Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Road to Masai Mara NR - 02 Jul 2013

Today was a travel day. I had a lousy sleep. I was so exhausted from traveling and the day's activity that my head would start spinning as I reviewed pics or typed these notes. Yet, I could not fall asleep. So, I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling, too tired to get up. Five-thirty finally rolled around and I had finally gotten about 2 hrs sleep.

Charles wanted to be on the road by 7 am so we were packed and had a breakfast of banana, yogurt, pineapple and coffee. It was cloudy but mild, and as they packed the van I watched a Sacred Ibis fly overhead. Nixon, the security guard, and I chatted a few minutes about birds in Kenya. The avifauna of Kenya includes a total of 1132 species, of which seven are endemic, six have been introduced by humans, and three are rare or accidental. One species is listed as extirpated in Kenya and is not included in the species count. Twenty-three species are globally threatened (Wikipedia).

The drive to Narok was very interesting and revealed the life of the Kenyan people. The roads were in pretty good shape since the past and present Presidents have made a concerted effort to improve infrastructure. But the road literally separates wealthy from poor, with gated mansions and universities on one side and row shacks on the other. The small villages presented all walks of life with well-dressed ladies walking next to disheveled old men while uniformed children walked to school on dirt paths next to younger, barefooted kids already working and playing in the fields. I tried to take a few record images from our Toyota van as we sped along. Clouds and mist did not provide very good lighting, though.  The countryside was pretty, though.

We drove to the escarpment and got a nice view of the Rift Valley but did not stop because of the weather. However, skies cleared quickly and we pulled over to take a few pics (2) (3). Charles warned that we would be approached by vendors wanting to sell crafts, and they were waiting. I was not smart to be carrying my expensive cameras, but they were friendly and persistent. As soon as they realized I wasn't buying they moved on to the next tourist.

The Rift Valley
We arrived in Narok, which is about halfway to the Mara Reserve and the last big town on our way. We used the facilities and had a coffee and toast under the canopy of trees in a lovely little park restaurant. I was busy chasing a Black-backed Puffback after spotting my first mammal, an African Civet that was sleeping in the hedges next to the parking lot. The real prize was a stunning African Paradise-flycatcher male that complimented the female from yesterday. It perched and 'zreeped' just a few feet away with its bright rufous body and streamers, and black head and chest with bright blue eye ring. Nearby a flock of Hadada Ibis, with their stocky, iridescent green bodies and red-striped down- curved bills, foraged among several huge Maribou Storks. Before we left we were entertained by a Mountain Wagtail that foraged at our feet and bobbed its tail. I'd at first written it off as a Pied Wagtail, but this bird had a gray back and prominent eye stripes.

Birding while driving was frustrating. We saw flocks of blue starlings that were most likely Superb Starlings, but couldn't be certain due to he large number of blue starling spp in the region. Large gray and black hawks dotted the roadside but were impossible to ID. I was able to verify several Grey Herons atop trees in the fields, but that was about it. Small flocks of passerines and mini-clouds of swallows didn't help, either.

As we approached Masai country the sun appeared and suddenly we were driving through scrub pasture very reminiscent of Montana Big Sky Country. Masai locals with herds of sheep and cattle were scattered about with their manyattas off in the distance. Soon we were driving bumpy, gravelly dirt roads in clouds of iron-rich clay dust raised by speeding tour vans coming from the opposite direction. We'd forgotten to load up on water, and soon were feeling the effects of dry throats and a hot van. Finally though, we arrived at the gates to the Masai Mara National Reserve.

Because of disputes with local government the Reserve daily entry fee of US $80 pp was cash-only. So Robin and I had to turn up $320.00 for two nights stay. Thankfully Guy had extra cash and was able to loan us the $140.00 that we were short. We had converted most of our money to Kenyan shillings and they would not accept it!

Once inside the gate the world seemed to transform instantly. Clouds of swallows and swifts were swirling over lush grasslands dotted with acacias. Baglafecht Weavers were screaming from nearby trees. Speckled-fronted Weavers foraged on the ground. No sooner had we driven out of the parking lot did I spot an Agama lizard sunning itself on a rock.

We started off toward the Mara Sopa Lodge still 50 Km away. Within minutes we were seeing Thompson's Gazelles, Impala and Common Zebras. Somehow my camera got switched to Special Effects mode because suddenly my pics were washed out cartoons. I had to scramble to realize that the mode dial was switched from my usual Aperture-priority. Back on track we quickly came upon three giraffes feeding next to the road. Gorgeous Masai Giraffe!

Less than a few kilometers later we were staring at a family of Elephants. We stopped only briefly since they were too close and had babies. One male was flapping it ears, either to cool itself or a prelude to attack.

Robin had hoped to see a Lilac-breasted Roller, and one flew right across the car and landed close enough for photos! We the found a Wattled Plover, and later an injured Spotted Thicknee. I spotted a Bare-faced Go-away Bird off in the distance, and a Black-shouldered Kite.

Wattled Plover
Spotted Thick-knee
Black-shouldered Kite

We soon spotted Cape Buffalo herds, Topi, Warthogs, more gazelles and beautiful Impala.  We even stopped to enjoy a pretty Leopard Tortoise on the side of the road.

The roads were rough but passable. That is, until we came upon a section of washed out road ahead of us. A huge pool separated a half section of road, but the road had a deep ditch that looked too wide to drive over. We backed up a distance to cross over to a new path, but were soon swallowed up by the soft ditch we tried to drive over. Now the adventure began.

We had buried the van to the rear bumper and could not go forward or backward in the mud. Charles spent the next hour trying to phone for help, but couldn't reach the lodge, now only 2 Km away. It was mid afternoon so everyone else was on midday break, so all we could do was sit and wait. It would be two hours before another tour van came by, but finally someone had a tow cable and was able to pull us free! During the wait and the efforts to ger out Deb noticed my D300/18-105 lens sitting in the mud. It had fallen out of the van. Luckily the lens was clean and we had some wet wipes to remove the mud. Because we were in lion country we were expressly-forbidden to leave the van, so we had to cook in the afternoon sun. Water quickly ran out, and we only had a few granola bars. Overhead a White-headed Vulture soared, looking for a meal, but no one had to be canabalized...I took the opportunity to soak in the stunning surroundings. A flock of Lesser-streaked Swallows were foraging nearby, while a single giraffe approached to inspect our plight. A Masai herdsman was moving his cattle along the hill behind us.

So, once free of our muddy tomb we headed toward the lodge just as the afternoon game drive was commencing, so there were dozens of vehicles heading in our direction. We started seeing Impala, gazelles, Zebras, Helmeted Guineyfowl, and the first of dozens of Wildebeest. I spotted a Black-backed Jackal at a distance.

It was a little after six when we arrived at the lodge, and everyone was beat. The restaurant stayed open for us and gave us a lovely welcoming lunch, so everyone was happy again. A short nap later and a nice buffet dinner put us all in a mood for tomorrow's first game drive. Robin bought a round of drinks for everyone and we toasted her parents, Hubert and Esther Odom. Hubert had passed 10 years ago to the day, and Esther passed away a year ago today, so we wanted to acknowledge them - they were part of the reason we took this trip. Afterward we retired to our rooms. I was too tired to review images or blog, so I went to sleep.

The Mara Sopa Lodge is beautiful! Situated on the side of a hill it overlooks the valley and surrounding hillsides. It's as beautiful as Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, and as expansive. A large central dining hall gives wonderful views of the gardens, with an outdoor pool and bar available for guests. Our house was uphill another quarter mile along an ascending lane, so the hike was tiring, especially when we're at approx 6800 ft above sea level. Electricity was available between 5:30 pm and 8 am then off the rest of the time.

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Sacred Ibis
Black Kite
Pied Crow
House Sparrow
Grey Heron
Maribou Stork
Superb Starling
Black-backed Puffback
Hadada Ibis
African Paradise Flycatcher
Ring-necked Dove
Mountain Wagtail
Egyptian Goose
Baglafecht Weaver
Agama Lizard
White-rumped Swallow
Bare-faced Go-away Bird
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Ruppels Starling
Water Thick- knee
Black-shouldered Kite
White-headed Vulture
Lesser Streaked Swallow
Leopard Tortoise
Anteater Chat
Sooty Chat
Speckle-fronted Weaver
Helmeted Guineyfowl
Buffy Pipit
Lilac-breasted Roller
Thompson's Gazelle
Helmeted Guineyfowl
Black-backed Jackal
Western Wildebeast
Masai Giraffe
Cape Buffalo


Neil said...

Sounds like a great trip Jerry. I hope to get back there in a couple of years.
This year heading to Botswana.

Neil said...

Sounds like a great trip Jerry. I hope to get back there in a couple of years.
This year heading to Botswana.

Cathy Carroll said...

Jerry, we are all in for a treat! Can't wait to read and see more.

Cathy Carroll said...

Hi Jerry, can't wait to see and read more. We are in for a blogging treat.

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