The Birdiest Lake in Kenya

April 2015

I’d never visited Lake Baringo. We’d heard from many friends and colleagues that it’s a great spot, with the best barbeque goat (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it), and with hundreds of bird species. There are also ornery hippos and decent sized crocs meaning: no swimming. Honestly, no loss there. I’m not a huge fan of swimming in brown water. It’s a bit of a trip from our sides of Kenya but after 4.5 hours we made it. The last 20km north from the town of Marigat were rough. It may have been the worst highway I’ve every driven. I expect dirt roads to be bad. I expect a highway that leads to a tourist destination as well as Kenya’s wilderness military training camps to be quite good. Woah was I wrong. We stayed at Robert’s Camp in the community of Kampi ya Semaki which is a combination facility that caters to anybody not in the luxury class. There are a few bandas (round plaster huts with thatched roofs) with beds and mosquito nets, there is a single house that sleeps up to six with a kitchen and enclosed shower and toilet. Then there are safari tents, standard camping tents, and space for you to bring your own accommodations. Naturally the price is dependent upon which arrangements you decide to use. Their restaurant, The Thirsty Goat, provides a decent selection. The chicken adobo is not bad and the fresh fried tilapia and chips is quite delicious.

We arrived in the mid afternoon and relaxed for a few hours. We enjoyed the birds found on the grounds themselves and were delighted by the diversity. White bellied go away birds, various starlings, many different weaver bird species, red billed hornbills, lilac breasted rollers, paradise flycatchers, pied kingfishers, little bee-eaters, malachite kingfishers, cormorants, doves, beautiful sunbirds in breeding plumage, and a courting pair of Jackson’s hornbills were all encountered within about one hour.

Malachite Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

Red Billed Hornbill

Red Billed Hornbill

Jackson Hornbills Bonded Pair

Jackson Hornbills Bonded Pair

White Bellied Go Away Bird

White Bellied Go Away Bird

Eventually it was time to connect with our guide Francis for our first excursion. We’d found him through a guide in Kakamega and he came highly recommended as well by Terry Stevenson. One significant advantage of using Francis is that he has a moto-bike which makes covering ground very easy. We focused on some of the area specialties and many of these we found at the “ruins” next door at the site of the Lake Baringo Club which was destroyed by major flooding from 2012 onwards. Here we found both the pearl spotted owlet and two daytime roosting African scops owls. We also found the red-fronted barbet, and white crested helmetshrikes. Moving outside of the grounds and into the bush we found pygmy falcons, the short-tailed nightjar, an African cuckoo and more. We headed back to the restaurant early so that we could discuss the plan for the next two days.

Pearl Spotted Owlet

Pearl Spotted Owlet

African Scops Owl

African Scops Owl

By 6:30am the following morning we were loading a boat to take a morning tour of the lake. After carefully navigating the pod of hippos blocking most of the waterway we headed out to open water and hightailed it north. We would work our way south for about 2 hours before it was time for breakfast. Highlights included a giant kingfisher perched at the top of dead tree limb, flocks of blue-cheeked bee-eaters, a malachite kingfisher diving for fry, two African grey hornbills, and to top it off we found a roosting pair of verreaux eagle owls. Breakfast comprised of eggs, bacon, toast, roasted tomatoes, and tea. In other words, it was your classic English breakfast (aside from the sausage because we ordered double bacon). We went back to our banda, napped for a bit, and then read for a while.

Blue Cheeked Bee-Eater

Blue Cheeked Bee-Eater

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron

Eventually I grew bored and went out for walk. I saw much of the same as the previous day’s walk but also added a solitary female common ostrich, three Hemprich’s hornbills flying to the lake from the cliffs, a red & yellow barbet, and a great viewing of the white headed buffalo weaver with its bright orange rump clearly visible while it preened. Walking back to Robert’s I found a small flock of the always enjoyable white crested helmetshrikes who obliged me with decent photos provided I kept my distance.

Female Ostrich

Female Ostrich

Red & Yellow Barbet

Red & Yellow Barbet

White Crested Helmetshrike

White Crested Helmetshrike

In the late afternoon Francis returned with his piki-piki and we made our way to the cliffs to find owls, hornbills, and more. Though it was a bit of a trek, we really enjoyed the viewing of a spotted eagle-owl perfectly camouflaged against the rocks and tree branches. The scampering rock hyraxes provided some laughs as well. We found a single spotted thick-knee and family of three Heuglin’s coursers with a youngster in the mix. We watched the adults try to distract us away from the juvenile. The bands across the lower breast are very beautiful and provide a special richness to this shy bird. We then proceeded to find an African hoopoe, my first, and both the Somali tit and diminutive mouse-colored penduline tit. Our next highlight was a pair of close-up Hemprich’s hornbills, followed by the comedic D’arnaud’s barbets doing their song and dance. Our final stop was at a lookout where we found a rufous crowned (aka purple) roller and Francis favorite: the green winged pytilia. With darkness (and mosquitos) fast approaching we high-tailed it back to the camp in the fading light. Dinner was good, the showers were great, and the sleep was fantastic.

Heughlin's Coursair

Heughlin’s Coursair

D'Arnaud's Barbet

D’Arnaud’s Barbet

Green Winged Pytilia

Green Winged Pytilia

We went out for another boat ride with the explicit purpose of finding the last northern carmine bee-eaters before they migrated north. We extensively searched for them but to no avail. We did however have great viewings of the emerald green blue cheeked bee-eaters, more kingfishers, a goliath heron, and an African fish eagle as it swooped down to collect its tilapia breakfast. In light of the long journey back “home” we had another English breakfast Americanized with double the bacon, hold the sausage. We then packed up and headed out. In the Kerio Valley a white crested turaco was the last bird of significance for this adventure.

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

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