoff. For inspiration - too many to list but particularly @@Safaridude, @@Game Warden, @@madaboutcheetah, @@twaffle, @@Paolo, @@Bush dog, @@michael-ibk, @@pault, @@COSMIC RHINO, and @@AKR1. And for outstanding guiding, agent services, and "riding to the rescue" to overcome the unexpected loss of a private guide in the Mara at the last minute - Ben Mugambi of Ben's Ecological Safaris. I am so glad to count Ben as a friend and field companion - he is a "birder's birder", a fabulous field man and safari guide, and a scholar and a gentleman who is rock-solid dependable. The theme of this safari was "good luck". And baby animals I suppose. Time and again the guides or camp managers said "We have never seen X before". Or "we have only seen Y two or three times in our lives." I suspect some camps say things like that fairly often to set the hook with their guests - but in our case, I believed the statements to be true! Itinerary: January 7 - Arrive Nairobi late pm. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 8 - Recovery day (birding the 20-acre grounds) + shopping in Nairobi. Overnight at Purdy Arms January 9 - Day trip to Ngong Hills + Magadi Road w/ Ben's. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 10 - Day trip to Nairobi NP w/ Ben's. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 11 - Drive to Mt. Kenya NP with Ben's. Overnight at Castle Forest Lodge. January 12 - Mt. Kenya National Park with Ben's. Overnight at Castle Forest Lodge. January 13 - Drive to Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge January 14 - Full day in Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge. January 15 - Full day in Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge. January 16 - Short game drive in Samburu, drive to Naro Meru River Lodge. Overnight Naro Meru. January 17 - Bush flight from Nanyuki to Mara Naboisho. Overnight Encounter Mara. January 18 - All day in Mara Naboisho. Overnight Encounter Mara. January 19 - Morning game drive then vehicle transfer to Offbeat Mara in Mara North Conservancy. Overnight Offbeat Mara. January 20 - All day in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 21 - Masai Mara National Reserve 7am-4pm, game drive in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 22 - All day in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 23 - Morning game drive, lunch, then 4pm flight to Wilson Airport, transfer to the Boma. January 24 - Depart JKIA for USA We flew Jetblue from Charleston to New York City, then Emirates to Dubai and another Emirates flight to Nairobi. It was a 26 hour trip and I was not able to sleep a wink. My carryon was a Think Tank Photo camera backpack - Airport Essentials. I loved it - but next time I might get the model that is one size larger. It held my camera, lens, a Swarovski spotting scope, Swarovski binoculars, laptop, iPad, memory cards, batteries, a La Cie portable hard drive, cables, camera cleaning kit, and 1 day's clothing. I checked two bags, including a large duffel bag (Patagonia Black Hole Bag). This was to take my tripod, beanbag, and other bulky gear. Next time I will travel lighter - did not need sweater, long underwear and various other ballast it turns out. Upon arriving at JKIA, there were not different queues for eVisa and Visa-on-arrival. But the lines moved quickly. The immigration agent asked for my eVisa and I said we needed Visa on arrival. She scowled slightly but then took $50 from each of us, gave us the slips of paper and we were on our way. The baggage claim was chaotic, crowded bedlam. After following our flight number as it moved from carousel to carousel, we watched an endless succession of luggage parading around and around. After close to an hour, we finally started seeing our bags. Huge relief! When we got outside and saw the guy holding the sign with my name on it, a wave of relief washed over us. We were home free now and on our way to our lodging. We were the only guests for our entire stay at Samburu Simba, and the only guests in camp for the first part of our stay at Encounter Mara. There were only a couple of other parties staying at Castle Forest Lodge while we were there. We had private vehicles the entire safari. I cannot say enough good things about Offbeat Mara camp and Encounter Mara camp - we loved them both immensely. And I loved the Purdy Arms in Karen - a nice laid-back place, green + leafy + good birds, very affordable, good food and drink, convenient to Magadi Road + Ngong Hills and Nairobi National Park, as well as the Galleria mall (for beer, Forex, and a SIM card). Many thanks to @@armchair bushman and @@pault for suggesting Purdy! There are those who scoff at the notion of a photo safari in Kenya during the green season, particularly one this green - high grass everywhere, etc. Let me tell you - things worked out very well. The green season is a double-edged sword for sure but the good edge far outdid the bad edge on our trip. We were still able to find extensive short/cropped grassland areas, and even in tallgrass areas we could usually pop out the top of the roof and shoot down on targets to overcome the tall grass. The Vehicles: Offbeat Mara won the "most functional safari vehicle" contest - closely followed by Ben's Ecological Safaris. But the vehicles at Encounter Mara were very good and completely satisfactory as well. Ben's Ecological Safaris vehicle: Encounter Mara vehicle (David on the left and our guide Wilson on the right): Offbeat Mara vehicle (the short wheel base was invaluable for not getting stuck): Interior shot of Offbeat Mara vehicle, showing the very handy storage shelf behind the cabin: The companions: For our first week we were guided by a sharp young birding and safari guide named Francis Rutich, from Ben's Ecological Safaris. And our driver John was a fine driver and very good spotter. Francis has some of the sharpest eyes I have encountered in my field travels. I run with guys like Steve NG Howell and Todd McGrath - and Francis would give them a run for their money at sea. He might take them on land... I am no slouch at spotting birds + wildlife, even in heavy cover but it was spooky how good Francis is. Francis on the job: We had a Maasai gentleman named Wilson for a guide at Encounter Mara - he is one sharp safari guide! Good driver, good at route planning and very attuned to our wants and needs. No complaints whatsoever. A young man named David from Koyaki Guiding School was attached to Encounter Mara during their semester break - he was very sharp as well. * See the above Encounter Mara vehicle photo to see Wilson and David. During our time at Offbeat Mara, we were fortunate to have a Maasai gentleman named Josphat for a driver/spotter/guide. Josphat is superb! Though we had intended to have the legendary James Sengeny for a private guide at Offbeat, a foulup that we learned of 5 days before our arrival in the Mara meant James was unable to guide us. This is a somewhat sensitive matter, and I won't mention the agency involved, but suffice it to say I am 100% convinced that James was in no way at fault either for the foulup or for us not getting notified very far in advance. When I learned the bad news, I was sitting in the bar at Samburu Simba at 3pm on January 14. By 4pm Ben Mugambi had agreed to fly to Mara North and guide us during our time there. Ben handled the Safarilink tickets and other details, and he knows the crew at Offbeat well. What a relief! Ben saved the day and I am so glad to have spent time in the field with him - great learning experience and lots of fun all around. Here is a photo of Josphat, Tommy, and Ben at our first sundowner together: The next post will cover our first day afield - a day trip visiting the Ngong Hills, a long stop at 'Corner Baridi' (cold corner), and various stops on the way down to Oltepesi and beyond. Lots of birds and birding, but also a very unexpected mammal find!
We were spending a couple of nights at Mt lodge on the slopes of Mt Kenya. It is primarily a night viewing lodge where you can stay up, all night if you wish, to see the game that comes and goes through-out the night. There are no game drives here, but they do have nature & bird walks. Being relatively keen birders we opted for the latter. It was on our morning bird walk that we had a rather close encounter with Elephants. Escorted by an armed ranger, our guide & we set off on our bird walk which followed the main road from the lodge to the gate. Over a couple of hours we saw a myriad of colourful mountain bird life. It had been quite a long walk so we decided to take a rest, and as we did we noticed our vehicle parked just off the road. The guide had arranged for our driver and some staff to bring tea, coffee & cake down and set it up just of the road in a small clearing. It was a most welcome surprise after what had become a rather hot morning. We sat chatting to the guide about the flora & fauna of the area, when the ranger slowly got to his feet, his head slightly tilted to the side as if straining to hear something. He signalled to us to get up slowly and make our way back to the vehicle. As we did, we heard the sound of bushes rustling with the solitary crack of a breaking twig. It was about 15 meters back to the vehicle, though it seemed more like 1500 in the circumstances. Then, as we set off, a young Elephant went crashing through the bushes just behind where we had been sitting and on into the forest. We now quickened our pace & as we did another young Elephant came through chasing after the other one. Safely back in the vehicle we looked back, the ranger was just approaching the vehicle, and we saw the remainder of the Elephants pass through where we had been only moments earlier sitting having a quite cup of tea. As things calmed down the ranger climbed into the vehicle with a big smile on his face. A few years later; the same walk, the same road: We had walked a lot further this time, and after we had enjoyed our tea & cake, in a more open area next to the road, we prepared to walk back. My wife was not too keen on that so she went with our driver & the staff in the vehicle. As the vehicle left we started walking. The ranger was about 20/30 meters ahead of us, and we were discussing what we would do that afternoon. It never ceases to amaze me how sensitive the rangers are to their surroundings. About half way back to the lodge the ranger stopped, put up his hand, his palm facing us to tell us to do likewise. We starred hard along the road but could not see anything, but after last time I had a healthy respect for the rangers ability to detect danger. Suddenly a big female Elephant stepped out of the bushes ahead of us on the right. She stopped half way across the road starring long and hard in our direction, her trunk raised; taking in all the smells she could muster, trying to discern what was there. A young calf then appeared from the bush and stood beside her. The ranger now raised his rifle pointing it into the air, this was purely precautionary. Satisfied it was safe, the Elephant moved on across the road calf in tow, and letting out a low rumbling sound she signalling to the rest of the herd to follow. Out they came, dozens of them, scampering across the road before us. We waited 15/20 minutes before moving cautiously on. The remainder of our walk back was cautious but mostly uneventful. Don’t you just love Africa.
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