Visit your favourite destinations
As a group of 5 birdwatchers and naturalists who have known and travelled together over the last 11 years, mostly in Europe and north Africa, we meet for a meal each winter to choose a destination for the next trip, usually some months in the future. In winter 07/08 we decided a trip to Kenya was feasible as at that time an exchange rate of 2USD to 1GBP prevailed. As I was the only member of the group who had visited the country before, I agreed to make the arrangements. On the recommendations of friends who had done a 16 day trip in November 2006, I contacted www.natureswonderlandsafaris.com and began producing an itinerary that would minimise travel and maximise birding habitats and keep the costs to a reasonable level as Kenya is rather expensive.
After 6 weeks of group and company consultation the following itinerary was chosen, beginning mid-January 2009 for 15 nights: Flight arrival 2100hrs local time and stay in Nairobi.
We drove to Thika sewage works (more appealing than its sounds) and marshes, an exceptional location for waders as well as some wildfowl. After lunch at Chania falls we drove on to Wajee camp for forest birds and a true rarity, Hinde’s babbler, which we saw well along with wood owl, Verraux’s eagle owl and several forest species. We spent the night in the basic but clean accommodation and spent the next early morning birding the local area before breakfast then moving on to the Mount Kenya National Park and our very plush stay in Mountain Lodge (altitude 7200 feet), which has a roof terrace and room balconies overlooking a large waterhole in tall forest. The waterholes is floodlit throughout the night and here we saw many forest species of birds as well as waterbuck, elephant, bushbuck, buffalo, genet, white-tailed mongoose and giant rat, We spent most of the afternoon with scopes and cameras on the roof terrace overlooking the forest birding and towards sunset had stunning views of the peaks and glacier of Mount Kenya.
After a sumptuous breakfast we departed and slowly made our way through the Park forest, stopping several times for birds and a memorable stop at a crowned eagle’s nest tree with a pair of eagles present (what a sight!). From here we exited the park and pressed on over the highlands for our next venue some 4 hours drive north in Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Parks which include about 50 kms of bumpy and dusty unmade road. We arrived at the park gates about 1400hrs and booked in then spent the next 3 hours slowly driving another 35 km through the park seeing many new bird species and animals including very good views of a lone cheetah. We arrived at our accommodation for the next 3 nights at Samburu Sentirim, a large new site adjacent to the seasonal river with 40 luxury fixed tents sited on raised timber decks with patios overlooking the river and tall trees and very well fitted out with superb showers. It also has a very nice restaurant and bar area. The next 2 full days were spent with morning and late afternoon drives birding and game watching with a lunch and siesta break from 1230 to 1530 through the heat of the day. Daily we saw many new species of birds especially large birds of prey including Verraux’s eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, bateleur, martial eagle, tawny eagle, black chested snake eagle, white backed and Ruppell’s griffon vultures and also had close encounters with lions, Grevy’s zebras, and reticulated giraffes. This northern area of Kenya was very dry following a poor rainy season but the abundant acacias were in flower and attracting lots of insects especially bees. The river was not flowing with only a few scattered stagnant pools.
From Samburu /Buffalo Springs National Parks, we returned to the highlands for a night at the river lodge in Naro Moru and arrived late afternoon having stopped several times en route for birds and lunch. Again, several new species of birds were found in the lush woodland and stream of the grounds by Joseph and tree hyrax was common here and very vocal at night with some weird calls.
We left after breakfast taking a back route for the first 40 kms passing some large private game ranches alongside the road with more new bird species including our first secretary birds as well as white rhinos. We then travelled back to the main highway and stopped at a disused quarry where we had our only very good views of Mackinder’s eagle owl along with cinnamon breasted bunting. Travelling on we then came to the escarpment overlooking the rift valley and descended to our destination at Lake Nakuru National Park staying for 2 nights in the well appointed Nakuru Lodge. We spent almost 3 days in this park with some terrific birding and game watching, the highlight being a lion kill (a zebra) and then a mass of vultures, kites and 3 black-backed jackals clearing the zebra’s remains including good views of 4 lappet-faced vultures. Many new species of birds were seen in this wonderful park and we had our first good views of black rhino. White rhino were common with one group of 8 seen and some good herds of buffalo were present.
Our departure was in the afternoon of 4th day in Lake Nakuru National Park and we headed north for 2 and a half hours to the hot and remote Lake Baringo, another very good birding location and a 2 night stay at the Lake Baringo Club Lodge situated in large lakeside private grounds watered and with lush trees. At night hippos feeding on the lawns and we had to be escorted from the dining area to our rooms! Birds of particular note seen only here were the stunning sulphur-breasted and grey crowned bush shrikes, also slender tailed nightjar and Hemprich’s hornbill. Our species list for the group had now topped 355 mostly due to Joseph’s knowledge and incredible eyesight.
From Baringo we returned south with a four and half hour journey to Crater Lake with its secluded lodges set inside the large extinct volcano at around 6000 feet and somewhat cooler than the heat of Baringo. Yet more new bird species turned up and we had our first sighting of a spotted hyena, having only heard them in previous locations. We also took a 90 minute night drive here and had good views of several spring hares (a large rodent that hops like a kangaroo), 3 bat eared foxes, a zorillla and various mongooses. We also had our only marsh owl sighting. On our second day here we drove to the nearby Lake Naivasha and took a 2 hour boat ride and again viewed several new bird species including giant kingfisher, many egrets, herons, cormorants and also many whiskered and a few gull billed terns
On leaving this area we travelled up to almost 8000 feet on the edge of the Abadares National Park, walking over some farm grassland and seeing the rare and declining Sharpe’s longclaw and several long-tailed widow birds including 3 males in full breeding plumage with their outrageous long tails that restricts their flight. We also spent 2 hours in a part of the primary forest of the park again seeing new species, before leaving in late afternoon for the 90 minute drive to Nairobi and our final 2 nights and a full day in Nairobi national park.
Our last day and yet again a wonderful experience with yet more new bird species seen as well as some fine game sighting with almost 1000 zebra, our first views of Coke’s hartebeest and a male and female lion passing within 20 metres of our vehicle disturbed 2 Shelley’s francolins yet another new bird species. Also seen in this fine park were Hartlaub’s bustard, rosy-breasted longclaw, quail finch and several lovely male pallid harriers and by the end of our 14th full and final day we left the park at closing time 1800 hrs with a grand tally of 431 species of birds seen and memories of a lifetime for all of us.
We left on the following morning saying some reluctant goodbyes to Joseph and Simon the guide and driver respectively who were superb throughout and being Kenyan, had a great advantage in giving us an insight into their incredibly diverse country and its fantastic wildlife.
For details of Natures Wonderland Safaris go to www.naturesonderlandsafaris.com
For the 5 of us sharing 3 rooms for 15 nights 14 days with 4x4 9-seater minibus with photographic roof hatch all food and park fees excluding cold drinks and gratuity payments for luggage porters and waiters etc, the cost was 3440 USD each plus airfares. We can highly recommend this company, its prices are very competitive with the larger operators and the knowledge and awesome spotting ability of Joseph Mwangi, the company owner and our guide, has to be seen to be believed.