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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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#41 offshorebirder

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 12:27 AM

@Treepol - it took about half an hour from Rondo to Kakamega town, and an hour from Kakamega to the south side of Kisumu.  So an hour-and-a-half total I would estimate.

 

Ben scheduled with Titus who I think hired/arranged the boatman. 


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#42 CDL111

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 11:40 AM

Superb photographs of the birds and many that I have not seen before, I am glad I have purchased a decent book of birds (Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania) and I can read all about them.


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#43 offshorebirder

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 06:09 PM

Thank you @CDL111 - I have not used that field guide yet, is it a good one?


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#44 CDL111

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 06:20 PM

You recommended your book to me last year, but I could not buy it in the UK, I bought this as it was recommended on tripadvisor and yes it is useful. It describes and illustrates 1089 bird species recorded in Kenya and South Tanzania. ISBN978-0-7136-7550-4


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#45 optig

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 06:42 PM

@offshorebirder I particularly love your photo of the Narina Trogon. It has long been high on my list of dream species of birds which I love to see. 


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#46 mapumbo

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 12:56 AM

@offshorebirder, very much looking forward to your Offbeat Mara visit. What a contrast from all the rain last year to the drought they are now experiencing. Is David still guiding at the camp?

Edited by mapumbo, 20 February 2017 - 12:58 AM.

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#47 offshorebirder

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 01:42 AM

@offshorebirder, very much looking forward to your Offbeat Mara visit. What a contrast from all the rain last year to the drought they are now experiencing. Is David still guiding at the camp?

 

@mapumbo - next installment coming right up. 

 

You and Mama Ndege were asked about by multiple staff members.  Y'all are remembered fondly - as is @Game Warden.  David is indeed still happily guiding at Offbeat Mara - I think he may have been on break while we were there.  I am kicking myself for not making an effort to step out back and hang with the guides more.  Next time for sure - so much to learn from those guys, I might risk intruding on their off time.

 

@Game Warden - Kapeen was tickled that I learned about Fisherman's Friends from you.  He was so surprised/happy to get them that he chomped the first lozenge to bits, rather than letting it dissolve slowly.  Ouch.


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#48 offshorebirder

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 02:07 AM

January 21, 2017 - before lunch.

Just like last year, I shook off my jet lag and slept like a baby starting my first night in the Mara.  It is not just the good dinner, quality beds and fine linens at Offbeat Mara.   Because last year my first night was at Encounter Mara camp and the same thing happened.  I think the sounds of the bush have something to do with it.  Lions roaring, Buffalo chomping and snorting, Bushbabies caterwauling, night insects chirping - combine to make an effective lullaby.  Some people get freaked out by Lions roaring forty meters away, Hippos brushing aginst your tent, Buffalo snorting and stomping around, etc. but Roger thought it was cool (as it is).  

Here are a few photos of a twin bed tent at Offbeat Mara.  The shower, twin washbasins, flush toilet, etc. were all very good.  The solar powered lights worked well and lasted as long as we needed them each evening and morning.  There was a nice writing desk with camp chair inside the tent and some chairs and a table outside on the "porch".
 

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Some of the last uneaten green vegetation remaining in the area was in and around camp.  So the nighttime herbivores paid us regular visits.  And the Offbeat Pride (up to 17 members now) had been all around camp the night before.  During the night they caused a few scuffles, and then killed a warthog just two tents down - it was a rather loud affair.  We were in tent 4 and the Lions made their kill right behind tent #5 - see the map of camp on the next-to-last page of this document:
 

https://static1.squa...t - OB Mara.pdf

 

-- Incidentally, the map of Mara North Conservancy on the last page of that document is pretty interesting (zoom in to see better detail).

Here is the location of the Warthog kill on Google maps:
 

https://www.google.c...455!4d35.150883
 

After an early Jambo wakeup call with coffee and biscuits, Roger and I waved our flashlights for the Askari.  We were in place at the pickup zone with Ben as Josphat and Kapeen pulled up in our vehicle just before 6:30am.  Chania saw us off and we said bye till lunch.  We were raring to go.  We were going to follow the same plan as last year in the Mara - give our Maasai guides free rein to show us cool stuff, and let the birds and birding sort themselves out along the way.  Josphat and Kapeen knew we wanted to see a variety of critters in a variety of habitats and they worked that and things like the big cats, plains game and small mammals into the plan.  It worked well for us again this time.  

There is nothing like that first morning on safari in the bush.  That sense of anticipation pulling out of camp in the dim predawn light is such a buzz - knowing that anything could happen, that one might get lucky and sight anything from a Zorilla to a Pangolin.  Or that you could get lucky and see rare and amazing behavior in addition to rare animals.  

And the sensory feast that is the African bush was also invigorating.  The pastel sights and herbal smells, the sounds of Common Bulbuls and Ring-necked Doves ("drink lager, work harder"), plains game vocalizing - all combine to give a very soothing feeling.  

But one of the first things we saw was not calm or peaceful at all.  A vicious brawl broke out among some Speckled Mousebirds.  One - for whatever reason was suddenly attacked by another.  
 

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Then just as suddenly another Mousebird helped the attacker press the fight.

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Sensing this, the bird being "set upon" dropped its hold; it and the attackers went tumbling down off the tree limb.  They semi-fluttered down - falling in a writhing mass - and another two Mousebirds flew down to join the fray in the grass.  
 

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The dim light, long grass and frantic activity did not make for clear shots but they convey the idea - mayhem.  In this case, the "crazy stare" look that Speckled Mousebirds always seem to wear was appropriate.  The Mousebirds were darned lucky not to have been nabbed by a predator, with all the racket they were making and their "distracted" nature.

Moving on, we saw a sharp-looking male Impala.  Bird sightings included Coqui Francolin, Red-faced Cisticola, Grey-capped Warbler, and Diederick Cuckoo.
 

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Josphat and Kapeen wanted to cross the Olare Orok river to check on the Lion pride while they might still be active.  We did so and at 6:45am we sighted a female Lion and the cubs of the Offbeat Pride.  She seemed to be moving them from the plateau down into a lugga feeding the Olare Orok.  The smallest cub was the only one left of his siblings - his mother had dumped him in the creche with her sister's cubs and abandoned him.  But since he was just one, the sister Lioness was apparently raising him OK.  He seemed to be getting along and holding his own with his older and larger cousins.  If I am interpreting my scribbled field notes accurately, the camps are calling him "Bahati" which is Swahili for lucky.

Bahati following 1

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Bahati following 2

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Several cubs came bumbling along and sniffed at intervals to make sure they were following correctly.  They went down into the lugga and mostly disappeared from view.

This cub was very cautious and stuck close to cover as it went down into the lugga

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My what a full belly you have

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Cub down in the lugga

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We worked our way around and looking across the river to tent number five at Offbeat, we saw another adult female Lion and two half-grown cubs around the warthog kill behind the (unoccupied) tent.  One of the cubs brandished a front leg of the Warthog as a grisly toy.  Sorry, no photos - there was some brush in the way.  

We also watched a Klaas's Cuckoo perching in some branches lining the lugga.

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We retraced our path a bit, went a little downstream, and at 7:15 ran into Frank and Jesse and some more of the Offbeat Pride of Lions.  

Jesse was washing his front paws.

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Then he flopped over to reveal a moderately full belly.

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Frank looked around, got up, and butted heads with Jesse to greet his compatriot.  Or perhaps to say "have a good sleep."

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Then Frank ambled over to a grassy tunnel between two Acacia trees and flopped down again.

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We decided to go looking for Cheetah and Leopard and any neat birds along the way.  Getting underway, we saw more of the pride scattered along a hillside.  The young males would probably be getting the push soon and seemed to be avoiding Frank and Jesse at the moment.  

As we roamed around scanning the hillsides, we had nice encounters with a pair of Red-throated Tits - an East African endemic that only lives in southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania.  Maasailand basically.  

Red-throated Tit.

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We also came upon a Speckle-fronted Weaver that seemed to be snoozing.  It eventually woke up and started preening - in fact, it might have fallen asleep in the middle of a preen session.  
 

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Ever alert for small mammals, Ben spotted an African Grass Rat foraging close by. 

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Other nice birds included Chin-spot Batis singing "dee-doo, dee-doo", Grey-backed Fiscal, Rattling Cisticola, Northern Wheatear, Black-winged Cisticola, and Slate-coloured Boubou.

Then we came upon a Verreaux's Eagle Owl

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And a Common Scimitarbill that was holding a flower and waving it back and forth (another courtship ritual perhaps?)

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At 9am we were starting to think about finding a place for breakfast and Kapeen spotted a CHEETAH!  Josphat said it was a young male that has been hanging around Mara North Conservancy lately.  

 

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We were thrilled to see him and sit taking in his magnificence as he lounged around and occasionally looked around for trouble.  He had a bit of a wash, took brief little catnaps and glanced around from time to time. 

 

Two big cat species (one with cubs) and lots of plains game before breakfast!  Roger was digging the Mara.  

After a while, our stomachs won out and we cranked up to head to a breakfast spot.  On the way we saw Giraffe, Eland, Wildebeest, Zebras, Thomson's Gazelle, Grant's Gazelle, Warthog, Topis and Coke's Hartebeest.  

Eland

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We reached the Breakfast spot at 10:20 - a bit late but nobody cared.  The spot was beside a large bare tree - partly, but not completely dead.  It had a Blue-headed Tree Agama that seemed to be staking out a territory (the photo at the beginning of this trip report).  Except when a bird flew past, then it ducked down and lowered its profile.

Blue-headed Tree Agama not advertising at the moment.

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We watched an Isebelline Wheatear and a Northern Wheatear foraging while we ate breakfast.  And I set up the tripod and spotting scope and we watched all the plains game just mentioned plus Elephants and Bushbuck.  Then we checked out some White-backed Vultures and Tawny Eagles soaring.  

Isebelline Wheatear

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It was fun to chat with Josphat and Kapeen over breakfast and hear about things in the Mara.  We hoped to get some rain soon at least to cut down the dust.  Then we packed up the trusty vehicle and got underway.

 

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We saw some Plains Zebras feeding close at hand - looked like they were still getting some grass to nibble on.

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This Grant's Gazelle was also finding forage

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And Wildebeest ambled past

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Josphat suggested heading for Leopard Gorge and then working our way back to camp for lunch.  We endorsed the plan immediately.  On the way we saw Bateleur, Black-shouldered Kite, Common Kestrel, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-cheeked Cordon-Blue, and Wattled Starling.

Thomson's Gazelles

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Young Giraffe on a rocky hillside

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Suddenly Ben called out "Slender Mongoose" and we all saw the small lean mammal dashing from shrub to shrub. 

 

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We saw more Red-throated Tits and a young male Reedbuck in a damp grassy spot. 

 

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Before long we reached Leopard Gorge.  A White-headed Barbet perched at the entrance, and a Spotted Hyena watched us from a ledge on our right. 

 

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We kept seeing a troop of Banded Mongoose scurrying in and out of crevices.

 

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And a Striped Kingfisher kept watch from a low perch.  Coming out the back of the gorge, we had two African Grey Hornbills and a Sooty Chat.  

A nearby tallgrass area held a Red-billed Oxpecker and a female Reedbuck.

 

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Not far from the Reedbuck, a Rufous-naped Lark was pulling apart some Buffalo dung - presumably in search of insects.

 

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Then we had a nice encounter with a group of Buff-bellied Warblers.  I can now say that I have seen the Buff-bellied Warbler's buff belly!  

 

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And not to be outdone, a Wattled Lapwing came strutting around the tree.

 

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Nearby we had Grassland Pipit, Brown-crowned Tchagra, and Tawny-flanked Prinia.  Sitting atop a tree was a Black-chested Snake-Eagle.

 

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At that point, a very light rain began so we raced back to camp.  The rain did not last long, however.  We got back to camp and thanked Josphat and Kapeen for a wonderful morning.  We were relieved to see there was still some time to chill and chat with Chania, Tessa and Jesse before lunch.


 

 


 


Edited by offshorebirder, 20 February 2017 - 02:39 AM.

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#49 janzin

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 04:41 AM

wow, so many great bird sightings! I can't even pick a favorite...but one that sticks in my mind is the Double-toothed Barbet because you can actually see how it gets it's name...great shot.

 

Lots of lifers there for me!  At some point I definitely need to do a similar, bird-focused Kenya trip so I may contact you for the organizational details.


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#50 offshorebirder

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 11:54 PM

@janzin - I will send you my contact info in a PM - I am happy to share advice, contacts and experiences. 

 

For what it's worth, Ben Mugambi is Art Morris' (Birds as Art)  go-to guy in East Africa!


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#51 offshorebirder

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 12:09 AM

In the daylight we could see how dry things were around camp.  The Orange-leafed Crotons were either bare or positively shriveled.

 

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We were greeted by the rescued Impala fawn - such a sweet creature.  But a bit naughty - the Impala grabbed a napkin and then kept moving away from Chania as she tried to get back the choking hazard.  

Comparing notes with Tessa, we listened to her describe how she had a nice Serval sighting on her morning game drive.  "You must be living right" I exclaimed.  

After a delicious lunch, we retired to the tent to rest and backup images from our memory cards.  We had a nice Steppe Eagle sighting and some other birds from the tent.  Things gradually got cloudy and we were surprised when at 3pm a light rain began.  It ended a little before 4pm - just in time for tea.  We gathered in the dining tent for refreshments and soon started our afternoon game drive.  The light rain had cooled things off and cut down the dust marvelously.  

Our first sighting was before we even left camp - a Temminck's Courser and then a Bushbuck peeping out of some brush.  

Bushbuck

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Soon we came upon a Lioness keeping an eye on some cubs. 

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Across the lugga some Cape Buffalo were approaching.

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The Buffalo kept drawing closer and the female Lion kept an eye on them.  The cubs became interested as well!

 

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When the cub brazenly pulled a head-on stalk of the Buffalo, we figured the Lioness would intervene, or call the cubs or something.  Instead she just napped and glanced at things occasionally.

Then two of the cubs turned things up a notch.  They did keep glancing at the Lioness to see if things were OK.

Lion cubs taunting buffalo

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Practicing - one holds the attention of the "prey" and the other stalks from behind.  

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At this point the Lioness was sleeping.

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Here are a couple of short videos of the cubs being mischievous. 

 

 

 

 

 

In this segment, the cubs and Buffalo scare each other and end up on different sides of the lugga

 

 

 

Staring contest

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Cape Buffalo and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

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Eventually things fizzled out with no real fireworks.  Moving on, we saw a Giraffe feeding on Acacia.  

 

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It seemed to have irritated its tongue.

 

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Then we went from bird sighting to bird sighting - Marico Sunbirds, Black Stork, Swahili Sparrow, White-headed Saw-wing and much more.  Winding our way around the Olare  Orok's semi-dry watercourse, we eventually ran into the Offbeat Pride.   It looked like Frank and Jesse were just starting to stir.  Jesse stood, stretched, and walked over to greet Frank.


Jesse greeting Frank 1

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Jesse Greeting Frank 2

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Jesse - an impressive specimen

 

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We birded the general area near the pride, getting out of sight but staying close in case anything interesting happened.  We picked up a couple of dozen more bird species - several new for the trip.  

Soon it was time to go meet everyone for a bush dinner away from  camp.  It  was in a nice location and the food, conversation and comraderie were wonderful.  Ben and Jesse compared notes on out-of-the-way lodges and quirky proprietors and many other aspects of the safari business.  We caught up with Tessa on how her game drive had been, which was good as usual.  

Eventually Roger, Ben and I excused ourselves and joined Josphat and Kapeen for a night drive.  Cape Hares were all over the place.  And eventually we started encountering Springhares - a total of eight on the night drive.  We saw them fairly well with binoculars in the red spotlight but my photos did not come out well.  In addition to plains game and Lions, Kapeen spotted a Small-spotted  Genet in a thicket of branches in a tall Acacia tree.  How he saw it in such a tangle by roving red spotlight is beyond me.  Amazing spotter, Kapeen.  Simply astounding sometimes.

We had more of the same critters until we were approaching camp.  Josphat spotted a snake in the beam - it reared up at a couple of points - and it was tentatively identified as a young Black-necked Spitting Cobra.   Jesse greeted us on our return and helped formulate the ID.

A very nice day in the field.  Slept like a log again.


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#52 Soukous

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 08:56 AM

I'm really enjoying your TR @offshorebirder

I'm also pleased you stayed at Tumbili Cliff. Lake baringo is one of my absolute favourite spots for birding in Kenya.


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#53 Game Warden

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 10:07 AM

@offshorebirder

 

@Game Warden - Kapeen was tickled that I learned about Fisherman's Friends from you.  He was so surprised/happy to get them that he chomped the first lozenge to bits, rather than letting it dissolve slowly.  Ouch.

 

Thank you so much for remembering :)


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"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

How to create your gallery album and upload images.

 

How to post images in the text.

Want to tag another member in a post? Use @ before their display name, eg @game warden


#54 CDL111

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 03:48 PM

The sequence of photos of the Speckled Mousebirds must be pleasing. It is so enjoyable to see the pics of all the birds and cross reference with what pics I have. Looking forward to more of your report.
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#55 optig

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 04:53 PM

@offshorebirder I just love all your photos,especially of the wattled lapwing.


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#56 offshorebirder

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 09:26 PM

Thanks @Soukous - yes, I can see why Lake Baringo has such a rep among birders.  I plan to return in late October/November to see how it is during passerine migration.   I would love to see Nairobi NP during migration as well - an island of good habitat after southbound birds traverse greater Nairobi.


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'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
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#57 offshorebirder

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 09:34 PM

@CDL111 thanks for following along and your continued kind comments.  I too like to compare photos from TRs and other forums to help learn African birds.

 

@optig - Wattled Lapwings are one of my favorites.  We saw a very young chick near Musiara Marsh - photos to come in the January 23 installment.  


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'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
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John Keats - Ode on a Grecian Urn

#58 Towlersonsafari

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Posted 22 February 2017 - 12:56 PM

Just spent my lunch hour catching up on your splendid report @offshorebirder, and a very enjoyable hour it has been indeed-thank you!


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#59 mapumbo

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Posted 23 February 2017 - 04:06 AM

Really enjoying your report. It is fun to recognize some of the familiar landscape of Mara North. Did you hear if Amani raised any of her cubs?

#60 offshorebirder

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Posted 24 February 2017 - 12:31 AM

Thanks @Towlersonsafari - glad to be appreciated.

 

@mapumbo - yes, Amani has raised two cubs to near-adult status.  They are still with her.  @amybatt saw them 3 days in a row at Offbeat Mara earlier this week.   


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'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
John Keats - Ode on a Grecian Urn





Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Kenya, birding, offbeat mara, mara north


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