The full moon was visible over the left wing of our aircraft on our final approach into Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa on Friday evening, January 29, 2010. Not withstanding the time change and a connection through Amsterdam, it had been a 29-hour flight.
The following morning we drove 5-1/2 hours north on the A2 North Corridor Highway (that runs all the way from Cape Town to Cairo) to the Buffalo Springs Reserve in Samburu, Kenya. After a quick bite to eat, we unpacked our luggage and jumped back in our jeeps for our first game drive that afternoon.
Nine-photographers-in-three-jeeps is about as good as it gets not to mention our incredible guides. Each jeep headed off in a different direction. My roommate Joan and I were riding with head wildlife photographer, Lou Waldock who has more than thirty years experience on the subcontinent. Lou and our guide Norman explained the routine and I soon discovered that while everyone else was hunting for cats I was the one insisting we stop for every bird encountered. Whereas it may be true that there are more bird books published than books on mammals, generally speaking individual bird photos do not seem to sell as well as those of Big Game Predators. Therefore, I dedicate this section of my website to bird enthusiasts around the globe and caution others that you may not want to read further.
The first bird we spotted in East Africa was the very regal Grey-Crowned Crane. Our guide explained that the 5,000 “Shilingi” [Swahili word for shilling] note has a Crowned Crane watermark “because Uganda was the only African country with a Kingdom”.
Following is a list of the birds seen and/or photographed between January 30th and February 1st in the Buffalo Springs Reserve and Samburu Reserve owned by local councils of the Maasai Tribe in Samburu, Kenya. I’ve captioned the photos with common, non-scientific names and sizes of each bird photographed. Some not shown in this section may appear in later sections if the bird was sighted again in other areas of East Africa. The combined area of these two remote Reserves, split only by the Ewaso Nyiro River, is 293 square kilometers (182 square miles).
On February 2nd we began the seven-hour journey to Lake Nakuru. Traveling southwest, we crossed the equator and followed the Great Rift Valley, that extends “9600 KM from Israel to Mozambique” and is visible from space. Geologically, this valley is where the African continental plate is splitting apart. Wikipedia explains: “In Kenya, the valley is deepest north of Nairobi. As the lakes in the Eastern Rift have no outlet to the sea and tend to be shallow, they have a high mineral content as the evaporation of water leaves the salts behind.” Although Lake Nakuru is strongly alkaline it is bordered by a magnificent Yellow Acacia forest. The City of Nakuru, fourth largest in Africa, has nearly one million residents.
City street lights in the shape of flamingos, brightly colored murals and the National Park signs speak to the charm of the local culture. Though only 4 km outside the city the National Park measures some 188 square kilometers (117 square miles). Here then are birds recorded at Lake Nakuru.
After an early breakfast on February 5th we continued our journey southwest toward the Maasai Mara near the border with Tanzania. Along the way our guide attempted to teach us the Swahili names for various animals: “simba” is lion, “twiga” means giraffe, “tembo” is elephant, “kiboko” stands for hippo, “duma” is cheetah, and “kifaru” translates to rhino. As we neared the Mara Reserve our guide pointed to a tree on the horizon and asked if any of us could identify it by name. We were astonished to learn that it was a cell phone tower – a beautiful and creative alternative to the unadorned steel towers dotting our American landscapes. According to the Kenyalogy Safari Website, the Mara Reserve is about the same size as the State of Rhode Island (approximately 1200 square miles).
Maasai Mara is owned and operated by local authorities, namely the Narok County Council (east of the Mara River) and the Trans Mara County Council (the area called the Mara Triangle, west of the Mara River), managed on behalf of the county by the not-for-profit Mara Conservancy.
The vastness of this preserve causes multiple issues not the least of which is the ever-present problem of poaching. The Mara boasts over 450 species of birds.
Our lodge was in the Mara Triangle (west of the river) but we spent three days taking game drives on both sides of the river. On the final morning I took a hot-air balloon ride across the Mara and we landed for a Champaign brunch at the stone border marker between Kenya and Tanzania. Noteworthy was being able to see the tree-top nest of an African White-Backed Vulture. Although as yet I've been unable to identify it by name, this is my most favorite butterfly.