Though not without its problems there are few countries in Africa that can match the range of scenic splendours found in Kenya. From snow-capped mountain peaks to arid semi-desert, from lush rain forest to endless open savannah, from cool sweet-water streams to hot caustic lakes; Kenya has got the lot! Such diversity of habitats supports a riot of life which includes most of the large mammals familiar to safari-goers. For those whose interests extend beyond the big beasts there is a huge supporting cast of birds, reptiles and smaller mammals –some of which are unique to this part of East Africa.
Inevitably it is places like the Mara, Samburu or Amboseli that attract the greatest interest. An extended road-based safari may also take in Nakuru, Mount Kenya Serena lodge or one of the Aberdares lodges whilst beach-loving tourists often undertake short safaris to Tsavo or the Shimba Hills; however, there are other hidden gems that have something different to offer. In the west Kakamega forest remains as a last lonely outpost of the long lost eastern extension of the Congo basin rain forest. In the east the Arabuko-Sokoke forest is the last large remnant of a once mighty coastal forest that extended from Somalia to Mozambique. To the north the lonely Marsabit plateau rises as a lofty green oasis from the parched dry-lands waiting patiently for the return of more peaceful times. On the Ugandan border stands Mount Elgon famous for a cave network created by elephants "mining" for salt, whilst the nearby Saiwa Swamp still supports a good population of Sitatunga. Slicing through the heart of Kenya is Africa's Great Rift Valley, a massive geological icon characterised by mountains, escarpments, plateaus, quiescent volcanic cones and a string of lakes on the valley floor –all of which have their own identity. This is our experience of two such lakes: Baringo and Bogoria.
A Water-lily in bloom on Lake Baringo.
A geyser erupts on the shore of Lake Bogoria.
In July 2010 myself, my wife and our teenage daughter embarked upon a 16 day road safari travelling from Nairobi to Mount Kenya, then on to Samburu returning via Ol Pejeta from where we travelled to Baringo, then down to Nakuru and on to the Masai Mara before returning to Nairobi. We made all our arrangements through a local company called Eastern and Southern Safaris who arranged our accommodation and park entry fees as well as providing us with a 4x4 mini-bus (a much-maligned vehicle that we came to love!) and a driver/guide (the one and only Mr Benard Gitari).
This is not a full report of our trip being more a note of our experiences at Baringo in 2010 and why we felt compelled to return in 2011. That said it is worth mentioning that our time spent at Samburu, Nakuru and the Mara was particularly productive with countless lions; leopard sightings at Mount Kenya, Samburu and Nakuru; and Black Rhino seen at Ol Pejeta, Nakuru and the Mara with cheetahs also seen in the Mara.
Lion cub in Samburu N.P.
We left Sweetwaters camp after breakfast facing the long dusty road to Baringo. As we drove to the gate to leave Ol Pejeta Conservancy we passed a small group of Jackson's Hartebeest which looked bonny in the early morning sun.
About 40 minutes drive past Nanyuki our vehicle hit a deep pothole following which there was a sickening shudder as the front nearside wheel arch partially collapsed. As a result even a slight turn of the left front wheel resulted in it rubbing hard against the collapsed wheel-arch. Ben, our driver, managed to effect a laborious 15-point turn and we slowly limped back into town. Nanyuki is a small market-town and this being a Sunday the local folk were dressed in their best and many were heading off to church. Ben phoned his company only to discover that there was no replacement vehicle available until the following day and so we had no option but to get a temporary repair done. All of the local businesses were closed and as the heat of midday began to take effect I became more and more irritable. Ben had pulled a guy out of the passing crowd and after a brief discussion the man disappeared to exchange his Sunday best for a boiler-suit. He arrived with three other men and a donkey-cart on the back of which was an oxy-acetylene torch kit. We decanted from the vehicle and the men bodily raised the front of the minivan whilst a supporting rock-pile was quickly built underneath the front axle. A sheet was laid out by the roadside and the front wheel-arch was dismantled. By this point numerous nuts, bolts, brackets, etc were lying out on the sheet and eventually a large bracket (which had sheared in half) was removed. The plan was clearly to weld this broken bracket together however our street mechanic announced that the oxy-acetylene torch wouldn't be hot enough to weld the hefty bracket. By this time I was far from happy and pointed out that any welding job would have to produce a strong and robust join or I would not accept it. The bracket was therefore taken away to a nearby workshop to be arc-welded. About 90 minutes later our mechanic returned with the bracket solidly welded and with an additional support plate bolted to the back. Clearly this repair was very robust but I had my doubts that this bulkier bracket could now fit back into place and I envisaged a small pile of nuts and bolts being left over after the wheel-arch was re-assembled. I need not have worried as everything fitted back in place and the vehicle was again road-worthy. Ben paid the mechanic $25 (in Kenyan shillings) for his work. I have to admit that we were so impressed by the man's ingenuity and workmanship that we paid him an additional $40 for which he told us that he, his wife and his children were most grateful! It was a slightly humbling experience and it reminded me that in Africa the best mechanics in the World can be found on every street corner!
We had by now lost almost five hours. Our original plans included a rendezvous with Paul Muriithi Kibuthu to see and hopefully photograph the spectacular MacKinder's Eagle Owl whilst en-route to Baringo. Sadly we didn't have time to walk to the cliff-face where the owls roosted however Paul still met us by the main road where he had set up a telescope allowing some distant views of a roosting bird.
A distant shot of a roosting MacKinder's Eagle Owl.
After this brief stop we headed on westward making reasonable progress until the road north beyond Nakuru where the road conditions degenerated. There had been flash-floods earlier in the year which had washed away sections of the road making progress slow and problematic (these were the same rains which had led to the flooding responsible for washing away many of the riverside camps in Samburu). As a result we arrived at Lake Baringo Country Club at dusk. This totally scuppered our plans for an evening boat-trip on the lake and for a short walk to see some of the local night-birds (whose roost-sites are known to the local bird guides). Our itinerary only allowed for one night at Baringo and there was clearly insufficient time to undertake all of the activities I had planned. I must admit I was disappointed as it was clearly apparent that Baringo is a great place for birds as well as having some interesting scenery. That night we were the only people staying at the lodge. My wife and daughter decided to have an early night but I stayed up as the World Cup final between Spain & the Nederlands was being shown live on TV at the lodge bar (an open-sided mosquito paradise!). I was joined by Ben and the lodge's night-staff. We had a few beers (okay, many beers) and the good-hearted company raised my spirits. I picked up the staff's drinks bill and also paid the "bar tab" for a large number of Lake Baringo's mosquitoes! After the game I was walked back to my room by one of the ground-staff who had a large stick to fend off any aggressive hippos (aye, like that would do it!).
The following morning I rose (with great difficulty and a modest hangover) before dawn and went with Ben to pick up a local bird guide –Francis Cherutich before travelling to nearby Baringo cliffs via a Nightjar roost site. The plan was to see and hopefully photograph the rather rare and local Hemprich's Hornbill. What ensued was three hours of some of the best birding I have ever experienced. We saw a number of birds including the hornbills however it was a pair of Verreaux's Eagles that stole the show. Africa's Black Eagle is a formidable bird of prey being somewhat larger than the Golden Eagle and equally impressive. We observed a pair displaying and mating as well as being mobbed by the local Lanner Falcons. We also witnessed a near-miss hunt with a lucky Rock Hyrax escaping by the skin of its teeth. It was a real struggle to pull myself away from the cliffs which, in the early morning sun appeared to be made of burnished copper.
Female Verreaux's Eagle at Baringo cliffs.
Rock Hyrax (you've got to love those wee elephant toes)
Verreaux's Eagle Pair (They mated shortly after this)
A female Lanner Falcon came out of nowhere and struck the female eagle on the back of the head. The Lanner then gained height and stooped a second time but on this occasion the eagle was ready for her!
On return to the lodge I joined my family for breakfast then we went out onto the lake on a boat-trip. There were close encounters with hippos but again it was the range and numbers of birds which stole the show.
In 2010 the water level of Lake Baringo was the highest it has been for a number of years and a group of flooded trees had become a large mixed nesting colony which included Cattle and Great Egrets, White-bellied and Reed Cormorants, African Darters, Squacco, Purple and Night Herons (all the images of nesting birds were taken from a boat using a 500mm lens + 1.4x converter to avoid disturbance). We also saw numerous Fish Eagles, Malachite, Pied and Giant Kingfishers as well as Madagascar and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters. Our return to the lodge was delayed by a croc which had hauled up on the concrete jetty.
Mixed heronry with African Darters, Purple Heron and Long-tailed Cormorant.
Dreaming of when the kids grow up (Squacco Heron)
Goliath Heron headshot
Yellow-crowned Bishop (Common on the reed-beds of the lake)
A multi-storey heronry with African Darter at the top, then Long-tailed Cormorants and Purple herons with Cattle Egrets, Squacco herons and Black-crowned Night Herons in the basement.
A male Jackson's Golden-backed Weaver, like some seedy Estate Agent, advertises his property in return for sexual favour (okay, that's my last dram for tonight!)
A view of Baringo cliffs from the lake.
Baringo boat trip
Crocodile on the jetty.
Michael would often drop by our room (Jackson's Hornbill).
David and Goliath (This Fish Eagle had a nest on a tree adjacent to the lodge restaurant. The tree also supported a large colony of White-billed Buffalo Weavers)
All too soon we had to leave Baringo and as we knew that the south-bound road trip would take longer than our itinerary allowed for we had little time for any stops.
Our original itinerary included a stop at Lake Bogoria but unfortunately time was short. As we had already paid Eastern and Southern Safaris for entry to Bogoria National Park we decided to pay a short visit anyway –this proved inspirational. Lake Bogoria was truly stunning and spectacular. I think it was at that point that we agreed that we would have to return to Kenya in 2011 and would most definitely need to spend a few nights at Baringo with a day trip to Lake Bogoria!
Our brief view of Lake Bogoria was enough to convince us that we had to return!
Edited by Rainbirder, 24 February 2013 - 10:43 PM.