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Kenya Mini Report - Nairobi, Buffalo Springs & Mara


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mtanenbaum

Thanks so much for posting this new trip report--I've been enjoying following along. I will be in Kenya in Sept 2021, coronavirus pandemic permitting!

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offshorebirder
7 hours ago, adamt123 said:

Still a little surprised that they were driving so fast anyway though. 

 

Sounds like a 'Ferrari Safari" as the saying goes.   I agree with you @adamt123 - I much prefer going slowly with frequent pauses.

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adamt123

Many thanks @mtanenbaum - hopefully all will go well!

 

I'm not sure what the situation is like for US travellers, but I believe us europeans can already go to Kenya provided we have a negative PCR test. A family friend is in Tanzania right now and she said that everyone there is acting and going about as normal, though of course that doesn't mean that COVID isn't present.   

 

@offshorebirder - I've not heard of the 'Ferrari safari' phrase before but it sounds about right! 

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adamt123

Mara Triangle Full Day Game Drive

 

We decided to go for the full day game drive as this would allow us to see a little more of the Mara. This was certainly the correct choice as it was at the Mara bridge, which connects the National Reserve and the Triangle, that we had the highlight of our Mara stay. I must say while the Triangle makes up a reasonable proportion of the Masai Mara it was still surprising how small it actually was – c. 27km as the crow flies from Oloololo gate in the north to the Tanzania border, and of course we covered this comfortably.

 

The game drive got off to an excellent start with a Lion pride right on the road just below the lodge. The females, younger males and cubs were resting though still fairly active. Slightly away from them, the male was sleepier, though he did raise his head occasionally allowing for some reasonable shots. We had quite a few birds in this patch of land near the lodge too, with new ones including Black-chested Snake-eagle, Hildebrandt’s Starling, Black-lored Babbler and White-browed Coucal, as well as previous seen species – Hadada Ibis, Cattle Egret, Superb Starling, African Wattled Lapwing and Tawny Eagle.

 

Lion

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White-browed Coucal

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African Wattled Lapwing

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Slightly further ahead, the sun began to show itself a little more and we had glimpses of Side-striped Jackal. There were a pair and fortunately did stop long enough to get a few quick pictures, despite the grass being rather tall – being one of my top targets for the trip, I was well pleased at finding them. Driving further north towards the border with Mara North, there were a few Elephants around, and more birds showed with good views of Bateleur, Black-winged Kite, Black-headed Heron, Sooty Chat and Rüppell’s Starling. We also spent some time looking for black rhino but without success; it is popularized that there are but 50 left in the Mara, so Sasha and Derek were particularly keen find us one.

 

Side-striped Jackal

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Black-winged Kite

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Sooty Chat

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It was 9.30 by the time we reached the Oloololo gate for a stop. There were large numbers of Little Swifts here as well as Speckled Mousebird, Banded Mongoose and Olive Baboon. We had seen very little plains game on the drive thus far, so it was nice to spot a few Topi, Thompson’s Gazelle and Common Warthogs as we left the gate. We then arrived at a marshier area where a pair of honeymooning Lions were resting. They were quite in the distance and we moved on quickly producing some Defassa Waterbuck and more birds along the way: Saddle-billed Stork, Grey Heron, Egyptian Goose, Grey-crowned Crane and Sacred Ibis. The best sighting from this area was a large Nile Monitor crossing the road; another lizard species observed around here was African Striped Skink.

 

Olive Baboon

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Banded Mongoose

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Topi

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Thompson’s Gazelle

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Waterbuck

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Nile Monitor

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African Striped Skink

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Ibis and Goose

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Saddle-billed Stork

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The next sighting was really the low point of the trip. The conduct of Derek and ‘Sasha’ as well as the driver/guides of Angama Mara and a dozen independent vehicles (i.e. those tourists who brought their jeeps/guides with them by road; mostly noisy folk from a certain nation) was deplorable. At the time, I was very much surprised at the attitudes of the guides and disappointed too, but my position on this now has hardened considerably. It was almost as if any regard for ethical tourism, or basic respect, was tossed out of the window. In sum, there were these dozen-plus jeeps all off roading and relentlessly chasing after a pair of male cheetahs. The cats were clearly agitated and attempting to get away.

 

Writing this now, I can recognize how small events led to this. We hadn’t seen a single independent safari vehicle at any other sighting thus far. I assume most of them were staying at Serena and were on their way to the lodge having come from Nairobi. I have a feeling that they, the cheetahs and us all happened to collide at the same moment. Perhaps it was also this mass gathering of vehicles which led to the guides’ bad behaviour. The worst act, however, came from us and the Angama vehicle. Derek and one of their guides had a brief discussion about who would have the “honour” of making the closest drive at the cats – unfortunately they decided among themselves that it would be us. Perhaps the two camps wanted to exercise their authority over the other vehicles and I concretely recall the camp vehicles as being the worse offenders.  

 

I think the true moment of realization in this feline plot came at Craig Lockhart. I’ve already mentioned this in the SA report, but suffice to say the Kgalagadi cheetahs moving away from us and being able to do so was blissful to the extent that it caused a realization about the Mara sighting and plight of those beasts. This is the link to that Kgalagadi post if you want to compare sightings https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/20816-a-summer-of-swifts-and-swallows-–-kruger-kgalagadi-augrabies-falls-jan-2020/?do=findComment&comment=307914  

 

In a rather beautifully ironic twist, my photos from this Mara episode aren’t particularly good and only a handful are even usable – I suppose that is what’s deserved. The main part of the national reserve certainly had a certain reputation, but it is stunning that such events still occurred in an apparently better managed section of the Mara in 2019. A final word: by no means do I wish to exculpate myself from these events and we could have expressed our disapproval sooner.

 

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[Second half of this game drive to follow]

 

 

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mtanenbaum

Sorry for the poor cheetahs--I've been lucky not to have experienced any of this type of behavior on my trips to Africa. I was already uncomfortable in Botswana in Moremi when at one point there were around 4 or 5 vehicles around a beautiful leopard! I would love to go to India one day to see tigers but this is one of the things I am afraid of in India with the tiger tourism--the hounding of the animals by too many vehicles. Quite the baboon photo by the way! No need for bidet-style toilets when you have a friend to keep you clean in the nether regions!

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adamt123

Thanks @mtanenbaum :).  Although Ive been at crowded sightings before, this one was by far the worst. Your comment on India is interesting indeed - clearly this is an issue which runs deep in the industry. Having said that, it is has also been my experience that there are certainly good many guides/rangers/drivers who actively try to avoid things like this. 

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adamt123

[Continued] 

 

I think we were among the first vehicles to leave the cheetahs but within two minutes we stumbled upon another cat sighting – Lions with zebra kill. There were two females and a young male, though one of the females wasn’t feeding. The carcass was a fresh kill, though the lions had already got to work. There were no other cars as everyone was still too busy harassing the cheetahs. We did off-road, but this time it was done maintaining a good distance and lions appeared comfortable. This was a pleasant sighting and I think the proximity of the two sightings helped push the previous one to the back of our minds.

 

Lion

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Leaving the cats behind us, we ventured away from the northern sections of the Triangle and drove south towards the Tanzania border and into the belly of the reserve. Considering specifically plains game/birds, this was honestly a little disappointing as there was very little to see; we had a few more Topi and a Rufous-naped Lark, but other than them not much at all. This honestly surprised me a little but perhaps if we had come at another time of year there would be more game around. When we arrived at the Tanzania border, we found our first Blue Wildebeest – sitting in Tanzania! While this meant that we couldn’t get close to it, I think it was rather fitting. After seeing this one gnu, we did see a couple others on the Kenya side, but they too were alone and distant.

 

Mara Triangle

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TZ Border

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Blue Wildebeest

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Travelling east along the Tanzania border towards the Mara river, sightings fortunately picked up again. It had rained well here and there were large groups of Plains Zebra around and a few Ostriches too. This whole section of the Mara was extremely quiet, and we didn’t encounter a single other vehicle. We also had our 4th lion sighting of the day here – a distant lone male. We stopped for lunch which was fine though I found it rather disconcerting that our NZ companions were feeding Superb Starlings and Derek and Sasha were aloof to their actions.

 

Plains Zebra

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Ostrich

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Superb Starling

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Moving on, we had another nice Lion sighting, again Derek and Sasha went off road but like the northern lions, they maintained better conduct here, leaving a large distance. As we were stopped by these lions, the incessant calling of a Coqui Francolin really caught my attention, and despite the long grass, I was fortunately able to spot it.

 

Lions

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Coqui Francolin

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From here we continued to the Mara river bridge which acts as a gate between the Triangle and the main section of the national reserve. Without being distasteful, the toilets were pretty productive here with close views of Lesser Striped Swallow and Little Bee-eater as well as our sole sighting of Grey-capped Social-weaver. The highlight, however, was the river itself; Marabou Stork, White-backed Vulture, Rüppell’s Griffon and Hooded Vulture were all present in abundance, feasting on the carcasses of drowned wildebeest. It was such a glorious scene that I will not describe it in any more detail, rather the photos will hopefully better convey the majesty of the scene.

 

Lesser Striped Swallow

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Grey-capped Social-weaver

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Scavenger Pageant

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I believe the wildebeest had started crossing the river about a week prior to our arrival and then the animals turned back into Tanzania. This would explain the very thin living population that we saw in the Mara Triangle and of course all the corpses in the river. We also turned back from here and drove towards the lodge. Game viewing again was quiet in the middle section, but we were pleased to find the three Lions again with their kill, though I think they were struggling a little after having sat in the sun all day. Dark Chanting Goshawk rounded off the drive as we arrived back into Mara Engai. All things considered, the drive was superb for lion as we saw five separate groups as well as for the vultures, however, I think cheetah episode may also have concretely marred my opinion of this most famous of game reserves.

 

Lion

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adamt123

Day 7 - Mara Triangle Game Drive 3

 

It had rained heavily overnight and we awoke to a moistened and muddy Mara. The NZ couple had decided that they did not want to have a longer game drive this morning and that they would rather just have a mini drive on the way to the airstrip (they were catching a different flight to us anyway). Therefore, it was just Derek, Sasha and us. Things started off well with clear views of a rather wet Black-backed Jackal, as well as a few Cape Buffalo and a female Black-bellied Bustard all bathed in the golden morning hues. We did find the Lions from yesterday who had brought down the zebra, but the carcass was nowhere to be seen.

 

Black-bellied Bustard

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Black-backed Jackal

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Buffalo

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Lion

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Continuing further, we found Spotted Hyenas who had seized the lions' kill in the night. From the mammals, this was probably my number one target for Kenya. I have abysmal luck with spotted hyena; prior to this sighting the only one I had seen was at the 14th Borehole and I haven’t had a sighting since this one. Its rather odd actually, that I tend to miss them even in places where they may be expected. Regardless, this was a fantastic sighting; the animals were right by the roadside and consisted of a nice mix of adults and young with the collared female nursing the cubs for a short period too. I must admit, the little ones were rather cute, though some of the adults were perhaps more of an acquired taste.

 

Spotted Hyena

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We spent quite a long time sitting with the hyenas with no other cars before eventually deciding to move on. We had a nice sighting of Eland and although there were skittish as usual, it was nice to see a large herd. Derek and Sasha were very keen to go back to the rhino area, so we agreed and though the driving was difficult at best, the desired animal did show, and we (along with about ten other cars) had reasonable views of Black Rhino. There also were a few grumpy African Elephants around which Sasha stayed well away from, as well as a few final Topi, Thomson's Gazelle, Hippos, Masai Giraffes and Nile Crocodiles. We also had a distant Cheetah, but this time the guys didn’t off-road.

Eland

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Black Rhino

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Elephant

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Giraffe

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Cheetah

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The birds of this final drive were: Grey Kestrel, Long-crested Eagle, Black-chested Snake-eagle, Yellow-billed Stork, Spur-winged Lapwing, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Sooty Chat, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Rufous-chested Swallow, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Black-headed Heron, White-faced Whistling-duck, White-fronted Canary and Fan-tailed Widowbird. Close to the airstrip we also had good views of some final Masai Ostrich.

 

Swallow

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Grey Kestrel

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Canary

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Widowbird

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Yellow-billed Stork

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Ostrich

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Long-crested Eagle

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Derek and Sasha dropped us off at the Serena airstrip, but our flight was delayed. Together with the airstrip staff they kept in contact with Wilson and Mombasa Air Safari; it turns out the flight had been about 20 minutes delayed from Wilson but the main reason for the holdup was that the plane had to make lots of stops at other airstrips dropping off passengers. We finally departed the Mara about an hour late, but it was nice of Derek and Sasha to wait with us and the delay did also for some final birding, with Speckled Pigeon, Little Swift and Wire-tailed Swallow and Lesser Striped Swallow observed as we waited, as well as few interesting insects.

 

“Rules of the Mara” Laughable.

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Mara River

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When the aircraft finally did arrive, it was relief to learn that we would be going straight back to Wilson without collecting anyone else. Another added benefit of this was of course having the aircraft to ourselves. Perhaps some people like the airstrip system and there is certainly a novelty factor, but overall, my own experience was less than complementary. Further, I cannot see the advantage of a dozen airstrips inside the protected area over one or two small airports just outside. Fortunately, arriving into Wilson wasn’t so bad, though it was still pretty chaotic; we caught a taxi to the Radisson for our final night in the country.

 

 

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adamt123

Conclusion

 

Asked if I were to come back to Kenya, the answer would most definitely be yes. While there were certainly some mishaps along the way, including a few which I have omitted here, from the perspective of wildlife viewing, Kenya certainly has a strong offering. This is particularly true when considering the avian diversity of East Africa and the range of different reserves to visit.

 

Having been once now and with the experience of both fly-in and guided road safaris, I think I would only realistically consider another trip as self-drive. There are many areas of the country which we didn’t get too, notably Amboseli and the two Tsavos, though as mentioned at the start, I think I would want to spend more time in Nairobi too. I also wouldn’t rule out a return to the Samburu area which was the highlight of this Kenya trip. As for the Mara, I would give it a second chance and I think self-drive in the main section of the national reserve could be enjoyable. I wouldn’t return in June as the driving conditions were too boggy and I would also avoid the migration peak.

 

After the night in Nairobi we went off the Uganda. I wrote up that report some time ago (https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/20522-uganda-birds-and-mammals-aplenty/) and I mentioned at the time that I would be more inclined to return to Uganda over Kenya. That opinion still stands – we did like Uganda more, but Kenya was good nonetheless. Now here concludes the trip report so many thanks for following along and I hope it was made for an interesting read.

 

 

A final photo from Masai Mara

fullsizeoutput_5f58.jpeg.0b338fb8a43890f2cc83f0737288fd7c.jpeg

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Zubbie15

Thanks for sharing, a very enjoyable read. It's a shame about the cheetah sighting, I've seen similar situations in the Serengeti and it's very discouraging. 

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TonyQ

Thank you for an excellent report. Shame about the behaviour at the cheetah sighting, but you had really good other sightings, and provided us with great photos!

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Caracal
On 8/21/2020 at 12:05 AM, adamt123 said:

and I hope it was made for an interesting read.

 

It certainly made for a most enjoyable read @adamt123 - lovely photos combining with your thoughtful and engaging commentary. Many thanks.

PS You're not alone re abysmal luck with spotted hyena!

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adamt123

Many thanks for your kind words @TonyQ and @Caracal :)

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michael-ibk

Thank you for this report, I enjoyed it a lot. Like you I was somewhat unimpressed with the Triangle a couple of years ago but did love Samburu.

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adamt123

Apologies for the delayed response @michael-ibk and many thanks for your kind words - the similar experiences are interesting to note! :)

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  • 2 weeks later...
Atravelynn

So it was the vulturine guinea fowl that caused the drama on your trip.  But it came through in the end! 

 

You have a fantastic collection of photos.  Both the variety of photos and all the bolded species show what a wealth of wildlife Kenya offers! 

Edited by Atravelynn
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adamt123

Thank you @Atravelynn:) 

 

the guineafowl "drama" was certainly unexpected. I think many people who go up north observe them easily and without a second glance - ironic how we were the ones actively looking for them and yet we struggled so much to find them!

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