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Kenya Mini Report - Nairobi, Buffalo Springs & Mara


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adamt123

Kenya Mini Report - Nairobi, Buffalo Springs & Mara 

 

Hello everyone!

 

I have just returned from my visit trip abroad since the pandemic began (unfortunately not to Africa) but as I have some spare time on my hands, I thought I may as well write up a report detailing the Kenya section of the June 2019 trip to East Africa which I took with my father. I wrote up the Uganda section some time ago and this will cover our week in Kenya prior to that. Fair warning – this won’t be the most remarkable trip report by way of sightings, though I hope it is still somewhat interesting.

 

To summarize, we liked Nairobi National Park despite only having a few hours there – birdlife was particularly prolific. There aren’t too many reports on Buffalo Springs (the reserve adjoining Samburu from the south), but we had a great time and it was my favourite stop. Then came the Mara Triangle. In absolute honesty, I don’t think I’ll be going back there in the near future. The experiences detailed in this report are solely my own – I know the Mara is a very special place for many people and by no means do I wish to slate it, rather I intend only to relay my own exposure to it. 

 

Overall, the trip was still very much enjoyable, and I am gladdened when looking back at the photos, but in truth there were plentiful mishaps along the way. I am going to try to keep this report a brief as possible on the words – I know the South Africa 2020 report went on a bit in quite some detail – don’t worry, I’ll try to be more concise here. I intend post frequently as all the photos are ready and I have quite a bit of spare time on my hands. Finally, I can hardly begin a new topic in the Kenya forum without expressing my deepest sympathies to @penolva on the demise of her partner.

 

I conclude this introductory post with a photo of rosy-fingered Dawn from Buffalo Springs.

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penolva
20 minutes ago, adamt123 said:

Kenya Mini Report - Nairobi, Buffalo Springs & Mara 

 

Hello everyone!

 

I have just returned from my visit trip abroad since the pandemic began (unfortunately not to Africa) but as I have some spare time on my hands, I thought I may as well write up a report detailing the Kenya section of the June 2019 trip to East Africa which I took with my father. I wrote up the Uganda section some time ago and this will cover our week in Kenya prior to that. Fair warning – this won’t be the most remarkable trip report by way of sightings, though I hope it is still somewhat interesting.

 

To summarize, we liked Nairobi National Park despite only having a few hours there – birdlife was particularly prolific. There aren’t too many reports on Buffalo Springs (the reserve adjoining Samburu from the south), but we had a great time and it was my favourite stop. Then came the Mara Triangle. In absolute honesty, I don’t think I’ll be going back there in the near future. The experiences detailed in this report are solely my own – I know the Mara is a very special place for many people and by no means do I wish to slate it, rather I intend only to relay my own exposure to it. 

 

Overall, the trip was still very much enjoyable, and I am gladdened when looking back at the photos, but in truth there were plentiful mishaps along the way. I am going to try to keep this report a brief as possible on the words – I know the South Africa 2020 report went on a bit in quite some detail – don’t worry, I’ll try to be more concise here. I intend post frequently as all the photos are ready and I have quite a bit of spare time on my hands. Finally, I can hardly begin a new topic in the Kenya forum without expressing my deepest sympathies to @penolva on the demise of her partner.

 

I conclude this introductory post with a photo of rosy-fingered Dawn from Buffalo Springs.

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Thank you for thinking of us and that photograph brings back very happy memories for me. Pen

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Caracal

I have fond memories of visiting Buffalo Springs when I stayed at Shaba years ago @adamt123 and am looking forward to following this TR.

Lovely opening photo.

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adamt123

Day One – Nairobi

 

We flew out of Birmingham with Lufthansa. It was a miserable day – I think it had been raining on and off for most of the previous few weeks. We arrived into Nairobi in the late evening and this was quite a strange experience. I mean the airport was a little dilapidated but nothing too bad, it was more the fact that we were in Kenya. My grandparents (from both sides) were born and lived in Nairobi, and more distant relatives also lived in Mombasa. This was my first ever trip to what was the family home for 50-odd years.

 

BHX

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Anyway, our pickup arrived and took us to our hotel for the next two nights, the Doubletree Hurlingham. All in all, it was quite a nice hotel, better than I was expecting. The following day, some post-breakfast birding around the hotel produced the first animal of the trip, Speckled Mousebird, as well as House Sparrows, Streaky Seedeaters, African Pied Wagtail, Pied Crow and many Black Kites circling overhead.

 

Speckled Mousebird

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We had the morning just to relax and, in the afternoon, we would take a game drive of the Nairobi NP (NNP) with our driver/guide for the next four days. We booked with Explorer Kenya. I cannot now remember the guide’s name, so we’ll call him Seb. He was good for the most part; he knew that we had no interest in chasing after certain species and the focus was always on the species we wanted, which were mainly the northern mammalian specialties of Buffalo Springs and of course the birds. I will note, however, that his demeanour was oftentimes grumpy. Unfortunately, there was also some miscommunication between him and Explorer Kenya, and we ended up missing an hour’s game viewing time in NNP. However, to make up for this, Seb ensured that we left the park just as the gates were closing – that was much appreciated. 

 

As for the wildlife of Nairobi NP, well I really loved it. Writing this over a year later, it still surprises me just how many species we saw in those 2 hours. As detailed above, I’m not going to get too specific in this report, instead I’ll detail some the highlights. From the mammals, that was probably Coke’s Hartebeest; we had some nice views of the long-faced antelope which was good because we would not see a single one in the Mara. Other animals included our first Masai Giraffe (unfortunately scared off by an unruly river) as well as Black Backed Jackals, Buffalo, Impala, Common Warthog and more distant views of Grant’s Gazelle, Plains Zebra and White Rhino. Just as we were leaving, we found a small troop of Vervet Monkeys (3rd trip to Africa and my first ever sighting) and hidden among the brambles was a rather shy Sykes’ Monkey – another early highlight.

 

 

Nairobi National Park

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Coke’s Hartebeest

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Masai Giraffe

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Buffalo

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Impala

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Vervet Monkey

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Sykes’ Monkey

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Birding was superb, the highlights being Hartlaub’s Bustard, Great Spotted Cuckoo, the near-threatened Jackson’s Widowbird, multiple sightings of the resplendent Red Collared Widowbird and my first Grey Crowned Cranes. Another thing I really enjoyed about NNP was how quiet it was; except for the incident with the giraffe, we were pretty much by ourselves.

 

Red-collared Widowbird - these guys were everywhere

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Jackson’s Widowbird

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Grey-crowned Crane

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Great Spotted Cuckoo

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Hartlaub’s Bustard

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The total bird list for Nairobi reached a respectable 39: Masai Ostrich, Streaky Seedeater*, Black Kite, Speckled Mousebird, Pied Crow, African Pied Wagtail*, White-backed Vulture, African Sacred Ibis, Red-collared Widowbird*, White-winged Widowbird*, Jackson’s Widowbird*, Egyptian Goose, Wire-tailed Swallow*, Cattle Egret, Spur-winged Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing, Helmeted Guineafowl, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Dusky Turtle Dove*, Black-winged Kite, Long-tailed Fiscal*, Grey-crowned Crane, House Sparrow*, Northern Pied Babbler*, Cape Turtle Dove, Speke’s Weaver*, Hartlaub’s Bustard*, African Pipit*, Great Spotted Cuckoo*, Kenya Sparrow*, Superb Starling, Siffling Cisticola*, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Purple Grenadier, Little Bee Eater, Long-billed Pipit*, African Spoonbill*, Tawny Eagle and Hadada Ibis. From these, I’ve included only a small selection of photos below, so that the non-birders aren’t too bored.

 

Black Kite

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Cattle Egret

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Yellow-necked Francolin

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Spur-winged Lapwing

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White-winged Widowbird

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Black-winged Kite

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Dusky Turtle Dove

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Long-tailed Fiscal

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African Pipit

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African Spoonbill

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Masai Ostrich

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What really impressed me were the number of species that we didn’t see anywhere else during our trip to Kenya and Uganda – 16 (41%; marked with asterisk). I think if ever I am in Kenya again, I will surely need to spend a good few days exploring the full park - I believe crowned eagle are even seen here on occasion. We got back to the hotel and relaxed with our first Kenyan passion fruit juices (exceptional I must add) over dinner; it had been a largely successful first day in East Africa.

 

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TonyQ

Lovely photos from Nairobi National Park. We visited it last September and really enjoyed it. As you say, lots of birds and quiet!

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offshorebirder
9 hours ago, adamt123 said:

I believe crowned eagle are even seen here on occasion.

 

They have - here is a crappy distant photo of one soaring over the forest near the Kisimbe River, west of Nairobi Tented Camp:

 

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

Day Two – Nairobi to Buffalo Springs and BSNR Game Drive 1

 

We left Nairobi early in the morning with Seb thankfully arriving on time. We decided to do Samburu by road for two reasons; firstly, I wanted a private safari truck and secondly this would be our only opportunity to see some of Kenya. I cannot remember the exact details, but had we flown into Samburu and stayed with Samburu Intrepids, doing our activities with them, I think the cost was about the same.

 

The drive north proved interesting –  we had glimpses of Mt Kenya, and it being Jum‘a (Friday) it was really interesting to observe close to Samburu all the local men in their colourful thawbs (kanzu I think is the Swahili word) preparing for the prayer. Closer still to Buffalo Springs the people became fewer and the landscape being markedly more desolate. Now, I have a strict policy on what I consider as a sighting and I really need a photo for it to count. Therefore, although we saw Delegorgue's pigeon and black sparrowhawk along the way (both in the highland regions around Nanyuki/Mt Kenya), they don’t officially count.

 

We arrived at the eastern (Chokaa) gate of Buffalo Springs at around midday. Below I have added some landscapes from the reserve to set the scene before we begin. The images were taken over the three days, with the Ewaso Ngiro River, which separates Buffalo Springs from Samburu proper, being the focal point for much of the game viewing.

 

Buffalo Springs National Reserve

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While we admired a handsome Pygmy Falcon – a new species for me and we had just stepped into the park – Seb took our dollars and paid the park fees. The drive from the gate to the Ashnil was very productive and for me, once more a proof that midday game drives can be just as good as evening ones. Now we had come here to see the ‘Samburu Eight’ – Gerenuk, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe, Somali Ostrich, Desert Warthog, Gunther’s Dik-dik, Vulturine Guineafowl and Grévy’s Zebra and I can gladly say we saw half of them – the giraffe, gerenuk, ostrich and zebra – all on this one drive.

 

Pygmy Falcon

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Reticulated Giraffe

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Gerenuk

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Somali Ostrich

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Grévy’s Zebra

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This ‘Samburu Eight’ is of course an unofficial designation, and many of these species are found elsewhere including Tsavo, but I think for me at least, the Samburu area has become synonymous with these specialties.

 

One of the first things that hit us as we entered Buffalo Springs was the weather – it was perfect with daytime temperatures hovering between 30-35 Celsius and generally sunny with moderate cloud cover. Continuing towards the lodge (the journey took about 1h-1h20m), we also had excellent views of Plains Zebra, Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow-weaver, White-throated Bee-eater, Fischer’s Sparrow-lark, Fork-tailed Drongo, Namaqua Dove, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Grant’s Gazelle and a large troop of Olive Baboons, arriving into the Ashnil Samburu just in time for lunch.

 

Plains Zebra

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Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow-weaver

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White-throated Bee-eater

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Namaqua Dove

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Grant’s Gazelle

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Olive Baboons

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adamt123

Many Thanks @TonyQ and @offshorebirder - Nairobi national park was indeed an unexpected early highlight and a relaxing introduction to Kenya

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adamt123

Day Two – BSNR Game Drive 2

 

We left the Ashnil and spent the evening drive along the riverfront, looking for birds and mammals along the way. This was a very productive trip from the mammal side; to begin with we had a few small Elephant families complete with Cattle Egrets, as well as a lone Waterbuck female. At some nearby pools we had another excellent sighting of Grey-crowned Crane, together with Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Lilac-breasted Roller and Egyptian Goose.

 

Elephant

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Waterbuck

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Grey-crowned Crane

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Lilac-breasted Roller

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Three-banded Plover

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It was also on this drive that we had our only sighting of Günther’s Dik-dik and well as a few Kirk’s Dik-diks (they do look remarkably similar, but the larger proboscis of the former gives it away) as well as a rather distant Cheetah. As we observed the cat, we had good views of a family of White-bellied Bustards saunter on the other side of the road together with African Hoopoe, a species I had missed on previous trips to the continent.

 

Günther’s Dik-dik

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Kirk’s Dik-dik

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Cheetah

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White-bellied Bustard

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African Hoopoe

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On the drive we also observed Taita Fiscal, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, White-headed Buffalo-weaver and Tawny Eagle as well as more Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow-weavers, Northern Red-billed Hornbills and White-throated Bee-eaters. As we were approaching camp, looking in the palms for leopard or palm-nut vulture, we camp across a group of female Lions with a few youngsters too. They were at close range and we stayed with them for the rest of the drive. Thus, concluded the first day in Buffalo Springs, with five out of the eight specials in the bag, together with some respectable cat sightings and a whole host of new birds.

 

Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow-weaver

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White-headed Buffalo-weaver

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Lion

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Day Two – BSNR Game Drive 3

 

A new day came in with one of the most glorious African sunrises I have witnessed over the Ewaso Ngiro river, complete with Reticulated Giraffes. For this drive, we went away from the riverbed and focused on the desert-savannah of Buffalo Springs. Early sightings included a handsome Gerenuk as well as a large party of sub-adult Somali Ostriches. Slightly further into the belly of the reserve we had our first Beisa Oryx (they were rather shy) and a distant confrontation between Tawny Eagles and Black Backed Jackals.

 

Sunrise

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Reticulated Giraffe

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Gerenuk

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Somali Ostrich

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Eagle & Jackal

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Beisa Oryx

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Antelopes

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Grant’s Gazelle were present in good number as well as Olive Baboons, Crowned Lapwing, Laughing Dove, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Taita Fiscal, my first Brown Snake Eagle and all the aforementioned common birds. Bringing up the rear of the drive were the only Desert (Somali) Warthogs we saw – a small family group and separately a few males. So, although this had been a relatively quiet drive, it did give us two further members of the ‘Samburu Eight’, leaving only the guineafowl unseen. 

 

Northern Red-billed Hornbill

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Black-faced Sandgrouse

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Taita Fiscal

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Desert Warthog

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Grant’s Gazelle

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White-throated Bee-eater

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White-browed Sparrow-weaver

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adamt123

Ashnil Samburu

 

The rather erroneously named Ashnil ‘Samburu’ was a real delight. This was the cheapest camp we stayed at and I wasn’t really expecting much, but it was easily my favourite accommodation of the whole Kenya/Uganda trip. Staff were very hospitable, and the accommodations were well maintained and comfortable, affording excellent views over the Ewaso Ngiro river and adjoining Samburu National Reserve.

 

Dining was superb and despite being a medium-sized camp with 30 rooms, it never felt busy. We were fortunate to visit during tree tomato season and these exotic fruits and their juice were in good supply throughout Kenya. Mandazi were also common, though we didn’t come across any vitumbua, my preferred East African snack (I think it may be more of a coastal dish).

 

Back to the animals and I think what made Ashnil truly exceptional for me was the on-site wildlife viewing. Our tent was swamped by Olive Baboons in the afternoons (just to be clear that is a good thing) and in the mornings, we had the pleasure of observing Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Golden Palm Weaver, Red-billed Firefinches, Common Bulbul and Grey-headed Kingfishers right from our terrace. Another couple of highlights right by the tent were a rather shy Nile Monitor – luckily, I managed to get a shot before it hid underneath the tent – as well as my first African Mourning Dove, a bird which I think perhaps has one of the most attractive calls of any.

 

Ashnil Samburu

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Baboons

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Nile Monitor

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Golden Palm Weaver

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Spotted Palm-thrush

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Red-billed Firefinch

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African Mourning Dove

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A midday walk around the property offered more good species, despite the temperatures climbing into the mid-thirties. The walk was productive for allowing closer views of White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Laughing Dove and Superb Starlings, as well as new species such as Slate-coloured Boubou, Spotted Palm-thrush and Red-bellied Parrots.  We found a pair of these latter birds in a tree near the pool and while the female was obliging, the male was rather shier. Looking down into the riverbed, we had more clear views of the ever-regal Grey Crowned Crane, as well as our only Nile Crocodile in Buffalo Springs.

 

Red-bellied Parrot

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Grey-headed Kingfisher

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Slate-coloured Boubou

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Emerald-spotted Wood-dove

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Grey-crowned Crane

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Elephants frequented the river often and one particularly large specimen walked right up to the perimeter fence, making for perhaps best elephant sighting of the trip. From the lizards, Kenyan Rock Agama (Agama lionotus) were abundant and with some patience we had partial views of a Tree Skink (Trachylepis planifrons). We rounded off the walk with a troop of Vervet Monkeys which were a pleasure to photograph and a rodent too – I believe it may be a Nile Grass Rat – I was just able to get a couple of shots before it disappeared into the undergrowth.

 

View over the riverbed

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Elephant

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Tree Skink

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Kenyan Rock Agama

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Vervet Monkey

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Nile Grass Rat

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michael-ibk

A very enjoyable report - especially appreciate all the great bird sightings. While I´ve never been to Buffalo Springs I did love Samburu just on the side of the river - high time to return there. Funny, when I was there I was only told about the "Samburu 5", three more seem to have made the cut.:)

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pault
6 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

A very enjoyable report - especially appreciate all the great bird sightings. While I´ve never been to Buffalo Springs I did love Samburu just on the side of the river - high time to return there. Funny, when I was there I was only told about the "Samburu 5", three more seem to have made the cut.:)

 

I was thinking the same thing. A lot of text will need redoing if five is no longer enough! Maybe it depends on your level of ambition? Good additions though - I'm up for an eight.

 

I'd take a Samburu Three right now though. :)

 

Always lovely to see a green Samburu and a flowing river. 

 

 

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Atravelynn

"What really impressed me were the number of species that we didn’t see anywhere else during our trip to Kenya and Uganda – 16 (41%; marked with asterisk)."  This statement is quite impressive and surprising.

 

The eagle-jackal encounter was very interesting.  Those Grant Gazelle horns seem extra long to me.

Thanks for the excursion!

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

Many thanks @michael-ibk and @pault.

 

I went for eight because these were the six mammals and two birds which I most considered to be northern specialities, so I think the three extra ones  that I have added are the warthog, the guineafowl and the dik-dik - although I must admit I hadn't even heard of desert warthogs (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) before taking the trip :) 

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adamt123

Thank you @Atravelynn for your kind words :).

 

I hadn't really noticed the length of the Grant's gazelle's horns but now that you have mentioned it, they certainly do look quite extraordinary 

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Day Three – BSNR Game Drive 4

 

Our second evening game drive took us further into the eastern sections of Buffalo Springs. It was a very quiet area and we didn’t see a single other car. Buffalo Springs overall was mostly quiet and as far as I can remember, other than the cheetah and lion sightings on the first evening game drive, we pretty much had everything to ourselves. When we spoke with Seb about perhaps taking this game drive in the Samburu reserve proper, he advised against it on the grounds that the wildlife would be similar and based on the Ashnil’s location in the centre of Buffalo Springs, the journey really wouldn’t be worth it.

 

The game drive started off well with a few Elephants with young and a lone Grévy’s Zebra – note the marks on its neck, I suppose it must have had quite a lucky escape from something! There were more Reticulated Giraffes around, as well as Grant’s Gazelle, Wattled Starling, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Fork-tailed Drongo and Fischer’s Sparrow-lark. As we ventured further into the reserve, the road condition began to deteriorate a little, but wildlife was still plentiful with good sightings of the common species as well as some new ones including Unstriped Ground Squirrel, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Hamerkop, African Grey Flycatcher and Northern White-crowned Shrike.

 

This is probably my favourite elephant shot of the trip

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Elephants

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Grévy’s Zebra

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Reticulated Giraffe

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Wattled Starling

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Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

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African Grey Flycatcher

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Unstriped Ground Squirrel

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We also had brief though excellent views of Buff-crested Bustard, the third new member of that family so far on the trip. We spent some time with a resting Martial Eagle and few Gerenuks showing off their standing skills. The drive then climaxed with a pair of Secretary Birds which had just arrived back to their nest for the night. It was quite special to watch them one after the other ‘take-off’ as if on a runway and then land in their tree. Heading back to camp, we had nice views of a Tawny Eagle pair set against the glow of sundown, as well as a mixed group of Beisa Oryx, Grant’s Gazelle and Somali Ostriches, which gave us our first males of this latter species.

 

Buff-crested Bustard

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Martial Eagle

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Gerenuk

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Secretary Birds

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Beisa Oryx

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Somali Ostrich

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Tawny Eagles

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While the game drives had been productive, I think all three of us were starting to worry a little that no vulturine guineafowl had yet been sighted, leaving our hopes of completing the ‘Samburu Eight’ precarious. Seb told us that this was in fact his favourite bird and on previous visits he had seen it frequently; speaking to other guides at Ashnil, he said that no one else had seen the birds recently either. However, tomorrow, on our final chance to see it, we could try going to the western section of the reserve and perhaps we would get lucky.

 

But more on our guineafowl finding mission tomorrow. For now, I conclude with a most unexpected sighting – Rusty-spotted Genet. It was wondering around by the restaurant after we had eaten, and I assume it is encouraged. Still, it was my first Viverridae sighting in Africa and that was something which in all honesty I did enjoy seeing. 

 

Rusty-spotted Genet

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adamt123

Day Four – BSNR Game Drive 5

 

Our final game drive in Buffalo Springs started off very well with another majestic sunrise accompanied with the now familiar Reticulated Giraffes. Driving along the riverbed, we next came across a Palm-nut Vulture; the bird was a little distant, but we still had clear views of it, making for fantastic start to the day. As we travelled further west, birds continued to show well including Little Bee-eater, Bateleur, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, Crested Francolin, both species of Sandgrouse and Parrot-billed Sparrow. We also had excellent views of a pair of Pygmy Falcons which were all fluffed up and looking particularly cute. On the mammalian side it was pretty quiet; we had a few Impala (not especially common during our visit) and Olive Baboons, but that was really it. 

 

Sunrise

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Palm-nut Vulture

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Little Bee-eater

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White-headed Buffalo-weaver

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Impala

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Pygmy Falcon

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As we ventured further towards the entrance of Samburu National Reserve, we finally found what we were looking for and completed our ‘Samburu Eight’ mission. It was actually a mixed flock of Helmeted and Vulturine Guineafowls foraging a fair distance from the road. I think the primary feeling was relief rather than joy at seeing them; leaving without them would surely have been a disappointment. Returning back to Ashnil for breakfast the drive was mostly quiet, though we did have reasonable views of Eastern Chanting Goshawk and Black-winged Kite as well as Somali Ostrich, a species we had observed well over the past three days.

 

Guineafowls!

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Drongo

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

Day 4 – BSNR Exit Drive and Conclusion

 

I think it was around 10am when we left Ashnil to make our 6-hour journey back to Nairobi via Nanyuki. The game drive back to the gate wasn’t as productive as the one coming in, but we still had good views of Secretary Bird and our final Grévy’s Zebra, donning the species' seemingly typical depressed appearance. We also had our best sighting of an adult Eastern Chanting Goshawk which was perched on a close-by branch at eye-level. A final new species just at the gate was a small party of White-bellied Go-aways.

 

Secretary Bird

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White-bellied Go-away

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Somali Ostrich

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Grévy’s Zebra

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk

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So overall our stay in Buffalo Springs was a success and I was pleased just how easily most of the northern specialties were sighted. We had multiple viewing of all of them, save the vulturine guineafowl of course, and because that was what we had really come here for, we left satisfied. Having said that, I was a little surprised that we didn’t see eastern yellow-billed hornbill; considering how conspicuous their sister species are in other parts of Africa, not seeing the local variation in Buffalo Springs was somewhat unexpected. Another couple of species that we didn’t get were Somali bee-eater and golden-breasted starling. Naturally, had we stayed longer, the chance of seeing these species would improve.

 

I think the Ashnil was a great camp particularly in terms of in-camp wildlife, though the staff were also fantastic. I do, however, think two nights were enough for us in Buffalo Springs. If were staying for longer in the Samburu area, I think we would want to move around to Samburu proper or Shaba, particularly as the individual reserves are small.

 

-        

 

Nanyuki lies about halfway between BSNR and Nairobi and is home to the Trout Tree Restaurant. I honestly did not enjoy our visit here. For the first time in Kenya, we were exposed to a significant number of crowds and I think the atmosphere was much too busy for a relaxing meal. Food was average at best and we didn’t see any wildlife except for the Mantled Guereza. Those who have read the Uganda report may remember that it is here that my D7100 broke (thankfully the fall was not immediately fatal).

 

Nanyuki

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Mantled Guereza

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Now I am certainly still pleased that we had seen the colobuses and I don’t really mind that the camera broke (a good excuse to upgrade); naturally at the time I was anxious that it should survive the rest of the trip and fortunately it did. I think by about 5pm we had arrived back in Nairobi where Seb dropped us off at the Tamarind Tree hotel, next to Wilson Airport for tomorrow’s flight. We said our goodbyes and rested for the remainder of the day.

 

Just a quick note here, I will resume the Mara section of the report on Sunday - hitherto the trip had been very pleasant indeed, but going forward things started to go a little downhill. 

 

Edited by adamt123
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shazdwn

Thanks for your report, I had never even heard of Buffalo Springs but would love to see a vulturine guineafowl - awesome looking bird

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Caracal

Yes, thanks from me too. Those beautiful photos reminded me of just how striking the vulterine guineafowl is.

Enjoyed it all and I'll be interested to learn of your Mara experience and your opinions.

In the meantime I'm just enjoying reviewing the above- those stately reticulated giraffe, the Grevy's Zebra, Oryx, etc.

I've seen a number of Secretary Birds over the years but never nesting and come to think of it I've never previously considered how and where they nest.

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adamt123

Many thanks @shazdwn - in all honestly I am not 100% sure why the Kenyan authorities have spilt the Samburu area into three separate reserves (Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba) and as far as I can remember, the one set of fees/permits are valid for all three.

 

Because our accommodation was in Buffalo Springs, we had our game drives there, but I think almost everyone staying at the camp was under the impression that they were viewing game in "Samburu". Again, I don't know why Buffalo Springs and Samburu proper are separated if all that is between them is a river!

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adamt123

Thank you @Caracal for following along - I'm glad you liked the report so far. I too had never really given any thought to this behaviour in secretary birds, but it was something that was throughly enjoyable to witness. 

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Day 5 – Arrival Masai Mara

 

The Tamarind Tree was pleasant enough for a one-night stay but the purpose of choosing it was its proximity to Wilson Airport. Come morning, we were dropped off at the Mombasa Air Safari office which was all fine; it was just the two of us and an English couple on the flight. The nightmare came after we had checked in at the Mombasa Air Safari building and were off to the ‘main terminal’.

 

I’m certain many readers have flown out of Wilson, and I hope many of those experiences were agreeable, but I can only describe it as a hellhole. Honestly the worst airport I have ever flown out off (and that includes a plethora of abysmal airports in MENA). In sum, it was dreadfully overcrowded, relentlessly hot and staff were pretty incompetent. So, while the flight to Mara was pleasant, and the Mombasa Air Safari aircraft was well maintained and comfortable, the state of Wilson airport was a headache-inducing start to the day. Perhaps others have had better experiences, but ours was certainly memorable for all the wrong reasons.

 

I don’t want to get too whiney here, so moving on swiftly, we arrived into a cloudy Masai Mara by 11.30. Fortunately, ours was the first stop so we didn’t have to endure another take-off/landing. Waiting for us at the Serena airstrip were Derek (actual name), our guide over the next three days and our driver 'Sasha' (forgotten the real name) from Mara Engai.

 

Why the Mara Triangle?

 

For us, the Mara Triangle appeared to be the perfect balance between the conservancies and the National Reserve. I don’t want to get controversial here and I know the conservancies are very special places in the hearts of many readers, but I’ve always been somewhat averse to off-roading and secondly the fences within some these reserves also really put me off (I have read that some of these are now being dismantled). As for the main section of the National Reserve, well it has a certain reputation and I didn’t like the idea of being swamped with people, so the Triangle was in theory the perfect blend of everything: no fences, limited to people staying in the Triangle and generally no off-roading.

 

Mara Engai

 

The drive from the airstrip to Mara Engai was relatively short though we did see Secretary Bird and Rufous-naped Lark along the way. Once we had driven up the escarpment and arrived at the lodge, lunch was served followed by a short break before the evening game drive. Mara Engai describes itself as a "luxury" lodge and has 20 tents which we found to be very spacious and well-furnished to a high standard. Being up in the forest, the atmosphere was very relaxed and secluded, particularly as the tents are at some distance from each other. Staff at the lodge were mostly welcoming and hospitable. However, I would say the set dining at Mara Engai was less than average and even though Ashnil was buffet-based I still preferred the food there.

 

 

Mombasa Air Safari, Serena Airstrip

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Secretary Bird

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Lark

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Up to the escarpment

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The Mara Engai safari vehicles were excellent, seating a maximum of 6 tourists and with open tops affording great all-round visibility whether we chose to stand or sit. Our companions for the next two days were an older NZ couple who arrived on a later flight. In all honesty, they were pleasant and had no problems stopping when we wanted too. Curiously, they said that their next stop was Kapama, but I didn't ask for further details at the risk of coming across captious or rude. Anyway, they were nice enough and I must admit more concerning to me were the temperatures in Mara. Simply put, it was too cold both in the lodge and whilst game viewing except at midday/afternoon. I knew the Mara’s elevation would make it cooler, but I truly was surprised at how much the lower temperatures bothered me. 

 

Mara Engai Safari Vehicle

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Our Tent

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For now, however, I will finish off with some wildlife from Mara Engai. We didn’t see too much, but there were a few species which we didn’t have any other sightings of – Augur Buzzard, Golden-breasted Bunting and a curious Afro-neotropical Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus sp.). We also had Purple Grenadier and African Bulbul. I know this hasn’t been the most riveting post, but the following ones will all be about game drives in the Mara Triangle.

 

Augur Buzzard

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Golden-breasted Bunting

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Lygodactylus sp.

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adamt123

Day 5 - Mara Triangle Game Drive 1

 

On this game drive we focused mainly on the area in the vicinity of the lodge. We had superb views of Topi, which to our surprise would turn out to be the most plentiful antelope which we saw in the Mara. Smaller numbers of Impala, Thomson’s Gazelle, Masai Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Cape Buffalo and Elephant were also present. We alighted at a section of the Mara river for views of Nile Crocodile, Hippopotamus, Waterbuck and Olive Baboon. Towards the later part of the drive we came across a large gang of Banded Mongoose, which are always a pleasure to observe.

 

The Mara Triangle

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Topi

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Impala

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Thomson’s Gazelle

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Zebra

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Elephant

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Buffalo

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Hippo

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Nile Crocodile

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Birding was generally productive and we saw: Masai Ostrich, Brown Snake Eagle, Grey-backed Fiscal, Red-necked Spurfowl, Lilac-breasted Roller, Rattling Cisticola, Hadada Ibis, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Black-headed Heron, Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Red-eyed Dove, Common Waxbill, Rüppell’s Starling, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Common Bulbul and Black-bellied Bustard. The birding highlight was a small group of Southern Ground Hornbill, though they were rather distant.

 

Lilac-breasted Roller

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Hadada Ibis

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Common Waxbill

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Red-Necked Spurfowl

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Southern Ground Hornbill

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Greater Blue-eared Starling

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Black-bellied Bustard

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We spent the last parts of the game drive looking for leopard in one of the areas a local cat is known to frequent, but had no luck. Overall, the game drive was a nice introduction to the Mara and though no big game spotted, it was still an enjoyable afternoon. One issue I did have was Sasha’s driving; I mean he must have been driving at 50kph minimum at times (and almost certainly faster) which we thought was ridiculous. The proof of this came when we spotted a rather uncommon rosy-throated longclaw but by the time the vehicle had stopped and we had reversed, it was of course gone. I’m pleased to say that once we spoke with Derek and Sasha about the issue, they did control their speed for the most part.. Still a little surprised that they were driving so fast anyway though. 

 

Sunset

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