Lake Naivasha and Masai Mara

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Africa » Kenya » Rift Valley Province » Lake Naivasha
February 9th 2016
Published: July 2nd 2017
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The next morning, I got up slightly earlier than I needed to to have a look around the hotel to see if there were any birds that could be spotted. Having arrived after dark, I didn’t know how large the grounds were, but they turned out to be quite small with little more than a car park with gardens on either side. I did see a few birds however, and these were some Superb Starlings, Common Bulbuls, and one year bird which was a White-fronted Bee-eater perched on a cable.

After breakfast, we went the short distance to Lake Naivasha to have a morning boat ride on the lake. Along the sides of the road heading down to the lake there were quite a few Defassa Waterbuck, including some with some quite young babies. Upon reaching the lake edge, the safari guide went to sort out a boat trip, while I looked at the many interesting birds that there were on the lake shore. This included huge numbers of Marabou storks, as well as Hamerkops, Sacred and Hadada Ibis, Yellow-billed Storks, Grey Herons, various Egrets, various Plovers and other wading birds and my first lifers of the day, a pair of African Spoonbillsfeeding a patch of water hyacinth, amongst others.

After a few minutes, we met the boat driver and got into a fairly small boat for a trip around Lake Naivasha. The boat guide was actually quite a fan of birds and he said I would spot more than a hundred on the lake (if he meant individuals I certainly did, though I ‘only’ saw about 40 species) and although some of the common names he used were a bit odd, he was able to identify all the species that we saw, which saved me some time going through my field guide. At first, we went around some of the dead trees along the banks of the lake, where there were many hundreds of cormorants, both White-breasted (the African (sub)species of Great) and Long-tailed and quite high a few Pied Kingfishers, as well as a single Giant Kingfisher. There was also an abundance of herons of four species, and various other wading birds such as Red-knobbed Coots, Moorhens, and African Jacanas.

We then headed out further into the lake, where there was quite a high density of Hippos, as well as quite a few Pelicans – Great White Pelicans, and Pink-backed. The views across the lake itself were also quite spectacular, and in some directions, the water stretched all the way to some hills just on the horizon. Another rather nice bird that was around in quite high numbers were Grey-headed Gulls, which made a change to the Black-headed Gulls that are so common around Warsaw. Around this same time I also saw my first flamingo of the trip, a single Lesser Flamingo flying overhead, though too quickly to allow me to get a picture.

We then came to a spot with several dead trees and a group of hippos below, however the main attraction at this area were the African Fish-eagles. There were two pairs, as well as one juvenile, and these had supposedly been trained to swoop down and catch a fish that the boat drivers would throw. Unfortunately, it seemed the eagles weren’t hungry (and I’m not surprised with half a dozen boats per hour, each with a fish), but it was still nice to watch them perched up in the trees.

We then headed to the final ‘stop’ on the boat ride, which was to look at some mammals on the shore. These were Cape Buffalos, Common Zebra, and Defassa Waterbuck, and it was quite nice to look at them from the opposite perspective on the water rather than the land. There were also a few birds nearby, including various waders in the water hyacinth such as Jacanas, Striated Herons, and Spur-winged Lapwings, as well as some Red-billed Oxpeckers on the Buffalos.

Due to time limitations, after about an hour and a half on the lake, we had to head back to leave us enough time for the drive to the Maasai Mara. The boat guide seemed to be genuinely enjoying having someone as interested in birds as him (especially a 16 year old) and he said he would have liked to spend the whole day looking for birds (or you could look at it cynically and say he was just working on his tip…) but we had to get back, however on the way, I did see a nice group of about eight Little Grebes. We then got back in the car, and headed away from the lake, however along the dirt road on the way out, I did get another nice sighting of a very young Waterbuck.

After leaving Naivasha, we had quite a long drive ahead of us. The initial few hours were along regular paved roads, though I did get some nice views of open fields with some game on them such as Wildebeest and Zebras. There were a few interesting birds seen too, such as lots of White and Abdim’s Storks in the Fields, a group of Spur-winged Geese by an area of water, and a couple of interesting corvids in addition to the numerous Pied Crows – namely quite a few African Rooks, and a single White-naped Raven. According to my field guide, African Rooks are ‘widespread between 1350 and 2500 m in cent. Rift Valley and adjacent highlands’ which gives an idea of the altitude that we were driving at. We also drove past Mount Longonot and got some nice views of it, however we didn’t have time to visit it on this trip. Something for next time?

After a while driving on paved roads, the road that we were driving on suddenly ended and turned into a dirt track. It was still a reasonably good track however, so we were able to continue on pretty much as before just with some more bumps. Animal sightings also increased, and we stopped a few times to look at particularly interesting things on the side of the road including a huge group of Maasai Giraffe, and I also saw a few interesting birds such as a Gabar Goshawk and a Northern Wheatear.

After a while, the roads deteriorated even further. The dirt track that we had been driving on was as wide as a road and could easily be paved over after simply running a road-roller over it, however we then entered dirt tracks which was now basically off-roading and just following that route that cars had taken previously. This would have not been so bad in a big 4x4 car, but we were in a small, heavily loaded minibus, bumping up and down some fairly steep inclines and even fording a couple of small streams. At least the track was reasonably dry though (at least it was then…). There were also a few small Maasai villages, and there were many people about in traditional Maasai clothing herding animals – often on the tracks themselves. We also had to stop a couple of times at improvised tolls (a log held across the road) where a person would collect some money off us to allow us to go past. I think it was 200 Kenyan Shillings each time (about $2 US) but it’s worth it, you’ve got to pay a road maintenance fee, it can’t be easy to keep a road in as bad a shape as this!

There seemed to be quite a few interesting birds around too, though they were difficult/impossible to identify from a moving vehicle, so in a way I was pleased when we stopped to help another minibus that was stuck (the driver of that minibus turned out to be friends with out driver, and we were staying in the same camp and doing the same tour itinerary). Looking around, the landscape was quite interesting. I don’t know very much about plants, but they were still interesting to look at, along with termite mounds, and small insects, and things like that. I also saw a few birds at this stop, these being a Lilac-breasted Roller, a Bataleur, some Purple Grenadiers, as well as various common little brown jobbies, and I got a very nice lifer as well – a D’arnaud’s Barbet.
With some unorthodox engineering that involved hitting a piece of metal that had bent repeatedly with a big rock, we got going again after not too long and continued to our camp.

After arriving, we got introduced to the camp staff and headed to the tents. They were quite cool, not permanent structures, but large stable tents set on concrete a concrete area, with a bit at the back that is a permanent structure and is the shower room with a toilet. There were actual beds in the tent so to be honest, the only thing that was an inconvenience was the lack of electricity (and the internet, though I wouldn't have had much time to use it anyway). There was a single light bulb in the tent, but the generator was only turned on from 5:30 to 10 in the morning, and 7 to 10 in the evening (or thereabouts). The camp itself was just outside the national park, and had lots of planting and trees around so there were a few birds. I didn’t have much time to look around in detail at that time though because we were off on our evening game drive in the Maasai Mara (at this point it was almost 5 PM and sunset when you have to be out is 7-ish). Whilst walking out however, I did have to stop and look in some bushes when I heard a sunbird calling. It turned out to be a lovely male Scarlet-chested Sunbird, which quickly flew off before I could get my camera out. Also around there was a nest with a pair of Purple Grenadiers building it, however I would watch this more later.

Upon reaching the gate to the ‘National Reserve’, while our driver was getting us the entrance tickets, we were mobbed by people trying to sell us trinkets and souvenirs and things like that. The roof of the minibus had been popped up, and the windows all opened ready for game viewing, which just allowed the sellers to try and force us into buying things. We did manage to make it into the park without buying anything though, and started the game drive. The first mammals we saw were some small groups of Coke’s Hartebeest, Topi, Wildebeest, Zebras, and various Gazelles, which turned out to all be common throughout in small groups, and as an additional bonus, many had Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on them, which is the rarer species (though Buffalos seemed to be the main oxpecker hang out). There were also quite a few Wheatears around, mostly Northern, but some Capped as well, and loads of Superb Starlings. We didn’t have very long, so we headed for some Lions, and we soon found two lionesses watching over the plain, which was quite a spectacular view, as were many views around the Maasai Mara in the nice evening light.

A bit further on there were some lion cubs playing, and we watched those for quite a while, and there were a few other vehicles there - about five - but it seems that in the Maasai Mara, the cars are not restricted to roads (which is good in a way, though maybe not the best), so they drove around to make space to view them. But then a call came over the radio and we sped off to somewhere else. We passed a huge herd of Buffalo in the distance and we did stop for a short time on the way to watch a pair of Grey Crowned-cranes, but there must have been something particularly interesting since there were quite a few other vehicles also heading there. I guessed it was either a Rhino, Leopard, or Cheetah, but we soon found out when we saw a mass of vehicles with Cheetah eating something that it had caught, in the middle. This later turned out to be a warthog, and we watched the cheetah eat its meal. It seemed not to be too bothered by the many people watching it, and it was left with a route clear to get away at all times.

We spent a fairly long time watching the cheetah, but the sun soon started to set, so we left and headed out. I hadn’t seen so many birds, but the next day, a full day of safari, would be much slower and allow me to stop and look at all the birds.

Back on camp, I had a bit of a rest because I was exhausted, and I had a bit of a look around for birds, though I only saw some common things such as Red-winged Starlings, various Doves, Common Bulbuls, and some African Paradise Flycatchers. The generators were on so there was some lighting along the paths, but the rest of the place soon became dark and I headed for dinner.

After dinner, I did walk around with a spotlight to see if I could see any nocturnal animals. I saw a smallish bat, however it wasn’t possible to get an ID, but after a while, a Maasai guard came up to me and asked what I was doing. I said I was looking for ‘night animals’ but he waved his torch around a bit and said there were no animals and I should go back to the main areas of the camp. I don’t think I would have seen a huge amount anyway though due to the fencing around the area.

Upon returning to my tent for bed, I found that it was full of ants! Some ants had moved in and made a nest, but luckily there was a spare tent, so I moved to that and soon got to sleep to the sound of insects, with a resident Hemidactylus sharing the tent.


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