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My driver picked me up from the Meridian Hotel in Nairobi on Nov. 21 and we drove the long 6 hours to the north of Mount Kenya to Samburu National Park. There I stayed at the Sopa Lodge, deep inside the wooded grasslands dotted with rocky hills. Just to the south side was the heavily wooded river basin. Along the dry lands and riverside we encountered a number of African specialties found nowhere further south in Africa. These included the Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Gerenuk and Grevy’s Zebra, along with lots of African Elephants, Lions and Olive Baboons, all of which are included below in photos. The first afternoon a pride of lions near the river killed a full grown giraffe – very unusual to take on such a large and formidable prey (a kick or head butt by a large giraffe will easily kill or disable a lion). Around the lodge a number of dryland bird species were encountered, including the Von der Decken’s, Eastern Yellow-billed, Red-billed and Jackson’s Hornbills. One particular encounter was memorable – an Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill caught a huge grasshopper and spent the better part of 5 minutes trying to swallow it head-first. The grasshopper was too big for the bird’s throat, and it kept choking it back out. I did get a series of remarkable and humorous photos, a couple of which are included.
After three days in Samburu we headed back south to the southwestern flanks of Mt. Kenya inside the Mt. Kenya National Park, a high altitude lush forested landscape. Mt. Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa, just a tad shorter than Kilimanjaro, and is also an extinct volcano. The wet heavy forest covering its lower slopes provide habitat for a number of unusual bird species, but most are very difficult to see as they remain deep in the heavy bushes and trees, and it is not possible to walk the trails as the area is home to large families of African Buffalo and Elephant, both of which are deadly when encountered in deep forest. I did some walks along the single track entrance road, accompanied by a professional guide and an armed ranger. There the birds encountered included the Hartlaub’s Turaco, Cape Robin-Chat and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler. At night, from my room’s balcony overlooking a swampy water hole, I recorded the high cries of a Spotted Hyena as it passed on the far side of the marsh at 3 am.
From Mt. Kenya’s slopes we drove West across the valley to the Aberdares Mountains and National Park where I stayed at the rustic lodge named just The Ark. It is situated on another marshy watering hole, which in evening was surrounded by Elephant and Buffalo uneasily jockeying for space to pick up the mineral salts in the red muddy soil. A number of shorter and less expensive safari tours visit here and watching many visitor’s reactions and joy at seeing families of Elephants arriving at dusk helped me relive my first such encounters decades ago. The hills also brag an exceptional number of birds, and just walking the board walk, safely located high above the forested floor, I captured a number of new bird species, including the Golden-winged and Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds. I also for the first time saw a Giant Forest Hog, immense with a huge wide disc face, similar to a huge Asian Wild Boar.
We drove next around the Aberdares down into the Great Rift Valley, part of the Great Rift of Eastern Africa which runs 5,000 kilometers from the Red Sea south to southern Tanzania. This is one of the rare spots, outside ocean trenches, where two tectonic plates are pulling apart. This also is the area where for over 2 million years human’s ancestors evolved. Olduvai Gorge, made famous by the Leakeys, is just to the south. In central Kenya the Rift Valley has partially filled with a series of large lakes, some of which are soda lakes, filled with Flamengos and other crustacean-feeding birds, while the others are fresh water lakes filled with hippos, cormorants, herons and kingfishers. Most are within large National Parks or private conservancies. I stayed at the delightful Sunbird Lodge, overlooking Lake Elementaita, a soda lake. The huge grounds of the Lodge provide a large number of flowering plants and fruiting trees which attract a number of beautiful birds, including the Bronze, Variable and Amethyst Sunbirds, Blue-cheeked Starling, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Purple Grenadier and Fischer’s Lovebird. My cottage, a small house itself with a huge front porch overlooking the lake, sat about 80 feet below the lodge, requiring a stiff walk up or down a steep hillside. Behind me were rocky cliffs with a large family of Rock Hyrax, which fed on the grasses and leaves around my house, with younger ones looking silly climbing the shorter shrubs and trees.
The first day in the Rift Valley I hired a local bird expert to visit the Soysambu Conservancy on the western shores of Lake Elementaita, where we encountered a number of birds including two Tawny Eagles which just had made a kill of a Great White Pelican – the Pelican is many times the size of the eagles and the evidence of the struggle was obvious. The second day I hired a boat and bird guide to visit Lake Navaisha, a fresh water lake filled with hippos; Three months ago, upon my arrival in Nairobi, I read in the US news media of the Chinese tourist killed on this lake. According to reports from local rangers I understand the Chinese rented a kayak and without guide attempted to approach the hippos in the small boat – very unwise. The third day we just drove around Lake Nakuru, all part of the national park of the same name. As White Rhino recently have been poached here, we encountered armed rangers wherever a Rhino was visible. The lake shores supported huge herds of African Buffalo, many with new-born calves, and large families of Olive Baboons, also with many new babies.
For the most part my lodging has been adequate to superb, and the food almost always excellent. From the Rift Valley I head further west to the Kakamega Forest near the border of Uganda. Later. Dave
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