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michael-ibk

A Thousand Hills, A Million Smiles & Gentle Giants - a Rwanda and Kenya Safari

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Botswanadreams

Michael superb pics again. Thanks for showing us. It brings nice memories to me. I haven't read it all, I'm sorry but time is too much limited.

Looking for rhinos in the Triangle you have to search around Little Governor's Camp.

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michael-ibk

All your photos are wonderful, but you're opening my eyes more to birds. Nice detail, great roller shots! I love the bird with the red ring around its eye.

 

Thanks, @@amybatt ! Resistance is futile, the birds will get you in the end. I was not really interested in them on my first safari - things have changed a bit. :) Yes, the Three-Banded Plover is a striking bird, and often quite confiding fortunately.

 

Michael superb pics again. Thanks for showing us. It brings nice memories to me. I haven't read it all, I'm sorry but time is too much limited.

Looking for rhinos in the Triangle you have to search around Little Governor's Camp.

 

Thanks, @@Botswanadreams . We did try in that area, but sometimes they just don´t want to be found. :)

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Treepol

@@michael-ibk what a beautiful camp in the Mara Triangle with a 5* view from the plunge pool. Love the photos of the violet-backed starling, a beauty that continues to evade me and also the Red headed weaver. Wonder what all that butter is doing to his arteries?

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Patty

That is a cool pool!

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dlo

So you add 5kgs on safari and now I see you trying to fatten up the birds as well :D I see we have very similar thoughts on having camps to ourselves as well.

 

I don't know if it makes you feel any better but our luck was very similar in the triangle. Of course we saw lions(we did on most game drives) but we searched hard for rhinos with no luck. Of course all you're photos are great.

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Antee

Most of the Predator action is, as far as I know, always in the private conservancies. Olare Motorogi, Ol Kinyei, Naboisho etc. etc.

Your excellent bird photos makes up for it though :)

And you had a some really cool Cheetah hunt!

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pault

Michael, I guess the location of the prey had a lot to do with the location of the predators. Also, the two main prides (Kichwa and Marsh tend I think to prefer the areas around Governors and Kichwa Tembo (did you drive around there, which would be the busiest areas?) Anyway, I always kind of liked the southern part of the Mara Triangle (and Lamai Wedge which is pretty much the same area) when ir is quiet and you have to look a bit to find something, but there are always these wonderful views (kind of like being somewhere else than the Mara away from the peak season). It's another way to look at it if you aren't lucky (but in 3 visits we have always been relatively lucky in the end - although last was in 2012 and mostly on the Tanzania side, with a few incursions into the Triangle).

 

And did you know BEFs (I am going to use that now until Kit blushes, despite her very elegant response) give birth seasonally in July-August? So the end of the year should be a perfect time for seeing BEF pups at their cutest around their dens. I am going to remember that!

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pault

Oh and this is great by the way - but I think that almost goes without saying!

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screentraveller

This is what I love: zebras fighting, having taken their gloves off, as you put it. And the young elefants playing! The close-ups of the giraffes are fascinating.

Edited by screentraveller

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Atravelynn

Thanks for the camp info. The sparring zebra really put on a show. While the cat action may have slowed in the triangle, the gorgeous scenery, birds, and especially the playful elephant calves with their raised hooves offered some great sightings.

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optig

@Micheal Ibk You outdo even yourself. You're a great photographer. I think that all of your photos of birds are just awesome, furthermore, they are so educational.

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michael-ibk

On re-reading this I am afraid I came off a bit more negative about the Triangle than I intended to be. True, we were disappointed about the lack of Cats and the futile Rhino quest, but it is a very beautiful place with a lot going for it. And a slow day can happen everywhere.

 

Love the photos of the violet-backed starling, a beauty that continues to evade me and also the Red headed weaver. Wonder what all that butter is doing to his arteries?

 

Thanks, @@Treepol , while I´ve seen the Violet-Backeds occassionally they never were as cooperative as this time. As for the Red-Headed - if he keeps this up he will certainly pop and burst - probably right on the breakfast table. :ph34r:

 

So you add 5kgs on safari and now I see you trying to fatten up the birds as well :D I see we have very similar thoughts on having camps to ourselves as well.

 

I don't know if it makes you feel any better but our luck was very similar in the triangle. Of course we saw lions(we did on most game drives) but we searched hard for rhinos with no luck.

 

Thanks, @@dlo , but I am much too saintly (see, I do learn from @@pault ) to get pleasure from other´s bad luck. :)

 

And no 5 kgs this time, I showed remarkable restraint. Only 3 1/2 .

 

Most of the Predator action is, as far as I know, always in the private conservancies. Olare Motorogi, Ol Kinyei, Naboisho etc. etc.

 

I do not quite agree, @@Antee . The main reserve is, IMO, a fantastic place to get action. On our last visit we had lions non-stop, daily Cheetah sightings (including two - successfull - hunts and with cubs), Serval and five Leopards. Not to mention Spotteds and Jackals.

 

Michael, I guess the location of the prey had a lot to do with the location of the predators. Also, the two main prides (Kichwa and Marsh tend I think to prefer the areas around Governors and Kichwa Tembo (did you drive around there, which would be the busiest areas?)

 

And did you know BEFs (I am going to use that now until Kit blushes, despite her very elegant response) give birth seasonally in July-August? So the end of the year should be a perfect time for seeing BEF pups at their cutest around their dens. I am going to remember that!

 

Yes, Paul, we did drive around there. Not busy at all, maybe two or three cars. Probably the area with the highes herbivore density as I remember. That was where we saw the two lions sleeping in the grass.

 

About BEF: Hm, (German) Wiki says between end of August and October in East Africa , always at the time when most termites are around.

Edited by michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

We had a long, long drive ahead of us - we departed at Mara Siria at 07:45 and finally arrived at the Rondo Retreat Centre at about 16:00. At first we still saw some Impala, Zebra and Giraffes but very soon wildlife would be gone. The South-West of Kenya is very lush and fertile, and therefore perfect for agriculture of all sorts. We even passed extensive rice-fields.

 

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It reminded me a bit of Rwanda,and similarly it´s extremely densely populated. For basically all of our drive we would never ever not see (lots of) people going, standing or chatting somewhere. The first part of the road was incredibly bad, more potholes than road, and we were very relieved when we finally got back on a main connecting road in Kilgoria. It was better from that point on but some stretches were also in a pretty dire state.

 

Some outtakes:

 

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Kenyans do love colours. :)

 

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We had to drive through Kisumu, the third-bigeest town in Kenya, very close to Lake Victoria.

 

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And of course we had to fight our way through one of these incredible African traffic jams where one loses every hope that the car will ever be able to move again. :)

 

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michael-ibk

So what did we do in Kakamega? What is this place, actually?

 

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Not a proper "safari" place, this is a birder´s hotspot. Kakamega is an island of unspoilt nature in a sea of people - a tiny remnant of the vast Guinea-Congo rainforest which once stretched from here till it reached the Sea in the West of Central Africa. The 238 km² of forest include a national park (or rather "national forest reserve) covering an area of only 45 km². Since it is beleagured from all sides Kakamega is under heavy pressure. The forest has been shrinking rapidly as human population growth and resource extraction has increased over the last century. Although Kakamega is somewhat protected as a government reserve, the Luhya community who live in areas surrounding the forest still rely heavily on the forest for basic needs such as fuel wood, charcoal, timber, poles, and other building materials.

 

Mammals like Bushpigs, Bushbuck, Pangolin, Aardvark and others do hide in the forest but seen very, very rarely. The main attraction for visitors are the unique birds to be found. Since it´s such a special habitat many occur only here in Kenya, and some are even total endemics.

 

The "Rondo Retreat Centre" (http://www.rondoretreat.com/) appears to be the only place tourists choose when staying here. It´s not in the park (about a 45 minute drive to the gate) but still in the Kakamega forest and offers several short, medium and long-range treks. This is not your typical lodge but a "Christian retreat for Nature lovers". It belongs to the Trinity fellowship, a Christian society, and is run by a reverend.

 

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The premises are lovely, a well-kept (very British) lawn, lots of flowers and old majestic trees - the best part about Rondo. The rooms are ok. While the cottages do have something which could be called a certain charming flaire they are in need of renovations, and I found the bed linen especially pretty musty.

 

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Birds are watching you in the room - and so is Jesus.

 

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Breakfast was very enjoyable, dinner was so-so to quite good. Staff is ... weird. They try to go for a very posh style, the poor waiters do have to wear penguin suits and are apparently told that they have an incredibly serious job and are never ever, under no circumstances whatever, allowed to do something with their faces which could be misinterpreted as a smile. The reverend/manager is also a clear no-nonsense guy, he would be quite commanding when giving instructions. "You are to use only one of the rooms in the cottage." "You will wear long trousers at dinner." I always felt like a terrible sinner when he would disapprovingly look down to me from behind his very serious glasses. :)

 

The place was fully booked but there was no chance to chat with other eager birders here. The other visitors were a Dutch Christian group doing non-stop praying in the garden, and we did not find too much common ground.

 

The no-alcohol-thing, however, which I had read about in horror, is not true, though. Rondo does not have a license to sell alcohol but they are perfectly happy about you bringing your own wine to dinner (not sure about beer), they explicitly say so in their 30-page "How to behave at Rondo" manuscript available in the room.

 

So would I recommend this place?

 

Well ... the garden is lovely, it is a bit weird but not in a too bad way - and there is nothing else to stay. :)

 

 

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xelas

Michael, what do you think, should I stay at Rondo, since I rarely read any manuals?!

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michael-ibk

I loved Kakamega. The forest is awesome, and I had a really good time walking along the tracks with the guides and doing "Psshh .. Pshhh .. Pshh" hoping to lure some bird out of the thickish and see it for a few seconds. Very challenging, but good fun. Which means Kakamega may be a paradise for birders because of the many unique species here but this is not the place where big flash bright birds perch nicely in the open and wait patiently to get their photo taken. No, mostly your idea of fun needs to be hunting very shy birds hiding in a lot of leaves in deep dark forest with very low light - photography was extremely difficult and mostly resulted in only-subpar super-high ISO shots.

 

@@AndMic does enjoy birds but not really to the same extent I do, so he found the birding part of Kakamega quite frustrating and skipped most of these outings. To reach some middle ground we did a good long 11-km hike in the National park (which we both enjoyed a lot) without stopping for elusive feathered friends.

 

I used both late afternoons and the two early mornings to find some specialties around Rondo on their tracks. I have to say that I would not have found much on my own, this is really the kind of place where a guide is vital. Especially Winstone (on the last two outings) was simply incredible - he knew every bird by sound, spotted everything and was very patient when trying to show me where the newest Warbler would be. He could attract many of them with imitating their sounds (without any technical means) and would get very excited about everything - I always like that a lot in a guide. I really cannot recommend this guy highly enough, if anybody would be interested I´d be happy to share his contact info.

 

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"See, Michael, there´s a Uganda Wood Warbler in the third bush from the right on the very green leaf!" :)

 

A few of the birds we found:

 

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Lizard Buzzard

 

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Black-Collared Apalis

 

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Lüdher´s Bush-Shrike

 

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Grey-Throated Barbet

 

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Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater

 

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Red-Headed Malimbe

 

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McKinnon´s Shrike

 

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Dark-Backed (Forest) Weaver

 

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Brown-Chested Alethe

 

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Yellow-Rumped Tinkerbird

 

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Northern Black Flycatcher

 

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Black-and-White-Casqued Hornbill

 

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This last one was the hardest to get - a White-Spotted Flufftail. They live in dark overgrown small creeks, are tiny and quite fast. We tried for half an hour for this bird which is "extremely difficult to see" according to my birdbook.

 

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michael-ibk

Michael, what do you think, should I stay at Rondo, since I rarely read any manuals?!

 

It would be the perfect place for you Alex! ;)

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michael-ibk

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Some photos from our hike in the National Park. The gate is in the very North, and we went down to the Ishiukhu "falls" and back - about 11 km.

 

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There are some proper roads for cars in the park, but not much point in driving around here - the small tracks are way more fun.

 

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This is a really cool forest, with so many different shades of green, sometimes a monkey or Squirrel up high in the canopy, a simply wonderful smell - it feels ancient.

 

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Hidden beauty:

 

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Some seriously huge trees.

 

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We enjoyed a great view from a hill:

 

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The pines here, however, are not natural, they were planted to stop erosion.

 

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There are some small clearings ("glades"), their origin is not really known. Some could be human work, some maybe stem from the times when animals like Elephants or Buffalos were still here. Long gone - like almost all larger mammals. No predators - the last confirmed Leopard sighting was in 1991.

 

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Ishiukhu "falls" - quite an euphemism. :)

 

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Botswanadreams

@@Michael what about the juvenile African Crowned Eagle at Rondo? Is he doing well? He should be nearly 1 year old. Could you see him?

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michael-ibk

There are a few monkeys in Kakamega, like the Syke´s.

 

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Most common, however, is the Colobus monkey:

 

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I was particularly delighted to find Red-Tailed Monkey - a new species for me.

 

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Not everything is friendly in Kakamega, however - beware the Nose-Horned Viper! Beautiful but deadly.

 

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michael-ibk

@@Michael what about the juvenile African Crowned Eagle at Rondo? Is he doing well? He should be nearly 1 year old. Could you see him?

 

@@Botswanadreams

 

I did not see "the Prince" as they affectionately call him but heard him, maybe, just maybe saw him fly over, not sure. He still keeps close to Rondo and is doing well.

 

I had a Most-Wanted list of birds for Rondo - Grey Parrot, Blue-Headed Bee-Eater, B&W Casqued Hornbill and Great Blue Turaco. Well, surprisingly we already got the Hornbill in the Mara, so that left three. The Parrot stayed elusive. Winstone told me they are sometimes seen on a specific tree quite close to the lodge but there are few other places where they are seen regularly.

 

The Touraco was much easier:

 

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This one was in the garden - a simply magnificent bird, and I really was more than happy to get such a good view.

 

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I also saw three birds late in the evening on a track. While most visitors are lucky with them they should not be taken for granted. I was told they can go into hiding for days, even weeks.

 

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The Bee-Eater was more of a challenge. The first place we went to in the morning was empty, and so Winstone led me in the forest on some track, he hoped to find them close to the road. But a certain stick they apparently like was empty - damn! We were waiting, and looking, and waiting, and it was finally Paul (who always came along) who finally saw something in the distance.

 

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I first thought this was a Carmine, I had not realized they looked that red from behind.

 

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But when it turned a bit I could clearly see that it was my target and was happy - mission accomplished. Even if only a very distant shot.

 

But then a second bird flew close, out of nowhere, and perched not too far from the track. Yes!

 

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This was inside a tree, very dark, and I used some (moderate) flash here. A little later the bird changed position again - and soon a second came and perched on the same branch. I left the track and made my way through the vegetation (with the Nose-Horned in my mind :)) to get an angle on them.

 

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A super-nice bird, definitely my favourite Bee-Eater now. :)

 

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And they were very patient with me, did not seem to care about my (close) presence while I was admiring their beauty.

 

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A very good end!

 

My final thoughts? I really enjoyed Kakamega, and would it have been up to me alone, I would have been more than happy spending another day (or two) and go bird-hunting with Winstone.

 

But if you do not have more than a passing interest in birds, this is probably not the place for you, it´s far off any safari route and a really long drive. Skippable therefore for most, I assume. But if you think - as I do - you haven´t lived until you have seen a Great Blue Touraco and a Blue-Headed Bee-Eater it´s definitely the place to go. :)

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xelas

That was an excellent training camp, @@michael-ibk , as photographing conditions in Kakamega are pretty much the same as in the rain forest of Costa Rica. You did well in Kakamega, and I am sure you will do even better when you'll visit CR.

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Treepol

@@michael-ibk interesting wrap-up on Kakamega. I love the turaco and bee-eaters!

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Atravelynn

I can see why you have claimed a new favorite bee eater.

Such a colorful array from your breakfast tables, whether inside or out and the avian visitors, to the street scenes. Weird in small doses can add to the overall texture of the trip. You succeeded with the birds at Kakamega and even some monkeys.

 

I checked your itinerary and see Kakamega was a 9-hour drive from the Mara triangle for your 2 night stay. I am very interested in this part of your trip!

Edited by Atravelynn

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optig

@miichael ibk I can't wait until I visit Kakamega. I just love your photos of the turaco.

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