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A RETURN TO BARINGO & BOGORIA


Rainbirder
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This is a follow-on from my "Tale of two Lakes" report of a brief trip to Lakes Baringo and Bogoria in 2010.

Part 1

Fast-forward to July 2011; we returned to Kenya having again organised an itinerary with Eastern and Southern Safaris with Ben as our driver/guide. Picking up the narrative part way into our trip we spent a couple of days in the Aberdares before driving on to Lake Baringo, a journey of about five hours duration.
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Cold Africa: A male Waterbuck on moorland in the Aberdare range.


Once again owls featured en-route when we stopped for 20 minutes to watch a pair of Marsh Owls hunting over grassland on the northern edge of the Aberdare range.
This time our trip was without any major mishap en-route. However, we did have to briefly stop on three separate occasions for Leopard Tortoises on the road -including a massive male which I lifted off the centre of the highway.
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He demonstrated his appreciation for my help by relieving himself down my trouser-leg, much to the amusement of my co-travellers. I wanted a few images of this big guy and had the bright idea of photographing him with my wristwatch placed on his shell to demonstrate scale.
I was however somewhat distracted by the need to clean offensive "substances" off my trousers and behind my back he headed off at remarkable speed. It was just my luck to stumble upon a kleptomaniac chelonian who, as well as being a time-piece bandit was also a tortoise 100 metre sprint champion! Fortunately my watch slipped off his shell just before he reached a patch of dense scrub!
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On approaching Lake Baringo, near the village of Kampi Ya Samaki there is a barrier and a small kiosk where tourist community fees are charged –two hundred Ksh per person per day (+150Ksh per day for vehicle with driver). Within a further ten minutes we had arrived at Lake Baringo Country Club and as it was not late we took a walk along the lake shore seeing crocs, hippos and numerous water-birds.
The rooms at Baringo Country Club (http://www.imagineaf...untry_Club.html) are in small "cottages" arranged in an arc parallel to the lake shore.
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Views of part of the grounds of Baringo Country Club


There is an extensive lawn which is kept short by "grass-cutters" that only work at night (or so we were told)! The rooms are clean and adequate with mosquito-nets and an en-suite with reliable hot water. There is an open-sided bar and separate restaurant; the food was simple with no frills and a fairly limited choice but was quite satisfactory whilst the kitchen staff were happy to prepare breakfast/lunch boxes for day-trips. The extensive grounds of the lodge comprise of open lakeside woodland which extends into the neighbouring Robert's Camp. There is a reasonable sized swimming pool and a discrete kids' play area (but we never did see any kids, though the local hippo calf played nearby).
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We watched this young Hippo playing on a concrete jetty from the lodge restaurant -he was leaping into the water and then clambering back out only to repeat the action again. I thought it would make a good image so I grabbed my gear and made my way down to the lake but Mum decided I was a risk to junior and with a loud snort from Mum he stopped the play and appeared rather dejected as he slowly trundled back into the lake. I felt quite guilty for spoiling the fun!


Apparently the lodge can organise horse-riding and boat-trips as well as securing the services of local bird guides.
Alternative accommodation is available at Robert's Camp where there are some bandas and family cottages as well as the campsite itself: http://www.imagineaf....asp?PageID=130 . Luxury accommodation is available at Samatian Island Lodge: http://samatianislandlodge.com/ and it is possible to fly in to Baringo from Nairobi (a three-seater light aircraft can be hired for about $400 per hour at current rates –probably well worth it for the privilege of seeing Lake Bogoria from the air en-route).



So what did we do at Baringo?
On our first full day I spent the early morning birding the foot of the Baringo cliffs (my wife and daughter elected to sun-bathe at the lodge and wander around the gardens). I saw numerous species of bird including Jackson's and Hemprich's Hornbills, Lanner Falcon, Bristle-crowned Starlings, Verreaux's Eagle, Fan-tailed Raven and Pygmy Batis.

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Hemprich's Hornbill


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Male Jackson's Hornbill


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Bristle-crowned Starling


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White-crowned Sparrow-weaver



I returned to the lodge for a late breakfast with my wife and daughter. We then took a boat trip onto the lake where we saw crocs, hippos and numerous birds including some close views of Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Goliath heron, various other herons and egrets and close views of African Fish Eagle.
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Pied Kingfisher male


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White-breasted Cormorant


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Purple Heron


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Goliath Heron



Like some lakes elsewhere the Fish Eagles at Baringo are attracted to the tourist camera by free handouts of fish. We therefore bought some small Tilapia from a local Njemps fisherman who had also caught a large lungfish. His boat was made of numerous lengths of a woody material lashed together –we were told that the wood is from a small local tree that resembles a cross between Balsam and giant papyrus (???) and is apparently very cork-like in its properties. The fisherman straddles the boat and uses hand-paddles to propel it; a seemingly precarious set-up given that the lake is full of crocs and hippos! The local fishermen are more than happy to sell some of their catch for hard currency and as part of the service they gut the fish and slide a "balsam" float into the body cavity so that when the fish is thrown out to attract a Fish Eagle it doesn't sink (the eagles rip the caught fish apart and discard the "float").
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Njemps fisherman with the catch of the day


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African Lungfish




Having purchased some "prepared" fish we motored on to a nearby Fish Eagle nest. Weighing up the influence of the prevailing wind and the position of the sun our boatman carefully choreographed the placing of our "bait-fish" in full view of the Fish Eagle. He whistled to attract the bird but unfortunately this eagle hadn't read the script! In an effort to attract the bird a second fish was pitched over beside the first but our eagle pretended not to notice and continued its look of regal disdain. By this point we were drifting slightly and the sun was no longer in the perfect position for photography. My daughter also noticed that one of the bait-fish appeared to be moving and on closer inspection we realised that it was being nibbled by a catfish (we could clearly see the whiskers!). This was the prompt our eagle had needed and it took to the wing before descending rapidly at a shallow angle to snatch not our bait-fish but the thieving catfish which wriggled wildly as it was lifted upon high. I was reminded of a line from a Burns poem: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley" -though on this occasion all worked out well in the end (except for the catfish!).


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We returned to the lodge for lunch following which the girls did some more sun-bathing whilst a Baringo bird guide called Wilson accompanied me on a walk of the grounds of the lodge. His local knowledge reaped great dividends as I saw African Scops Owl and Verreaux's Eagle Owl at the roost as well as Pearl-spotted Owlet and a Black morph Gabar Goshawk. Even in the heat of the day there were birds everywhere including Red-chested Cuckoo, white morph African Paradise Flycatcher, Beautiful Sunbird, Red-winged and Superb Starlings, Fork-tailed Drongo, Jackson's Hornbill, Red & Yellow Barbet, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Northern Masked, Village and Little Weavers, Slate-coloured Boubou and more! After the walk we returned via the lodge bar to get some cold drinks where Wilson rather casually pointed out the Fish Eagle nest in the tree next to the restaurant. I hadn't realised that a pair of these impressive birds were in residence immediately above where we ate (though their loud calls the following morning announced their close presence).
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Roosting African Scops Owl (in the grounds of Baringo Country Club)


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Verreaux's Eagle-owl (one of a pair) roosting in a tall tree next to the family cabin in Robert's Camp


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Pearl-spotted Owlet in the grounds of Baringo Country Club


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Melanistic Gabar Goshawk in the grounds of Baringo Country Club


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Superb Starling in the grounds of Baringo Country Club

Edited by Rainbirder
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Part 2..... and some more birds from the grounds of our lodge:

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Lesser Masked Weaver in the grounds of Baringo Country Club

 

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Slate-coloured Boubou in the grounds of Baringo Country Club

 

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Red and Yellow Barbet in the grounds of Baringo Country Club.

 

 

In the late afternoon we went a short drive to an area where Wilson knew of the roost-sites of a number of night birds. He showed us Northern White-faced Scops Owl, Greyish Eagle Owl, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Spotted Thick-knees and Heuglin's (Three-banded) Courser.

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Roosting Northern White-faced Scops Owl

 

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Greyish Eagle-owl (recently split from the Spotted Eagle-owl)

 

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Roosting Slender-tailed Nightjar (taken with a 500mm IS lens + 1.4xTC on tripod so as not to disturb the bird).

 

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Spotted Thick-knee (Spotted Dikkop)

 

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Three-banded (Heugin's) Courser

 

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Three-banded (Heugin's) Courser

 

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Pin-tailed Wydah male in breeding plumage

 

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Birding at Baringo: My daughter and some fat guy with a camera.

 

That night we heard grunting, snorting and bizarre munching noises from just outside our room. We had discovered the nocturnal grass-cutting team;the local pod of hippos!

 

The following day after an early breakfast we took another more extensive boat trip which again revealed numerous birds. We landed on the largest island on the lake (Ol Kokwe Island) to visit some volcanic hot springs. We also passed close by the small island of Samatian where we saw the small luxury lodge;which is clearly in a most fantastic setting.

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Northern Masked Weaver on a lake-side nest (the nests are often suspended on trees over water)

 

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Close-up of a Senegal Thick-knee on Samatian Island

 

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Madagascar Bee-eater (They breed on Madagascar and spend the Austral Winter in parts of East Africa)

 

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Northern Carmine Bee-eater

 

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Lake Baringo Fish Eagle up close

 

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A volcanic spring on Ol Kokwe Island.

 

On the far shore of the lake we saw the Ruko Conservation area; an ambitious project which aims to encourage cooperation between the warring Pokot and Njemps tribes by establishing a wildlife conservation area from which both tribes can profit. Sadly the Baringo area has been depleted of large game which previously included such spectacular animals as the endangered Baringo Giraffe (=Rothschild's Giraffe) and Greater Kudu; however, the plan is to re-introduce a number of species to the area. The conservancy currently holds Masai Ostrich, Common Zebra, Warthog, Waterbuck, Buffalo and Impala. Recently eight Baringo Giraffe were re-introduced and are doing well. If this project were to take off it could become part of a much more extensive wilderness area abutting the Laikipia plateau to the east.

Edited by Rainbirder
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Just exceptional images. The Fish Eagle hunting sequence is one of the best I have ever seen. What lens were you using for this? Thanks for sharing.

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Part 3


We returned to the lodge to collect a packed lunch and drove south to Lake Bogoria where we had planned a late lunch by the lake's southern shore. The drive to Bogoria from Baringo takes about 90 minutes and is sadly devoid of game until shortly before the entrance to Lake Bogoria National Reserve, where we saw a few distant Grant's Gazelles and some roadside Ostriches. Entry into the reserve costs $20 per person for tourists with an additional 500Ksh per vehicle and 100Ksh for a Kenyan citizen. As we entered the reserve in the afternoon heat the only game we saw were more Grant's Gazelles, Ostriches and a few Warthogs.
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A male Masai Ostrich eating his greens near the entrance to Bogoria NR


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Male Grant's Gazelle at sunset in Bogoria NR




Bogoria itself is a shallow fairly narrow lake with the long axis on a roughly north-south orientation. There are wooded hills rising to either side which create a beautiful backdrop to the lake. Bogoria is fed by a couple of small seasonal rivers and numerous hot springs and fumaroles. The lake sits under a hot baking sun and has no outlet. Volcanic soda-rich springs flow into the lake which is constantly losing water to evaporation and, as a result the lake water has become progressively more mineral-laden and alkaline. Such caustic water is too extreme for most forms of aquatic life but it does support rich blooms of Cyanobacteria. These micro-organisms can photo-synthesize like algae and the higher plants, and in the waters of Bogoria they occur in a super-abundance which colours the lake a rich pea-soup green. Up close the lake water looks almost "gloopy" and rather unpleasant but from a distance of 5 metres or more it takes on a beautiful emerald appearance which with wooded hills as a backdrop makes the lake very photogenic. This super-growth of Cyanobacteria coupled with a relative lack of disturbance produces just the right conditions to create what is one of the greatest natural wonders of the World. Lake Bogoria is a sparkling jewel –a pink fringed Emerald that holds the single greatest population of flamingos on the planet. There are Greater Flamingos present but it is the massive number of Lesser Flamingos that makes this place truly spectacular.
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Greater Flamingos swimming in an inky sea



And so we drove on, down to the southern edge of the lake to witness a truly awesome and jaw-dropping scene. Bogoria was a vivid green soup, replete with microbial life and there to harvest the rich bounty was an immense flock of pink-hued flamingos. The reserve gate-staff had told us that the flock was thought to number between 1.5 and 2 million as the condition of the lake water was optimal for sustaining a massive Cyanobacteria bloom and therefore supporting the huge numbers of flamingos. We got out of our vehicle near the shoreline to an assault on the senses. The air was tainted with a faintly "fishy" aroma (there are no fish in Bogoria) mixed with the smell of sulphur, whilst a background cackling cacophony was interspersed with demented raucous honking. But it was the vast expanse of pink on green that demanded our full attention, a visual extravaganza beyond anything we had ever seen before! We stood transfixed, paralysed by this surreal and wonderful sight. I couldn't move, I didn't want to move; I needed to turn and climb back into the vehicle to get my camera gear –but not just yet, I almost couldn't bear to look away! Eventually the spell was broken as my wife's camera discharged a machine-gun burst of shutter clicks. As I set up my tripod I had a slight feeling of disquiet, there was something strange and unusual about this experience, something .........unexpected; then it hit me, we were alone, alone with two million flamingos; we were here witnessing one of the greatest natural splendours that Africa has to offer and we had it all to ourselves!

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Where's Wally?



As I write this, the memory of my first view of Bogoria brings on mixed feelings. I can relive the visual splendour of this amazing and improbable sight in my mind but these memories come with pangs of regret that I will never again gaze on a spectacle such as this for the very first time! As insincere as it may sound Bogoria has had a profound effect on me! Despite humanity's assault on the natural world there are still hidden corners where Nature's wondrous beauty still holds true; Bogoria is one such place!

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It was well into the afternoon before we finished our packed lunch and headed on up the eastern side of the lake. Whilst Bogoria is rich in birds large game is inconspicuous. We did come across some Plains Zebra and Warthogs but we were hoping for something altogether more spectacular. Ben drove onward stopping periodically for interesting roadside birds such as African Fish Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, White-bellied Go-away bird and Brubru. Eventually we reached an open area by the lakeside where the sun-baked rocks produced rising spirals of hot air that distorted views of the lake making a distant flock of flamingos seem so much closer. It was almost a scene from Dante's Inferno and was made all the more surreal by nearby steam-spouting fumaroles and sulphurous gurgling geysers. We spent some time sitting under the shade of a thorn-tree watching flamingos parade past a nearby geyser whilst a flock further out on the lake was repeatedly buzzed by an immature Fish Eagle.
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As the extreme afternoon heat relaxed its grip we moved on. We drove further up the side of the lake for about 20minutes but then could proceed no further as the track had collapsed into the lake at a small bay. Ben achieved a minor miracle turning the vehicle around 180 degrees on such a narrow road with no real room to manoeuvre on either side. We slowly re-traced our steps for a few hundred metres before parking up on a raised bluff overlooking a small wooded bay. Ben turned off the engine and suggested that we sit quietly and scan the nearby open woodland for any movement. For the first twenty minutes there was little activity apart from the occasional bird but as the afternoon shadows lengthened we noted some movement between the thorn trees as first one, then two and finally three elegant young bull Greater Kudu stepped out into full view by the lake side. I took a few images in the fading light and then Ben re-positioned us on the main track as he was convinced the Kudu would cross over in front of us. The man is rarely wrong and true to his prediction the Kudu crossed in front of us, and though clearly wary we got some excellent views of these spectacular young bulls.
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By this time the light was fading rapidly and we were forced to make a hasty retreat to the park gate. Our drive back to Baringo was uneventful apart from a nightjar and two Spotted Dikkop on the road. That night the local pod of hippos had a party on the lawn in front of our room, the sounds of cavorting flatulent pachyderms persisted almost until dawn!
Our stay at Baringo was over and after an early breakfast we packed up and headed south before veering west to drive up the beautiful Kericho valley on our way to Kakamega .......but that is another story!
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Black-headed Gonolek in the Kerio Valley on the road to Kakamega

Edited by Rainbirder
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Just exceptional images. The Fish Eagle hunting sequence is one of the best I have ever seen. What lens were you using for this? Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for your kind comments.

The Fish Eagle sequence was taken with a 70-200mm IS lens @ 200mm on a Canon 7D.

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Superb images! Any idea which project ringed the eagle?

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Those are mind- boggling flamingo pics, Rainbirder. Finding it hard to wrap my head around those images! Chapeau to you and thank you for sharing those unbelievable shots. We got to share some small part of your awe and wonder at the sight and I am completely awestruck.

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Superb images! Any idea which project ringed the eagle?

 

Hi,

 

Thanks for your kind comments. I think it's the Peregrine Fund that have been ringing the Baringo Fish Eagles -the same people that operate the Naivasha Fish Eagle project. See: http://peregrinefund.org/projects/african-fish-eagle

 

Cheers,

Steve

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I was impressed enough with 2010, and this blows that away. Great stuff and just perfect for this presentation format. The Fish Eagle sequence with the story is just outstanding, but so are the flamingos.

 

I am going to have a very hard time not changing my travel plans this year to include a visit to Bogoria. :angry:

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... WOW ... nuff said!

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Brilliant!!!! Thanks for sharing ...... Like Paul says, the Fish Eagle sequence was amazing ; the flamingos - I have no words!!! Are the flamingos there round the year?

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There are usually flamingos are Bogoria, but you can't guarantee a flock like that at any time! Absolutely stunning pictures - I remember (trying to) count them in the 1990s for the Wetlands International bird counts with a local team - we had such fun! (Tip, take photo like these, develop the pictures (this was in the 90s, remember...) then stick a in through each head, turn over and count pin-holes...) Though our estimates from the lakeside were surprisingl consistent too. It takes practice... Still, back the the problem in hand: your best chance of good flocks up there are mid dry season July - Sept. Sometimes as the water level falls later on they leave, but it's surprisingly hard to predict water levels on these lakes. This year wasn't so good as they had very early rains and the water levels were too high. By comparison, you're more likely to get good numbers in Natron during the wet season (breeding usually Nov ish time, but again, very unpredictable). One of the advantages of Bogoria over other places is that the lake is small (so you can get the nice background shots of the rift we've got here), plus the topography is great for getting above the birds and the geothermal activity adds some stunning extras!

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Great info, thanks.....

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Over the last few years flamingo numbers have been consistently good (and sometimes great!) at Bogoria and as TZ says a visit between late June and October should deliver good numbers. To be honest the difference between 1 million and 500 thousand is not that great from the visual impact viewpoint so even if the numbers had halved by the time of your visit it would still be an amazing spectacle!

 

The local Fish Eagles at Bogoria survive on flamingos as there are no fish in the lake. The local Baboons have also become adept at catching flamingos and there is amazing footage on the recently screened series Earthflight which shows the Bogoria Baboons at work.

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All a joy to view (and same for reading your report).

But those flamingo images, definitely some of best I've seen too.

Exceptional. Striking. Wonderful.

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Fantastic images and report. Thanks Rainbirder!

Edited by Jochen
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wow - amazing shots of the flamingoes as well as the fish eagle sequence !...what a spectacle to behold !

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The Goliath heron is my favorite. You mentioned the 70-200, what other lenses did you use? Stunning images, thanks so much for sharing.

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Well that's it, every safari I pencil in a rift valley lakes tour and never get around to it, next time it is happening. Doesn't sound like it would be too expensive either.

 

Thank you Rainbirder, superb photos and descriptive writing.

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These photos are incredibly beautiful--all of them but especially the flamingos. WOW.

 

I've had the pleasure of being guided by Eastern & Southern's Ben before. He really is unique, isn't he?

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These photos are incredibly beautiful--all of them but especially the flamingos. WOW.

 

I've had the pleasure of being guided by Eastern & Southern's Ben before. He really is unique, isn't he?

 

Thanks for your kind words.

 

Ben is indeed an excellent guide and a genuinely nice guy. He's a real philanthropist and many of his clients would be very pleasantly surprised if they knew where his tips and much of his salary goes.

 

Sadly Eastern and Southern Safaris seems to be barely functioning but Ben now has his own vehicle and has gone freelance. He also works with Bernard of Liontrails Safaris. Bernard was previously the guy who organised and booked itineraries for Eastern & Southern.

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Spectacular collection of birds, RB! Thanks for sharing.

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Ben is indeed an excellent guide and a genuinely nice guy. He's a real philanthropist and many of his clients would be very pleasantly surprised if they knew where his tips and much of his salary goes.

 

Sadly Eastern and Southern Safaris seems to be barely functioning but Ben now has his own vehicle and has gone freelance. He also works with Bernard of Liontrails Safaris. Bernard was previously the guy who organised and booked itineraries for Eastern & Southern.

 

I am sorry to read that ESS is no longer thriving. I was going to contact them for part of my upcoming trip to Kenya (will likely fly for much of it due to time constraints but was thinking of seeing if Ben would drive down with us to Ithumba again).

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Ben is indeed an excellent guide and a genuinely nice guy. He's a real philanthropist and many of his clients would be very pleasantly surprised if they knew where his tips and much of his salary goes.

 

Sadly Eastern and Southern Safaris seems to be barely functioning but Ben now has his own vehicle and has gone freelance. He also works with Bernard of Liontrails Safaris. Bernard was previously the guy who organised and booked itineraries for Eastern & Southern.

 

I am sorry to read that ESS is no longer thriving. I was going to contact them for part of my upcoming trip to Kenya (will likely fly for much of it due to time constraints but was thinking of seeing if Ben would drive down with us to Ithumba again).

 

 

I'm in regular contact with Ben (weekly); he now has his own vehicle but business is currently slack and I'm sure that he would jump at the chance to work for old friends (I mean old young friends! :) ). Let me know if you want me to mention anything or if you want his Email.

 

I don't know if Ben ever mentioned his school ( the one in his backyard!). If you are ever near Naivasha it is worth a visit (it is on the western edge of the Aberdares above Naivasha town) -this is ultimately where his tips and a fair bit of his salary end up. He keeps this philanthropic work quiet but it's hard not to be very impressed with what he and his wife are doing!

 

Unfortunately the well being of the school is rather dependent on Ben getting regular work and the decline of ESS has been a bit of a disaster for him with potential new opportunities yet failing to materialise.

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