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Horns, Spots and Stripes - Happy Days in Lewa&Ol Pejeta Dec 2018


Kitsafari
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After my dog Rosy passed away in October, Herman and I needed some time off to heal and rest as her condition deteriorated sharply in her last six months and she needed 24-hour care. We looked at a few options - Australia, Sri Lanka but it was always Africa that called to us. We had watched 3 seasons  of Ol Pejeta Diaries, and it was a place we wanted to go to support after hearing all about their conservancy work. We usually use our favourite TOs Chalo and A2A as our tour agencies, but for the Laikipia region, I knew there was no one but Squack Evans to call for advice. 

 

Squack was our guide when a group of ST-ers and I was in Zakouma two years ago. He was a complete gentleman, rather soft-spoken and knew when not to say anything superflous but to let us enjoy the moments when they came. Because of the interaction there, I gained a lot of confidence in him and was very comfortable with him, and hoped that Herman would feel that affinity with him in arranging our visit. Some guides are impatient, while others worry if you don't talk much. I don't usually talk much on game drives (although I never seem to zip my mouth when I'm filming something) because I savour every moment out in the bush. 

 

We had thought of combining Ol Pejeta with Samburu or Meru because we were keen on the northern 5+1 -

reticulated giraffe, grevy's zebra, beisa oryx, Somali ostrich, gerenuk + lesser kudu. we didn't want to travel too far between areas. Squack suggested Lewa and we looked into that possibility. What finally sold Lewa to us was that we could get all the northern 5, with the lesser kudu being rare in Lewa but possibility is there. and it was very close to Ol Pejeta. 

And Squack would be available to guide us as he had an opening that particular time window we planned to go! 

 

So the itinerary was :

1. Dec 8-12 : Lewa house

2. Dec 12-15 : Kicheche Laikipia

 

 

An elephant walks the migratory path from Samburu through this corridor into Lewa: 

 

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Three rhinos keep a vigil over the Ol Pejeta Rhino Memorial

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There are a number of TRs on Kenya alone - those that are just recently completed, on-going and a couple of new starts. My memories are fading, so I apologise for stuffing the readers with yet another Kenya trip but best I write when they are fairly fresh and before  I head out for another trip, and get muddled about the events. 

 

Lewa doesn't get visited much by ST-ers, if I were to base that observation just from TRs alone. But it has one great fan and admirer - @COSMIC RHINO. I've always wondered what drew him to this place year after year, and having read his past reports, Lewa didn't seem that unfamiliar. Having visited it, I feel that Cosmic Rhino's love for that place is well justified. 

 

We flew via Bangkok to catch the direct flight on Kenya Air to Nairobi. the flight times are perfect. Kenya Air arrives in NBO at 6am, which gives us plenty of time to get a local SIM card and visit the airport's ATM. the ATM is close to the carpark, and this time round, we discovered there is a Safaricom booth near there too.

 

For this trip, Squack arranged a driver for a land transfer of 3-4 hours to Nanyuki, where we would pick Squack up then travel about an hour or less to the Lewa gate to transfer to a Lewa House vehicle. I like land transfers - it gives me an idea of the lay of the land, a flavour of the country. Except that, it rained for most part of the journey, which meant I didn't see much out of the window. Other than a few shots in between the rains of the villages and small towns along the way before the land began to open up  to greenery. 

 

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you may not see this clearly, but someone bought a sofa and decided to take the motorcycle taxi and they had the most ingenous way of transporting the sofa and its owner, who's seated on the sofa! I'm amazed at how the motorcyclist had such perfect balance!20181208_103530-2.JPG.c617dca8b96bdab146c6379bd0bf1f72.JPG

 

The rain clouds that followed us until we reached nanyuki20181208_100641-2.JPG.f290b6822e4b013e5b0783b978947c26.JPG20181208_140624.jpg.f1fb2078bd5a2d273a400a42126139ae.jpg

 

Edited by Kitsafari
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  • Kitsafari changed the title to Horns, Spots and Stripes - Happy Days in Lewa&Ol Pejeta Dec 2018

~ @Kitsafari

 

Bless you! Your images above portray the central Kenya I know and love.

 

I'm sorry to learn of the loss of your Rosy.

 

Tom K.

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Thanks for this TR @Kitsafari.

 

Ah yes, the road to Nanyuki town.   Your photos bring back memories.  Look on the bright side in terms of the rain - at least there were not little burning piles of trash and acrid air in front of many roadside businesses.

 

What an amazing sight, of a Boda Boda balancing a sofa with a rider on top!  Actually crazy might be a better adjective. 

 

And I love the aerial photo of the elephant trudging along the ancient path across the plains!

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Very sorry for the loss of Rosy, you're kindness when Tashinga passed will always be remembered so I know she had a great life. Like you I'm using my upcoming trip as a much needed getaway so I look forward to reading most of this when I get home.

 

And @amybatt is right we can always use more Kenya reports.

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I'm glad to see that your report has started.  I love Lewa, first visiting it in 2005 and then a few times since.  I remember when my husband and I spent a week there in 2008 and were the only visitors to the conservancy because of the troubles after the 2007 general election.  It was an eerie time, but totally amazing.  I'm not as dedicated as Cosmic Rhino, too many places to visit.  I love the lonely elephant on the migratory corridor, very evocative.

 

As I often say, any safari with Squack is a great safari.  Full Stop.:D

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Looking forward to your report, there can never be too many ST’s on one particular country.

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So sorry about the loss of your fur baby... They truly take a piece of us. Looking forward to the report and hope the trip gave you the peace and grace to cope with the heartbreak.

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Thanks everyone for the commiserations and the kind comments. we still miss Rosy a lot.

 

Nanyuki is  a bustling town and far bigger than what I had expected. we met up with Squack and his family (Mijram, Liam and Rhys - i hope I got all the spelling right!) at a lovely cafe and caught with the latest gossip over my cup of hot choc and coffee for Herman and tea for squack before we hit the road again for Lewa.

the roads were all tarmac from Nairobi and to the Lewa gate. On the way to Lewa, we passed farms - I'm racking my brains - were they wheat farms or what? i can't recall.but I certainly remember passing midway to Lewa over an underground tunnel  which is heavily used by wildlife so that they will not use the busy tarmac road.

we were met by our lewa guide Joseph, a lovely man and well suited to our birding needs! I forgot to add that Squack would be with us only at Lewa and not in Ol Pejeta, but with two experts, we sure got a mountain list of bird species.

Joseph said it was a half-hour drive to Lewa House where lunch awaited, but he clearly has not driven any ST-ers before. we took 2 hours as we stopped for almost everything, especially since it was our first look at northern specialties!

 

first up - Grevy's zebras - one of the northern 5. These are the largest equine species. not only are their bodies bigger, even their ears are larger, lending them an almost roan look but with stripes. The stripes end near the belly. This species is only found in the horn of africa - in central to northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. This is an endangered equine, with IUCN estimate of only 1950+ individuals left in the wild. In Ethiopia, they are still hunted for their skins and meat. There are loads of them in Lewa (relatively speaking given the small population left in the world!) and often in fairly moderate size in numbers - about 5-12 in each group. 

It's a beautiful animal. I think they are the prettiest of the all the three zebra species (plains and mountain) we have seen them mingling with plains zebra as well. 

 

 

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~ @Kitsafari

 

The Grevy's Zebras have such sturdy physiques.

 

Your portraits of them are clear and vivid.

 

A very big like!

 

Tom K.

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Great to see your Kenya report Kit! I love that panomarma photos with the Zebras, a wonderfully atmospheric shot.

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sorry for the dribs and drabs. Work duties called and I had to answer those first. but weekend is but a few hours away! woohoo.

 

Thanks @Tom Kellie and @michael-ibk. somehow I felt that on this trip, my photography had gotten worse. and I can't pin down a reason why. 

 

Lewa is a very pretty place, full of rolling hills. It was like, for a visitor to the UK, travelling through outside England but less green and cool and definitely less grey!, and dotted with far more animals and birds than cows and tractors.  

As Herman and I are now more into birds, we stopped for almost every feathered species, particularly those we had not seen before. That was a reason why we took 2 hours instead of half an hour to the lodge. So a warning is necessary at this early stage - this could well turn out to be a report of more birds than mammals. but the mammals that we sighted, well, let's just say it was worth every minute of quiet hours. but that shall come later.....

 

Meanwhile, some of the birds we saw along the way to the lodge -

 

Ayres Hawk eagle

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red and yellow barbet

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african hawk eagle

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african grey hornbill

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blacksmith plover

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grey crowned crane

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common fiscal shrike

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koribustard

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somali ostrich - this is a recently split species. although IUCN lists it as vulnerable, there is no estimated number recorded, but it notes that the species is in rapid decline. 

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Other than the zebra, we did see a couple of other mammals coming into Lewa. 

 

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our first reticulated giraffe. we were to see more of them during the trip, but hey this being my first reticulated, i just had to take a shot. 

 

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we reached Lewa House in time for lunch at the lunch dining area next to the swimming pool. The dining area over looked a waterhole. it's a lovely lodge, managed and own  by Sophie and Calum, and well spread out.

we did have some communication issues. the first night I wanted to eat in the room as I decided not to join the evening drive, and I asked for dinner to be sent to me at 7.30pm. Herman returned from the evening drive and asked to be picked up at 7.30pm to go to dinner in the main house. But by 8pm, there was no sign of my dinner nor anyone to bring Herman to the house in the dark. past 8pm Herman had to walk alone to the main house, and found out that there was another couple who wanted to dine in, and the staff assumed they were us. not sure how that mix-up happened but i wasn't impressed. Second issue was that I have cervical spondolysis and now I sleep on bath towels which are flat and better for my  neck. I had told Sophie for an additional towel explaining why I needed it. I had to repeat my request the second day, and finally on the third day, I let Squack handle it and I finally got my towel. seemed the staff felt that we didn't need any additional towel, since we already had one each for our showers. There was one more small detail and that was communal dinner was a very late 8.30pm which meant by the time we finished dinner, returned to wash up and went to bed, it would be past 11pm. we were very firm on starting at 7.30 to 8pm and were set to start dinner on our own, but the other guests quite happily joined us. the hosts were rather late the first night, but got the hint and would join us when they could. 

But despite these few minor hiccups - only a handful of lodges are truly perfect! - we enjoyed our stay at Lewa House thoroughly. Food was really excellent and it is a very comfortable place while Sophie and Calum are very friendly. 

the accommodation is either in the earth pods or the cottage houses. we had an earth pod, which is quite cool as it is designed such that it is well ventilated with air vents built into the roof over the bed and in the bathroom. I didn't take pictures of the room but have a handful of mobile phone shots. 

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there are two resident dogs but I've forgotten their names. One was a lovely mutt who would just throw herself at your feet and you were expected to give plenty of pats and belly rubs. Another was a hyper jack russell terrier who one day decided to keep me company. he walked with me back to my pod, entered the room and, like a true gentleman, sat in the bedroom while i was freshening up in the bathroom. he then followed Herman to go birding but got impatient, and returned to the main house. they definitely added an entertaining touch to our stay at the lodge.

 

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mammals that go walking past our earth pod: 

a couple of diks diks that watched me suspiciously

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the reticulated giraffes would also come to visit

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Birdlife around the lodge was quite prolific. Plenty of resident weavers at the trees surrounding the pool, white-browed go-away birds, marico sunbirds, slaty boubous.

 

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two days before we left for Kenya, I had developed a terrible headache bordering on migraine. the painkillers alleviated some of the pain but not all. when we reached Nairobi, I was feeling very tired, and knew I was unwell. fortunately, it didn't develop into anything more serious but it meant that I didn't feel strong enough for the first evening drive and so Herman went off with Squack and Joseph. 

while they were out, I sat in the patio, enjoying the bird songs and the views and a special visitor.

 

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Meanwhile, out in the bush, Herman had a few nice sightings but a special one was in store for him too!

 

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pallid harrier

 

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Beisa oryx in lovely light

 

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Lovely black-backed jackal

 

and a sighting which I was rather jealous of - a male leopard cub out hunting in the dusk, though he went away empty-handed. not Herman though, who went away with some nice images. well shot, Herman!

 

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we know how elusive the leopards are. i worried i wouldn't get to see one. so would I get to see at least one during the rest of the stay?

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Very nice @Kitsafari.    You had good sightings from your room!   Is that a Gunther’s Dik Dik?

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@Kitsafari I do hope you managed to see a leopard. Otherwise, Herman’s sighting would leave me feeling quite envious.  

 

I’m really enjoying your report. We almost stayed at Lewa House last year, but ultimately opted for Laikipia and Kicheche instead. Unfortunately, our itinerary didn’t afford us any additional time in the region, so I’ll be looking forward to your comparisons between the two. 

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~ @Kitsafari

 

The leaping leopard image...is...Fantastic!

 

Thank you so much for posting it.

 

Tom K.

 

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@offshorebirder thank you for the kind comments. Both the kurt's and gunther's species occur in Lewa and I wasn't sure about this dik dik at the lodge. we did see a kurt's later but at a far distance hidden behind the bushes. this particular ones at the lodge seemed to have a longer proboscis, as do gunther's, but i won't hazard a guess as I'm not good at ID-ing the smaller antelopes. 

 

@Alexander33 hopefully you will find a bit of time when you next go up to central kenya. it's really just a hop away from Ol Pejeta and quite a lovely place in contrast. I'll be seeing you soon, i hope!!

 

@Tom Kellie I liked it too! The image came from my OH, who possesses a far better camera than I do! he says thank you for the compliment.

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well I'd better move on with the report and put in as much as I can before I take a break for a little while.

 

The next morning I got up as always, half an hour before the wake-up call as I don't like to rush through washing up and getting prepared since I'm likely to forget stuff. the call came with coffee and some biscuits that would tide us over until breakfast in the bush, which we would have every day. 

we walked out when it was still fairly dark. It wasn't that cold but I would still put on the beanie and gloves and the coat since I'm from the equator and anything under 20 degrees in the whipping wind is burrrrring cold to me!

I was excited - my first proper game drive and the first morning in the bush where the birds would start singing and advertising their territories and calling out to their friends. 

Mount Kenya looked mysterious and beautiful in the chilly mist, and the morning rays of the sun shot through slits in the clouds and lit up the farms that borders the conservancy in the distance. 

 

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Birds began to take to their wings as the warmth took hold. No mammals seen as yet in the misty land. 

 

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A black-shouldered kite showed no interest in us, an immature augur buzzard was quite confiding and a fischer's lovebird glowed in the morning light. an egyptian goose poked into the water while a black crake ignored us. we found the three-banded plover walking along the fringe of a pond while an eurasian marsh harrier hunched as she searched for prey, while the sacred ibis kept to its lonesome self. 

 

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In the far distance, finally, the mammals started to emerge. The Grant's gazelles stopped to gaze as our vehicle droned on the roads, while my first sighting of a rhino came courtesy of Sonia, easily recognisable by the the second horn which has outgrown her first horn. we would see the iconic black rhino a few times again. 

 

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we stopped to watch the comings and goings of a flock of red-fronted parrots at a waterhole. we practised our BIFs, which obviously failed as you can see from our photos! the lighting didn't help either as these tiny birds flit from tree to tree. The parrots roost in the highlands and would fly down during the day. A handful of old buffalos enjoyed their morning graze, undisturbed by the frenzy flights of the parrots. 

 

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Joseph swung by the place where he, Squack and Herman had seen the leopard cub last night. I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it, of course. but the young male was not to be seen. we drove around the area, a swampy kind of area that was fenced up.

The entire Lewa conservancy is fenced up which in one way provides increased protection for their precious rhinos, and another way minimises human-wildlife conflicts. within the conservancies, there are also fenced up areas to protect the mature trees from the elephants, perhaps a consequence of the larger fenced perimeters which prevent the elephants to disperse and thereby have more  of a destructive impact on the trees. 

I have no issues with fences. that's the reality of our days and the more it shows in my photos, the more it tells the world that is what needs to be done for wildlife to survive. 

but it is a telling - and depressing - sign of the enormous pressure natural parks and reserves and its inhabitants face as habitat loss and destruction continue to push in as the population booms not only in Africa but in the world. 

a couple of vervet monkeys were barking, and they were facing away from us. we found another safari vehicle moving around the fenced perimeter of one such area. well, trees attract leopards. so we knew what to expect, and sure enough - one spotted cat was lurking around the fringes, and soon a young small female came into view.

Yes! my, oh alright, our Lewa leopard!

 

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It was the sister to the young male seen last night. The smallness of the female reminded me of how small leopards actually are - the size really belies their tremendous strength and power. 

She entertained us for some 40 minutes. climbing up the tall mature fever tree, she eyed the two Hadeda ibis who were squawking away. time and time again, the ibis would taunt her, she would climb up to them, they would fly off to another branch and honk at her, daring her to try again.

 

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she then decided that she wasn't at all interested in the birds and went to a large branch and gave us THE iconic posture. 

 

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But with the ibis taunting her, she gave one more try. at this point, it was interesting that while Herman and I shot basically the same scenes, we ended up with fairly different interpretations.

 

my backlit shots

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and herman;s better shots

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at one point, she gave up, decided to climb to the end of a branch,  worrying us at how the thin branches would be able to carry her. and she did that because, well, she had a stick left on those branches and she wanted to play with it! 

 

so bear with me as I put in a few more photos of this delightful young girl.

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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@Kitsafari, stunning pictures and video of the leopard. you will be glad not to be here, just back from a wetlands area walk only -3C.

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@CDL111 that sent shivers down my spine! brrrrrrr

it's a hot sultry 27 degrees with humidity at 80% now in the night over here. 

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