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Kenya: a west-to-east birding + mammal safari January 14-29, 2017

Kenya birding offbeat mara mara north

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#21 Tom Kellie

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 06:02 PM

The Pygmy Kingfisher was a challenging setup - A handful of the 50 photos I shot ended up coming out OK.

 

~ @offshorebirder

 

In most settings, if one or two images are satisfactory, I deem it as having been a big success!

 

You did very well, indeed!

 

Tom K.


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#22 xyz99

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 06:20 PM

Your pictures are fantastic, thank you for taking the time to post them and tell us about your sightings. Love the cliffs! I will definitely keep them in mind for a future trip...boy, I hope I live several lives and hit the lottery, so I can see all the places I want to see.

 

Maybe your setup for getting the Pygmy Kingfisher  was challenging, but the results are worth it. Love it.

Sometimes I might get lucky, manage a single picture before the bird flies away, and it's good (or at least decent). But a lot of times out of many, only 1 or 2 are 'keepers'. And who cares? That's all that matters, right? Of course, then are the other times when out of many, none is good...oh well...

 

Looking forward for more.


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#23 pomkiwi

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 06:34 PM

@offshorebirder Stunning images. Thank-you.


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#24 CDL111

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 07:35 PM

What stunning photographs, they must make up for the delay in getting to Nairobi? Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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#25 offshorebirder

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Posted 13 February 2017 - 02:24 AM

Correction:   My reported number of species was incorrect!   I just totaled things up in a comprehensive spreadsheet and we are at 484 bird species for the safari.  

January 16, 2017.

After an early breakfast, the plan was for a 7am boat ride on Lake Baringo.  But I decided to pass on the boat ride and let Roger and Ben go.  I opted to stay and bird around the extensive grounds and scattered thickets of Tumbili Cliff Lodge.

Lake Baringo sunrise from Tumbili Cliff Lodge

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I figured that most or all the waterbirds, Hippos and other things the boat ride might produce are ones I had seen well already.  And that photography from the narrow boat would be challenging.  Instead I wanted to take some quiet time and really tune in to the alluring birds and critters I had been noticing around the Tumbili Cliff Lodge's grounds and surrounding brush.  And then "follow my nose" as it were.  I have had some of my favorite nature experiences when I get to go slowly and quietly by myself in productive habitat.  I can get more attuned to the natural frequencies without distractions, sounds, etc. from other humans - even naturalists with good fieldcraft.  I can linger under partial cover and just watch and listen to things as long as I like - without having to worry if the other person is ready to move along.  When I am able to tune in properly, I sort of forget that I am a human.  

The only people stirring were in the dining hall, so the critters and I had the grounds to ourselves at 7:01am.  Close to a dozen Northern White-crowned Shrikes were in view - drowsily waiting for some warming sun.

Northern White-crowned Shrike

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And an African Mourning Dove foraged for seeds and legumes.

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In the trees, White-bellied Canaries were moving and vocalizing, and an African Paradise-Flycatcher swooped for its breakfast.  Then up popped some Crimson-rumped Waxbills and a Black-throated Barbet in quick succession.  I could see the jagged line where the Barbet's upper and lower mandible met - like the grip of a beartrap as far as prey are concerned.

Crimson-rumped Waxbill

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Black-throated Barbet

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Now the sun was starting to shine on lower branches of trees and bushes.  A Yellow-breasted Apalis threw me a glance as it foraged in an Acacia tree.  

Yellow-breasted Apalis

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Just then I saw a Parus thruppi - Northern 'Grey Tit' also known as 'Somali Tit' also known as 'Acacia Tit'.  It was perched out in the open vocalizing repeatedly - not scolding a threat - more like proclaiming territory.  
 

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Then suddenly it flipped around and plucked a young Acacia seed pod.

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Then it hopped over to another perch and held the seed pod dangling ostentatiously

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Then it hopped - without using its wings - down to a lower but more prominent perch.

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The little fellow was swashbuckling.  The (presumably male) Tit sat on its stage, brandishing the seed pod to and fro.

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Then it dropped the seed pod, flew back up near the original perch, and started vocalizing again.

Soon the birds started coming too fast to process - swifts and swallows zipping overhead, Speckled Mousebirds and White-bellied Go-Away Birds sitting up on perches, and multiple skulkers crept about in the undergrowth.

Speckled Mousebird

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Mr. and Mrs White-bellied Go-Away Bird

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One of the skulkers turned out to be a Three-streaked Tchagra!   I got some photos - they have the most marvelous eyes.  Striking with a ring of blue dots around the iris.

Three-streaked Tchagra

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Then I had great looks at an obliging Lead-colored Flycatcher

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I won't detail every species, but I had a blast.  Before I knew it two hours had passed and the boat party was back.  We were ready to go meet Francis for some more dry-country birding near the Baringo Cliffs.  

Getting out of the car, we had Little Weaver, Mouse-colored Penduline-tit, and Green Wood-Hoopoe.  

Mouse-coloured Penduline-Tit

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Then as we walked up a rocky path, we enjoyed d'Arnaud's Barbet, Eastern OlivaceousWarbler and Pygmy Batis.  I was confounded trying to get a decent photo of the warbler and the batis, and a Brown-tailed Rock Chat as well.  Looking left, I saw a geologist's playground.

 

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Looking down, I saw lots of flaky rocks pressed together on their side.

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A few steps later and we were walking over what was obviously volcanic rock with little hardened bubble holes.

 

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As we moved higher we had Yellow-spotted Petronia and a pair of Green-winged Pytilia that played peekaboo with us.  Then we were at the Grayish Eagle-Owl roost.  This bird's taxonomy is vexed - some people consider it a full species, others a subspecies of Spotted Eagle Owl (occurring north of the equator).  We did not have to climb down a ravine like @michael-ibk - the owl was perched in a tree growing up out of the ravine.  But it was partly obscured by foliage.  We did not mind - it was nice to watch the bird from a distance through the spotting scope.  

Greyish Eagle-Owl (also called Northern Spotted Eagle-Owl)

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Just past the Eagle-Owl, we saw a male dragonfly proclaiming his territory (tail held high).

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And we saw several Rock Hyrax scurrying back and forth.

Rock Hyrax

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But unfortunately, we missed the Verreaux's Eagles we were so keen to see.  These Hyrax predators are one of Lake Baringo's avian attractions.  Francis said a pair of Verreaux's Eagles was moving from the nest that had been occupied + handed down for 40 years.  They were halfway through building the new nest.  But the birds were not seen over the two days we looked at the nest sites.

On the walk back to the vehicle, we enjoyed Parrot-billed Sparrows, Northern Crombec, Nubian Woodpecker and Cardinal Woodpecker.  Then we drove to the famous Lake Baringo Club.

Except it was more like an overgrown ghost town.  Ben used to be the resident birder-naturalist guide.  He told us how British soldiers from a camp across the lake used to ride over in boats to belly up to the bar at the Lake Baringo Club and next door at the Thirsty Goat - the bar at Robert's Camp.  And how a steady stream of birders from all over the world used to come for the great birding.  Now just a few peep in now and again.

Now the buildings have been flooded and ruined for years, and vegetation is taking over.  But the birding on the grounds is very good.  Walking in the gate, we had Lesser Honeyguide overhead, Grey Wren-warbler and Red-billed Quelia.  Then Francis spotted a pair of African Scops Owls roosting next to each other.  One was completely passed out and the other kept tabs on the scene through a slitted eyelid.

African Scops Owl 1

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African Scops Owl 2

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We tore ourselves away from the owls to look at Rufous Chatterers, African Oriole, Spot-flanked Barbet, Spotted Flycatcher, Brou Brou and a Red-fronted Barbet.  The we saw Hunter's Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird and multiple Violet-backed Sunbirds in rapid succession.  Then we stalked a flock of Brown Babblers as they flitted low through the undergrowth.  

After a bit more birding we headed next door to check out Robert's Camp.  Lots of nice birds ensued - White-browed Coucal, Red-billed Hornbills, several weaver species, Blackcaps, Willow Warbler.  Then we heard a mob of small birds scolding something.  Francis and I took one look at each other and started slow-hustling to see what it was.  

We spotted the Pearl-spotted Owlet at the same time.  It was glaring to and fro at the mobbing birds.  In the second photo you can see the Owlet's false eye spots - those are anti-predator features.  They are thought to fool potential predators into thinking the owlet sees them, and not launching a strike as often as a result.
 

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After admiring the owl in the spotting scope, we returned to Robert's Camp and birded from the shady porch of the Thirsty Goat.  We saw neat birds bathing in a lawn sprinkler, neat birds at the feeding table, neat birds out on the lake and neat birds in the trees and shrubs.  The bar was closed unfortunately or a Stoney Tangawizi might have gone down well.  
 

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Eventually we birded our way back to the vehicle to go back to Tumbili Cliff Lodge for lunch.  

After lunch, it was time to go to Lake Bogoria!   I was really looking forward to some shorebirds.  And flamingos too of course.  One the road in, we saw some Zebras and Ostrich (Maasai Ostrich) in some grasslands and a Common Sandpiper and Yellow Wagtail by a muddy pool.  

At the gate to Lake Bogoria National Reserve, we watched the staff sitting around.  After seeing things in the park, I am sorry the rules are not enforced better away from the office building.  The park on the west of the lake down to the shore was intermittently roamed by sheep, goats, semi-feral dogs and bored mischievous children.  

Judging from the extreme skittishness of the shorebirds and ducks, I would guess that the children liked throwing things at the birds (and other wildlife?) for entertainment.  I tried not to fixate on the bad stuff, and enjoy the birds and wildlife in the moment.  And file away the other stuff for possible later treatment.

Among the good things I suppose - is that the lake level is getting lower.  A road that Ben said was submerged two months before was now driveable.  In fact, a school bus drove it at one point.  

As we approached the lake, we saw large but narrow flocks of flamingos - mostly Lesser with a few Greaters scattered in little clusters.  A flock took off and shifted left to join a larger group - looking up we briefly saw a raptor's shape go sailing across the lake.  We did not figure that one out...

Flamingos shifting

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Then we saw some flocks of shorebirds and we got out to scope them.  This was why I had lugged my Swarovski spotting scope this far and why Ben brought his.  I saw one, then two Phalaropes among the other shorebirds!  They were Red-necked Phalaropes - arctic-breeding shorebirds that should be spending their northern winter out to sea, where they float better than ducks.  

I took some documentary shots but the distance, light and haze conspired against good photos.  Eventually we counted ten Red-necked Phalaropes!  Ben said that was most unexpected - noteworthy since he is on the East African Bird Records Committee.

Red-necked Phalarope

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We took a break from shorebids and turned our attention to the flamingo hordes.  We could tell there were more way down the lake, but there were still quite a few here on the upper end of the lake.   
 

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We photographed them from a respectful distance and then we saw a group of what looked like mud flamingo nests.  But partially eroded ones.  Ben said it was from young birds "playing house"  and building nests but not using them.
 

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There were hundreds of Black-winged Stilt - arranged in groups of a dozen to fifty out in the lake and scattered along the shoreline.  

Immature Black-winged Stilt

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Adult Black-winged Stilt

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Flock of Black-winged Stilt

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A few hundred Ruff were also present.  Some swam around like Phalaropes or ducks, others probed in the shallows and others stalked the shoreline.  A few were white-variant Ruff still in a bit of breeding plumage.  Or were they "already" coming into breeding (alternate) plumage?    One of them was strangely well camouflaged among the soda-encrusted sticks by the shoreline.  

Soda crusted Ruff

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Most American birders would be giddy over Ruff but Roger and I see two or three per year in South Carolina - we are the Ruff capitol of North America...

Accompanying the Black-winged Stilts and Ruff were dozens of Pied Avocets.  Some gracefully fed together in flocks, some foraged alone, and some rested with heads under wings.  

There was a Kittlit'z Plover on a small bare island, and it was nice to see so many basic-plumaged Curlew Sandpipers.  They occur in the USA as vagrants and I wanted to study them in winter or basic plumage.  They are easy to tell when they begin showing splashes of red color in spring and summer.  But in fall, winter and early spring I am glad to know what to look for.  

We also saw LOTS of basic-plumaged Little Stints - another good thing for Roger and me to study.  I spotted the lone Temmink's Stint among hundreds of Little Stint as a lone brown little sandpiper (with green legs) among a sea of grey sandpipers (with black legs).  Blacksmith Lapwing pairs occurred at regular intervals and Common Ringed-Plovers and Little Ringed-Plovers roamed the shore and shallows.  Wood Sandpipers waded deeper in the lake than their shorter cousins.

Ruff and Wood Sandpiper

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I also got to know Marsh Sandpipers well - they are such delicate and graceful-looking creatures.

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Soaring over the shallows and surrounding dry land were lots of Plain Martins and Wire-tailed Swallows.  Pied Wagtails and Yellow Wagtails were plentiful and Spur-winged Plovers were here and there.  Ducks included Northern Shovelor, Southern Pochard, Cape Teal, and Hottentot Teal.

Common Sandpipers bobbed around the shoreline with the stints and wagtails.

We were all having so much fun with the shorebirds that we forgot about flamingos.  So when light began failing we regretted not carving out some time for flamingos.  Oh well - next time.

On the way back to the lodge, as we approached the southern end of Baringo Cliffs, we started seeing lots of bats sailing between the highway and the cliffs.  Suddenly Francis yelled "BAT HAWK".  Music to our ears!   We stopped and pulled over, tumbled out of the vehicle, and scanned and scanned.  Northing for four minutes.  Five minutes.  Six.  Francis said "maybe it caught one and is perched somewhere feeding".   

Then Roger said "got it.  high over the cliff - more than a binocular width"  We all got on it and had 5-6 second views of a very dashing flier as it twisted and turned in its hunting.  I suppose if you catch bats for a living, you must be maneuverable.  It was falcon-like in its flight but a bit "twistier".  Then the Bat hawk descended below the cliff horizon and we strained to stay on it in fading light - then gone - not to be seen again.  But no matter.  We had seen the Bat Hawk!  Oh happy day.  Francis is the man!

We tallied 130 bird species for the day.


Edited by offshorebirder, 13 February 2017 - 02:38 AM.

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#26 xelas

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Posted 13 February 2017 - 12:07 PM

So, Kenya is (also) a birder's paradise?! 

 

Beautiful photos; I recon you have shot handheld as the tripod was busy with the spotting scope?! A few more words about the gear for us techno geeks, please, @offshorebirder .


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#27 CDL111

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Posted 13 February 2017 - 01:41 PM

Well worth missing the boat ride, I now know where all the flamingos went from Lake Nakuru! Really, quality photographs.


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#28 offshorebirder

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Posted 13 February 2017 - 07:39 PM

@xelas - thanks for the kind words.   Yes indeed, Kenya is both a Naturalist's paradise and a birder's paradise. 

 

Yes I shot handheld for the post part.  I did use beanbags in Mara North and the Mara Reserve as well as Nairobi National Park.   For a few photos at the coast (distant shorebirds) I removed the spotting scope, held it under my arm and put the camera+lens on the tripod. 

 

The gear I used was a Canon 7D mkII with a 100-400 IS II lens.  Some of the scenery and other shots were with a Canon S110 point and shoot an a couple of photos and one video clip were shot with an iPhone.

 

I will say that I missed my trusty Canon 300mm f/4 prime lens - for handheld work it is sharper than the 100-400mk II especially at full zoom.  I will see what kind of different gear I am able to carry next safari.


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#29 Botswanadreams

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Posted 14 February 2017 - 04:58 AM

@ offshorebirder many thanks for showing us your welt of birds. I'm really a bit jealous what we all missed. Wonderful birds. Maybe in my second life I would be able to take such nice pics of all this little birds not anymore in this one.    
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#30 Zarek Cockar

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Posted 14 February 2017 - 06:46 AM

Wow - thanks very much @Zarek Cockar!   Glad to know the type of spider - I am amazed at your extensive insect knowledge. 

We focus on what we're passionate about.  I'm passionate about stuffing my head with information in phases.  I went through a spider phase a few years ago.  I'm going through a scorpion phase now.  Who knows what the next phase will be.   As you say, being in Kenya is like pointing a fire hose at your mouth.  There's so much to take in, even when you live here full time!


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#31 offshorebirder

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Posted 14 February 2017 - 08:18 PM

@Botswanadreams -  you have also made me jealous many times with your excellent trip report about your fantastic journey.  We each explore and enjoy in our own way!

 

@Zarek Cockar - I know exactly what you mean by learning voraciously in phases.  When I was a schoolboy, I was in a major "shark phase".   In earlier life, I was in a "snake phase".   Later I entered (and have not left) a "bird phase".   I am in a minor dragonfly and butterfly phase.  And plants too.

But you have a better study area than I for the natural world!


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#32 offshorebirder

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Posted 14 February 2017 - 08:26 PM

January 17, 2017   

We reluctantly checked out of the Tumbili Cliff Lodge after an early breakfast.   I will definitely be back!  Our plan was to stop and bird a bit with Francis at the Baringo Cliffs before starting the long drive to Kakamega Forest.  Driving out of the Tumbili Cliff grounds, we spotted a Cape Hare and a Crested Francolin.

We met Francis at the base of the Baringo Cliffs where he had a Yellow-bellied Eremomela teed up in his scope.  Then Francis spotted a beautiful tiny snake peeping out of a burrow in the sand.  It was a Red-spotted Beaked Snake (Rhamphiophis rubropunctatus).  

Red-spotted Beaked Snake

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We got to talking about possible bird species we might pick up on our final morning of birding.  Over the course of the conversation, we learned of three interesting species that could be found on the east side of Lake Baringo.  But Francis said we were not able to try for them because "bad people would have shot at us if we went over there."    "Pokot?"   I asked.    Ben nodded and Francis just looked troubled.  Francis is from the Tugen tribe and Baringo county has been having problems like so much of Northern Kenya the past few months.  

We were brought back to the present by a very large bird flying high overhead.  It was a Kori Bustard!    Even if we had been on top of the Baringo Cliffs, it would have been far overhead - the world's heaviest flying bird flying very high.

Kori Bustard flyover

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We also saw some Bristle-crowned Starlings flying back and forth along the top of the cliffs.  I got a pair in the spotting scope and I could see that one was flying close to another, mirroring its movements.  And it had a large nut or piece of fruit in its bill.  I snapped a couple of long-distance photos of what seemed to be a courtship flight of a pair of Bristle-crowned Starlings.   

Bristle-crowned Starlings

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Then we had some nice looks at Cliff Chat and Dark Chanting-Goshawk.   But we had no luck spotting Verreaux's Eagles, so it seemed that would have to wait until another time (or trip to Kenya).

Walking back to the vehicle, we saw a Somali Dwarf Mongoose and some more common birds.  It was sad to say goodbye to Francis - he is such a sharp birder-naturalist and a very jolly fellow.  

We drove south on the B-4 and in Marigat turned west on the C51 towards Kabarnet and beyond.  Then Ben spotted something soaring and asked Simon urgently to pull over.   It was a pair of Verreaux's Eagles!    What luck.  They soared a little closer to us before wheeling away to the north.  

Verreaux's Eagle

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While stopped for the eagles, we also admired a Rufous-crowned Roller (AKA Purple Roller ).   

We pushed on, starting to rise into the Tugen Hills.  Patches of forest began lining the road.  Then at 10am we pulled over in a very nice larger patch of forest.   Our stopping point was just northeast of a scenic overlook, that was about a mile east of Kituro on the C51.   According to Google Maps, the coordinates are roughly:  0.482229, 35.803177

This was a great place for birding and naturalizing!   A path led downhill and birds were moving up-slope and down-slope.   And birds were all over the place - a small flock of Yellow White-eyes, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Red-fronted Tinkerbirds, a horde of Common Bulbuls, a Black-backed Puffback, and more.  

Black-backed Puffback

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Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird

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Then we had a Tropical Boubou, Grosbeak Weaver and Variable Sunbird.  Then Ben spotted a Narina Trogon!   But it had its back to us, in very poor light.   After we watched it for 5 minutes, it obligingly flew out from its perch, missed an insect, and landed closer to us in better light - facing us!   I had seen  a Narina Trogon briefly last year on Mount Kenya, but this was a far better look that  also allowed for a few photos.

Narina Trogon

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We enjoyed more good birding with multiple Blackcap, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, and Hartlaub's Turaco.  

Yellow-whiskered Greenbul

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Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the bird parade and press on.  As we passed through Kiptilit, we stopped to admire a Double-toothed Barbet Ben spotted.  Then we saw a Crowned Hornbill and Alpine Swift in rapid succession.  

Then we had to get underway again and press on without as many stops.  We did stop at the edge of the Kerio Valley to admire the scene and her a little from Ben about the ecology and history of the valley.  Driving on, we crossed the valley, ascended the far side and passed through Kessup and then Iten.  We saw several runners by the road - they were really moving!   Iten is where runners from all over the world come to trian with Kenya's best.

We eventually came to Eldoret and hit a wall of traffic.  It was interesting to see all the entrepreneurs setting up little mini-shops in front of other businesses.  One enterprising seamstress seemed to have a longer line of customers than the larger business behind her.

Eldoret seamstress

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Crawling along, we made our way to the Boma Inn for lunch.  It was a very good buffet.   The garden dining area had a few birds - Pied Wagtail and Variable Sunbird among them.   There was a large-flowered vine on a trellis that people called a Honeysuckle vine - but it sure looks different than the honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) that I am used to!  

Kenyan "Honeysuckle"

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From Eldoret, we went south on the C39, passing through Chepterit and Kapsabet.  West of Kapsabet, we began passing through forest fragments just north of the South Nandi Forest.  In one of the forest fragments, we saw a Black-and-white Colobus monkey posing near the road.  We pulled over and managed a few photos.

Black-and-white Colobus

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Before long, we turned off the C39 and soon we were entering Kakamega Forest!   But this forest reserve was full of people, trucks, boda bodas, cattle and more.  Ben said the dirt road through the forest is used as a shortcut by large trucks heading to Kakamega Town.     

Crane Flower in front of reception at Rondo Retreat

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We arrived at Rondo Retreat not long before dinner and spotted a few birds in the garden.   After checking into our room, I decided to try and shower before dinner, having heard it was a formal affair.  Roger and Ben went birding (and scored a Ross's Turaco darn them).  

When I went to shower, I found there was no hot water!    I gave up, got dressed again and went to reception - which was deserted.  So I ended up going to dinner somewhat disheveled and not feeling a bit guilty about it.  

The humorless waiter let me know that one had to flip a switch in a corner of the bathroom for the hot water to get heated (on the way to the shower head).  And that the switch to the hot water for the washbasin was on the outside of our cabin around on the rear wall.   Flipping that one never worked and the hot water in the shower was tepid at best throughout our stay.

I was a little annoyed that such obscure hot water quirks had not been explained when we were checking in.  I was more annoyed at the terrible pillows in our room.  The next room in our cabin had slightly better pillows, so I swapped them.  

The food at Rondo Retreat leaves much to be desired.  Some dishes are OK - others are terrible.  For example, someone needs to tell the cook that you don't fully cook pasta before assembling lasagna.  It was a predictable mush with triple the cheese it needed.  Simon and I clucked at the chef's blunder and the replacement pizza was no better.

Later when I talked to the female manager about some problems I had enountered, she showed no contrition at all.  Similarly, my efforts to engage her on potential improvements to the grounds for birds, habitat and general ecology (for example Rondo Retreat has a terrible light pollution problem), she made it clear she was not interested.  

Rondo Retreat exterior lighting - not shielded, not down-facing - it illuminates in all directions (with incandescent bulbs).

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The overwhelming conclusion I have after spending three nights at Rondo Retreat is: they need some competition!   They have been the only loding option around for decades and it shows.  And nowadays they have a steady pipeline of religious groups constantly staying there, at all times of year.  The groups do not seem to care about problems with the service, infrastructure or environmental responsibility (or lack thereof) at Rondo.  So management does not care as much about pleasing birders or nature enthusiasts as they once did.  I think a competing lodge that did things right would sort out Rondo in short order.  But until then or some other serious change, Rondo will remain as hidebound as its owner.  

Speaking of owner, I had read that Rondo was owned by a religious order- the Trinity Fellowship.  But from what I gathered during our visit: an elderly gentleman owns it - perhaps he is the Trinity Fellowship.   He certainly does like his rules - sadly none of them seem to apply to customer service (more like customer hindrance).


 


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#33 Treepol

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Posted 15 February 2017 - 03:13 AM

@offshorebirder wow, Lake Baringo and Tumbili Cliffs seem to be a very rich birding area, what a wide range of species you saw. Thanks for this detailed TR and the wonderful photos. I plan to be travelling in the footsteps of both you and @michael-ibk in 2018, although your comments regarding Rondo Retreat are a bit off-putting!

 

The Narina Trogon is a very handsome bird.


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#34 michael-ibk

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Posted 15 February 2017 - 07:55 AM

Very rewarding outings for you at Baringo and Bogoria, and happy you got the Verreaux´s after all! I think some of the birds you saw must be the same individuals we found, like the Eagle-Owl or the Nightjars. The Narina Trogon is stunning, and I really love the Snake peeing out - very nice shot. I know exactly who you are referring to as the "humourless" waiter, and i agree, Rondo needs some competition, although it was not as bad for me as for you apparently. The water thing was explained (and worked), and food was not excactly brilliant but servicable.

 

Looking forward to see what you found in Kakamega!


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#35 offshorebirder

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 06:22 PM

January 18, 2017.

Things were still dark when we entered the dining hall for breakfast.  Upon exiting, we saw the Blue-headed Turacos waking up in their roost tree outside the registration area.  We left Rondo's gate at 7am, heading for the Kakamega Forest Station and the "Pump House Trail" into the forest.  

After turning right at the security checkpoint, we stopped, hopped out of the vehicle and birded on foot a few hundred meters down the dirt road to the clearing around the Forest Station.  Along the way we had good looks at White-chinned Prinia, Uganda Woodland Warbler, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Black-billed Weaver, Barn Swallows, African Grey Flycatcher, and Square-tailed Drongo. Roger and I let Simon know how much we appreciated his driving the vehicle and then staying with it for hours to protect our belongings.  As we started down the Pumphouse Trail, a troop of Black-and-white Colobus Monkeys watched us from their perches in the trees.

Black-and-white Colobus

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At the start of the trail, we saw several Cabanas' Greenbuls, Pink-footed Puffback, Brown-eared Woodpecker, African Blue Flycatcher (such beauties), Dark-backed Weaver, Turner's Eremomela, Yellow-crested Woodpecker and Black-necked Weaver.  Despite the dry conditions it was very birdy.  We also had a smaller troop of White-nosed Monkeys that did not allow a decent photo.  

Then we got into the Black-faced Rufous Warblers.  They are strikingly handsome birds!  Sadly I never managed a decent photo, despite seeing and hearing them every day.  These birds are real skulkers that simply do not give unobstructed views, or many views at all.  We also had Red-tailed Bristlebills, plenty of Shelley's Greenbuls and Joyful Greenbuls, plus Brown-chested Alethe, Southern Black Flycatcher, Blue-winged Robin-Chat and Black-collared Apalis.

Working our way down the trail, we saw Banded Prinias at several points.  We also had a couple of white-phase African Paradise-Flycatchers.  Sadly they and lighting conditions did not cooperate for a photo.  Photography - and birding - was difficult in shady Kakamega Forest.  Ben had warned us that even under normal circumstances it can be difficult birding - with shy+elusive quarry, that are scattered in a big landscape and thick cover.  The dry conditions made things even more difficult.  But Roger and I are no strangers to jungle birding, and we found Kakamega to be fun and challenging.

Working our way along, we enjoyed Violet's Black Weaver as we approached the little stream behind the pumphouse.  We heard a Spotted Flufftail calling but did not see any sign of it and it only called twice.  Working our way back uphill for a return down the trail, we saw Grey-throated Barbet, Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill, Common Stonechat, and an Equatorial Akalat!   This East African endemic is highly sought-after by birders.  Our bird was rather scruffy - looking at the photos, I think it was an immature bird coming into adult plumage.

Equatorial Akalat

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Then we had a wonderful encounter with two Blue-headed Bee-eaters!  Like @michael-ibk, this was a bird we had really wanted in Kakamega Forest.  The birds were backlit for much of the encounter, so no great photos.  But they were nice to watch in the spotting scope and with binoculars.

Blue-headed Bee-eater

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Coming into the clearer area near the station, we saw Western Olive Sunbird, Green-headed Sunbird, African Thrush, and African Dusky Flycatcher, among other birds.

Returning to Rondo Retreat, we were greeted by the resident pair of Great Blue Turacos.  Lunch was tolerable and Roger and I used some free time afterwards to copy a backlog of photos to our portable hard drives.  

In the afternoon we explored a different trail system on the west side of the ranger station.  This section was  drier and the plants much more drought-stressed than the Pumphouse Trail had been.  Birding was slower as well.  But we had some real gems - quality over quantity.

A pair of Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills posed for us for quite some time.  And we saw a skulking White-tailed Ant-Thrush that did not cooperate for photos.  Other nice sightings included Blue-headed Bee-eaters, Chestnut Wattle-eye, and Red-legged Sun Squirrel.  We also saw a Green-throated Sunbird.  And we had a pair of Yellow-spotted Barbets.

Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill

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But the sighting of the afternoon was when the light began to fade.  We saw a Scaly-breasted Illadopsis feeding on the ground beside the trail.  These birds are not rare in Kakamega Forest but they are very shy skulkers and good sightings of them (and good photos) are few and far between.  

Scaly-breasted Illadopsis

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Before long we came to the edge of the woods behind the forest station.  There was good bird activity along the ecotome - or transition zone from forest to clearing.  I think I even saw some Elderberry bushes.  We saw Diederick's Cuckoo, Willow Warbler, Uganda Woodland Warbler and more.  

Habitat behind forest station

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Then we returned to Rondo for dinner and were greeted by the resident MacKinnon's Fiscals.  

January 19's post will have more photos - I kind of took a break on the 18th in the deep forest.
 


Edited by offshorebirder, 16 February 2017 - 08:04 PM.

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#36 offshorebirder

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 08:03 PM

January 19

We got an early start and proceeded 5 kilometers southeast of Rondo Retreat, to where the Ikuywa River crosses the forest road.  Roadside and trail birding here was the best of our time in Kakamega.  We had swarms of birds (too many to process at times) beside the bridge.  At first there was not any vehicular traffic, but then small trucks started coming through - including a comical pickup with two cows in the back.  

Cattle hitching a ride

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In addition to truck traffic, people were walking the forest road with loads of water and firewood

Woman carrying wood

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In the area around the bridge we enjoyed Brown-chested Alethe, African Blue Flycatcher, African Thrush, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Yellow-spotted Barbet, White-throated Prinia and Scaly Honeyguide.  Then we had one of the birds of the trip - an AFRICAN SHRIKE-FLYCATCHER!    Kakamega Forst and South Nandi Forest are about the only places in Kenya to see this rare and localized species.  

African Shrike-Flycatcher

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Other good roadside birds included a pair of African Paradise Flycatchers, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Yellow-throated Leaf-Love, Mountain Buzzard, Great Blue Turaco and Green Hylia.   Then we ducked into the woods and had Yellow-billed Barbet, Ashy Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Tinlkerbird and Stuhlmann's Starling.  Back on the road, the parade of birds continued with Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Grey-headed Negro-Finch, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Red-headed Malimbe, an Olive-backed Sunbird building a nest, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, and Petite Cuckoo-Shrike.  

After a while, bigger and bigger trucks came roaring past, generating more and more dust.  So we took the trail south away from the forest road.  

We walked over to start down the trail on the south side of the road and Ben spotted movement in the undergrown along a little stream beside the trail.  It was a Spotted Flufftail!    We got a few hasty photos and then saw a second Flufftail.   This shy forest crake is supposedly difficult to observe and photograph, but @michael-ibk and I seemed to have had good luck with them recently.   Unfortunately, despite using ISO 5000 and having a wide-open aperature, I only managed a 1/200 second shutter speed during the brief encounter.  So most of my photos are blurry, since the Flufftail was constantly in motion.  
 

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After the Flufftail encounter, we proceeded up the trail.  We saw Red-headed Bluebill, European Bee-eater, Equatorial Akalat and another pair of Great Blue Turacos.  

 

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Then we had a Jameson's Wattle-eye, a very sought-after bird.  It is difficult to observe and in Kenya is only attainable in Kakamega and Nandi forests.  

After some more good birding along the trail, we turned around and worked our way back towards the forest road.  At the Flufftail spot we caught another glimpse of the Flufftail but did not have any photo opportunities.  

We decided to head back to Rondo Retreat to do some birding along the trails behind the garden before lunch.  A Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat was spread out on the ground beside the pond sunning itself.

Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat sunning

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A bit farther down the trail, we saw a White-tailed Ant-Thrush

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We worked our way along the loop trail and had several nice bird encounters.  Then proverbial lightning struck.  We came across a pair of DUSKY-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS!     These shy and retiring birds are very difficult to observe in the dense undergrowth they inhabit.  But these birds were hawking insects low in a gully - we were looking down at them for much of the encounter.  Ben said it was the best looks at the species he has ever had.  The very dim light made for difficult photography but I fared better than with the Spotted Flufftail earlier. 

Dusky-crested Flycatcher.

 

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Dusky-crested Flycatchers look amazingly similar to our Gray Catbirds in North America - I joked to Roger that we should call them "Catbird Flycatchers."

At the end of the loop trail near the Rondo gate, we had a very confiding Grey-throated Barbet.  I ventured that this bird should have been named "Rhinocerous Barbet" for its bill bristles - similar to Rhinocerous Auklets.  

Grey-throated Barbet

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After lunch and a rest period in the heat of the day, we returned to the Pumphouse Trail to try our luck.  Our good luck from the morning held.  We had more Red-tailed Bristlebills, another Jameson's Wattle-eye, Giant Squirrel and Black-and-white Colobus, Sykes' Monkeys, White-bellied Tit, Toro Olive Greenbul, more Black-faced Rufous Warblers, Banded Prinias, East Coast Akalat, and a very good bird - Olive-green Camaroptera.

Then we had another highly sought-after bird - Turner's Eremomela.  Sadly I did not manage photos of the Camaroptera or Eremomela.  

I will not trot out our entire list, but we were all very pleased at the activity.  I also found a beautiful orchid flower that had fallen on the forest floor - even though past its prime it was still gorgeous.

Unknown Orchid species

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We had a little daylight left after finishing the pumphouse trail, so we walked the edge of the tea plantation across the road from Rondo Retreat.  There was a termite emergence happening near the corner of the field and we had a pair of MacKinnon's Fiscals gorging themselves on the termite feast.  A Tawny-flanked Prinia, Chubb's Cisticola and White-tailed Ant-Thrush also enjoyed the bounty.  

Returning to Rondo, we bid the Great Blue Turacos goodnight as they settled down to roost.   


 


Edited by offshorebirder, 16 February 2017 - 08:11 PM.

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#37 xyz99

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 09:15 PM

Black-and-white Colobus - wow, look at that tail !!!


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#38 pault

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Posted 17 February 2017 - 05:57 AM

Dusty-crested Flycatcher. - never heard of it but I like it.... not as much as the snake though.


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Waiting again... for the next time again


#39 offshorebirder

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Posted 17 February 2017 - 10:36 PM

January 20.

We checked out of Rondo Retreat after an early breakfast.  It was a relief to be heading for the Mara, by way of Kisumu.  

@Treepol - please do not let my somewhat poor experience at Rondo Retreat dissuade you from visiting Kakamega Forest.  To be honest, they are not worse in the food department than some places I have stayed in Kenya.  I guess my impression might have been partly affected by having higher expectations of Rondo (and their higher prices)  And I am sure the nature experience will be better when not in the midst of a serious drought.  Do send me a PM if you have any questions about places I've visited.  

We headed west through the forest and out the other side, and drove to Kakamega town.  Then we turned onto the A1 heading south.  In short order we were in Kisumu and proceeded to the Kisumu Yacht Club (a lofty title for a modest place).   

Birding our way into the grounds, we enjoyed a flyby Palm-Nut Vulture - a species I was very happy to see.  I missed them on my previous Kenya safari.  An obliging Double-toothed Barbet also posed on a telephone line.

Double-toothed Barbet

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We also enjoyed Brown Parrot, Red-eyed Dove, Angola Swallows, Common Snipe, Hadada Ibis, and Glossy Ibis outside the yacht club gate.

Proceeding into the grounds, we saw good activity in some large trees.  A Black-headed Gonolek played peekaboo with us, a pair of Red-chested Sunbirds flitted between flowers, Northern Brown-throated Weavers foraged and squabbled, and a flock of Brown Babblers bounced around the undergrowth.  Nearing the water's edge, we saw a Pied Kingfisher looking for breakfast.

Pied Kingfisher

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A sharp local bird guide named Titus then joined us - he was very knowledgeable and I recommend him for anyone interested in a Kisumu boat ride on Lake Victoria.

A little more birding on land produced Black-billed Barbet, Broad-billed Roller (such striking birds), Yellow-backed Weaver, White-winged Tern, Swamp Flycatcher, Slender-billed Weaver and Sedge Warbler.  

The Sedge Warbler was foraging in the vegetation down by the water and we watched it catch and consume a dragonfly larvae.   

Sedge Warbler

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As we got into the boat and proceeded slowly out into the lake, a Pied Wagtail sat in the bow and looked for insects.  

Pied Wagtail stowaway

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We saw many White-winged Terns on the lake and a few Gull-billed Terns as well.  A Malachite Kingfisher watched us motor out into the lake, which was choked by Water Hyacinth, an invasive plant from South America.  The winds had recently shifted to blow lots of hyacinth into the cove on Lake Victoria where Kisumu lies.  We had to ease our way through channels in the hyacinth to get away from the shore.  We had many White-throated Bee-eaters perched in bare trees and snags.

White-throated Bee-eater taking flight

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Perched in trees in the lake we saw Open-billed Storks and Red-billed Quelia.  Then we started seeing lots of waterbirds - Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, African Jacana, and Sqacco Heron.  We saw some shorebirds too - many Common Sandpipers and Water Thick-Knees, and scattered individuals and pairs of Wood Sandpipers, Spur-winged Lapwings, and Common Greenshank.

Water Thick-Knee

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Common Greenshank

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Then Roger spotted a Whiskered Tern among the many White-winged Terns.  As the boat ride progressed, we saw a few more Whiskered Terns among the dozens of White-winged Terns.  Our main target at Lake Victoria was Papurus Gonolek.  It is a very difficult target indeed - they live in Papyrus and are loath to show themselves.  We heard four of them vocalizing but never saw one; we only saw their close relative Black-headed Gonoleks.  

We worked the few remaining papyrus stands along the shoreline - Ben said development, fishermen, drought and other factors were conspiring to reduce the papyrus habitat in the area to almost nothing.   Apparently fishermen burn the papyrus repeatedly in the dry season to make accessing the lake easier.  

We saw many Common Sandpipers on rocks and logs, several Swamp Flycatchers, and various weaver species.  We also had multiple sightings of Black-headed Gonoleks.

Common Sandpiper

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Swamp Flycatcher

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Black-headed Gonolek

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There were a few fishing boats out working the lake.  Some were propelled by poles, some by sails.  

Fishing boat 1

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Fishing boat 2

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We enjoyed the boat ride, and time flew past.  When we tried to return to our launching point, the mats of Water Hyacinth would not let us through.  So we went to a spot a couple of kilometers south of there - Dunga Hill Camp.  Ben phoned Simon, who came to pick us up in the alternate landing site.  

We had some good birding on land, scoring great looks at Water Thick-Knee and Sedge Warbler plus multiple Weaver species.  

Water Thick-Knee

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When Simon arrived, Roger and I thanked Titus warmly and tipped him very well, as had been our custom.  Business had been slow for bird guides everywhere we went in Kenya - and at lodges as well.  So we tipped better than normal to try and take up the slack.

If anyone wants to know contact information for local guides mentioned in my trip report, shoot me a private message and I will be happy to give you their contact info.

Getting back on the road, we proceeded through some rather grim, poverty-stricken areas on our way to the ring road.  For the umpteenth time, I felt guilty parading along in a fancy vehicle through such a hardscrabble scene.  I did not want to stare, or to wave imperiously - so I just kind of gazed into space.  I also did not want to take photos or video of people - especially without permission.  So I have very few photos of Kenyan people and daily life.  Roger shot more in the way of photos and video of the scenes of daily life as we traveled...

Following the ring road to the B1, we headed southeast and then took the A1 when it split off the B1 again.  We stopped at a nice spot for our picnic lunch that Rondo Retreat had packed for us - their final culinary revenge I suppose.  

We drove on, eventually getting onto dirt roads through the Trans Mara.  We had some good birding along the roads and then not far before nearing the Nyakweri Forest, we had a couple of great sightings.  

At a little seep beside the road, we saw some little birds coming to drink.  We stopped and saw a  Firefinch come hopping into view.  It looked a little different than the Red-billed Firefinches I was used to.  Ben exclaimed "It's a Bar-breasted Firefinch"!    The bird had a brown (rather than red) crown and  nape. It also had striking cream-colored undertail coverts, with a sharply defined border along the lower belly.  Their range is in Uganda and a tiny sliver of Kenya between Mount Elgon and the northeast corner of Lake Victoria.

The Firefinch disappeared into cover and we kept watching birds coming to drink.  Then a little Indigobird hopped into view.  Unlike a Village Indigobird, it had brownish-red wing panels.  It seemed to be a Variable Indigobird (but Purple cannot be 100% ruled out).   The Indigobird was even farther out of its range than the BB Firefinch but many bird species wander widely in times of drought, and this may well have been the case with the Indigobird.  Roger got his camera unpacked in time to get a few shots of the Indigobird - I will see if any came out.

We continued on, and Ben told us about the nice birds that can be found in the Nyakweri Forest.  I would like to visit it some day.  Nearing the edge of the Oloololo Escarpment, I felt a surge of joy as I saw a familar scene.  Before long we could see the Oloololo gate leading to the Mara Triangle, and then looking down, the forest around Kichwa Tembo and Bateleur Camp.  Soon we crossed the bridge over the Mara River and then slowed to a stop near Mara Rianta.  

I looked up to see an Offbeat Mara vehicle with Josphat and Kapeen beside it!  What a nice surprise - they had been texting Ben and hatching a plan to pick us up.  Simon was going to drive back to Nairobi that night and just then a friend of his and Ben's pulled up in a safari vehicle from another outfitter.  He and Simon were going to caravan to Nairobi together.  

After hugs and handshakes and introductions, we moved our luggage from Ben's vehicle to Offbeat's.   Then we had a nice game drive back to camp in fading light.  Damn, it was good to be back in the Mara!

Pulling into Offbeat Mara camp, I had the strongest feeling of being in the right place.  And good old Pumba, the camp dog, greeted us warmly.  We met Chania and Jesse and had our safety briefing, chatted about our goals and our lunch plans at Governor's Camp and a few other details.  We saw a few additions - a library tent and where a small deck was going to be behind the lounge and dining tent.  And we heard that Offbeat now does bush dinners.  

We also met a young Impala that had been orphaned and rescued by the Offbeat crew.  She was the sweetest, most beautiful creature ever.  

Over dinner, we learned that with the closing of Offbeat Meru, the camp staff got redistributed around the other Offbeat properties (including Offbeat Mara and Sosian).  I was relieved to hear everyone landed on their feet.  For those like @mapumbo and @Game Warden and @TonyQ who might be wondering: Stanley and the cook among others landed at Offbeat Mara.

I missed my friends Kyle and Lara, who had been the managers at Offbeat Mara on my last visit. But I did get to enjoy dinner with them in Nairobi at the end of our safari.  

I was relieved to see that Chania and Jesse are also great at their job - I look forward to returning and doing a bush walk with Jesse next time.  He had not quite gotten all his rifle permit paperwork when we were there this year, but I understand he now has it in hand and is leading bush walks for guests.  Chania has worked at a camp in the Selous and Jesse comes from a distinguished safari family - they both know what they are about.  

Ben got to know Chania and Jesse, and they told some entertaining "war stories" about the safari industry.  We also had a nice time talking to Tessa from the U.K. (Cornwall in particular), who was the only other guest for the first part of our stay.  It was great to be back at Offbeat Mara.
 


Edited by offshorebirder, 17 February 2017 - 10:38 PM.

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#40 Treepol

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 12:14 AM

@offshorebirder thanks for the comments regarding Rondo Retreat.

 

How long did it take you to drive to Kisumu from Rondo and did you book Titus yourself or did Ben arrange the boat excursion?

 

 


Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

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