Friday, August 31, 2012

Day 13--Taita Hills

We were out birding around the grounds of the lodge by 6:30.  It proved to be one of the birdiest lodges we had visited, and it kept us busy for well over an hour.  It was one of the few times so far during the trip where we were simply birding--seeing what was there, sorting thru so many different birds that were hungrily starting their day.  The photo below is of one of the huts we stayed in at Village Shasha Camp.

One of the prettiest birds of the morning was the little bee-eater (all the rest of the photos in today's post were taken by Bob--click on any photo to enlarge).

We also got very good looks for the first time on our trip of a northern brownbul (just above), and our first sighting of a red-fronted tinkerbird which is related to the barbets (just below).

It proved to be a barbet morning as we also had our first sightings on the trip of a brown-breasted (just above), and spot-flanked (just below).

We finally tore ourselves away from the birds including the Abyssinian white-eye just below in order to have some breakfast before making the drive up into the Taita Hills.  We had the first french toast of the trip, along with some scrambled eggs, and fruit.  It was a nice change of pace. 

Our main goal for the day was to find 3 endemic species in the Taita Hills.  It took us about an hour to make the drive up to the birding area.  On the way we found a melanistic form of the augur buzzard.  Once we reached the edge of the forest, we picked up a park ranger who knew best where to look for the endemics. As we traveled further up into the hills to reach the endemics' habitat, we found 3 striped pipits feeding on a grassy hillside (just below).

Once we entered the main forest area, we got out to search for the endemics.  We walked a short way into the forest on a trail and immediately located the Taita thrush, a skulker that feeds on the forest floor.  Bob's photos of the bird were mostly obscured by the foliage, so I have not used any here.

Next we walked down the road a bit, and heard the Taita apalis singing.  It took us no time to find it feeding in some dense leafy trees.  Unfortunately, the apalis photos also turned out poorly.  The good news photo-wise is that Bob was able to get a nice diagnostic shot of the 3rd endemic--the Taita white-eye.  The eye ring is so pronounced that we all thought it looked like someone had glued a wintergreen lifesaver candy on the bird's face.

We found all 3 endemics so quickly that we were able to begin the long drive back to Nairobi earlier than expected.  We would occasionally stop to check out spots along the highway, but nothing special was found.  We had to make the drive around part of Nairobi to get to the Masai Lodge which is on the edge of Nairobi National Park.  The traffic was quite bad at times, including an accident.  This was one of those points where we were so glad to have John driving the landcruiser.

We arrived at the lodge after dark having bumped and bounced our way down 10 kilometers of heavily rutted dirt road, and went straight to dinner.  Instead of a buffet, we ordered off the menu.  I had a very good steak with french fries.  Stu ordered a pizza which was surprisingly good.  Bob and Brian had an Indian curry dish that they liked just fine.  We did not finish eating and doing the bird list update until after 10:30.  We headed to bed to be ready for another early morning start for our day in Nairobi NP.  Stay tuned!

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