Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 22--Nakuru NP and Lake Baringo

We were up and out quickly after consuming a passable breakfast.  It was Sunday morning, so we had no traffic while making the short drive to Nakuru NP which has at its center Lake Nakuru--a soda lake that recently has risen above its normal level killing many trees along its shoreline.  We immediately found some waterbucks resting in the grass.  Nearby we spotted a red-throated wryneck (photo taken by Bob--click on any photo to enlarge), and then found a second a bit further along the road.

The lake edge was teeming with birdlife including pink-backed and great white pelicans (new trip bird), 1000's of white breasted cormorants, and many yellow-billed storks.

We found a troop of yellow baboons hanging out along the road.

Cape teals were seen at many stops along the way, along with hottentot and red-billed teals.

The lake normally would have 100's of thousands of lesser flamingos, but with the high water there were only a few hundred lesser, and even fewer greater flamingos.  Marabou storks populated the shoreline (largest bird with black wings).

Shorebirds were feeding in the wet areas.  I was thrilled to see several hundred ruffs in various sizes and breeding plumages (photo just above--click on any photo to enlarge).  Finding a ruff during my big year in 2010 consumed many birding hours at several locations before I finally saw one at the Salton Sea.  We saw our first green (photo taken by Bob) and marsh sandpipers.

We were able to enjoy both blacksmith (just above) and spur-wing lapwings (just below), and saw our first long-toed lapwing mostly buried while feeding in the grass.  We also got to watch a black heron do its hooding feeding routine in the shallow water (photo taken by Bob).  It bends low over the water and spreads its wings in front of its head to better see its food moving about in the water.  Other herons seen included striated, squacco, gray and black-headed.  Great white, intermediate, cattle and little egrets also were abundant.

In the larid family we saw gull-billed, white-winged and whiskered terns, plus 100's of gray-hooded gulls with 2 black-headed fly bys.

The cape buffalo were spread around the lake, as were many other tourist groups.  The Japanese were often wearing small white masks, and the teenagers, traveling in large camping "overlanders", all seemed to be having a great time.

White-fronted bee-eaters (photo just above) were flycatching all along the road.  We found our first and only Eurasian hoopoe as well.

Just past the hoopoe we came across a magnificent white rhino.  Within minutes we were surrounded by 7 vehicles full of  big game "hunters" who had been radioed about the rhino.  The crush of excited people hardly diminished the joy of observing such a wild creature.  We spent several minutes watching it munch its way thru the vegetation.

We extricated our vehicle from the mob and proceeded to continue our drive around the lake, finding birds like the African spoonbill and the yellow-billed duck.  We had an Ovampo sparrowhawk and a peregrine falcon fly past us--both new birds for the trip.

Near the end of the loop road we found some black and white colobus monkeys.

Early in the afternoon we had to tear ourselves away from the park to make the drive up to Lake Baringo, another soda lake.  As we left the park we stopped briefly at the exit gate to use the bathroom.  There was a shop with 1000's of animal carvings done by the local people.  I was overwhelmed with the shear number of fine carvings, but gathered my wits long enough to pick out a black rhino sculpted from teak.  It now sits in my living room to give me fond memories of Lake Nakuru.

We needed to reach Lake Baringo by late afternoon to have a chance to find a grayish eagle-owl, which would be the the last of the eagle-owl species for us to see in East Africa.  We arrived at 4:30 and picked up Willie, another local guide.  We were pumped up about seeing this bird because Brian had told us that he had never had a trip where he saw all 5 eagle-owl species.  Our expectations were immediately dashed when Willie said the pair of eagle-owls had not been seen for almost 2 months.  Why Brian had not been apprised of this fact I don't understand because when we asked him about other places to see this 5th species, he said he knew of none because he always had been able to see it at Lake Baringo.

We did get to see several other new trip birds before the sun went down including Heuglin's courser (photo just above), 3 striped tchagra, mouse-colored penduline tit, gray-headed bushshrike, Wahlberg's honeybird, and Hemprich's hornbill. We also found one of the bee hive structures hanging in a tree that the locals build to be able to gather honey.

We checked into the Lake Baringo Lodge where I had to take a picture of the sign at the desk informing customers about hippo and wake up calls.

Lake Baringo is also way above its normal water levels which has made 10 of the 42 rooms at the lodge unusable.  What is even stranger is that the lake just 3 years ago was so low that it was a 2 km walk from the lodge to the edge of the lake. 

We did see 2 more new trip birds--northern masked weavers (an endemic), and white-billed buffalo-weavers that nest right behind the main lodge area.  Before sitting down to dinner, we chatted with a fellow from Michigan St. University who is doing doctoral research on the introduction of mesquite as a firewood source.  It has proven to be a disaster as it has become a horrible invasive plant species much like kudzu in the U.S. Dinner proved to be pretty good, and our review of the day's birding gave us just over 170 bird species seen for the day with 25 being new trip birds.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day 21--Naro Moru to Nakuru

We awoke to bright sunshine, so we did some birding around the lodge before heading in to eat breakfast.  As we wandered around we discovered the entrance to the squash court.  Brian had forgotten to tell us to bring racquets, so we had to pass on playing some squash. 

Not far from the court we did find a brown parisoma--a very boring little brown bird.  There were lots of other birds around, including a green pigeon (photo taken by Bob), but the parisoma was the only new species for the trip, so we went in for our morning meal which once again was nothing to write home about.

After eating we spent a bit more time walking the grounds.  With the sun higher in the sky, the sunbirds began to feed on the flowering trees.  We picked up green-headed sunbird for the trip (photo just above taken by Bob), and saw a few lovely scarlet-chested sunbirds (click on any photo to enlarge).

At one point a tree hyrax appeared on the ground and seemed unconcerned with our presence.

Like our early morning at Village Shasha Camp, there were birds everywhere.  We made the walk along the river one more time looking for the African finfoot, but to no avail.

Just before leaving at 8:30 AM we saw a couple of tacazze sunbirds, and Brian said we had seen already 59 species for the day. We spent the next couple of hours slowly driving along a dirt road that ran for 19 kilometers through a very open grasslands.  Brian told us that one February he had found as many as 9 different raptor species hunting the area.  Many of them were palearctic species, so we had no chance at that high number.  We did see a new trip bird--a greater kestrel (photo taken by Bob).  We also were looking for black-bellied bustard.  Instead we found a total of 7 white-bellied bustards. 

Our next stop for the day was to look for a cape eagle-owl.  We met Paul, a local birder, who lives near the nest site of this large owl.  As we arrived it began to rain.  Paul could not find the owl in his scope, so we spent about 10 minutes walking down the hill, thru some cultivated fields to a swollen stream.  Paul took about 10 minutes to somehow cross the stream, and climb the hillside to get above the owl roost.  His efforts caused the owl to flush.  He then relocated it on our side of the stream.  As we approached the tree it was hiding in, it flushed again.  Neither brief sighting gave us a chance to get a photo.

The rain let up as we walked back up the hill.  As we came near to another large tree back up towards the road, the owl flushed one more time, giving us a view of its back for the first time, but again not a photo.  We did see a flock of crimson-rumped (new trip bird) and common waxbills.  Just up the road we looked for red-throated wryneck (a type of woodpecker), and rock buntings.  Instead we found a pair of Hartlaub's turacos, a giant kingfisher, and a yellow bishop in breeding plumage.

Next stop on our way to Nakuru was a forest area that produced several slender-billed starlings and a cuckoo hawk both of which were new trip birds.  We also found another tacazze sunbird. We stopped briefly at a small lake at 9,000 ft. elevation which has the highest known population of hippos.  We picked up hottentot teals there.

Our lodging for the night was high on a hill giving us fine views of Lake Nakuru as the sun set.  That was all the place had to recommend it.  Our meal was so bad that I got up and walked out.  I went to bed looking forward to visiting Nakuru NP.  I also knew that we had only 10 more days of birding plus 1 day of gorilla trekking left in this most amazing trip.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 20--Shaba to Naro Moru

We awoke to another beautiful morning, and headed down to breakfast at the main lodge, checking out the water hole as we went.  There were no new birds or animals to add to the story, but it was still nice to watch the hole from our breakfast table.  A speckled pigeon did perch for a time on the roof of the dining area (click on any photo to enlarge).  We packed up and very reluctantly left Simba Lodge uncertain as to whether we would stay anywhere else on our trip that would be as nice.

Our main focus for the day was to visit Shaba Reserve--the 3rd part of Samburu NP.  The drive was not all that far from the lodge.  Shaba proved to have different habitat from either Buffalo Springs or Samburu Reserve.

We picked up an "askari" with a rifle to be ready to scare off any potential lions whenever we got out of the landcruiser to search for birds.  Right after entering the reserve we found a new trip bird--brown-tailed chat feeding in a volcanic section of rocks. 

Our number one target bird was the endemic William's lark which meant we did not daudle in order to get out quickly to the grassy area where the bird breeds.  Our only stop was when we found a Heuglin's bustard much to Brian's surprise since they normally are not found so far south in Kenya.  When we said that was nice, but we still really wanted to see a Kori bustard, he laughed and said "that would be like saying you would rather see a Virginia rail instead of a yellow rail".  As soon as we got to the large grassy habitat we found the William's lark (photo taken by Bob), and successfully chased it around the savannah, flushing several.

With the William's now on our checklist, and no lions to distract us, we much more slowly drove back towards the entrance.  Our eyes were peeled for a Kori when Bob excitedly said stop the truck.  Sure enough after so many days of looking for it we had crossed paths with one.  Like the secretary bird, it slowly walked thru the grass looking for food seemingly unperturbed by our gawking (photo taken by Bob).

In so many parts of our trip we would see large termite mounds which often would be built around a living tree.  Near this mound we also found another new trip bird--the magpie starling (photo just above).  And a bit further along we picked up bristle-crowned starlings as well golden-breasted starling (photo just below taken by Bob).

 We stopped at one point to wander thru the bush with our askari following close by.  We saw several small birds like gray and green-tailed apalis.  We found another Somali crombec which Brian had not seen at Shaba before.  Bob got a nice photo of 3 black-faced sandgrouse. Down by the river we spied at some distance a goliath heron (photo taken by Bob) not far from a tribesman with some of his animals.

By mid day it was time to begin our trek to Naro Moru where we would be spending the night.  On the way we stopped at a forest area to see what might be around.  It proved very productive as we turned up brown-backed woodpecker, slender-billed greenbul, and thick-billed seedeater--all new for the trip.  We also had good looks at gray-headed negrofinch, eastern bronze-naped pigeon, yellow-rumped tinkerbird, yellow-whiskered and yellow-bellied greenbul, red-faced cisticola, and a male purple-throated cuckoo-shrike.

We arrived at Naro Moru just before dark.  As we walked along the river to reach our rooms 2 black ducks swam into view.  We dropped our gear, and walked slowly along the river looking for African finfoots that skulk along the edge of streams.  This was Stu's number one target bird by this point in our trip.  As the dark closed in around us, and rain began to fall, we gave up looking and hurried back to our rooms.

After 20 minute of fairly hard rain, it let up before we walked up to the lodge for dinner.  We once again had not much to write home about other than there was a pasta station that was new and not bad.  After doing the bird checklist update we discovered that after just 20 days we had seen and/or heard just over 600 bird species!  We went to bed amazed that we were averaging 30 new birds seen per day.  One note for my readers, because I do not want to slow down the pace of presenting this trip too much, it might be worth checking back 2 or even 3 posts to see if I have added more photos that Bob was able to get to me.  For example, I added 5 new pictures today to Day 18.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 19--Samburu

We were up at first light to see what birds and wild animals might be around the lodge.  We found a new trip bird--white-headed mousebird, perched in a group in a bush where they had spent the night.

At breakfast we had an intermediate heron fly over the small waterhole.  For the second day in a row we had a very tasty morning meal--fresh squeezed oj and passion fruit juice, bacon, fried potatoes, pancakes and eggs.  We headed out soon after 8 AM to make the short drive over to the Samburu reserve part of the park which has slightly different habitat than Buffalo Springs.  We found several dik-dik as we slowly drove the dirt roads.  We stopped at one spot to listen for birds, and Stu noticed 4 bush babies in a small, leafless tree.  Brian said in all his years in E. Africa he had only seem them at night.  While looking at the bush babies we heard a stone partridge calling on the rocky hillside above us.

A little further along our route Bob got a photo of cut-throat finches and African silverbills.

We stopped at Sopa Lodge, and found several small birds getting a drink--purple grenadier, black-capped social-weaver, and blue-capped cordonbleu--click on any photo to enlarge.  We sat for a short time in the lounge to drink coffee and tea while watching a small waterhole where a desert warthog came in for a long drink.  As we were leaving we saw fan-tailed ravens (photo taken by Bob).

After wandering around on the roads for another hour or so, we stopped in at Samburu Lodge and found a few more new trip birds including northern puffback, violet woodhoopoe, shining sunbird (photo taken by Bob) and eastern yellow-billed hornbill.

Down by the river we got our first good look at a hooded vulture.  We also were told that 3 Verreaux's eagle-owls had been sitting in one of the very large trees the day before.  We searched that tree, and those nearby, but only found a pearl-spotted owlet.

We saw a couple of black-backed jackals which were not particularly cooperative about our taking a photo.

A pair of spotted thick-knees, which are hard to see in the field and in the photo (just left of small shrub in right-center of photo), were another new trip bird.

We found 4 gray-headed kingfishers during our meandering thru the savannah, hills and riverine habitats.   We added ashy cisticola to our growing list of "coca-cola" birds (photo taken by Bob).

 Pale prinia, Somali crombec, and Somali tit were also added to the trip list. Red-billed hornbills seemed to be everywhere.

Mid afternoon we headed back to Buffalo Springs to look again for kori and black-bellied bustards, and Lichtenstein grouse.   We found none of them, but did see a Tawny eagle (photo taken by Bob). And we did just miss seeing a cheetah that disappeared into the tall grasses.  Down by the river there were several small groups of elephants with a few crossing over to our side.

John, our driver, was carefully looking in all the large trees for panthers.  While it would have been very nice to see one, we were thrilled to find a Verreaux's eagle-owl as a consolation prize.

The daylight began to fade thus ending one of the very best days of the trip.  Back at the lodge a troop of yellow baboons ambled by the waterhole.

The buffet dinner was one of our better meals--lemon fish, baby lamb chops, curried white beans, roasted potatoes, Kenya (green) beans and salad.  Dessert was a chocolate layer cake with whipped cream.  We did our nightly bird list update before heading off to sleep.  After the superlative day we had just completed, we were looking forward to spending the morning at the Shaba reserve, the 3rd part of Samburu NP.  Stay tuned!