Lakes Elementaita and Naivasha, Kenya, December 2020

November 26, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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This post continues from where I left off in my previous one about Ol Pejeta Conservancy (which you can read here).

After leaving Ol Pejeta, we made our way down to Lake Naivasha where we planned to spend a few days before returning home to Nairobi for Christmas. This drive was, unfortunately, not straightforward and it took us far longer than the Google Maps prediction. For much of the route the actual road was under maintenance and for several hours we drove along the bumpiest, dustiest dirt track that we've ever encountered!

We do nearly all of our adventures as a family, so we usually have to balance grown-up stuff with kid-friendly stuff. Fortunately, there is sufficient overlap between those two to keep most of us entertained...most of the time. Large pink birds fit nicely in this overlap zone - no-one doesn't love flamingos! Our daughter is completely mad about these birds and so, after a bit of research, we decided to incorporate a brief trip to Lake Elementaita (sometimes spelled Elmentaita) on our way down.

The lakes of the Great Rift Valley are famous for large congregations of these birds, but the situation is a little complicated and ever-changing. Flamingos are highly specialised birds. The lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) that we were looking for in particular have a fondness for eating the blue-green algae which is found in soda (alkaline) lakes. They feed by wading and sieving the water with their beaks and therefore they need shallow water to be able to do this. As a result, the conditions needed for them to thrive are quite particular and certainly not commonly found. The flocks move around the region according to changes in conditions - notably the water levels which have risen in recent years. In case you were wondering, Naivasha is a freshwater lake and therefore cannot support flamingos, aside from the occasional vagrant.

Elementaita did not disappoint  - we were very lucky to be able to see good numbers of flamingos, as you can see in these photos:

Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)

I was hoping to be able to get close enough to take a clear portrait of an individual, but the flocks were some distance from the shoreline and my bird photography ability is limited by the fact that my longest lens is only 420mm with my teleconverter. Nonetheless, in the next photo you can see their distinctively shaped blackish-red bill (greater flamingos (P. ruber) have a black-tipped pink bill):

Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)

With a happy daughter, we then moved on to the southern edge of Lake Naivasha, a short drive down from Elementaita. We camped at a place called Carnelly's, widely recommended by friends here. It's a decent campsite and I have no particular reason to complain, but I don't quite get the fuss as people rave about the place. It does have a nice restaurant though. For those with children there's not a huge amount to explore, though an electronic fence does at least keep hippos out of the campsite. On later trips to Naivasha (we have been around half a dozen times now) we have stayed at a different place called Sanctuary Farm which we prefer. Details will follow in a later post.

Pottering along the shoreline of the lake yielded some interesting wildlife encounters. Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) were abundant in and around the vegetation:

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

Groups of vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) were easy to see, particularly around our campsite. I love monkeys of all sorts but people underestimate how hard it is to get nice photos of them! This is a juvenile:

Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)

Here are a couple of other birds that we saw from the shore:

Giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)Giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) White-breasted cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus)White-breasted cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus)

On our last morning we went out for a short boat trip around the lake. From the boat it was a little easier to get closer to the birds without spooking them - they don't seem to be as bothered by a boat cruising up compared to when you approach on foot. Here are a few highlights:

Intermediate egret (Ardea intermedia)Intermediate egret (Ardea intermedia) African jacana (Actophilornis africanus)African jacana (Actophilornis africanus) Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) Great egret (Ardea alba)Great egret (Ardea alba) Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

A bird that we heard well (it has a distinctive shrill cry) but that I didn't photograph to my satisfaction is the African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), which were usually perched high up in the trees. Someone told me that Naivasha supports the largest population of this species anywhere, but I do not know if this claim is correct. Here is the best photo that I could manage - you can see that by this point the African sun was already quite high, leading to harsh lighting:

African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

We were hoping to get good views of hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) on our trip. The challenge is that they spend most of their time in the water (particularly during the day time) so there isn't usually much to photograph! Here is a photo of one that we saw at the end of our trip:

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

That marks the end of that particular trip, and therefore the end of this post!

Cheers,

Robin


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