Saturday, July 30, 2022

Kenya #2 - Samburu

After our short visit to Mt. Kenya, we drove north to Samburu National Reserve. It was a beautiful drive, driving beneath the mighty peaks of Mt. Kenya, that we were unable to see when we climbed up because of cloud cover. It was fascinating to watch the landscape change, from the lush plateaus surrounding Mt. Kenya to the lower arid zone towards Samburu. It was certainly hot when we arrived before noon to the park gate and did our first safari drive of the trip, through arid, open acacia savanna. 

After seeing very mammals in the thick forest of Mt. Kenya, finally in Samburu there were large numbers of mammals to see, of a wide variety. The very elegant Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe, Grevy's Zebra were present in fine densities.

Beisa Oryx - globally Endangered:

Grevy's Zebra - globally Endangered:

Reticulated Giraffe - globally Endangered:

It appears that Samburu is suffering from a long-lasting drought that has affected the mammal community, causing many animals to move to higher ground. Certainly, in some parts of the reserve animal density wasn't high. Mammals were concentrated mainly around the few water courses running through the reserve, at least those that aren't utilised by the Samburu tribe. 

A wonderful pool utilised by the Israeli tribe

In response to low mammalian 'food' species, predator densities are low now in Samburu too. We encountered only Lions, twice during our stay, probably the same pack of three females and two cubs. Amazing animals nevertheless.

Personal mammalian highlight was the unique Gerenuk, a long-necked antelope I have never seen before. Very delicate, thin on the ground and globally Near Threatened:

Special horn shape

Elephants were present in low densities too; we encountered several small groups mainly by water sources.

So dry!

Birding during safari drives is always challenging, and I must admit that the first few days were sometimes frustrating as we were unable to stop for every LBJ skulking in a bush. Still, we saw wonderful birds and I really enjoyed the distinct Abyssinian flavour to the avifauna of Samburu. Somali Bunting, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, White-throated Bee-eater and Somali Ostrich were some welcome representatives.

Birding the grounds of our accommodation, Simba Lodge, was wonderful. During every meal we were escorted by many common birds, looking for sneaky opportunities to pick up crumbs and leftovers.

Some birds look better on a tree than on a table. These common bird photos were taken from the lunch table.

Lilac-breasted Roller

Northern Red-billed Hornbill

White-rumped Shrike

White-headed Buffalo-Weaver

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Kenya #1 - Mt. Kenya

Earlier this month I travelled to Kenya, you may have seen that on my social media channels. I travelled with Dan Alon, my boss who is also a close friend, my son Noam and Dan's son, who's name is Noam too. This was a double Bar Mitzva trip - following the welcome tradition of doing a proper trip as part of the Bar Mitzva celebrations. 

We flew to Nairobi via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on July 12th. In previous visits, the latest was in 2010, I enjoyed excellent birding watching out of the terminal windows towards a nice garden. Now the terminal building has been redone, and the large windows look out only towards the rather barren runways. Not too many birds seen during the layover, barely enough for a maintaining a checklist streak. White-collared Pigeon was the only Abyssinian endemic seen.

We landed in Nairobi after a long delay, and discovered that my suitcase was missing, lost somewhere in nether between Tel Aviv and Nairobi. I made a stupid amateur's mistake and packed valuables and important stuff in my suitcase, so I was really upset and anxious for the next few days, fearing I will never see my suitcase again, as it happens to so many travelers worldwide these days. We met up with our guise Simon and left the airport, first stopping in a Nairobi shopping center to get some essentials for my son and I to keep going for a few days. Then it was a long, exhausting drive to Naro Moru where we spent the night.

Next day (July 13th) was dedicated to Mt. Kenya. I have never been to Mt. Kenya before and was looking forward to the climb very much. We were joined by a local guide, Charles, who actually did quite a good job. We drove up the mountain to the Meteorological Station, at 3000m ASL, where we started walking up through the lush forest. The forest was beautiful but birding was fairly quiet. Still we saw some nice birds (eBird checklist here). It is a fantastic sensation for me to be in a new zone where quickly I need to learn new bird calls - so exciting and challenging.

Tree Hyrax

Abyssinian Ground-Thrush

Plenty of Kikuyu White-eye

Streaky Seedeater were common

Two Thick-billed Seedeater seen

Hunter's Cisticola became commoner as we climbed up towards the tree line

Eventually we reached the tree line but didn't get very far up the alpine zone as one of the team suffered from altitude sickness. I could see the unique Giant Groundsel plants from a distance. There were giant and beautiful Lobelia deckenii plants demonstrating how special the environment is up there.

I was hoping to see more of the endemic birds of Mt. Kenya, but with the little time and only medium altitude reached I had to make do with distant views of a stunning male Red-tufted Sunbird. Moorland Chat was another alpine bird seen, and a super-cute one.

Overall, from a strict birding POV, my first visit to Mt. Kenya was less than satisfying. I didn't see too many birds, and none of the Mt. Kenya biggest specialties that are higher up than where we reached. Still, it was a most enjoyable introductory visit and first day in Kenya, shared with our group, scenery was beautiful - can't complain. I am sure I will return to Mt. Kenya in the future so no worries.

As is normally the case in Africa, our accommodation at Naro Moru River Lodge was packed with birds - good fun, though the opportunities to bird there were limited to short walks only. I was far from fulfilling the birding potential of the lush gardens and riparian forest along the small river, still managed Red-bellied Parrots, Red-faced Crombec and many common species.

Not rare but very beautiful - African Paradise-Flycatcher

Saturday, July 9, 2022

UK debt

I returned from a family visit to the UK quite a while ago, and since I have been super busy and couldn't find the time to post a little more about the birding I did there. This wasn't a birding trip per-se, but with my ongoing eBird checklist streak challenge, I went out birding every day, even in the quietest period for birding in the UK. My four years outside of the UK made me re-appreciate even some of the commonest urban birds, which was nice. We were based with friends in Poringland, on the outskirts of Norwich, so most of my birding was done in that area. Local walks around the village were nice, as expected didn't produce special, a singing Yellowhammer was of note as they are pretty scarce around Norwich:

Slightly further away in Norfolk, an early morning visit to RSPB Hickling Broad was good. High breeding activity of many birds including Crane with babies, my first documentation photos of Bearded Reedling (fantastic birds!) and a most probable pratincole sp. that flew away without documentation. eBird checklist here.

We travelled with friends to Somerset for a few night of camping. A glorious morning visit to the three adjacent RSPB reserves of Shapwick Heath, Ham Wall and Greylake produced a singing male Little Bittern, and many Great Egrets, among many other breeding birds.

Western Marsh-Harrier

En route we stopped at Stonehenge, everyone was admiring the rocks and I was admiring rooks, and high densities of Corn Bunting and Skylark; no Great Bustard seen.

I met up with Mike and we visited Dicklebburgh Moor OT NR, where we dipped on Turtle Dove (...) but were happy to find breeding Spotted Flycatcher in the nearby churchyard. So sad that this is the current state of the birds in the UK - and elsewhere, once common breeding birds are now something to write about.

On my final morning in the UK I visited RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, that was again bursting with breeding activity - so much bird song!

Till next time!