Kenya

Kenya!

Nairobi National Park – Part 1

Here we are in the second month of 2017 and I have yet to put up even half of my first trip of 2016! That’s it; no more travel pages by date. It’s continents now. Luckily they are limited by their number to only 7.

It was two weeks before the Chinese New Year holidays when I discovered I had a clear nine whole days free. Nine days! Where to go? I went into high gear looking for the perfect, short notice holiday destination. Two places called to me, back to Africa and Myanmar. Turns out that this time of year is the very high season in Burma and all the local, English-speaking guides had already been booked. Back online to Safari Bookings to search out a suitable price and numbers of days. I discovered Discover Africa. I also met someone recently with a travel agency. For a short while, it was a race between two agents; one for Botswana’s Okovango, and the other for Kenya.

My trip to southern Africa last year had been splendid and I was very willing to return to that area but I was also eager to see East Africa, the place it is claimed, where safaris were born. Less expensive airfares to each place were closing and the difference was down to the timing to confirm the rates and availability and Kenya won the race.

My itinerary was for 7 nights, starting with 2 nights at Ololo lodge in Nairobi National Park.

Now, the Nairobi National Park, NNP, is 117 sq km and may be world famous, but I had never heard of it and learning that it was part of the city of Nairobi I considered it as a pleasant diversion until the real safari in Maasai country began. Never underestimate the power of lowered expectations.

We passed various zebra, see post, and such on the way to the lodge and saw a great sunset.

 

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In South Africa, my first game drive had been in the afternoon and it presented me with a giant reptile and my first large mammal, a white rhino.

The first sighting in NNP was in the morning – a black rhino!

 

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OMG! The rhino of my childhood books and dreams right here in the flesh before me.

Of course, I knew that these were the browsers, the aggressive ones and nothing like the happy grazing white rhinos I had seen in Sabi Sands. We watched until he decided we were no threat and not very interesting either. Look at his ears; they look like a moose’s antler.

Then we were off again.

We passed many animals in the antelope family, including these Coke’s hartebeests, which I’d never seen before.

 

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There are, depending on which source you read, 400 or 500 species of birds in this park. (That seems a lot for a city park.) Some of the first birds we saw were vultures high up in the trees all around us. These are probably all African white-backed vultures, Gyps africanus. The white back is visible only when they fly.

 

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(As we continued to drive we stopped for pictures of more birds. My guide was passionate about them. I wasn’t. But I’m a lot more interested than I was when the day began and at the end I’ll share a few of the many birds I saw that aren’t featured in the narrative.

This large nest belongs to a hammerkop,  Scopus umbretta. That’s not the world’s biggest bird but it might hold the record for the biggest nest. Looks like it could house a hundred eggs and chicks in there. I wonder why they need such a big nest. I’ll took photos of one later on in my trip.

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Moving right along, we pass – two black rhinos! Looks like one is smaller so these two may be mother and youngster. That may have been what the guide told me. I simply can’t remember.

 

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GGCB – Just over an hour into the first morning and I’d already seen many vultures and three gorgeous black rhino. I have been so very lucky in my safari adventures and apparently that hasn’t changed.

I’m just getting started. I promise you there were things that happened on this trip that were astounding and some of it is even on camera. Please join me on this incredible journey.

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Kenya!


Nairobi National Park, Pt 2

My trip to Southern Africa had been amazing but the safari part had been only a small portion, less than 1/3 of that trip. All of it, safari and non, was splendid but there is something entirely unique about a safari. This time, it would be an all safari, all the time adventure.

My attitude was, bring it on, whatever. If I see some animals, great! And when I don’t, there’s the land, the trees, treetops, sky, (Oh! The sky.) Just being there, I was never bored or impatient. OTOH, there were few moments when that was put to the test.

First thing out, high in the tree was an eagle. In matching it up with online images, I think it’s an African hawk eagle or a juvenile martial eagle. It looked really big. Martial eagles are the largest of the African eagles.

 

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Next was a tawny eagle.

 

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Then a white-bellied go-away bird.

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After seeing uncounted numbers of different birds, which we will come across again, my guide, Ernest, said, “Lions,” I looked where he was pointing and immediately saw two lionesses in the grass. (Toward the top, left-hand side of the photo.)

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He suggested to look a bit farther back and reversed.

Oh!

 

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Wait! What was that in the tree?

 

Something sure has the lions attention on the other side of the ravine. We can’t see anything over there. Meanwhile the olive baboon is nearing the top of the tree where a group of marabou storks are perched.

The lionesses are still lying in the grass. One of them is collared.

 

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We watch them for a while then back to the lions under the tree.

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We finally decide to head out elsewhere, when, of course, they get up. “They’re standing up.”

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So we back up. Turns out, they were doing more than standing. We were just in time to see but not to photograph (impossibly blurry) the lions mating. I have read that after coitus, the male lion bites the female on the head or neck. I saw his jaws open wide but just as he looked to be going to bite her, his jaws closed on air. This lioness had obviously been there, done that and was having no part of any bite. She rolled away asap. You might be able to see her over to the side if you zoom way in.

dscn0214Then they went over to join the two lionesses in the tall grass.

 

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Check it out! That looks like one happy dude!

The love birds.

 

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This was the first of numerous times I heard the following, “It’s very uncommon to see this.” OK. Good to know. My luck on safari was holding. Yes!

I had a wish list when I arrived, mating lions hadn’t been on it, probably because I thought it was too unlikely. No complaints; I’ll take it.

My wish list included a black rhino. Check first thing x3. A pride of lions with cubs. I also wanted to hear lions roaring. Cheetah cubs would be good. Baby elephants and other young animals. Elephants splashing. A chase and hunt. Male lions doing something other than sleeping, so I guess I got that wish, too, right off the bat. We’ll see how my wish list fared at the end. OTOH, I was just happy to see what there was.

Of course, seeing a wild ostrich, one that was larger than a dot in the distance, was also something I wanted to see. Here is one.

 

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And I had seen even more the afternoon before. A whole flock of youngsters with some adults in charge. I learned that the chicks are raised in a nursery setting and the males watch over the little ones at night and the females in the daytime. The males have mainly black feathers and the females have lighter brown. We saw both so it must be nearing hand-over time.

 

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A good place to call it a day, even though it’s still the morning of the first game drive.

Much, much more to come.
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Welcome Back

Kenya! Pt. 3

I have finally gone through almost all of my photos and catalogued them. Whew! Now comes the challenge of how to present this plethora of data and images as I get back to sharing the wonders.

Coming from a place where the wildlife has basically been exterminated and the surroundings concrete and asphalt, seeing the animals living relatively unconstrained is truly a revelation. I find it impossible to think about human behaviour and human societies anymore without considering the animal aspects that humans have for millennia been running away from even as they continue to bring it with them, unrecognized.

Nairobi National Park is a unique park and it’s a pity that they are going to put a railroad through it. Apparently the animals don’t protest but residents do.The potential for destroying this special habitat is great. They say it will be raised to keep corridors open but I can’t imagine the construction efforts themselves will not cause serious damage and disruption.

Back to my trip. There are many types and numbers of prey animals and only a few predators and that was reflected in the much larger numbers of antelope, zebra, giraffes, etc., that I saw against only a few predators, including the lions from the last installment.

Here we pass a small group of zebra near the reservoir. The younger ones have lighter and browner coats than the older ones.

 

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At the reservoir we saw many different birds, including a blacksmith lapwing and these migrant white storks.

 

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A short distance on we came across this magnificent mating pair of gray crowned cranes.

 

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Next, an African fish eagle with a Coke’s hartebeest in the background.

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And, could it be? That rarest of all animals – a hippo!

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If you have read my safari adventure in South Africa on the “Travel 2016” Page, you will know that I saw exactly two hippos on my safari there. I saw three times as many leopards and the same number of rhinos, both of which are considered to be far more endangered than the hippo.

Below are some blue wildebeest, these have white beards and a paler hide than their relations in southern Africa. This was about the largest grouping I saw in Nairobi. They are followed by a young Coke’s hartebeest, a handsome male impala, a group of four Grant’s gazelles and three much smaller Thompson’s gazelles, including a tiny young one.

 

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Cape buffalo were present in mostly either small groups of females, with or without young, or bulls, ether solitary or just one or two. Here are photos of both males and females taken on two different days. The females and young were early in the morning and we passed them on the way out of the part to Wilson airport for my flight to Naboisho Conservancy.

 

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We pass a vehicle which has stopped near a dumpster. The occupants get some company. Better he than we.

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And more zebra. Here we have a group of females, at least one very pregnant looking female and a young zebra.

 

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And since it’s impossible to have too many pictures of zebra. Here’s more of this little group, including some close ups.

 

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So, have we covered all the animals here? At least all the big ones? No way. Nairobi National Park has all of the large animals and the small ones too, except for the elephants which require more space than this park can offer.

Actually we are missing two of the biggest ones. Giraffe and white rhinos. But on the way back to the lodge for lunch, we fill in one of those blanks.

Giraffe! How does this tallest of all animals manage to basically disappear? In one photo, it looks like there’s only one giraffe but there are at least two. Their lips can so delicately pluck leaves surrounded by vicious acacia thorns without serious injury.

 

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Now for some flora. When I was young, I learned that cactus was from the New World but if so, it has gone awandering.

 

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The lodge

The view

Back to Ololo lodge for lunch. Here’s Ernst, my guide, next the lodge grounds with the two proprietors walking near the pool. A glimpse of the roof and a mixed fruit plate that includes, going counter-clockwise from bottom, watermelon, honeydew melon, papaya, passion fruit and what they call, tree tomato but is also called tamariillo.

 

For some reason, while I was eating, I had my camera put away so when I saw a beautiful bird, I had to take time to get my camera and by then it was gone. I later discovered that it was a crimson-cheeked cordon bleu.

The idea that birds say, “tweet” is commonplace but I had never heard a bird actually say, “tweet,” until that moment. I asked what it was and was told “sunbird.” Since I now had my camera at hand I was ready when I heard that distinctive sunbird call. It is called a variable sun bird. The colouring on this bird is especially vivid with bright yellow on its belly, lavender on its wings and iridescent blue on its back. Look carefully at photo number 3 as it’s in a different place, we see it from the front and might easily be overlooked.

 

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On my way to  my room, a lovely Cape robin-chat.

 

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During my short visit of one full day and two part days in Nairobi National Park, I estimate I saw more than 50 species of birds, more or less ten percent of all the birds in the area, depending on the estimate used. Not all of the birds I saw made it into my camera.

I wanted a panorama but it was a new camera and I hadn’t (haven’t) figured that function out.

 

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Another Cape robin-chat. (Or the same one?)

 

 

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After lunch we saw more birds right off the bat. The black bird in the tree is a fork-tailed drongo with bright red eye. On the ground is one of the larger birds, called a secretary bird. We didn’t get a close up then but later on we got a much better view.

 

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I haven’t identified the bird below yet.

DSCN0504In the distance, I spotted the impala; my guide spotted the bird. I’ve forgotten which one it is.

 

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Below is a big eagle high up in the tree. At first just a dark shape but it becomes clearer as we drive closer.

I think its a tawny eagle. (Yes, I’m sure my guide told me but there was way too much to remember it all.)

 

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We passed a couple of very cute warthogs but a bit too far to get a great photo.

Then Ernest spotted something much bigger but still too far for me to see clearly. We drove from one side of the valley to the other trying to catch up to where they were only to discover they had moved in the direction we had come from. Sigh. The way of all life.

At first there are just four tiny dots. But with the use of a zoom lens, the dots resolve into four white rhinos grazing on the hill, three large and one smaller one.

 

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The new camera has a pretty good zoom. Just a point-and-shoot (Nikon Coolpix) but not too bad. Given my previous camera had gotten dropped during a trip I took to Iran in November, I had only a limited time to get a new one. (Will Travel 2016 ever be complete?)

Now my guide gets very conflicted because in the grass not far from our vehicle is a bird that is found in other parts of Kenya but is quite rate in the NNP. So it was difficult to say no to taking photos of these yellow-throated longclaws even though the rhinos were behind them.

 

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It gets weird next, because I gave Ernest my camera for a few moments and the sequence of the next few photos is pretty strange. Because the slideshow is continuous, it’s hard to see the sequence but it’s one of the Longclaw, two of the white rhinos, then back to the longclaw, longclaw, longclaw… I’ve given you only an excerpt of the many bird photos but these are all of the rhino ones he took at this point. These two rhinos were part of the four we had seen earlier, the mother and youngster. I think it’s hilarious that I have this visible reminder of Ernest’s split in interest. Oh, and there’s a cattle egret near the rhinos.

 

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We finally left the bird and the rhinos and drove on.

Here are some of the only elands I saw during my trip.

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Then a pair of ostriches.DSCN0664.JPG

I was hoping to make it through to the end of the day but that’s going to have to wait. I hope to get that covered before I take my next trip in early April. (Sri Lanka) Check back for more of this drive and more of my trip to Kenya.

If you’re scrolling straight down from an earlier section or from the start, you will probably see a large chunk of extra spacing between sections. That is because the scroll seems to take the link from the posts too far down the page. I’m hoping to put in some extra spacing to fix that….? If the extra spacing works, I’m using Firefox, then maybe I can find some sort of more decorative spacer to put between the sections. I gotta wonder if the size of the spacing will need to grow each time. Hmmmmmmmm.

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Kenya! Pt. 4

Glad you’re back.

When last we left off, it was a short way into the afternoon drive. We’d seen the mighty tussle between the longclaw and the rhinos. Who can say which won?

But a little while later, we cross paths with two white rhinos. Possibly the same two we had seen earlier.

 

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After watching these two until they wandered off, we drove on, passing various birds until we got to a small grouping of zebra. These were about the most I’d seen at one time.

 

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We drove for about 15 minutes, just enjoying the fresh air and beauty of nature and the city skyline in the distance. Then we found a a great reason to stop: another black rhino. This one was a female. I was told when the females weren’t with a youngster, they are generally less aggressive than the males. They are also somewhat smaller.

 

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This female walked over to browse a nearby tree. We could see she had a wound above her shoulder but no one calls the vet to treat these animals. They are left to nature’s nurture. The wound looks fairly shallow and hopefully not too serious.

While she was walking and browsing up ahead, we heard a plane near by. Many small airplanes fly over this park carrying safari-bound passengers. The rhino appears startled by the sound. You can see in one of the photos above that she’s got her head raised looking for the source of the sound, but with her poor vision who knows what she sees. She then turns and runs back the direction she had come from.  In the picture right after the one with her head up, the plane is visible on the photos to the right-hand side of the tree, and appears just slightly higher than the tree.

When she stopped running, she was directly opposite where I was sitting.

 

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It is an amazing feeling to be sitting so near this very large and unique creature whose life is so uncertain due to the rapacious poaching for its horn that has zero ‘medicinal’ value and yet, there are those who would take the very last one with no qualms.

The night began to put on the most remarkable show for us. The sky spread out a stunning crown of golden rays that fanned far across the horizon.

 

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We watched it for a long time, then turned and watched some more.If you don’t know the joys of crepuscular, AKA solar, rays, Kenya’s a pretty good place to view some. This was the first of several nights, and days, with fabulous skies and optical shows.

As it was getting dark, we drove back to the reservoir where we came across another gathering of aquatic birds, including cattle egrets, and the family of hippos.

 

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Then it was back to the lodge for dinner and rest before the last game drive at Nairobi National Park in the morning on our way to the airport when my next adventure would await at Encounter Mara in the Naboisho Conservancy.

 

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The park has opening and closing hours of 6:30 – 6:30 (Something close to that anyway). In the early morning light, we see a splotch up high in a tree. A large splotch that resolves into a juvenile martial eagle. Martial eagles are the largest of the African eagles.

Next we pass a group of female Cape buffaloes with their young. A few photos were included in an earlier slide show.

We pass more birds of various shapes and sizes. I’m no expert on birds and am relying on what I have been told and what seems to work with the books and online. Here we have, possibly, a tawny eagle, a rufus-naped lark and a Kenya rufus sparrow. I love sitting the lark sitting there singing, “happy as a lark.” But I do admit that based on my books, these look nothing like that lark and sparrow. If you can help with the bird ids, please let me know.

 

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In South Africa, the jackals were elusive but here, this one was in no rush to leave and in fact turned back to look at us.

 

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A short distance on and fabulous white rhinos. The same ones as before or others? Perhaps but I didn’t care.

 

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We’re keeping an eye on the time we must leave the park for the airport. But there’s still time to stop for our bush breakfast and pass more animals on the way. I had a much better opportunity to see a secretary bird up close. This is definitely a big bird. You can see the source of its name in those large feathers sticking out of its head like a crown of quill pens. Not every animal is willing to pose for pictures from all sides.

 

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Two superb starlings in a tree. Another definitely well-named bird. And also willing to show off from all sides. I hope you can see the lovely iridescence on their backs.

 

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Next we pass a tree which seems to be wearing birds like they were its leaves. My best guess is there are three different kinds of birds here. Two make me think of some earlier birds, the lark and sparrow but, they didn’t cooperate and turn to the camera. Plus I am not confident in that earlier identification. If you know, please let me know.

 

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We stop for a bush breakfast at one of the picnic sites available in the park. Someone with a very large vehicle takes our photo. We take a final drive-by to check out the hippos at the reservoir.

 

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At almost the last possible moment, two more black rhino. My count up to that moment was seven white rhino and five black but now it evened up. I felt it was a remarkable total for such a short stay. Good to see that at least one of them has his/her ears pretty much intact.

 

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My last view from the park of rhinos and a beautiful blooming cactus.

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At the airport while I was waiting to get on the smallest plane I’d ever been on, I thought to myself that if, instead of going to Maasai Mara, I was in the airport waiting to go back home, I wouldn’t feel disappointed at all.

Nairobi National Park had set a high standard. What could the Maasai Mara and the Naboisho Conservancy do to top that?

Please, come back and find out.

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