Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Kenya #6 - Hell's Gate

Our final morning in Kenya (July 22nd) was spent in Hell's Gate NP. It is a unique park because walking there is possible, which makes birding much more enjoyable and productive. Understanding that it was our final chance to add birds to our growing trip list, we were determined to make the most out of the walk. Not sure how the boys felt about this... 

The weather wasn't great, cold and overcast and windy, but there were spots with good bird activity (eBird checklist here). Already by the gate we saw many birds, including a Greater Honeyguide, which was fun. We started walking into the massive gorge - very impressive indeed.

Perhaps the most prominent bird of the park was Abyssinian Wheatear - they were everywhere, including many youngsters. I love wheatears, even more when they are sooty-brown, and these E African endemics are especially appealing.


Two large birds were at the focus of our attention there, and were very enjoyable to watch. First up - Secretarybird. We did see several before, but this was our first close, high-quality encounter. We spent some time with a pair, walking slowly in the low vegetation, picking up grasshoppers. They are extremely comical birds, so awkward, part stork part hawk. Love them.

Down the hatch

Another mega bird was Kori Bustard. As mega as it gets. Male Kori Bustard is the heaviest flying bird in the world, and the species shows an impressive sexual dimorphism. The male we encountered was huge, quite a bull, majestically walking among larger animals - quite fantastic.

Sadly, the massive cliffs of Hell's Gate are past their glory days. Verreaux's Eagle and Lammergeier don't breed there anymore, and vulture numbers we saw were quite low. Also worth noting that the deep canyon at the end is closed to the public after the disaster in 2019. We spent some time above the canyon and actually had a nice mixed flock at the wood there, that held some cool birds, including White-bellied Tit:

That was the end of our trip. From there we drove back to Nairobi airport, picking up some final silly additions to our trip list, that stands at 314. Check our eBird trip report here.

It was an amazing trip, so much wildlife and wonderful places. This was also my first proper trip since covid, so the experience was even greater. Our team, Dan, Noam and Noam, and our guide Simon, worked very well together - thank you everyone! Simon works for CITES African Safaris - it was very fortunate to have them as our support team, especially dealing with the retrieval of my lost suitcase. 

Till the next trip - over and out! Asante sana Kenya, you were good to us!

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Pratincole zen

Amidst the series of blogposts from my trip to Kenya in July (one more left to go), I need to remind myself that there is quality stuff to be presented from here in Israel too. This is a tough period for birding, with extreme weather. Birding is really limited to the first two hours of light. Yesterday I stopped in Kfar Ruppin for a couple of hours before heading up to the Golan heights for less fun work (regulating the operation of bird-chopping wind turbines). Two hours of early morning birding zen is exactly what I needed ahead of a difficult day.

Good things are happening in Kfar Ruppin. The kibbutz has made a strategic decision to direct their future towards sustainability, nature and tourism. I am very proud to collaborate with our partners at the kibbutz. Our pilot project there, Amud Reservoir, was looking amazing as always first thing. Mimicing natural wetland water cycles, water levels are low now, which translates into a huge, beautiful reedbed, exploding with Savi's Warblers, Acros, Little Bitterns and such (eBird checklist here). 

Kfar Ruppin fishponds are looking very good now. Two large reservoirs have low water levels, exposing precious mud to migrants. One reservoir held a great flock of Collared Pratincoles, a post-breeding concentration of the locally-breeding population. I love pratincoles. With the soundtrack of Blue-cheeked and Common Bee-eaters, this pond provided me with the zen experience I needed (and another checklist).

What other species can you spot mixed in the pratincole flock?

That corner of the reservoir attracted also quite many shorebirds, and terns. Little Tern isn't common inland. One Whiskered Tern is in here too.

Whiskered Tern

Temminck's Stints - so tiny compared to Little Stint!

All videos embedded here were taken using a Swarovski ATX85 scope and a Swarovski phone adapter.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Kenya #5 - Naivasha

 After our mind-boggling visit to Masai Mara, it was time to move on. On July 21st we drove up to arrive in Naivasha right on time for an afternoon boat trip on the lake, towards Crescent Island. 

The boat trip actually exceeded my birding expectations, with some great birds seen. Some sections of the habitat are good, and it's interesting to see the close proximity between people and wildlife there. I can't say if this is 'coexistence', cynical me, but at least it looked peaceful. From a birding POV, I really enjoyed the combination of large numbers, high variety (eBird checklist here), good quality species and photo opps! I highly recommend doing this boat trip - there are many operators in Naivasha.

Pink-backed Pelican

Goliath Heron

Yellow-billed (Intermediate) Egret

Giant Kingfisher

Black Crake

African Jacana

Lots of noisy African Fish-Eagles

There's this 'thing' that boatmen throw fish to trained eagle, who snatch them for photo opps. I was unprepared for this, and in the short time I had i failed to explain to our boatman what I conditions I need, re distance etc. Therefore my results are miserable.

Long-toed Lapwing was a welcome lifer

Fishcer's Lovebird - eBird treats all lovebird records in Kenya as Fischer's X Yellow-collared, exotic. I don't see any physical signs of hybridization here, but what do I know.

ON (Occupied Nest)

Black Heron was another lifer, and what a fantastic bird it was. The umbrella maneuver is truly spectacular.

Normal bird



White-faced Whistling-Duck - cool that it's the same taxon as in South America (e.g. here in the Pantanal):

Back at Sopa Lodge, birding was great, (eBird checklist here) and lots of mammals were walking the lodge grounds, including Zebra, Waterbuck and one Rogue Hippo that walked outside our room at night. 

Defassa Waterbuck

I was pleased to find a Wahlberg's Honeyguide foraging in the tree canopy outside our room, not a bird that was on my radar, and not an easy one to ID (thanks Itai for your help). A birder's bird...

Some common stuff

Brimstone Canary

White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher