Sunday, August 26, 2012

Days 10 and 11--Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek

We met at 6:30 for a made to order breakfast--we were there way to early for the buffet to be set up.  Fruit, fruit juices, scrambled eggs and toast with coffee and tea got us out the door of the hotel.  We picked up Albert, a local bird guide, on the way to the interior of the Arabuko--Sokoke Forest, which is called Sokoke for short.  Our first new trip bird for the day was the crested guineafowl.

It was intermittently overcast and clear, and as we drove the road slowly we would stop to check out any feeding flocks that we encountered.  Another new trip bird was the Amani sunbird. Bob got a nice picture of a pale batis just below which was our first sighting of this previously heard only bird.

Late morning it began to sprinkle at times.  We found one of our target birds, the four-colored bush-shrike, but the bird is such a skulker that even though we played a tape for probably 15 minutes, we only got very brief glimpses of it as it moved thru the foliage.

Soon after seeing the bush-shrike, we had a good sized mixed feeding flock cross the road.  We decided to follow it off road.  We had walked maybe 15 minutes into the woods when it began to rain, and it continued to rain for 10-15 minutes which ended up totally soaking us except for Stu who had a small umbrella.  While it was raining, we were circling back towards the road.  But after walking another 10 minutes after the rain had stopped we had not found the dirt road.

As we were heading into the forest, Stu had asked what we were doing to mark our route, but neither Brian or Albert seemed to think that would be a problem.  We got out Brian's small compass to determine which way was north because we knew that the road ran east/west, and we had been walking south initially.  The forest can be very dense in places, so as we worked our way back north, we would have to zig and zag to follow elephant and poacher paths (we found one snare).  After another 15 minutes we still had not reached the road, so we tried to call our driver, John, to have him honk the truck horn, but we could not get him to answer his cell phone.

Next we called 2 other people to see if they could get John on the phone.  After a few more minutes we finally got John on the phone.  He had to move the truck to get cell service, and once he did we were able to reach him.  He began to honk the horn every few minutes.  We realized after the first honk that we were pretty close, and 10 minutes later we zigzagged our way back to the road.  It turned out we had overcompensated in our circling back during the rain, which is why it took so long to find our way back to the road once we got the compass directions worked out.  Where we came out onto the road was a full kilometer east of where we had entered the forest.

It was now well past noon, so we ate our box lunch.  We had asked the hotel to make us a sandwich instead of the usual tired grilled chicken, and requested that they put some potato chips which are known as crisps or crackles in E. Africa.  We discovered instead that they had packed cornflakes for us to eat.

After eating we drove some distance to walk a different forest road.  Our target bird was the Sokoke forest dwelling pipit.  We spent 2 hours walking out and back a distance of about 5 miles, but did not find the stealthy pipit.  We did see Retz's helmetshrikes, blue-mantled crested-flycatchers, and an elephant shrew.  We also found a Bell's hinged tortoise eating a mushroom.

It was getting late enough that we decided to return to the office area of the forest to check a roost where a bat hawk had been seen for the past month.  When we first got to the site, the bird was not perched in its usual spot, but we looked around and located it nearby.  This hawk eats bats at dusk and dawn, thus its name (photo taken by Bob).

We continued to bird the area as dusk approached.  We heard some scaly babblers, but could not locate them in the failing light.  We also played an African wood-owl tape, but could not call one in.  We still had a 45 minute drive back to Malindi, so we decided to call it a day. 

We gathered for dinner at 8 PM to find another large buffet spread plus our waiter informed us that we could order a pasta starter dish.  I tried the amatriciana sauce over bucatini, and the others ate the tuna and olives over fresh tagliolini.  Both pastas were excellent.  It turns out that the hotel is owned by Italians.  Malindi is a beach destination for Italians, and supposedly there are a few mafioso who have "retired" to Malindi.

The Skorpio Villas felt like a beach resort hotel that you may have seen in the Caribbean.  The photo just above shows a lounging area next to the swimming pool.  The photo just below is of the entry to one of the rooms with outside mosquito netted beds for taking a nap.

On day 11 we were up early again with the same made to order breakfast.  We picked up Albert on the way to the forest.  Some of our first birds of the day was the scaly babbler we had only heard the day before; a little sparrowhawk; a trumpeter hornbill (photo just above), and several chestnut-fronted helmetshrikes (both photos taken by Bob).

Our main target bird for the morning was the Sokoke pipit that once again was a no show.  But while slowly working thru the undergrowth, Albert did find us a beautiful pygmy kingfisher (photo just below taken by Bob).

John needed to run some errands in Malindi, so we decided to return to Mida Creek for lunch while John was gone.  The sun was out brightly at mid day, and we enjoyed the cool breeze that was blowing in off the water.  We had another mediocre lunch though. 

One of the rangers at Mida Creek showed us some artwork done by the local children to sell to support their school.  I decided to pick up 2 pieces--on the left is a spotted thick-knee and on the right is a northern carmine bee-eater.  We had seen the bee-eater at Mida and Sabaki, but had not yet seen the thick-knee.

There was also a sea turtle that had been caught in a fishing net.  In Kenya, they pay fisherman to not kill any turtles that they may snag in their nets as a way to protect the sea turtles.  This one was waiting to be returned to the water.

Once John returned from his errands, we drove back to the same dirt road we had walked yesterday afternoon in hopes of finally locating a Sokoke pipit.  As we slowly worked our way down the road, we found a dung beetle rolling up its dung ball (click on any photo to enlarge).

We also came across one of the many ant "troops" that we would see in the forest areas.  You did not want to step into them because their bites can be very annoying.

Soon after avoiding this ant "troop", we found another elephant shrew.  Then Albert came out of the forest to say he had finally located 2 Sokoke pipits.  We followed him in, and did see them moving quietly thru the undergrowth.  Bob tried very hard to get a photo, but none of them were clear enough.  As we were working to see the pipit, a bearded scrub-robin briefly popped into view (photo just below taken by Bob).  We had only heard this bird so far.

We began the 2 mile walk back, and as we neared the entrance we decided to try again for an African wood-owl.  Albert walked back the remaining distance to get a torch.  He returned to say that a Verreaux's eagle-owl was calling by the gate.  We rushed up to the gate area, but by the time we got there the owl had stopped calling.  We looked around for 20 more minutes, but did not hear it, so we climbed into the landcruiser as dark descended on us.

For the 3rd night in a row we feasted on a buffet dinner, but also tried a pasta dish to start--gnocchi with bolognese sauce was my pick.  We went thru the day's birds, and discovered that we had only 6 new trip birds, but after 11 days of birding we had passed 400 different species seen and/or heard.  Tomorrow's destination was Tsavo East.  Stay tuned!

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