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Thrilling Safaris that show the Best of Kenya

Thrilling Safaris that show the Best of Kenya

If you had friends living in Kenya you’d definitely have to take advantage of the safari opportunity presented by visiting them, right?  That’s exactly what Koen and Puteri’s friends did.  The only challenge was how to schedule all the parks they wanted to visit amongst their obligations in Nairobi.  Simple: three short safaris rather than one long one.

The first trip was to Maasai Mara….of course!  As Kenya’s premier tourist destination, it is on top of most people’s lists when they come here.  Sadly, Kenya’s premier tourist destination is accessed by one of the world’s worst roads and so the group opted to fly there.  Koen, Puteri and their two children accompanied their friends for a three-day weekend in “The Mara”.  They stayed at Mara Siria, a tented camp on the Oloololo side of the reserve.

A few days later, the three friends set out with Francis to Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks.  This was a four-day trip with mass herds of elephants and stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro the highlights.

The first day they drove down Mombasa Highway to Lumo Community Sanctuary.  They stayed at the beautiful Lions Bluff, a tented camp perched atop a ridge overlooking the plains to Mt Kilimanjaro.  Their bar is The Best place for a sundowner in Kenya (IMHO).

The next day saw them cross the road into Tsavo West National Park, Kenya’s largest park and, together with Tsavo East National Park, takes up 4% of Kenya’s area.  The animals in Tsavo West tend to be a bit shy compared to other parks; I think because it’s such a huge space, quite bushy and less visited, so they don’t get used to passing traffic.  The travellers stayed at Voyager Ziwani, another tented camp again facing Mt Kilimanjaro for a dramatic sunset view.  There is also a waterhole by the camp and they saw no less than ten Giant Kingfishers fishing.  Leslie went for a walk near the waterhole and although she saw the crocodile, she thought it was a fake – you would, wouldn’t you?!  But suddenly as she approached, it dived into the water.  I don’t know who got the bigger fright!

The final stop before returning to Nairobi was Amboseli National Park.  Rather than returning to the highway, it is possible to skirt around the base of Mt Kilimanjaro from Tsavo West to Amboseli.  Travelling this way takes you through the Shetani Lava Flows, from the last time Kilimanjaro erupted.  They stayed at Kibo Camp where the pool was a very welcome break from the vehicle.  On their game drive in Amboseli, they saw a lion at last.

What’s lurking in the bushes?

Leslie went home after this safari so there were only two who went with Francis to Samburu and Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in the north of Kenya….and in the northern hemisphere as they crossed the equator to get there.

Their first day in Samburu saw them chased by an elephant.  Their second day in Samburu saw them reversing and retreating as an elephant was blocking the road and was not willing to budge for anyone.  They saw a lion at the river and a caracal – not a common sighting.  They stayed at Samburu Intrepids, a tented camp inside the park.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy was the last park for these epic travellers, and probably the highlight of their whole time in Kenya.  They watched a lion hunt a baby rhino.  Fortunately (for the rhino!) the lion was unsuccessful, but what an amazing thing to witness!  They stayed at the Serena Sweet Waters Camp, one of Kenya’s nicest tented camps as the dining room and tents arc around a large waterhole.  In the evenings, animals congregate at the waterhole – there’s almost no need to go out on a game drive!  I remember arriving there one evening myself and as I entered the dining room, I was greeted with the sight of about five rhinos just outside the window!

Would you like to experience your own safari in Kenya?  We would love to hear from you! Get in touch via tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com and we can start planning your adventure today.

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Interview with James Kiptoo, birding guide in Kenya

Tell us about yourself Kip:

My full names are James Kiptoo and I’ve been interested in birds for a very long time.  During my childhood, I didn’t pay much attention to birds because in my culture we didn’t consider birds as something special.  I used to be a scout and then they chose me to be a scout leader. We used to go camping a lot and also being a leader I used to teach the other scouts.  We used to go on outings but we didn’t use real tents, just poly-thin papers, so I got used to camping.

After primary school, I went to high school and after high school I joined Wildlife Clubs and it was from there that I studied more about nature and animals.  After high school, I joined college and there I started studying birds, animals, reptiles and other things you find in the wilderness.  So my interest in birds grew and I started joining other clubs and societies.  We have the National Museums of Kenya where the Natural History Society of Kenya is based as well as the museum’s Ornithology Department.  On one visit to the Ornithology Department we were shown all the stuffed birds in the drawers and from there my interest really started developing more.

I was introduced to Nature Kenya in 1996. At Nature Kenya, I really praise my mentor Fleur Ng’weno (my daughter is also called Fleur).  Fleur knows birds like the back of the hand; she can tell you everything.  Every Wednesday we have bird walks at the museum and every Wednesday we would come close to her and she would give us binoculars.  It was our first experience with binoculars so we couldn’t tell if they were bad or good, but we were very happy to have them.

With the birds there are many ways of identifying them, one is by the call. You can also tell the bird by the mode of flight, by the habitat, and the mode of feeding. For example, in Nairobi we have the scavengers like the Marabou Stork. We also have the sparrows and here at home I have a Rufous Sparrow nesting outside.

Easter Birding Tour, OTA Kenya, http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com/#!birding-tour/cfme

Nature Kenya does ringing of birds. They put the ring on their feet and that ring has lots of information.  If you find a dead bird and it has a ring, take it to the museum and they can tell where it breeds, how far it has travelled, and so on.

What is your favourite bird?

I don’t have a favourite, all are my favourite.  When I find a new bird, that’s a ‘lifer’, and then it becomes a favourite.

Easter Birding Tour, OTA Kenya, http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com/#!birding-tour/cfme

In Kenya we have about 1089 species of birds because we have the right habitat for all these birds.  We have deserts, forests, seas, savannahs, and oceans. So birds have no reason why they cannot come here.  Kenya has a flyway where birds from Eastern Europe, as far as Siberia, migrate.  We have interesting birds like the Warblers and the Blackcap who move for a very long distance, and this makes me really appreciate birds.  You know how cold and far away Siberia is: this tiny bird comes all that way to escape the cold weather!  They come because they want to breed or feed.

Where is your favourite place for birding?

In Kenya we have places called IBAs – Important Bird Areas.  They are special according to what species you can find there, so the 60 IBAs in Kenya are my favourite places.  They are recognised globally, and also regionally, because of one or a few individual species found there.  In Kenya we have quite a number of endemic birds.  For example if you go to Kinangop Grasslands not far from Nairobi, near Naivasha, we have a bird called Sharpe’s Long Claw which is endemic to that area. People from all over the world come to that area to see the Sharpe’s Long Claw.  When you go to Kiriaini or Mwea you have the Hinde’s Babbler, which is the only endemic species you can find in that area.

We also have the coastal birds of Kenya.  When you go to Arabuko Sokoke for example, you have birds like Sokoke Scops Owl and Sokoe Pipit, just to name a few.  In north-eastern Kenya we have the William’s Lark that we don’t have anywhere else; it’s endemic.

Why is Lake Magadi so special during the Easter period?

Easter is when Lake Magadi will have received some rain.  Bear in mind that Magadi is very hot, but after the rains it’s beautiful because of all these small grass and other plants emerging and the area becomes green and flowers grow.  The bees are sucking the nectar from flowers and the birds are flying in because the water has just landed.  In the Magadi area we have unique habitats for water species like Spoonbills, Flamingos, Crowned Plovers, Kittlitz’s Plovers, and Three-banded Plovers.

But before you get to Magadi, there are a number of places you have to visit first.  For instance, this trip will be starting from Ngong Hills.  The change in altitude is quite drastic – from Ngong town you go up to the wind turbines and met station.  Then from Corner Baridi you descend to see more dry land species.  Among them you might see or hear the White-bellied Go-away-bird, the Chinspot Batis or the Brubru.  The Brubru is a very small bird with rufous or red flanks.  It’s tiny but makes a very loud call, like someone whistling.

Given March to June is the season for seeing migratory birds in Kenya, can you tell us more about that?

As I said earlier, birds migrate from Eastern Europe, Russia, and Siberia, that’s the long-distance migration.  The short-distance migration is like the flamingos moving between Lakes Nakuru, Bogoria, Baringo and Oloiden.  The other is the vertical migration where you might see a bird such as the Tacazze Sunbird at the top of Mt Kenya and then next time it is in the Naro Moro area (at the base of the mountain).  They come down to breed.

The long-distance or intra-africa migration is starting now and we are seeing several birds from Europe like the Spotted Thrush, Rock Thrush and Eurasion Bee-eaters.  The birds that migrate from Madagascar (which is a unique habitat) form the Malagasy migration.

What are some “fun facts” you can share with us about birds?

In some communities, if you see a Woodpecker pecking on the left side of the tree they advise you not to continue with that safari.  If you are walking and see an Auger Buzzard and it shows you its white belly then that is good luck.

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