Monday, November 30, 2009

Kenya - Saturday afternoon Game Drive, the kill

The next sighting of our first game drive was very exciting, being three male Cheetahs eating a freshly killed adult Zebra, attended by several Black-backed Jackals:

They rolled the carcass over:

While keeping watch on potential competitors or food thieves:

I took some film of the three male Cheetahs eating:

The Black-backed Jackals kept nudging closer to both observe and try to steal some of the kill:

Peter was as excited as we were, having not seen anything like this at Sweetwater. He spent a long time on the radio calling in other vehicles. Whilst we were watching the cheetahs, one jackal managed to sneak in and take some discarded skin:

You can see here one Cheetah got a little annoyed with the company:

Having guided three other groups onto the scene of the kill (this took some time, as not being used to going outside of the normal triangle everyone kept getting lost on their way to meet-up), and with the light now fading fast, we turned and headed for camp. On the way we got another first for us; some White-bellied Bustards, the image is blurry as it was taken in very low light:

Another first sighting, though by now the light was getting really hard to work with, was a Tawny Eagle. Another bird we did see but didn’t get to photograph though we did confirm the ID was a Northern Anteater Chat. We'd been at Sweetwater for a little over four hours by the time we got back to the camp. Whew!

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Kenya - Saturday afternoon Game Drive

We had a pre-booked afternoon game drive, scheduled for 2 hours from 3:30. First-up Peter asked if we wanted to visit the Chimpanzee sanctuary, which we declined. I explained that I hoped we weren’t too awkward but actually we’d just like to get out there and see what there was to see.

I think Peter felt he was in for a long afternoon when the first thing we asked him to stop for was a Crowned Lapwing:

We later found out that answering yes to the above question, means you get a three stop tour, the Chimps, the Hippos and a popular watering hole, which is what almost all their visitors want. Being awkward of course we said no, we would like to see as many birds as possible and therefore visit distinctive habitats on the sanctuary.

Peter therefore decided a route that would take us first to a swampy area. On the way we spotted a Wahlberg’s Eagle soaring (distant and from a car with the engine running!):

A brief interlude for some of our non-feathered friends from the drive, this is a Bush Buck:

A view across open ground - the skies in Africa are always so big:

I believe this is an Impala:

As we approached the swampy area, we encountered a small group of Helmeted Guineafowl:

and a Brown Parrot:

We did see a Black-shouldered Kite on high and in the distance a few Grey Crowned Cranes but I didn’t even manage a record shot of the latter…. we have to go back then…

As we were stood looing around in the modified bus (think camper van with a roof that lifts onto struts so that you can stand-up), a pair of Warthogs approached, and with them a new species for us, the Red-bellied Oxpecker:

While we watched them the Oxpecker obviously wanted to move on as it pecked its host in the eye causing it to run, which was actually really quite funny.

We approached the swampy area to get closer to the birds, including an African Spoonbill:

Green Sandpiper:

Red-billed Teal:

Yellow-billed Duck:

Common Greenshank:

We also spotted a Malachite Kingfisher but they are very small birds and this one was at quite a distance. I was still panning round, taking pictures and identifying species when suddenly everything erupted, it quickly became apparent why, as this African Fish Eagle cruised past, perching on a tree in the middle distance:

As you can see it virtually cleared the area:

We followed the track as it headed past the swampy area, seeing first a Lammergeier:

Then, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture:

And getting close to a Hamerkop:

A final encounter as the swampy area, was this huge bull African Elephant:

Next we stopped at a Hippo hide. The fact there’s a hide for Hippopotamuses shows the conditions are not entirely wild. The Hippos barely show themselves, as they are confined to one area as a consequence of the surrounding habitat and have a constant stream of humans coming to see them, hence our limited views:

We spotted a new bird near the hide though, a Common Bulbul:

Back on the drive a large bird being mobbed by Starlings, turned out to be an African Harrier Hawk:

The afternoon was going very well and Peter decided to head-out to the far side of the sanctuary to check out some different habitat. On the way we passed a building being used by both Speckled Pigeons and Vitelline Masked Weavers (apologies for the light, distance, vehicle vibration, etc):

Heading on we caught a fleeting glimpse of African Hoopoe and brief views of Yellow-neck Spurfowl before seeing this Red-capped Lark:

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kenya - the first ninety minutes

So, to Kenya. Our holiday started with an overnight flight with Virgin to Nairobi for a birding safari holiday organized through Shoor Travel, and of course with our trusty companion the Helm Guide to the Birds of East Africa (ISBN 9780713673470). The staff on the flight were great, the entertainment good but the food inadequate and that was after a pre-flight mini-meal. We were hungry the whole way and ravenous by the time we got off the flight. Note to self: take more snackage for the return and future trips.

We were met at the airport by Peter who made himself conspicuous as we exited customs by standing directly opposite the exit. Peter explained it would be a four hour trip to our first destination, the Sweetwater Sanctuary, so we headed straight off. On the journey we identified Hadeda Ibis, Cattle Egret and Black Kite, all of which are birds we have seen before and added three new ones, Pied Crow, Marabou Stork and a Great Crested Eagle. Many were left to pass as unknown but interesting. We also encountered an unusual use of roundabouts in Nairobi, where ‘giving way’ regardless of which direction was an alien concept.

We arrived at Sweetwater for check-in and received a warm towel and a cool fruit juice, both of which were genuinely welcome. I, though, was by now really quite itchy to get on with the holiday and didn’t fancy a thirty minute welcome ceremony for a single night’s stay. This mood of mine was exacerbated when a male African Paradise-Flycatcher flew into the reception area. I went from polite listening to hurrying through my luggage to assemble my camera, which I managed to do just as it flew back out of the reception area and into deep cover… sensing my mood the whole check-in process sped-up and we were soon sat down for a late lunch, which we wolfed down both through hunger and a desire to explore the camp.

So, the holiday proper begins. The camp is on the edge of a watering hole (although safely separated from the rhinos, etc, by an electrified fence). The water means there is a huge range of wildlife to view. From lunch we decided to use the hour before our first ‘game drive’ to see what birds we could see around the grounds of the campsite. So here in the order we saw them first a Speckled Mousebird:

Yellow-billed Stork:

Superb Starling:

Black-headed Heron, here with a Sacred Ibis:

Green Wood-hoopoe:

African Pied Wagtail:

Laughing Dove:

Ring-necked Dove:

Rufous Sparrow:

Yellow-rumped Seedeater:

Female Chin-spot Batis:

White-crested Helmet-Shrike:

White-bellied Go-away-bird:

Violet-backed Starling:

Northern White-crowned Shrike:

Greater Blue-eared Starling:

Lesser Honeyguide:

Blacksmith Lapwing:

Brown Parrot:

Red-headed Weaver:

Some birds you just don’t expect to look like they show in the guide book, take the Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu for example:

Next a Baglafecht Weaver male:

and female:

This bird we really struggled with, it has features of both the Red-headed Weaver race jubaensis, which would fit the geography however we settled on Red-billed Firefinch:

Brimstone Canary:

Black-winged Lapwing:

The last bird we saw as we made our way to the lodge was a Crowned Hornbill:

This bird was being mobbed by Superb Starlings, no doubt that’s one of their prospective offspring it was in the process of eating then.

As well as the birds, the nature conservancy at Sweetwater held a lot more too. The Zebra had been breeding:

We saw Water Buck:

My ignorance of the various larger species is now becoming apparent. I don't know what species this one is for example...

At the waterhole (for those more interested in large mammals) were warthogs, various antelope types and a rhino or two. We saw all of this and had a sit down two-course lunch in just ninety minutes - welcome to Kenya! One side note, the birds at Sweetwater tended to be so close that I actually had to remove the 1.4x extended I usually use alongside the 100x-400x Lens as I couldn’t get a focus on some of the very close birds, which was an unusual experience to say the least!

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