Kenya October 2011

To see a list of the birds seen on this trip click here

To see a list of the mammals seen on this trip click here

I was the leader of this Naturetrek trip to Kenya, with 8 clients, two minibuses and 2 local driver guides.

Wednesday 5th October 2011

The group met at Heathrow airport in the morning and left on a British Airways flight for the 8 and a half hour journey to Nairobi, arriving 9pm local time. We then transferred to the Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi, for overnight. After a long day we settled in for our overnight stop in Nairobi with the exciting prospect of two weeks on safari to come from tomorrow.

Thursday 6th October 2011

It was an early departure from our overnight hotel in Nairobi as we headed to our first game reserve at Tsavo West. Although there have been improvements to the road system since the last time I was here, it took nearly 6 hours to drive to the lodge at Kilanguni. Nonetheless it was worth the drive. A beautifully appointed lodge perfectly situated overlooking a waterhole.

After checking in it was time for lunch. Then we departed at 4pm for our first game viewing drive of the holiday. It was nice to settle back and move at a more leisurely pace after the morning's long drive. All eyes were scanning for wildlife and soon we were watching Ostriches, Zebras, Dik Diks and a couple of shy Lesser Kudu. We came across a couple of female Buff-crested Bustards moving slowly in the bush. A Bateleur settled in a nearby treetop giving excellent views. Then, a party of that most elegant of antelope, Fringe-eared Oryx, was spotted. We worked our way slowly to Mzima Springs. However, the access to it had just closed by the time we arrived. Retracing our route we came across a pride of 7 lions in the road. We had only just passed this spot and had seen nothing there only about 15 minutes earlier! We all got fantastic views as they lay in the road for a while before sauntering off majestically in search of an evening meal - an excellent close to today's proceedings.

Friday 7th October 2011

We started the day with a game drive after first getting a cup of coffee to help wake us up. We then spent the pre breakfast period driving around the vast reserve which is Tsavo West. A couple of Lesser Kudu were a good early find - these are not only a very beautiful antelope but they are also quite shy so we were lucky indeed. Two wandering young male Elephants caused a stir, especially when one of them made a 'false' charge at one of our vehicles. On the bird front a flock of a hundred or so Helmeted Guineafowl crossed the road and dust bathed at the side of the vehicles. When seen close-up like this they really are a stunningly beautiful bird. Among several other morning highlights were 10 Orange-bellied Parrots - it seemed incongruous to see birds more usually associated with rainforest environments in the dry African bush.

A pair of Little Bee Eaters was a nice find. A smattering of Hornbills and Shrikes was seen before we returned to the lodge for breakfast. The middle of the day is when most animal activity declines due to the heat. But what better place for us to spend the quiet time than on the verandah of the Kilanguni lodge overlooking the waterhole. Right in front of us the African savannah spread out and the waterhole attracted a host of mammals and birds. Warthogs, Masai Giraffe, Waterbuck and Zebra were all on show. The birders were entertained by a very obliging Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Martial Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Three-banded Plover and Namaqua Dove.

All too soon, we had to get ready for our afternoon game drive. The main attraction on this was a return visit to the famous Mzima Springs, where millions of gallons of fresh water gush to the surface from an underground river. Here we were able to get out of our vans and, with the presence of an armed guard, walk around to look for wildlife. We saw Syke's and Colobus Monkeys, Darters, our first Hippopotamus of the trip and a single Crocodile. We ventured into the underwater viewing platform and saw numerous Barbel but no views of Hippopotamus underwater, alas.

We left for Kilanguni Serena Lodge at 6pm. Then it was dinner and for five guests, an optional night drive. Highlights on the drive were a Black-backed Jackal and a pair of Galalgo or Bush Babies, caught in the spotlight.

Saturday 8th October 2011

By this morning, it was clear that most clients (and the leader and our two minibus drivers) had been affected with food poisoning. After discussion, 4 guests proceeded to Amboseli Serena Lodge with the other four to proceed on Sunday after a period of rest.

Departing Tsavo West at 7:30 we arrived in Amboseli at 12:30. We were treated to a brief view of the top of the snow-capped Kilimanjaro - at over 18,000 feet high, the tallest mountain on the continent of Africa. Some had lunch, others opted to abstain. At 4pm we went out for an afternoon game drive. Highlights were many but the 100 or more Elephants wading through the marsh was a fine sight, with a group of Hippopotamuses interspersed among them.

We had great views of Zebra, Wildebeest, Thomson's Gazelle and two confiding Spotted Hyenas. Birds included a pair of Kori Bustards - the world's heaviest flying bird. Grey Crowned Cranes, Two-banded Courser, a couple of giant Goliath Herons, Long-toed Lapwings and a group of confiding Collared Pratincoles were also seen. A single, very distant, Saddle-billed Stork was picked out. However, the most extraordinary bird present was a dark phase adult Arctic Skua which flew almost at vehicle roof height right over our heads and caused mayhem among the plovers which all took flight to hassle this species which, surely, they can never have encountered before. Amboseli lies about 400 km from the coast, so this skua was well and truly off course. Preliminary research revealed a previous record of Arctic Skua for Amboseli, 20 years ago - clearly a record to savour.

At the end of the drive we returned to the lodge and got an early night and look forward to the rest of the group meeting up with us tomorrow.

Sunday 9th October 2011

This morning the group at Amboseli left for a morning game drive pre breakfast and had another successful sortie into the Amboseli reserve. Sadly cloud was draped over the summit of Kilimanjaro but this did not stop us enjoying the wildlife on offer. Plenty of Wildebeest, Tomson's Gazelles and Plains Zebras were around and were being observed by three Spotted Hyenas. No Arctic Skua this morning, the title of star bird going to a huge Saddle-billed Stork. This was much closer than the distant individual we saw yesterday, and we were able to pick out the small yellow wattles on either side of the base of the bill. Once again, the Elephants were in the swamp, some up to their necks in water and seemingly enjoying themselves, alongside the Hippopotamus.

At noon, we were rejoined by the four members of the group who had stayed behind at Tsavo West. We then went out as a full party on our afternoon game drive and saw much of what we had experienced in the morning. New species were a couple of Whiskered Terns as well as a Cardinal and African Grey Woodpecker on the same tree at the same height above ground but on opposite sides of the trunk - a great way to compare them. We once again admired the wallowing pachyderms and finally enjoyed some sunset shots before returning to the lodge and dinner.

Monday 10th October 2011

Today we made the transfer from the Amboseli Serena lodge to the Sopa lodge at Lake Naivasha. The journey is a long one and we made an early start in overcast conditions which soon turned to drizzle and then a brief spell of heavy rain. As we left Amboseli we again caught glimpses of several antelope species as well as the wallowing Elephants in the marsh. Soon we rejoined the quiet but excellent tarmac road which eventually joined the main Mombasa to Nairobi highway. Turning north here, we arrived in Nairobi 4 hours after starting out, and had an enjoyable lunch at the renowned Carnivore restaurant, which also helped to break our journey.

The rain stopped over dinner and things gradually brightened up.  At 2 o'clock we continued to make our way to the eastern rim of the Great Rift Valley, where we stopped again to admire the view. Whilst stretching our legs, we saw a White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher and a male Reichenhow's Weaver, busily constructing his nest of dry grass to try and impress his mate. Below us on the cliff edge an African Rock Martin and a Red-rumped Swallow made repeated flights along the side of this great gash in the earth’s crust.

We were soon on our way again and by 4:30 we had arrived at our destination for the next two nights. After a rest and freshen up, some of us explored the area in front of our beautifully appointed accommodation, seeing such nice birds as Northern Anteater Chat, African Hoopoe, Fischer's Lovebird and Diederik Cuckoo. We also saw a couple of Masai Giraffes, several Waterbuck, and African Hare.

Then it was time for dinner and a look forward to a full day's activities tomorrow.

Tuesday 11th October 2011

The Sopa lodge at Lake Naivasha is a modern, comfortable place to stay and it gave all of the party the space and tranquility to recharge our batteries after our recent experiences and fire us up for the remainder of the trip.

The lodge is situated close to the lake and is surrounded by delightful grounds. First priority for us today was a boat trip on the lake. After first being escorted to the lake by a guard (there are Buffalo as well as other game wandering through the lodge grounds) we set off. We kept close to the edge of the lake and over the next couple of hours saw numerous Hippopotamus wallowing in the shallows, at least 4 magnificent African Fish Eagles, some close views of Pink-backed Pelicans, Whiskered Terns, Grey-headed Gulls and a couple of Yellow-billed Storks. Highlight for many, though, was 'kingfisher alley' where we were surrounded by many Pied Kingfishers. Most were perched at about head height and very close to the boat allowing fantastic photo opportunities. We also had glimpses of a Malachite Kingfisher as well as two posing Giant Kingfishers. The time went too quickly for us, but on our way back to shore we passed remarkably close to several African Buffalo in the more swampy grassland - we hoped they were not good swimmers!

After lunch, most of the party went out on the lake for another, unscheduled boat trip, such was the fun in the morning. All reported another great experience.

In between times, there was the opportunity to stalk the Giraffes which were using the lodge grounds as a feeding station, allowing more excellent photographic opportunities. Birds to see included a pair of noisy Lilac-breasted Rollers, a delightful pair of Amethyst Sunbirds and several Black-lored Babblers. However, bird of the day for many was the huge juvenile African Crowned Eagle which perched for some time in the accacias nearest to our accommodation, being mobbed by many birds. Another great day came to an end.

Wednesday 12th October 2011

We left the Lake Naivasha lodge at 9:30 this morning for the relatively short drive north to our destination for the next two nights, Lake Nakuru Lodge. When we arrived at the park entrance we began a slow drive through the park to our accommodation, wildlife watching on the way. There were numerous distractions on the bird front, including several obliging Steppe Buzzards. We saw a couple of Garden Warblers, reminders for some of the summer in England. Then we caught a glimpse of our first White Rhinoceros of the trip in the vegetation adjoining the lake. We checked in to our lodge then went on an afternoon game drive after lunch. Gradually, we made our way to the lake shore. We had been hoping for swathes of Flamingoes, but we were to be disappointed. There were only a couple of hundred present, along with a similar number of Great White Pelicans. Flamingoes are the most fickle of birds, and clearly the conditions on the lake at this time are not to their liking. However, we consoled ourselves with a whole variety of shorebirds including Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, lots of Ruff, Wood Sandpipers and Little and Temminck's Stints. We were able to get out of our vehicles here, and this was a welcome change. A pair of White Rhinoceros had been spotted a short distance along the lake shore and, rejoining our vehicles, we made our way there and were treated to the rarely witnessed sight of a mother White Rhinoceros suckling her youngster.

A variety of other mammals including Buffalo, Thomson’s Gazelles, Grant’s Gazelle and Eland were also present. It had been a good afternoon's drive, and it was nice that the very heavy rain we experienced over lunch had abated.

Thursday 13th October 2011

We made a later start on our morning drive today, leaving at 7:30. However, this meant that, as we had eaten breakfast, we could stay out till lunchtime. This proved a very good move as, in addition to all the species we had encountered yesterday, by going a longer route, we first came across a single female Spotted Hyena enjoying feeding on a dead Buffalo, and then, shortly after, we found a pride of lions lying literally at the side of the road. The pride consisted of three adult males and three adult females. All were sleeping off a hearty meal it seemed and were much admired by all the party in the vehicles.  We made another stop at a freshwater spring as we returned to the lodge for lunch where we were treated to excellent views of a Hammerkop, as well as an extremely close view of a Secretarybird busily striding through the vegetation looking for a snake.

After lunch we took another game drive, this time including a visit to the baboon cliff lookout. From here we enjoyed a panoramic view over Lake Nakuru, and we were able to clearly pick out Great White Pelicans and African Buffalo 300 feet or so below us. Before we reached the lookout, we managed to find three Black Rhinoceros as we drove around the lake shore. We were all delighted to see this hard to see species and were able to compare its feeding habits with those of its White cousins nearby. In the same area were 7 Rothschild's Giraffe, adding to the 15 we had spotted on the morning drive. We had more cloud today than before and a couple of showers of rain, but we were able to keep the roof of the minibus up the whole time. Nakuru has been an enjoyable stay, and tomorrow we head to the Masai Mara, our final destination, for three nights.

Friday 14th October 2011

This morning we made an early start for the long, arduous at times, but necessary journey to our final destination, the world famous Masai Mara game reserve. Leaving at 7:30, we arrived after driving along some poor quality roads, at the Mara Simba lodge at lunchtime. After a freshen up and some lunch, it was out for an afternoon game drive. Almost straight away we found a group of Topi, a very attractive new species of antelope for us, followed quickly by some Coke's Hartebeeste. We then made our way to what we had been led to believe was a Cheetah, only to discover it was a pride of Lions – nice enough, but Cheetah would have been nicer still!

The Mara is a very large reserve, and driving around even a small part of it revealed animals everywhere, ranging from the by now familiar Wildebeest, Thomson's and Grant's Gazelles, to new species such as the two Bohor's Reedbuck we encountered. A group of Elephants were obliging. However this drive was to be Lion drive as no less than 18 individuals were encountered including a couple of males in their prime. The sound of camera shutters in action was very much in evidence and all in the group had smiles on their faces. The light could have been better, but nonetheless we managed some good photos. A final touch was a yet another close Saddle-billed Stork feeding in the twilight with a couple of Yellow-billed Storks. The group in one of the vehicles had a 'lucky' escape when what was originally taken to be a low flying aircraft turned out to be a Saddle-billed Stork aiming straight for the van and which flew over at just over rooftop height. It had been a great start to our time in the Mara.

Saturday 15th October 2011

We made an early, pre-breakfast start this morning to maximise the chances of finding predators with a kill. It proved to be a wise move, as we came across a total of 14 Lions, some of which were around a freshly killed Buffalo. We were able to witness some delightful interaction between members of one pride with the male lion being greeted by a couple of cubs when he rejoined the main party. A couple of other young cubs were interacting and socialising as well.

We were in danger of becoming blase to seeing so many Lions, so we made our way on and then tracked down a Cheetah with a very fresh Impala female it had killed. All got delightful images and views of this, the fastest of all land predators. A brave (foolhardy?) Black-backed Jackal approached the scene looking for some handouts - the Cheetah was having none of it.

We continued our pre-breakfast tour and saw more Topi, Coke's Hartebeeste and many Wildebeest as well as an imperious Lappet-faced Vulture awaiting a turn at the Impala carcass. Finally, we also came across an immaculate, fresh dead Masai Giraffe lying in some vegetation. There was no visible injury to it, and it appeared to be a pregnant female. We conjectured about a possible cause of death, and more vultures were already gathering.

After breakfast, the group were driven the short distance to a Masai village, where the son of the chief explained much of Masai culture and took us on a tour of his boma. We were also treated to a display of Masai dancing, and many of the group rose to the challenge when invited to take part.

After lunch we went out on our afternoon game drive. Fortunately the weather was much better than yesterday - hot and sunny. We made Leopard our number one target for this afternoon. However, in spite of much searching we were to be disappointed. We did come across the usual array of antelope, but it was a bird, which was to prove the highlight of the afternoon, in the form of three magnificent Southern Ground Hornbills, strolling through the grassland. Nearby a herd of Elephants were busily munching in the dense vegetation, and a number of Wildebeest were heading south in a determined line, single file, heading for Tanzania and the Ngorogoro crater. A tiring but enjoyable day had come to an end.

Sunday 16th October 2011

Today was our last full day watching wildlife in the Masai Mara. As a result, we decided to spend the majority of the day on one long game drive. We set off after breakfast at 08:00 and returned at 16:00. The weather when we set off was dry, sunny and hot and this was an excellent portent for the amazing day we had.

We started off revisiting the fresh dead Giraffe carcass we had seen yesterday. Now, there were two Lions in attendance. One Lioness was feeding on the Giraffe, while a short distance away, a male Lion was sleeping off his share in the shade of an acacia bush. A great start to the day was followed by finding a superb Leopard, which walked right by the vehicles and across the road in front of us - it was so close we couldn't get all the animal in the camera frame!

We followed it along, as it walked through the bush to find shelter for the day, which was now getting hot. This was the one major mammal which had up till now eluded us. We all got splendid views and there were smiling faces all round in the group.

Moving on, we came across a pride of 8 more Lions, with only us the onlookers. They were initially hidden under a small bush, but as we watched, they proceeded to walk to a nearby pool for a drink.

We were aiming for the Mara River, but it was slow progress as we stopped for a Cheetah which was also lying in shade. This animal had eluded some members of the group but not now. Two even happier vehicles moved on. Next up was a female Cheetah with two very young kittens, snuggled up beside her. It was a lovely sight and we spent some time here admiring the happy threesome.

It was soon time to move on and the next thing we came across was a Tawny Eagle at the side of the track, feeding on what appeared to be a freshly dead White-bellied Bustard, which presumably it had just killed. We watched in awe as the unconcerned Eagle stripped feathers from its victim and started to devour its flesh no more than 10 feet from the vehicles.

Lunch was beckoning and we took it on top of a wonderful viewpoint with a 360 degree panorama of the African plains spread out before us, with views of the Mara River too.

After lunch we finally arrived at the Mara River, scene of many a Wildebeest’s demise as they try to cross the river from one side to the other in search of better grazing. This time, though, the Plains Zebras were the ones coming down to the water, mainly for a drink. As we watched, them, we could clearly see a large Crocodile in the edge of the river, waiting its chance. It had two unsuccessful lunges before finally capturing an unfortunate Zebra by its left foreleg. As we watched, the inevitable happened as the Crocodile pulled the Zebra into deeper water, ready to drown it. Remarkably, though, the Zebra managed to break free as the crocodile released its vice like grip in preparation to get a better hold on the animal, and the Zebra made it back to the shore. However, we could clearly see it was mortally wounded with a badly injured leg. No doubt it would succomb to either shock or some other predator later today.

It was now time for the long journey back to the lodge, and all were reminiscing about the astonishing game drive we had had. Our last animals we stopped for were a nice threesome of Masai Giraffe, beautifully lit in the afternoon sun. Another wonderful day. The Masai had truly lived up to our expectations and indeed surpassed them. Lion, Cheetah and Leopard on the same day – a rare feat indeed.

Monday 17th October 2011

This was our last day in Kenya on this trip. Before the drive to Nairobi, we took another pre breakfast game drive. The highlights on this drive were yet more Lions (a pride of which were continuing to eat the increasingly smelly Giraffe), and numerous vultures. Five species were seen well today – White-backed, Ruppell’s Griffon, Hooded, Lappet-faced and a single very uncommon White-headed. The weather was again lovely, and there were more opportunities for landscape photographs before we headed back to the lodge for breakfast. Then we retraced our tracks to Narok, then up the east ridge of the rift valley, before ending up at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi for a rest and some dinner before our overnight flight back to Heathrow. After our return to London we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, happy in the knowledge that in spite of the difficulties we had had, we nonetheless had all had a lovely time and would be taking many wildlife memories with us from our time in Kenya.