Friday, 20 January 1978

KENYA January 1978: Masai Mara, Kakamega & Lake Turkana

9 January 1978.  All day was spent in the Masai Mara National Park, entering from the east soon after dawn and leaving at dusk from the north-west.  Time was spent at Keekorok Lodge, driving around and in the northern corner.  It was easily the best reserve for animals that we visited and we saw Cheetah, Wart Hog, Giraffe, Elephant, Spotted Hyena, Olive Baboon and assorted antelope, although not in the numbers often seen on TV.  Birds included Caspian and Wattled Plovers, Narina’s Trogon, Bare-faced Go-way-bird, Woodland Kingfisher, White-browed Robinchat and Red-collared and Yellow-mantled Widowbirds.

wintering Caspian Plover, seen soon after entering the Masai Mara
Topi and Thompson's Gazelle
Thompson's Gazelle
Grant's Gazelle
Olive Baboon
10 January 1978.  We drove to Lake Victoria in region of Kendu where we birdwatched in marshy areas on the lake’s edge and also at an inland pool several miles to the west.  We then drove around the lake to Kisumu, stopping in paddyfields on route.  Finally to Kakamega where the last few hours of daylight were spent in forest.  Best birds included Black & White Casqued Hornbill and Ludher’s Bush-Shrike.

Hadada Ibis
Hammerkops at Lake Victoria
Pied Kingfishers in Papyrus at the edge of Lake Victoria
11 January 1978.  Whole day spent in Kakamega, mainly in area of streams on road midway between Kakamega and Kapsabet road.  Best sightings were Black & White Colobus, Red-tailed and Blue Monkeys, Sabine’;s Spinetail, Grey-green Bush-shrike, Equatorial Akalat, White-tailed Ant-thrush and Red-headed Malimbe.

12 January 1978.  Again all day spent in Kakamega, mainly in area of sawmills then back to the river and finally the area nearest to Kapsabet.  Drove overnight to Kitale.  Best birds for me were White-spotted Flufftail, Emerald and Red-chested Cuckoos, White-headed Wood-Hoopoe and Abyssinian Hill Babbler.  Chris saw Orange-starred Bush-Robin which was very gripping.

Long-crested Hawk Eagle, one of the more distinctive eagles, at least in adult plumage
13 January 1978.  We drove from Kitale to Kongalai spending most of the day on the side of hill on the escarpment.  From there we drove to Kapenguria where we arrived shortly after dark.  After waiting several hours for petrol and asking about roads we set off north getting halfway to Ortum where we camped.  Best birds were Pallid Harrier, the stunning Ross’s Turaco and Hemprich’s Hornbill.

Kongali Escarpment
view into Uganda from Kongali Escarpment, with Idi Amin in charge a shortcut didn't seem like a good idea and we turned back
Curly-crested Helmet-Shrike
14 January 1978.  We slowly travelled north towards Ferguson’s Gulf stopping in suitable habitat en route.  We arrived with an hour of daylight left which we spent on the shore of Lake Turkana.  At dusk we drove 10 miles back into the desert to camp.  Lots of excellent birds seen today including Swallow-tailed Kite (10), Bataleur, Secretary Bird, Cream-coloured Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove (including 40 sheltering from the sun under a small bush), Star-spotted Nightjar, Abyssinian Roller, Darnaud’s and Red & Yellow Barbets and Cut-throat.

Dark Chanting Goshawk
Bataleur, a very impressive and powerful looking eagle
15 January 1978.  Early to mid morning was spent in desert where we camped, the first part warming up after a clear cold night.  We returned to Ferguson’s Gulf and birdwatched for an hour on the shore of Lake Turkana, failing to find anywhere else to access the lake.  We went to Elye Springs in the afternoon where the car got stuck in the sand for an hour.  Back to Lodwar as dusk was falling.  Two flat tyres so we camped outside Lodwar.  Best birds seen were thousands of both flamingos, Swallow-tailed Kite, Cream-coloured Courser, White-winged Black Tern (500+), Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Alpine Swift (1000+) and Abyssinian Roller.

sunrise in the desert
White-headed Vulture
eyeing me up, it had been cold at night but we weren't ready to succumb just yet ...

Ring-necked Dove
Abyssinian Roller
16 January 1978.  We drove slowly from Lodwar south to Kapenguria stopping infrequently.  The last hour of daylight was spent in woodland just west of Kapenguria.  After dark we drove to Kitale.  Best birds included four species of vulture, Grey Kestrel, Cream-coloured Courser, Ross’s Turaco, Abyssinian Roller, Double-toothed Barbet (one I’d missed earlier in the trip), Snoy-headed Robinchat and House Bunting.

White-backed Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Lappet-faced Vulture, altogether more sinister looking
17 January 1978.  We started the day birding in Kitale Forest Nursery.  Next we stopped at a roadside dam north of Eldoret and then spent time in the Northern Tinteret Forest.  From there we drove south to Nakurua and Gilgil, the last part in darkness, and then overnight to Naivasha.  At one stage of the journey the road seemed to disappear in a section of roadworks.  Mark asked one of the workers where the road was and was told ‘not to worry it will be along in a minute’.  A few bulldozes later it was!  Best birds were Spotted Eagle Owl, Ross’s and Hartlaub;s Turacos, Black-throated Wattle-eye and a white male Paradise Flycatcher.

18 January 1978.  The first part of the day was spent in the Crescent Island area of Lake Naivasha.  From there we drove on to Hell’s Gate and finally round to the northern part of the lake where access was obtained by walking across fields.  We drove overnight towards Magadi stopping about 60 miles short.  Best sightings were Lammergeyer, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Rail, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers and a White-tailed Mongoose.

Lammergeyer (bottom rightish) at Hell's Gate
19 January 1978.  We drove down to Lake Magadi with few stops.  Once there we spent time on lakeside and in surrounding scrub.  Returned to Nairobi where last hour spent in grounds of Hillcrest Secondary School.  Spent night on Ray Moore’s floor in the Karen area of Nairobi.  Best birds were Kori Bustard, Chestnut-banded Plover, Giant Kingfisher (another catch up for me), White-throated Bee-eater, five species of wheatear and Red-throated Tit.

campsite on the Magadi Road
me on the Magadi Road, it is tempting to suggest that the Chestnut-banded Plovers were at the foot of the rainbow.  Having been mistaken for Jesus (and thanked profusely for appearing as a vision), albeit by a drunk, while sitting in a car outside a cafe a couple of days earlier anything was possible ... 
20 January 1978.  Early morning in the garden in Karen where I was asking Ray Moore how frequently he saw Giant Kingfishers, something I'd missed and was very keen to see.  Almost before he could say not very often Chris picked up one as it flew past.   We then drove into Nairobi National Park negotiating muddy roads to reach the Hippo Pools for the rest of the morning.  We then drove to the airport, returned the car somewhat the worse for wear and had time for a quick look around the airport area (not seeing much) and museum before flying home.  Best birds were Ostrich, Long-crested Hawk-Eagle, Shelley’s Francolin, Peter’s Finfoot and Giant, Malachite and Pigmy Kingfishers.

A superbly eye-opening trip with me seeing just over 600 species in 4 weeks, of which about 500 were new.  Not a patch on what can be seen now but a reasonable total with little information, very poor literature, a somewhat erratic itinerary and no recordings.  Needless to say I'd seriously got the bug for long haul birding and have pretty much never looked back.  Many thanks to Chris, Mark and particularly Pete for inviting me along.

[blogged December 2012]

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