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Volunteering in the Naboisho conservancy 4 weeks july-august 2018


khakialahari
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I have to apologise for the delay in writing this report. On a whim about a year ago, I signed up to 4 weeks on a big cat conservation project in Naboisho Conservancy, in the greater Maasia Mara area. I've always been passionate about animals and have travelled a fair bit, but for some reason, I had not even contemplated Africa. This whole idea stemmed as a bit of revenge for my girlfriend going to Sri Lanka without out me. "Well, in that case, I'm going on safari so there"! Thankfully she ended up coming with me and it was such an amazing experience for us both. 

 

After booking the trip without actually thinking it through I immersed myself in all things safari related. Researched the best binoculars, boots and bought A LOT of rather expensive khaki clothes, hence the name. I wanted matching khakis like one of my heroes growing up, Steve Irwin. All the gear no idea would be a very, very apt description of me. One thing I now really regret is not doing enough photography research or practice but some lessons I suppose you just have to learn the hard way. I'm probably being a bit harsh on myself, I have probably watched every documentary ever made and once booked I found an amazing site called Safari talk. I cannot tell you how much I have loved reading and viewing all of the great content on this site and the knowledge and enjoyment it gave me pre-safari was incredible. Thank you to you all for that. When I first got back I couldn't bare to read for a few months as I just missed being in the bush. Recently when I couldn't post on here I had an incredible feeling of guilt. You guys have shared such great experiences and I genuinely learnt so much information from this site that I put to use on my trip and I hadn't repaid the favour. Well here goes nothing. 

 

The project is run by African Impact. They do many projects across Africa not all involving conservation. We flew to Nairobi from London and landed in the early hours of the 30th of July. I always find it strange landing in a new country let alone continent in the dark. Your eyes are straining to see your new surroundings and take it all in. We were supposed to be picked up from the airport, transfer to a hotel by an orphanage project the charity runs in Limuru to get some sleep, then transfer to Naboisho later that morning. After coming out of the terminal we could see nobody with our names and the place looked pretty deserted. we had no sim card and were wondering what on earth we had gotten ourselves in for. It was 12.30 am so we felt rather helpless. Thankfully we found our driver who said another volunteer would be going with us. We drove to the area with a lovely Swiss guy and left Nairobi. I couldn't tell you what the city looks like or how long it took but about 90 minutes later we arrived at a couple of wooden buildings in the pitch black. We crept in and it turns out this is a dorm for people volunteering at the local orphanage. These mainly female volunteers were all asleep and we come in shining torches with our driver trying to find a bed to sleep in. The poor girls must have been terrified. We realised that there were only two free single beds, (three of us) and one set of sheets. Limuru is very high above sea level and it was absolutely freezing. Not the welcome to Africa I expected but me and the girlfriend shared one bed and we had towels etc.. in our bag to keep warm. Turns out the next morning, we should have been dropped at a three-star hotel down the road and the driver who was supposed to transfer us to Naboisho was searching high and low for his missing volunteers. What a start. There clearly needs to be some work done by the charity to ensure things like this don't happen but as a serial backpacker, the more things of this nature that happen, the better the story's usually end up. 

 

On the road, I was treating this 6-hour drive as my first game drive. I had been amazed at the beauty of superb starlings from photos on here and they were everywhere. We combined with three Spanish volunteers who were all lovely. A middle-aged couple and a younger female. Not long into the trip, a wasp found its way into the people carrier and we pulled over as it was flying in people faces. Unfortunately, the driver killed the beast, to which I shouted "conservation, yeah"! in my best Steve Irwin impression and we all laughed and it broke the ice nicely. Unfortunately, our attempts at conservation so far had seen one animal murdered within the first hour!! We stopped at a viewpoint into the rift valley and got to take some photos. The view was stunning and we saw our first mammalian wildlife. Some rather fat, rather domesticated Rock Hyraxes and I believe a type of colobus monkey in the far, far distance. I will now try and post a photo of the monkeys however I was on full zoom on my little camera and my attempts at photography were pretty abysmal all trip. Thankfully my girlfriend had her Nikon d5000 and she took some great shots later in the trip. 

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Edited by khakialahari
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As this is a project anyone can go on I will try and do my best to explain what we did, the pros and cons, my thoughts and as much useful information I can. I will try my best to intermingle it with some of the sightings and photos to keep it interesting. From the lookout, we had another five and a half hour drive which gave me my first taste of an African massage. Overrated if I'm honest!! Some of the roads were appalling. we stopped off in Narok and go sim cards and any personal snacks we wanted. All food, drinking water, and tea and coffee are included in the price of the trip as well as all transfers and basic accommodation. Snacks, alcohol, and soft drinks you have to pay for yourself. Narok was about four hours into the drive so after another hour and a half along with some even more horrendous roads we got to a dusty little town where we stopped and the driver told us we were here. Now when I envisaged safari this was not it. Not a blade of grass in site and the only animals were cattle and goats. Looking around and wondering if I would be sleeping above the mechanics or the supply shop I was relieved to see a land cruiser with some khaki-clad volunteers heading back the other way. We said a quick hello and asked what to expect, obviously, there wasn't enough time to go into detail but you all go out on drives together and the longest serving had been there for 5 weeks, AND NO LEOPARDS!!! Challenge on. I have never been on safari before so I had the amazing experience of everything being new and exciting. We met our guide Francis, a Maasai guide trained at the Koyaki guiding school that our volunteer camp was next to. He informed us we would hopefully see lions, tigers, and bears. I didn't want to speak out of turn but thought that unlikely. We drove out of the town and entered the conservancy over a little bridge over a river. This is it...... We were here amongst the great beasts!!!! Before going on this trip, and a fair few times after I watched the intro of Sir David Attenborough's Africa, over and over again. I would recommend it to anyone heading off. It gets the hairs on my neck standing up. I was now in the Mara ecosystem, during the great migration, and realising a dream. 

 

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I don't think I knew what to expect but I did have expectations if that makes sense? Things I wanted to see etc... I love all wildlife so lizards, birds, and mammals, everything was on my wishlist (except spiders, could do without them). Within minutes we saw a LBR. One of those birds you see in every trip report but I was scared I would miss out. there are much better photos from later in the trip but on the drive to the camp we saw Koke's hartebeest, zebras, rock agama, southern ground hornbill, crowned crane, wildebeest, topi, impala, Tommy's, Grant's, warthog, ostrich, and many more, most notably a splendid Bull elephant. Just on our way to camp. It was surreal and I don't think me or my girlfriend could really believe we were here for four weeks. DSC_0332.JPG.d9576f43fc79e738e876d0df5dfa37c3.JPGDSC_0312.JPG.90a979663cb7c03ed6a433aa8abacfed.JPGDSC_0304.JPG.59fa1780f480cf893abebeaaa09d8123.JPGDSC_0301.JPG.6a1552e1a6f2aabbb49a3c4d652de922.JPGDSC_0290.JPG.0faabf3d0b5de81e483364530ed40160.JPGDSC_0288.JPG.1075137b0fed00cbc15e926a27abffe3.JPGDSC_0282.JPG.c050f640dae8baaeea66ef86cd4d7254.JPGDSC_0336.JPG.4c86ad9a77d103e8a17129f4a5c3317a.JPG

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I remember that first time in the bush feeling. Fantastic?

 

Really looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip. 

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Oh how I remember that first trip...I got excited about the bats I could see flying around the lights as I got off the plane in Nairobi (had to take stairs as there was no walkway)  :)   And the smells. That first trip is truly one of magic and the start to a long and lovely addiction. I look forward to more of the report and your wonderful enthusiasm.

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Once at camp we were shown around. We were told before the trip that it was basic but with nothing to compare it to I can't tell you how much more you would usually expect to find. I did take photos at the end of the trip but it was the one thing that didn't want to constantly move when I tried taking photos of it. There was a concrete lunch/communal area with the kitchen. The dining area had open sides that you could lower awnings around in case of rain. There where two concrete dorms sleeping 4-5 in each. not 100% sure as we didn't sleep in them. 5 or so large tents that I think slept similar although most of these were for the staff, and three little 2 person dome tents. One of these was to be our home for the next month. When talking to the project manager we were told that there was no room in the concrete dorms for us both, so we could sleep separately or share a little tent. I asked if there was a fence, no, I asked if there were guards, no, I asked if it was ok if I put up a fence to which the guy chuckled. Not the reassurance I was hoping for. There are long drop toilets which we were rather proudly told now have seats!!! Showers that had hot water in the middle of the day when we were between drives. There was no wifi although if you had data on your sim card you could get some reception. The camp is only about a 5-minute walk from Eagle View camp which during time off you could go to and if you bought a drink use the wifi. I'm sure some of you have been to eagle view before and the views were stunning. The project runs Monday to Friday with the weekends your own. You can stay at this or another camp owned by the same umbrella company on weekends for a reduced rate. This appealed to me until I realised that no drives were included. The other options on the weekend were to go on various trips; to the Mara reserve, a walking safari, balloon ride, a rhino sanctuary, Masai village, and more than I'm certainly forgetting. I will post a link to the project later. All these are extras that need to be paid for. These seemed like better ways to spend money than for a larger tent and flushing loo. We had a brief induction and met the lovely Caroline who was the project manager. There were 14 volunteers including us and two vehicles and guides. I didn't realise at the time that this was unusual and for the next three weeks, there would only be one vehicle. The volunteers who had been there for some time headed out for an evening drive and I immediately turned green with envy. My whistle was wet and I just wanted to go out for a drive. I resigned myself to just settling in for the evening when Francis, our guide said get ready to go out. In a flash we were and off we went. He hinted that we were trying to see something special, but no promises. Thanks to reading this site I was pretty clued up on what I may see and what I wouldn't. So when we saw a few vehicles stopped and Francis said "wild dogs" I nearly fell out the truck. I was not expecting this. On my first proper drive!! There were only four, four more than I had been expecting, and they were very horizontal and did next to nothing but I was buzzing. My girlfriend isn't as obsessive as me and had never heard of this site so was slightly unaware of how lucky we were but I repeatedly told her. Repeatedly. Sitting there with the sun setting over the beautiful scenery I don't think I could have been more content. Some woeful photos of the dogs and the sunset. DSC_0362.JPG.785076e7122c6ec65212e17cf58446ac.JPGDSC_0370.JPG.2e5355515670ed29ed3277d9c6aee8b1.JPGDSC_0375.JPG.3a95eebb4a113f3c25b81b5d1dd083b3.JPGDSC_0345.JPG.da4e590f6c9dc7794af0d8cdb4f6eccb.JPGDSC_0353.JPG.179c6a0f64ba9ad3bcfbc200812c3181.JPG

Edited by khakialahari
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Wow. Wilddogs! How lucky were you? And what a glorious sunset.

Edited by wilddog
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On planning for the trip I realised there would be a lot of downtime with little to do so I downloaded lots onto my kindle. To fully immerse myself in the safari experience I researched books about safari and downloaded a few by Peter Capstick. On the flight I started to read "death in the long grass". Big mistake. I realise that safari- a journey, used to be a hunting trip and Capstick was a professional hunter. In the first chapter on lions he painted a vivid portrayal of man-eating lions, that would rip the roofs off huts to eat its sleeping inhabitants, then pick the locks of others whilst disconnecting the alarm system to eat the owners of them too. I may have slightly exaggerated but not by much I don't think. I didn't make it through the first chapter to hear how hippos, elephants, buffalos, and leopards would kill me but the vibe I was getting is that it was not if, it was when. So on getting back to the camp I genuinely assumed that there would be a guard, you would be escorted to your tent at night, taken to the toilet etc... Well they say assuming makes an ass of you and me and I was clearly an ass. Our tent was on the edge of camp although the other dome tents were slightly more exposed. You see yourself to your tent with a torch (you provide. Wish I knew that this is what my torch was for. Mine was quite good but the girlfriends was feeble). So you look out for eyeshine. None and you are safe to go. We never fully discussed what to do if there was eyeshine but the impression I got was it wasn't safe, for a bit. After getting ready for dinner and leaving the tent in the pitch black we saw eyeshine. We were both out of the tent by now and I shoved the girlfriend in the direction of the main camp and we disobeyed the first rule "don't run". I was convinced it was a man-eating, Rubix cube solving lion but in hindsight, I think it was a dik-dik. Both fearsome in their own right. Entering the dinner area with no dignity and needing a change of trousers the more experienced volunteers calmed us down by telling us how close animals had walked by their tents, two lionesses just the night before. I didn't eat much. As there was no guard to take you to the loo off we trotted with our little convenience buckets. I didn't sleep much if all to be honest. The sounds of animals in the distance was quite relaxing. The ones very close not so much so if I'm honest. Lion, hyena, and jackal were heard close to our tent that night. Photo of home. Don't worry I'm not writing this much about every day. DSC_0343.JPG.1477fc7f8cf2d5bbde80b2443602cd1a.JPG 

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@wilddog I know we were so lucky. We didn't see them again but once was more than I ever dreamed. Apparently they travelled over from Tanzania.

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@lmonmm  Thank you. The enthusiasm I can do but it's daunting trying to write a TR after reading so many masterpieces on here.

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Yes. Sightings in the Mara region are rare.I was in Porini lion camp in October and was told the  4 dogs had been seen a few months previously. .. and you saw them. ?

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Oh man, you are a lucky dog to have seen wild dogs in the Mara!  I am very much enjoying the report and look forward to reading more.

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So this all sounds like I'm just on a budget safari so far whereas we were there to monitor big cats and the conservancy as a whole. I will go into more detail about what we were required to do as I go along but Tuesday and Thursday mornings were "animal counts". Before breakfast we were off at 5.30-6 and we would drive to a 2km transect. Before breakfast you would cover one, woodland or plains, and after breakfast you would do the other. The guide would stop, then with you would spot and count each species you could see from that position, take down gps, range (golf range finder) and compass bearing. When you had counted everything you would drive along until you spotted more or got into better range to count them and repeat until you had covered the 2km. This was very difficult at first as there was no real briefing and the more experienced volunteers were really left in charge of explaining what to do and the difference in species. "Grants have a white bum Tommy's don't" I was told. Well all their backsides looked white to me! Ah, the white extends above the tail (i eventually worked out for myself). This was quite a stressful affair at first. Volunteers all volunteer for different reasons, are different ages, from different walks of life, and if I'm honest can be some of the most disagreeable people on earth. We were lucky with the people while we were there and I hand on heart liked everyone. That doesn't mean some were not very difficult (myself included) and in any group you get along with some more than others. It all seemed a bit of a competition at first, "there are ten". "no there are eleven". "that's a Tommy", "no that a Grants" etc... Now I went to help conservation efforts but if someone mistakes five for six I doubt the species is in any real threat. I mean at 500 yards in long grass who knows how many are laying down. I took the route of saying "I think there are ..." as its hard to be sure and I'm not there to argue. The rangefinders were a bit of a joke, very hard to use and as one person was designated to use it certain people somehow thought you were trying to not get a reading on purpose. Our first attempt (5 out of 6 of us in the vehicle were doing it for the first time) was a bit painful but after breakfast we became a well-oiled machine. I have to say i really enjoyed it throughout the trip. It gives you a chance to hone your spotting and identification skills and although most of you have been on safari how many have had to count and identify every animal in a 2km area four times a week? Camps are going to be charging extra for this activity now you all are so interested in doing it I'm sure. On our two game counts, we saw secretary birds, a hyena and cub, jackal, bat-eared fox, maribu stork, African fish eagle, vervet monkeys, baboons, dwarf mongoose, young bull elephant, 6-7 giraffes and zebras, Tommy's, grants, impala.... most the herbivores. My photos are a massive mess so the report will probably take a brief hiatus while the Mrs and I get them in order but they are there, all 7,000 of them. I think 100 may even be usable.

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I'm really enjoying this report! :)

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I'm reading with interest.  This is quite an adventure!

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I remember when you were in the planning stages for this, and am happy to learn that you obvously enjoyed this a lot! A great report, and just wow to the Wild Dog sighting - not sure if any Trip Report here has ever featured them in the Mara. Really enjoying this, your writing style is very entertaining and as the others have said hearing somebody talk about their very first safari just makes me smile, it reminds me of my first one in Tanzania when I could not believe how absolutely awesome this all was.

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Thanks @michael-ibk. I’ve just binge read you big year 2018 and loved it. The information you provided with each post was so interesting and really above and beyond. I had an amazing time and I will get onto birding in a bit but it’s fair to say I love our feathered friends. If I had money I would do a big year but I’m working six days a week just to be able to afford another trip this year. 

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@amybatt thank you. It was a month I would pay to relive again and again. 

 

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@kittykat23uk thank you. I’m trying to keep it light hearted as it’s my nature. Conservation is a serious thing but there is no need to do it seriously right? I really hope that some of the readers “seriously” consider taking part in this or similar projects on reading this. I was blown away by the TR’s on this site and found my first experience massively influenced by reading about others experiences and expertise. The warm and inclusive vibe is so heartwarming and I’m actually feeling, hearing and smelling the bush as I write this. The closest I can get to being there is reliving it and writing it down. 

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I there are several members who have participated in this type of project over the years; certainly @kittykat23uk has, as have @JohnR and I. 

 

Great way to really experience the wild and you learn so much. 

 

Really enjoying this TR ?

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27 minutes ago, khakialahari said:

@kittykat23uk thank you. I’m trying to keep it light hearted as it’s my nature. Conservation is a serious thing but there is no need to do it seriously right? I really hope that some of the readers “seriously” consider taking part in this or similar projects on reading this. I was blown away by the TR’s on this site and found my first experience massively influenced by reading about others experiences and expertise. The warm and inclusive vibe is so heartwarming and I’m actually feeling, hearing and smelling the bush as I write this. The closest I can get to being there is reliving it and writing it down. 

 

Yes absolutely, I have been wanting to return to Kenya and this seems like a very affordable option to experience a Mara Conservancy, I am indeed very interested in reading more. As you might have seen I have also had a quick look around the site of the organisation you used and it does look really interesting and affordable. If you are also looking for another project, given your delight at seeing wild dogs I can heartily recommend Wildlife Act's similar carnivore projects in South Africa.  You can read about my experience here.

 

ETA you may also find the accommodation a bit more to your liking!

 

All the best

 

Jo

Edited by kittykat23uk
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My hopes of constructing a beautiful trip with photos in the right places lasted no time at all. It's a shambles. I'm afraid the photos will just have to be random for the time being. After our game counts we had downtime in camp with an evening drive later that day. For this all the people who had been on the project were put in one vehicle and the newbies another. Six or seven in each vehicle. As we set out from camp we stopped 200 meters away by the Koyaki guiding school. Francis, who i had not yet warmed to if I'm honest told us that this is where he had trained 3 or 4 years previously. Its a great idea, training only Maasai to guide, ensuring money goes back into the community that reserving areas for wildlife would otherwise hurt. During the game counts Francis seemed very disinterested and in hindsight i can fully appreciate why. He asked us if we had any questions and I asked if he enjoyed his time at the school and if he enjoyed his job. He lit up and explained how this was the job he was meant to do and he loved it. We carried on driving slowly and he explained all the herbivores we passed, how to determine sex and their favoured habitat and role in the ecosystem. I got the feeling we would be doing a small circuit and going back to camp. Not long out of camp we came across two juvenile lions. My first lions. It was so nice sharing these experiences with my girlfriend. Its special just to see these things but to be able to share them with someone makes it even more so. These lions looked to me like they could have torn the whole group to pieces but at this age they are pretty hopeless. They were a bit timid and Francis told us they couldn't look after themselves and were anxious about where mama was. It was clear they were not up to much so we moved on. These lions were closer than 1km to my tent and the thought of them and their mum was already worrying me. We continued on and I found another weakness I have. Now I'm only 30 but it turns out I have the bladder of an 80 year old. All this bumping about brought me to ask if we could stop so I could "mark my territory". Francis said to go behind that bush. What bush? I was terrified. I took one step from the vehicle and that was far enough. From some angles I'm sure I was behind the bush. From the other 358 degrees you could see my back was still touching the vehicle. I was right to take the opportunity as we drove for hours. 3-4 if I'm guessing. We didn't see much to be honest but seeing lions in the wild couldn't be ruined. We stopped by the river that was smelt well in advance. Wow hippos smell! We sat there watching them and although they are very dangerous I found being in their presence while they in the water incredibly relaxing. Apart from the smell their breathing was so soothing. I have never found whale song relaxing but listening to them as the day drew to a close was so peaceful. I struggled for a while to describe it, and work out what to call my hippo sleep aid CD I was going to release, and settled upon "Hippo Huffs". Watch this space. At least 99% of the profits will go towards me going back to Africa. A lovely and fitting way to end our first full day. Francis got a report of a possible leopard and we did search as the light faded. I went cross-eyed straining in the near pitch black night but it was not to be. A nice meal was had and unfortunately another sleepless night. The sounds of elephant, baboon, hyenas and jackal soothed me into not sleeping. As I finally started to drop off I woke in a panic as the tent moved, "an elephant is jumping on the tent"!!! what a way to go! Turns out my beautiful, skinny girlfriend had rolled over and doesn't represent an elephant in any way. Well, she doesn't forget so.... Just to note she slept with earplugs in which I think was cheating. 

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The next morning I woke from not sleeping and we had breakfast. Some days we went out before breakfast, some we didn't. It depended on the activity. Today, Wednesday every week, was our habitat protection morning. Three of the four weeks this involved ground erosion prevention. We drove out to where we had seen the lions the day before and about 600mtrs from there we stopped at a thicket in a gully. Francis jumped out, threw a stick into the bushes, walked in clapping and appeared a minute later saying it was safe. We were given machetes, not enough to go around and told to cut the straight branches of a certain thickness off the cotton trees . The machetes were painfully blunt and it made for really hard work. I can understand not giving volunteers razor sharp machetes but these were a joke. 10 minutes of sharpening these would have taken 30 minutes off whacking trees with, in reality, a lump of metal. Obviously all the men went for the thickest, tallest branches to prove how manly we were. Once we had cut enough we loaded them onto the land cruiser (to be referred to as van from here on out) and drove out of the park to just outside. The roads create gullies that when it rains get deeper and deeper. This can be hazardous for wildlife, livestock and children apparently and they only get worse if not addressed. Once at the site we had to chop the thicker branched into stakes, a bit like cricket stumps. these were driven into the ground and the thinner branches were woven between them. Unfortunately there was only one hammer that in itself wasn't really up to the job, the rest had to find a rock. I'm a plumber by trade and have worked on building sites in Australia so I'm pretty handy until you give me a rock to whack a stick with. John Henry would have struggled! Better tools are definitely required on this project as the hammer broke on the first week. Once the fences/barriers where built we threw various seeds etc... into the gully so when growing the roots would help retain the soil. Although this was hot, dirty work with the worst tools imaginable it was really nice to do some hard graft/yakka and get the blood pumping. here are a few photos of our handy work. Back to camp and a long break for lunch and until our evening game drive.

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We went to eagle view after lunch to tell our loved ones we were here safe and catch up on civilisation. I am glued to my phone when in city life but I love being out in the bush and turning everything off. I spent four months working on a cattle farm in the outback in Oz with one backpacker mate in a 44,000 acre farm.  I loved the isolation. Eagle view is stunning. I couldn't spend money to stay for a view when I just wanted to be out on drives but if i had all the money in the world.... I would still stay in my little tent. It may come across that I wasn't enjoying my time from some of the things I've said but that couldn't be further from the truth. I was in heaven. All the pressures of modern life disappear and all you need is binos, a camera, and to see the beauty of the world. I wouldn't call myself a birder but before the trip, the vast amount of birdlife in Africa in the TR stunned me. Why only look for cats, or mammals when there are so many other species to marvel at? Once you have seen every mammal (easier said than done and I didn' t) there are no more firsts. Birds are like the Panini sticker book or the pokemon of the world. I asked for the book of east African birds for my birthday before the trip and used this site as practice. I read every TR and avoided looking at the name of the bird photographed and scrolled through my book to try and identify. It was clear I was on my own in the group in the birding department. As soon as my second full day I decided breaks were my chance to wander around camp and try and catch birds on camera and try and identify. I wasn't fair to stop the vehicle every time I saw a new bird but as the trip went on I did ask for this more and more often. I was hooked and would creep about the camp on a lot of our downtime. Many a time someone would walk down a path or out of their tent to see me, the freak I had become crouching in the bushes. Two nemeses became the bain of my life, a beautiful sunbird that I saw so many times and managed to focus on every branch of its favourite tree without ever getting it and a francolin that just disappeared every time I lifted the camera. This has all become rather word heavy so I will now try and stick to the animals. 

 

Yellow-necked spurfowl, Hildebrandt's starling? Think that may be an ostrich, will check the book. DSC_0672.JPG.c9526edbfc23f1fa5bc68fbd42e38585.JPGDSC_0182.JPG.5a90282a73ebb3d42c9dec68671ed50f.JPG

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Edited by khakialahari
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