LUTMAN'S KENYA 2006 BIRDING SAFARI TRIP

Report 7

Sharon has made comments and they are in {brackets}.

 

Monday, November 13, 2006. Birding Day 11. Mountain Lodge, Isiolo, Buffalo Springs Reserve, Samburu National Park

Wake up in: Mountain Lodge

Sharon got up several times last night to see if any elephants or lions were at the watering/mineral hole, but got no luck.

It's 6:00 am, and we're on the roof. A half-moon is straight over our heads. There are Cape Buffalo and Bushbuck at the water right now.

The watering hole. The mud has minerals that the mammals take in by licking. The water appears dirty, but the animals and birds drink from it. The grass is in the shape of Africa, including the island of Madagascar.

We get a male Bronze-naped Pigeon to our left. A Grey Wagtail is at a circular water tank next to the main watering hole. Steven points out a Mountain Greenbul. {Last night two genets (possom-like, cat-like animals) came to the top of a wooden tower on which they had tied a piece of meat to attract them.}

We are dressed warmly for the early morning viewing.

A couple of Blue Sykes Monkeys are about -- one with no tail at all. We wonder if he gave at the office, in this case to some lion, but nobody knows. We were told to keep our windows and door locked, because these monkeys are resourceful, and can reach through open windows. They take anything that looks interesting - wallets, passports, food, gum, toothpaste, binoculars and so on.

Blue Sykes Monkey

We get a nice Spectacled Weaver in the scope on the opposite side of the lodge from the watering hole. A tarp separates the last thirty feet or so of the roof from the central part, and I see something bumping against the other side of the tarp. Monkeys? I ask Kevin, "Kevin what's that bumping against the tarp, a monkey?" Kevin says, "That's your wife. What you choose to call her is up to you."

Oops. My bad. Sharon doesn't let me forget this for a while.

We get a nice Yellow-rumped Tinker Bird (Goes "tink, tink, tink"). A pied crow cuts a good figure on a bare limb, posing first looking left, then right. We get a nice look at a White-starred Robin. This bird is wonderful. Where an animal or person might have eyebrows, this robin has white spots that are sort of star-shaped.

We collect our stuff, pack up the van, and head out on the road. An armed guard accompanies us, and we are instructed to stick close together. The lions like to pick off the stragglers at the back. {Actually a few days ago some of the mountain elephants in the region came at a group of birders walking on the road and the guard is there to shoot over their heads if they come at us.} Normally, Sharon is at the back, and I bounce back and forth between sticking beside her, since we both have to see any new bird, and sticking close to the guides, so I can get on the bird early.

We make friends with the armed guard.

Sharon stays close to the armed guard.

Steven says that when he gives the signal, the armed guard just takes one of us out at random. The group protests, saying that they are voting me out of the tribe, and the heck with this random action -- it's gonna be me. Nothing like friends.

Sharon and I finally get good looks at Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, then we all get Bearded Woodpecker. Steven gets us White-eared Barbet in the scope, then hears a bird he's really excited about. We know this is a good bird by his reaction. He finally locates it, down in a valley. He and Kevin lead the way, and we go plunging down through the brush. Both drivers come too, as it would be a life bird for them.

Steven plays the call over and over, and finally this marvelous bird pops into the open. The bird is greenish-brown above, bright yellow below, with a black breast-band that extends up the side of the head, through the eye. The forehead, throat and upper chest are bright red. It's a Doherty's Bush-shrike, and is a candidate for the top ten bird list.

Each birder will write down his top ten birds at the end of the trip. Kevin will then tabulate them, accumulating scores, ending up with a group top ten.

We climb back out of the valley, and get a very nice Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk. We move on and get a couple of Wire-tailed Swallows on video and stills. On we go, getting a great Red-collared Widowbird. Continuing still further in the vans, we get a tree with perhaps 300 nests in it, made entirely by Speke's Weavers. Remarkable.

Speke's Weaver Nests

Lesser Masked Weaver asks, "What are YOU looking at?" as she weaves her magic.

Sharon says this morning, she tried to get some porridge, but the chef pulled her bowl away from her, saying "No." It turned out to be pancake batter. Reminds me of the time my GE startup buddy Eric Dean took his family into a Japanese restaurant to show them how to eat local food. He picked up this bowl of liquid and said, "You drink this soup by just lifting the bowl. You don't use a spoon." A couple of waitresses came rushing over after he had downed about a third of it, saying, "No, no. Not soup. That's dipping sauce for the deep fried shrimp." Oops.

We stop near a fence by some gullies, and get Boran Cisticola, then Stripe-breasted Seedeater (Sharon sees, Bob hears). We roll on.

As we near a town, we are told, "Lock the doors, and close and lock your windows. Don't talk to anybody and don't look at anybody. Don't open any windows to talk to anyone or take anything from them. This is Isiola, and it's full of refugees from Somalia. The army cleaned the town up in the last few months. Before that, there was gunfire and murders in town almost every night. It's not so bad now, but just don't get involved.

We head on into town, picking up Village Indigobird on a wire. As we go through town, people approach the car, but Kevin, whose window is down, says no thank you to each of them. We are stopped at one place to get national park entry tickets and a young woman comes over with bananas. She tells Kevin she has very nice bananas. Kevin agrees and says yes, they are nice, but he doesn't want any right now. He says when we come back through, he will buy some from her. She takes off, we get our passes, and we take off.

Kevin says he recognizes this woman, and she's one of the rare, nice people trying to sell goods to people passing by in cars.

We get a nice Taita Fiscal, then see a camel to our right. We learn that it isn't wild, but rather owners just let their camels run loose till they need them. Then they go find them, and put on the appropriate gear to carry whatever it is they need. We are driving on a long straight road, pitted deeply with holes. It's gravel and dirt.

We get Somali Courser as a very good bird, and just before that a White-winged Widowbird.

The children running up to get food are chanting something like, "Olay, olay, olay." Kevin imitates them perfectly. We decide it's ok for Sharon to give out leftovers from our lunch. She opens her window, and gives the box to a girl, who runs away from the van. Several boys run after her, but quickly change their mind and run back to the van, which is slowly driving away.

The girl runs ahead, back up to the road, and near where the van is coming. She's hoping for more, I think.

We get Hunter's Sunbird, then Black-faced Sandgrouse, followed by Parrot-billed Sparrow. Our local guide, Ben, says there has been a drought here for three years, and it has just broken in the last few days. Steven has said that this may lead to fantastic numbers of bird species. He spots us Lesser masked Weaver over a pond, working on a nest.

We get Ashy Cisticola, and Grey Wren-Warbler at 4:00 pm. Rosy-patched Bush-shrike and Straw-tailed Whydah follow. A Black-and-white Cuckoo, also known as Jacobin Cuckoo shows well. We get Pygmy Falcon and a great male Fischer's Sparrow-lark. Sharon gets a good view, I a poor one of Chestnut Weaver.

And the kids just keep coming, asking for pens, pens, pens.

We go by a sign that says, "Home for the Disabled. Integrated." Very interesting, as we never see any white people at all. Which brings me to the...

BLACK CONTINENT

When we landed, and went to our hotel, I was shocked to find that every single person was black. Well not every person, as in the hotel, there were quite a few white people on vacation or business. But if you go out for a walk on the streets, everybody is black. All the models in the billboards and on TV are black.

I confess to feeling slightly uneasy about this. However, after meeting Tara's friend Gacheri, running around and meeting her relatives and friends, then meeting Steven's local guides -- all black, I suddenly realized that I had stopped thinking of the people as black. But rather, just people. It was fun watching Steven joke with them, exchange high fives and so on. I realized that I didn't feel intimidated or uneasy at all. Minor progress for me, and I feel good about it.

Back to the tour...

We never see the top of Mt. Kenya because of clouds, but we get a partial look.

We get better looks at Black-and-white Cuckoo, then Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk. We finally come to the actual entry gates of Samburu National Park, and there are about fifty Little Swifts, tending nests of mud, like swallow nests, on the ceiling of the arched passageway into the park. It seems that they are going to fly into me at any second, but none do.

Little Swifts tending their nests.

We notice this interestingly-dressed man during the day, appearing to be standing in a small puddle.

And then we get our third subspecies of Giraffe -- the Reticulated Giraffe. A pair give us a great crossed-neck pose.

Reticulated Giraffes

We get Red-billed Buffalo-weavers working on our left, then a nice Red-billed Hornbill. Golden Pipit and Chestnut Weaver are seen with nice views. I love the Common Waterbucks, and we see some here.

A group of Grant's Gazelles gets set to cross the road, but hesitate, giving us great photo ops.

Grant's Gazelles

We come to a river crossing, and because of the days' rains, and the passage of enough time, the river is swollen and moving fast. Steven's van, with Peter driving, goes first, and makes it ok, after slipping and sliding a little getting up the far side. We take off, and our driver doesn't make a wide enough arc to the left, as Peter did. We hit something, then can't get off of it. We are dry-centered, which means in simple terms, the middle of our vehicle is perfectly balanced on a rock and we can't get any traction.

Looking downstream from our stuck van.

Peter rolls his pantlegs up on the shore and wades out to assess the situation. Joseph climbs out his window and they decide they have to call for help. They call the lodge we're going to stay at tonight, who will send a Land Rover.

Kevin says, and Sharon agrees, that in the few minutes we've been here the back end of the van has slipped downstream a little. I don't think it has. The water level is below the windows, but is such that if we opened the door, water would fill the van. Extremely good sealing properties. There is discussion about whether to get out of the van, in case it should flip over and be swept downstream. Some want to get their electronics, computers and cameras to shore. Sharon says the heck with that, get HER out first. She later admits to being very, very scared, but I wasn't. I did my center-of-gravity estimates, and decided it wouldn't turn over, and that we would be at more risk for getting swept downriver if we stepped into the water.

THE AFRICAN NO-SWIMMING SITUATION

While we're waiting here, I want to pass on an interesting thing we were told. Africans supposedly have much denser bone structure -- part of their genetic makeup. Couple that with their low body fat, and you have a person who doesn't float, but rather sinks right to the bottom.

The bone density of African Americans, several generations after being taken from Africa, is a mystery to us who are discussing it. We suspect that with the higher body fat that goes along with being an American, on the average, may swing the balance.

Anyway, our source says, that's the reason you don't see many Africans swimming in pools or rivers.

Back to the tour...

It takes the Land Rover about 45 minutes to get here, all the while it's getting darker and darker. Kevin passes the time for us by tellling of the crocodiles in the river. Nice, Kev. We can see some nightjar flying overhead, but Kevin can't quite get an ID -- he says it's likely a Nubian Nightjar, but we don't claim it.

On the way in, the first van gets a Spotted Thick-knee with a baby, and radios us. We get it too, and then soon we arrive at Samburu National Park Lodge, check in and get our rooms. We unpack, and meet for dinner an hour later.

We do the bird list, then turn in. What a day. We're alive.

DAY 11 TOTALS

Trip Birds Seen Today (First Time on the Trip): 28
Total Trip Birds to Date: 540

Life Birds Seen Today: 28
Total Life Birds to Date: 472

Best Birds: Taita Fiscal, Eastern Double-collard Sunbird, White-eared Barbet, Doherty's Bush-shrike, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Wire-tailed Swallow, Somali Courser, Hunter's Sunbird, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Rosy-patched Bush-shrike, Straw-tailed Whydah, Black-and-white Cuckoo, Chestnut Weaver, Eastern (Pale) Chanting Goshawk, Golden Pipit, Orange-bellied Parrot, Cut-throat.

Best Mammals: Blue Sykes (White-throated) Monkey, Cape (Scrub) Hare, African (Savannah) Elephant, Reticulated Giraffe, Cape Buffalo, Masai Bushbuck, Kirk's Dikdik, Common Waterbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Thomson's Gazelle, Grant's Gazelle, Gerenuk (Giraffe Antelope), Impala, Beisa Oryx.

Best Reptiles and Amphibians: None to speak of.

----

Enjoy your Turkey or your personal selection,

Bob

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