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Sept Kenya Private Drive/Fly


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I'm seeing some good bird photos for the Safaritalk birding forum...


They will appear in that album eventually! Thanks for the reminder.

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Great report as always :angry: Glad to see you like our feathered friends.






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Lynn, I've been away and so this is a wonderful 'gift' to find on my return to ST. I love the descriptions on the self catering bandas and have lots of questions but have to catch up on some work first. Interested to read your comment on towels for Kinna Bandas so I'll have to check that my ground operator has that covered. I've already requested hot water bottles for The Aberdares which is proving to be the high point of my anticipation for the safari.


Also interested to read about your guide's preference for Cheetah because of their liking for fresh meat rather than opportunistic scavenging. My guide in '05 had the same comment. I'll have to start asking different guides about their opinions to see if it is a common theme.


Love the photos but need more time to look at them more closely.

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Great trip, Lynn - getting value from all that research. Wonderful report - I didn't think you would match the Uganda report for interest, but you seem to have surpassed it. And your photographs are better than ever - still using the same little camera? (Apologies if answered above - I haven't caught up yet). I'm up to Fishing Lodge and four sightings of Giant Forest Hog!! I noticed the warthogs were big too - must be all that vegetation and the cold (the idea of a plunge pool up there made me laugh). As you can no doubt understand, I feel all wistful reading this......

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Johan, I like the feathered, furred, and finned friends. Twaffle, we'll have to find out from Hari why he likes cheetahs best. I always thought it was those black teardrop faces, the speed, the pretty spots, the cute cubs, their endangered status or something like that which attracted people. Never considered their dining habits.






From the Meru entrance to the Shaba entrance was 2 hours and 55 minutes and that included 10 minutes of stops to drop off Martin the Chef, who lived in the Meru area. Our shortcut (referred to above as the shortcut to Somalia) was rather bumpy but we did see a Gray Flycatcher and Fischer’s Sparrowlark and the good news is that soon the dirt paths we bounced along will be a paved road. From the Shaba park entrance to Shaba Sarova was another 20 minutes.








Shaba means copper, so named for the towering red cliffs. I wanted to spend a day here to see those cliffs and the scenery the park is known for. Near the Uaso Nyiro River it is quite lovely with expansive views, but otherwise the terrain seemed similar to Samburu or Buffalo Springs.




However, one cannot fully appreciate the splendor of the copper color cliffs from way over in Buffalo Springs. Compare the cliffs as a hazy backdrop when photographed from Buffalo Springs (below) vs. photos that were taken in Shaba (above). While it is only 30-40 minutes between Buffalo Springs and Shaba, the best time to view and photograph the cliffs is near sunset. The Shaba photos of the cliffs were taken at 6:15 pm and the park closes at 6:30 pm so an overnight in Shaba is needed to capture the rocky backdrop at its best.



The cliffs of Shaba are in the distance. The photo of the oryx is taken in Buffalo Springs.


Most people who stay in Shaba do the majority of their game drives over in Buffalo Springs or Samburu, which has a lot more wildlife, and of course more visitors. To get from Shaba Sarova to the Samburu entrance gate takes just over half an hour, with a mile or so on the highway. It is possible spend most of the day in Samburu/Buffalo Springs and arrive back in Shaba for sunset views with ample time to get to the lodge before dark and closing time.

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PaulT, thanks for the nice comments. You are right about big warthogs in Aberdare. When we arrived Ben casually pointed one out and I kept asking, "Where's the warthog?" I was looking right at the sprawled out warthog, but thought it was a waterbuck." Same camera, but I think I'll upgrade next time. The sensor is going.



The animal action around Sarova and in the river in front of the lodge was abundant--water monitors scooting across the lawn, troops of baboons and vervets, flocks of Marabou Storks, a few sunning cros, Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Storks.



Taken on Shaba Sarova grounds


I was so intrigued with the winding paths of Sarova and the birds and animals I encountered, that I walked right through several operating sprinklers, covering my camera for protection of course. I ended up a little drippy—but cool and refreshed. My actions and appearance attracted the attention of one of the security guards who thought this wandering, sprinkler-soaked lady, squatting for a better angle on the baboons might need some assistance. I assured the dear lad that I was just fine and having a marvelous time, then continued on my way, dripping along the path.



Taken on Shaba Sarova grounds




Taken on Shaba Sarova grounds


At night the staff tossed some vittles over the fence along the river bank. Not only did two crocs haul out to feed, but so did a turtle! They were a congenial trio as they dined. The crowd that gathered to watch was small enough so that views were unobstructed. I estimated occupancy at Sarova at a little over half.



Taken on Shaba Sarova grounds, note the turtle near the water


Shaba Sarova offered a beautiful setting during the day and it had an enchanting feel when it was all lit up at night. It has a stunning location along the Uaso Nyiro River, which during my stay was raging at about a Level 3--if one were to raft it--though rafting is not an option. The Sarova staff explained that the fast flowing rapids were the result of an incredible 30 millimeters of rain in the Aberdares that fell in an approximate 12-hour time frame a few days earlier. I knew firsthand about the 30 mm and 12 hours.


At dinner someone (not me) was having a birthday and the Jambo Bwana song and dance line was followed by cake for everyone. I was going to skip dessert that night but when a piece of cake was plunked down in front of me, I decided to partake. While an establishment should not be judged solely by the birthday cake it serves, Sarova would come out with flying colors if that were the criteria. This was not just a square of cake for celebration sake. It was a delicious chocolate trifle that could rival that of any fine pastry chef!



Taken on Shaba Sarova grounds


The Sarova rooms included a couple of suites near the lobby, then rooms 7-10 were labeled non-smoking (I was in 8), located not far from the croc feeding site. One side of the property had rooms through #46 and the other side had #47-92, with 46 and 92 being farthest away from the lobby and dining area. The configuration of the rooms offered upper balconies and garden level rooms. An upper level would be more desirable than a lower if you can manage stairs well, but all rooms had unobstructed river views, and my lower garden level 8 was great. When I went in search of the sunrise the next morning, I found that in September the best location to view and photograph it was around Room 74. It’s not like a crowd gathered there though, disrupting the guests of rooms in the 70s; I was the only one.



Taken on Shaba Sarova grounds



There was a lot of animal activity in the morning at Sarova, including close views of Marabou Storks who picked morsels from the banks where the croc feeding had taken place the night before. Our departure at 7:30, instead of the earlier and customary 6:30 or 7:00 allowed time to observe the goings on.


I thought Shaba Sarova had a real wow factor to it. The general consensus on luxury (and usually pricing) goes: Serena, followed by Sopa, then Sarova. It would be too bad if anyone shunned Shaba Sarova, fearing the facility would fall short in comparison.



The Yellow Billed Stork is taken on Shaba Sarova Grounds, note the rushing river. Barbets were on a game drive

Other vehicles, sightings, and photos

I did one late afternoon game drive in Shaba and saw no other vehicles. Our sightings included a couple of gerenuk, some impala, a pair of Red and Yellow Barbets hidden in twigs and branches but unable to conceal their vivid colors, and the flying dust of a mole rat though the rodent itself was never seen.




Interesting birds in Shaba:

Black Headed Social Weaver

Common Scimitarbill

Cut Throat Finch

Golden Breasted Bunting

Golden Breasted Starling—a beauty indeed

Marabou Stork

Northern Crombec

Pink Breasted Lark

Purple Breasted Lark

Red and Yellow Barbets—a pair obscured behind branches, save for the brilliant colors showing through

Red Winged Lark

Sacred Ibis

Somali Courser

Taita Fiscal Shrike

Yellow Billed Stork

Yellow Spotted Petronia

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Loving this :angry: I should be working but, what the hey! It's my last few days of work anyway so what they gonna do, fire me :angry:


Some mighty fine photography and beautifully written report.

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Atravellyn - great report !

I have seen photos of giant forest hogs that appear to be the approximate height & length (though not the same bulk) of a mature great dane domestic dog - what is the actuall size of these giant forest hogs ?

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Great stuff Lynn. You got your lesser kudu fill! Those Grevy's are all females. All the stallions got preyed upon shortly after the translocation. Any oryx? They are not doing well there...

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I saw no oryx Meru. Only female Grevys in Meru is not a positive sign for the herd.


Whorty, did you just announce monumental news here? If so, I am honored that it was in my trip report. Congratulations! Let the good times, and hopefully trips, roll.



Wildernessman, here is a shot from Aberdare that offers some perspective. There are 2 warthogs, a buffalo, and a GFH.



I've been a lot closer to Great Danes than I've ever been to a Giant Forest Hog and the hogs have generally been grazing with their head down so they seem shorter.


From these descriptions that I found and included below, it appears length is about the same, Great Danes are a little taller, but the Giant Forest Hog has a whole lot more bulk.


Giant Forest Hogs; Males reach up 2.1 metres (6.9 ft) in length and 1.1 metres (3.6 ft) in height, and may weigh as much as 275 kilograms (610 lb).


A mature Great Dane can rise to over 40-inches (1 meter) at the withers, weigh from 150 to 200-(68-91 kgs) pounds and stand on its hind legs at 7-feet tall (length)


I was fortunate to see that many Giant Forest Hogs. They often did not see any on their visits to the Salient.

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That's a big pig!

Giant, in fact.






Distance from Shaba Sarova to Samburu gate is 35 minutes; from gate to Simba Samburu, which is actually in Buffalo Springs, takes another 20 minutes.




The Uaso Nyiro River separates Buffalo Springs and Samburu, but the two reserves offer the same wildlife experience. Driving between the two used to be a quick hop across a conveniently located bridge, but the floods of March 2010 ruined that bridge and as of Sept 2010 it was not yet repaired.




With the bridge out, to get between Buffalo Springs and Samburu, it was necessary to travel about 35 minutes, including a couple miles on the highway to get to the Samburu gate.



Upon arrival in Buffalo Springs, Ben pointed out three Cape Buffalo at a distance. Had I known these would be the only examples I’d see of the creatures that bore the reserve’s name, I would have snapped a few shots. Instead, I missed that opportunity and had to be satisfied with pictures of the attractive White Headed Buffalo Weaver birds that reside in Buffalo Springs. Oddly, not many buffalos live in Buffalo Springs.




Spotted Doves and White Headed Buffalo Weavers on Simba grounds


The reserve gets its name from the springs created by a bomb dropped during Word War II. A ruse had been devised to confuse Italian bombers into mistaking this uninhabited area for Nairobi. The desolate landscape was lit up with numerous lights, making it appear to be the populous capital, the bomb strike’s intended target. The ploy worked, the bomb was dropped in the wilderness, and it created a spring fed crater.



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Simba Directive



Red Billed Hornbill and White Browed Sparrow Weaver on Simba Grounds




On Simba grounds


Simba Lodge had a lot of bird and animal activity going on most any time of the day. A waterhole, viewed from the dining area and most of the rooms, attracted herds of elephant, baboons, vervets, and a variety of antelope.



Waterhole at Simba


Each morning a gigantic troop of baboons traipsed through, near the waterhole. My fellow diners and I noticed one baboon carrying something and debated whether it was a stick, a dead lizard, a trap (hopefully not), or what. The next day my photos confirmed that it was the carcass of a dead baby. Ben told me that carrying the corpse around was how the female mourned and that when the smell became too putrid, she’d drop it.



On Simba grounds, the baboon in the background is carrying her dead baby



Bird feeders were filled up at noon but attracted a variety of birds all day long that perched on trees at eye level from the dining area.



On Simba grounds Common Bulbul



Herds of elephant were visible from my room and balcony as they headed to and from the Uaso Nyiro River.


Originally I was given Room #60. It did not have views of the river and had more generator noise, though the waterhole was very visible. Because I was staying for 3 nights, I asked for a change and ended up in #30, which was lovely and had picturesque views of the river that flowed about 500 meters away. Like Sarova, these rooms had balcony and garden options and I found my balcony room to be ideal. From what I could tell, Rooms #1-50 were on the river side with #50 being the closest to the river and most distant from the lobby.



On Simba Grounds

The place seemed to be about half full by the attendance at the evening meal.



Sunrises on Simba grounds

Edited by Atravelynn
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While a 2-night stay in Samburu is standard, I wanted longer to be able to spend more time with the unique species known as the “Samburu 5,” especially the gerenuk antelope that exhibit the unique behavior of grazing on its hind legs.















Gerenuk overload, I know. I have a problem.

Edited by Atravelynn
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I also wanted to be able to linger with the plentiful elephant herds found there. I did not find 3 nights (4 nights if you include Shaba) to be excessive and enjoyed exciting encounters with mammals and birds each day. A 3 or more night stay also allows ample opportunity for some cultural interaction with the Samburu, while not compromising safari time. Though I did not visit any villages this time, I recall enjoying a camel ride to a Samburu village on a previous visit.








The smudge is a dragonfly perfectly centered above the elephant head

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Samburu Lodge


We happened to make a bathroom stop at Samburu Lodge and what luck that was! I ended up walking around the lush grounds with heavy vegetation for about 30 minutes watching some outstanding vervet grooming activity. This place has been up and running a very long time, which likely contributes to the relaxed attitude of the resident wildlife.





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Excellent capture of the dragonfly. Never have too many gerenuks and the photo of the elephant reflected in the water is a stand out.


Enjoying your travels very much, worth waiting for.

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What a great read, Lynn, and so very informative too. Having visited only the Mara on my one & only trip to Kenya, this report is opening up all kinds of new vistas and new possibilities for the future. Thanks for sharing both your research as well as your forays into some of these less visited parks of the country. Some wonderful photos too - especially all the many babies everywhere.

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Other vehicles, sightings, and photos


Overall, I’d break down the vehicle encounters in Buffalo Springs/Samburu as:

85% of the time, no other vehicles in sight

10% of the time, other vehicles were visible as we drove

5% of the time, we shared sightings with at least one other vehicle


* Just a few minutes after arriving, we encountered a small herd of oryx (1 of the Samburu 5) and watched a pair of young calves nuzzling each other. They were so adorable I could understand how that lioness a few years back had adopted one. Ben said she actually took in 4 different oryx calves and that well publicized incident led to Samburu’s slogan, “Where Nature Defies Itself.” No other vehicles present for the oryx calves.








* A larger herd of about 50 oryx offered great views one early evening, including one mating pair. We shared the sighting with two other vehicles for about 10 of our 20 minutes.









* Gerenuk (1 of the Samburu 5) standing up was something I really wanted to see again and we saw about 40 without any real effort, resulting in at least a dozen good photos, including bikini shots, which I learned about from a fellow poster. Those are shots with unobstructed views of the upright gerenuk’s abdomen to reveal black markings that look like a G-string bikini. I recall sharing one sighting of two standing gerenuks with another vehicle briefly. We had every other gerenuk to ourselves. The stamina of this antelope to remain standing for 10 minutes or longer allowed for some prolonged viewing and good photo ops.



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* We were able to spend 20-30 minutes on four occasions with elephant herds and left only when it was time to exit the park or the eles moved away. One of the herds had an approximately 3-week old calf that was still pinky-orange around the ears and wobbly on its feet.










A juvenile Somali Ostrich (1 of the Samburu 5) joined one of the herds briefly for a drink at the river. Along with a distant view of one adult Somali Ostrich, those were our only Samburu ostrich sightings. Ben said that seeing ostriches in Samburu is getting harder. As mentioned earlier, the Somaili Ostrich is thriving in Meru.



Young Somali Ostrich and Tawny Eagle

At each of those elephant sightings between 1 and 3 vehicles came and went during for about half of our viewing time. The other half of the time we were alone with the elephants.










Edited by Atravelynn
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*From a distance we watched a lone mother ele and a baby that Ben estimated was only a week old. In the 10 minutes they remained visible in tall grass, no other vehicle was in sight.



Edited by Atravelynn
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*Only 1 photo with a hippo as the main subject made the final cut of photos this trip and that was on our only midday outing in Samburu. We went out from about 11:00 to noon at my request and saw very little at that sweltering time of day, including no other vehicles. At the river a couple of hippos were cruising around and we sat and watched. One reason hippo action at Samburu was down was because the river was so high and fast flowing that it was harder to see them. We also had one sunning croc to ourselves on that outing, no vehicles.






* Near the actual springs from which Buffalo Springs derives its name, we watched some Burchell’s and Grevy’s zebra (1 of the Samburu 5) mingle together, which made for a nice comparison, along with some Reticulated Giraffe (1 of the Samburu 5.) The Burchell’s zebra were introduced and have contributed to the survival of the rare Grevy because Burchell’s are easier prey for lions, which spares the Grevy. The Burchell’s also give the Grevy’s more opportunities to form herds, as these two species of zebra mingle well, but don’t breed. I did not get any Grevy photos I cared to keep from Samburu. There were 3 other vehicles near the springs, spread out over about a quarter mile.




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* A Tawny Eagle perched in a tree drew the attention of another vehicle besides ours. For all our other bird sightings and photos (except the young ostrich with the eles) no other vehicles were around. One exciting species was an endemic to Samburu and nearby areas: The Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow Weaver—and we had a photo op of three.




We found the brilliant blue Vulturine Guinea Fowl in flocks with chicks and even mixing with the Helmeted Guinea Fowl for a comparison shot.









An interesting behavior exhibited by a White Bellied Bustard and Crowned Plover was tilting the head sideways so one eyeball could look up in the sky and spot predators.


Crowned Plover, one has head tilted so eyeball looks up



White Bellied Bustard on left, Kori Bustard on right

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