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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Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you for labeling your photos. They have really helped me identify some of the many birds we saw at Sweetwater. I'm not a birder and was having trouble finding names for all the pictures we took. Like you said, the birds were so close you couldn't go wrong with even a point and shoot camera!

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