Friday, 12 August 1983

KENYA August 1983: Kakamega, lakes & coast

In mid July 1983 Nick Preston had just qualified as a teacher and started work in September.  We were keen to get away somewhere but had left it rather late to sort anything out.  I was passing Flightline, at that time a new travel agent in Brighton’s Queens Road, and saw cheap flights advertised to Nairobi.  There was availability on a flight at the end of the month but it was with Uganda airlines via Entebbe.  The added problem was that full payment would be needed almost immediately, Nick was in Liverpool and I didn’t have enough to cover both our flights.  Thankfully Flightline took a chance and booked the flights for us before receiving the full amount.  We decided, mainly for reasons of cost but also as I couldn’t drive, to do what we could on public transport.  This meant that the big game parks were off limits but there were sufficient areas of forest for a reasonable trip, and one that complemented my visit in 1977/78.

The following account is based on unreliable memories and scanned slides.  The slides were of varying quality to start with and some haven't aged particularly well, although the same could probably be said of me.

We left Gatwick less than two weeks later although being told by the UK check in staff that we were very brave flying with Uganda Airlines wasn’t the greeting we wanted!  Not that we knew what the fuss was about as the flights went without a hitch.  We arrived in Nairobi late morning of 28 July after a brief stop-over at Entebbe.  We got a bus into town and found our way to Mrs Roche’s campsite near City Park and spent the rest of the day birding.  We returned to City Park the next morning then packed up the tent and made our way to the bus station for an overnight bus to Kakamega in far west Kenya.  Highlights in City Park were Great Sparrowhawk, Lemon Dove, Emerald Cuckoo, Lilac-breasted Roller and White-bellied Tit which was very common.

30 July-5 August 1983.  We spent a week camping at Kakamega, mainly at the Forest Station.  Food was available there but comprised everlasting beans (no matter how many one ate the bowl never seemed to empty) and leathery greens.  On one occasion one of the wardens who we’d befriended invited us back to his house for a meal and we were very much looking forward to a change.  Unfortunately it was beans, greens and ugali, the latter might have looked like a heavy mashed potato but seemed more like congealed wallpaper paste.  It was very nice to be offered such hospitality but our rather precious palettes found it hard to take.  We birded mostly along the excellent grid trails at the Forest Station or along the roads, once making a day of the walk to the Ikuywa River and back.  We returned to the Irkuywa River for our last night and camped in a small clearing just out of sight of the road.  Just after dark several locals piled into the clearing as a vehicle went past, presumably not wanting to be seen on the road.  They seemed as concerned with our presence as we were with theirs and after a few grins all round promptly disappeared.  We saw lots of good birds at Kakamega, the most enjoyable ones being Grey Parrot, Great Blue Turaco, Narina Trogon, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Black & White Casques Hornbill (very common), Mountain Wagtail, Brown-chested Alethe, Blue-shouldered Robinchat, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, the brilliant Jamieson’s Wattleye and Red-headed Bluebill The next morning (5 August) we got a but to Eldoret and then Nakuru where we camped and birded the rest of the day.

grid trail at Kakamega provided superb access to the forest
6 August 1983.  Morning at Nakurua, where best birds were African Fish Eagle, Little Sparrowhawk, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Arrow-marked Babbler.  Bus to Naivasha where spent the rest of the day.
young Mr Preston at Nakuru, intently studying inadequate field guide!
still, it was good enough to identify White Pelicans
Impala and Defassa Waterbuck at Nakuru
dusk at Naivasha
7 August 1983.  All day birding at Naivasha.   Best birds were Africna Fish Eagle, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Malachite Kingfisher, Grey-rumped Swallow and Zebra Waxbill.

African Fish Eagle, very evocative of the Rift Valley lakes
local fishermen at Naivasha
probably not as accomplished as this one - Goliath Heron
or this one, Black-headed Heron
Red-billed Duck
Spur-winged Plover
juvenile Kitlitz's Plover
Three-banded Plover
... taking flight
Blacksmith Plover - spectacular, common and noisy
male Pied Kingfisher
joined by his mate
males have two black bands and females one
Malaxhite Kingfisher and chemical spill, fortunately on the slide
Great Spotted Cuckoo, presumably the East African resident race
Grey-rumped Swallow
African Pied Wagtail
Grey-backed Fiscal
Superb Starling, deserving of a much better photograph
8 August 1983.  Morning at Naivasha seeing White-throated Bee-eater and Quailfinch.  Bus to Nairobi, overnight bus to Mombassa.

9 August 1983.  bus to Malindi where walked to Sabaki River, camping in dunes. Highlights were 21 Crab Plovers, Sooty Gulls, various terns and Slender-tailed Nightjar at dusk
Crab Plovers in Sabaki dunes
flying with a Curlew Sandpiper

10 August 1983.  Morning at Sabaki River, now 36 Crab Plovers, Water Dikkop and identifiable Saunder’s Terns.  Mutatu (minibus) down the coast to Gedi where we were about to camp beside the last house in the village when Nick thought he’d better go in and ask if it was OK to do so.  He came out with an invite to stay with the VSO ex-pat living there.  Nice not to camp and our host enjoyed some bits of news from the UK.
Sabaki dunes with the Indian Ocean in the distance
White-fronted Sand Plover
Water Dikkop
Water Dikkop
me having tested the water, pleasantly cool
11 August 1983.  All day birding at Gedi.  Not many birds but those seen were good ones, notably Spotted Ground Thrush, Red-capped Robinchat and Pigmy Kingfisher.  We also encountered a large (8 foot) olive-grey snake on the trail ahead of us that was in no hurry to move.  Nick threw a stick towards it hoping to encourage it to go but his aim was a bit off and the stick hit the snake.  It reared up with lightening speed and for a heart-stopping moment looked set to attack but fortunately decided to move off instead.  Later investigation suggested it had been a Black Mamba, highly venomous, aggressive and reputed to be the fasted snake in the world.  We could vouch for the last two characteristics and considered ourselves very fortunate not to have tested the first.  I never have liked snakes and that episode did nothing to change my view.
Gedi Ruins.  Much to our envy an African Pitta was seen here a couple of weeks after we left, it is still very high on my wanted list.  
12 August 1983.  Morning at Gedi seeing similar birds, but thankfully no snake, afternoon at Sokoke where camped in village.  We met a group of ringers staying in Malindi during the University vacation and were generously invited to join them.  We saw some birds in the hand we probably never would have done in the field and at dusk were taken onto the red soil to look for Sokoke Scops.  This was successfully and we also saw Pigmy Kingfisher, Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin and Green-backed Twinspot.
the aptly named Tiny Greenbul
Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin, superb

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