In my previous post, I let you in on the importance of wetlands to birds. Carrying on with the narrative, today’s post is about the Lake Bogoria and Nakuru waterfowl census as I had promised.
Sometime last year, a friend informed me about the census and urged me to register. I intended to but forgot about it for a while. By the time I went to Nature Kenya office to register, the deadline had elapsed by 2 weeks. Despite that, I was determined so I signed up in blind faith. Priority would be given to those who had 4WD vehicles and experience in census. We were also advised to have binoculars, field guides and sleeping bags. I had none of those. None.
The census was to happen from January to February this year. When the whole of Jan passed without any communication I thought my application was unsuccessful until I heard somebody say that one could enquire from the organisers whether slots were still available. So I did, only to be told that there was a shortage of transport on the weekend I wanted to go (Bogoria/ Nakuru). I insisted to the organiser that I believe in miracles, so if a chance became available he should call me. That evening I received a call from John telling me that the transport issue had been sorted – another opportunity granted last-minute!
Friday morning I headed to the National Museum. I arrived worn out and sweaty from the heat (January weather is no joke). Given that I was half an hour late, I thought I was among the last to arrive only to find people still casually chatting, in no hurry. I still don’t understand why we took two hours to depart but at 2pm we were finally on our way. This meant we would arrive in the dark. The journey was fairly okay apart from traffic jams here and there – and the distance. We were on the road for an incredibly long time. It was already 8pm when we arrived, yet we had to set up the tents before supper. After a short briefing on the next day’s activities, I turned in for the night, being beyond exhausted.
Saturday morning we were up before sunrise. Breakfast was set at 5am to ensure we finished the census early- Bogoria’s heat is in a league of its own. By 10am the sun is already unbearable. After being divided into groups we set off. The vehicles dropped us at our various starting points. The drive was rough and the dust, finely ground like drinking chocolate, ensured we were dirty before the work even began.
When we reached our starting point, I was blown away by Lake Bogoria’s beauty. The water was too blue to be real. The surrounding hilly landscape added to the surreal atmosphere. I volunteered to be the scribe in my group since I didn’t have binoculars (haha) but also because it would allow me to shoot in peace. I could easily have gotten lost in shooting and forget to scribe – the sights at Bogoria are magnificent.
And so we began counting the birds. During census we only deal with waterfowl. Each person chooses a species, counts the birds seen then the scribe records this information. We walked along the shore and it was no easy task when we came to the marshy sections. The ground was semi-dry where the lake had receded. We had to walk very, very carefully lest we sank into the murk! The dry bushes didn’t spare us either. We had to walk while bending and my hat got caught in thorns several times.
Dry bushes and marshy ground…
We walked and counted and walked and counted. It wasn’t even 11am yet but the heat was sweltering. Soon we arrived at some newly formed geysers. The landscape was even more beautiful and of course I took time to shoot. Our country is so beautiful, you have to see it for yourself to believe. Otherwise you might think the photos are of a different place. Our guide told us we had come to the end of our section- or so we thought. Only to learn later that the other group had to cover their section plus the part we didn’t finish. Oops.
Fast forward to lunchtime. I got to see the largest eagle-owl in Africa: the Verreaux Eagle-owl. After eating we took down the tents and set off for Nakuru. It was a long drive and my head was throbbing from the heat. We arrived at Lake Nakuru National Park which would be our campsite. A herd of buffalos grazed nearby as the sun set. Talk about camping with a view! We set up the tents, had supper and lit a massive fire. I didn’t have the energy to stay up late so I went to sleep early.
The next day we were up before sunrise again. After breakfast there was briefing on the groups and areas to cover. At this time something strange happened. My knees began to ache. At first mildly then I realised it was something serious. Like what I imagine arthritis patients go through. Didn’t know Nakuru was this cold in the morning! I had to keep moving to create friction to generate heat. It worked. I would have worn trousers if I had them- but all I had was shorts. I borrowed a shuka from someone just before we set off and it came in handy not only for the cold but also later in the day.
We were ferried in an open-back Land Cruiser. The ride was rough and dusty (again) and the cold pinched our fingers. We passed by impalas and baboons having their breakfast. Finally we arrived at the starting point. The rangers instructed us on what to do if we encountered a buffalo: hide behind a tree and remain very still. They have nasty tempers especially if you meet one that’s solo. For this reason, every group had 2 armed rangers. A Long-crested Eagle calling loudly welcomed us as we began the count.
Patches of marshy ground on the shore were once again a challenge. It was interesting seeing some birds for the first time though, like Pink-backed Pelicans, Pied Kingfishers, Dimorphic Heron and African Darter, whose numbers had greatly declined but on this day were seen in the hundreds! I was scribe for my group again (for obvious reasons). Kenya’s beauty can’t be overstated. Lake Nakuru’s landscape is just too amazing. We battled heat, hunger and thirst as we counted birds along the shore. By the time we finished, I was exhausted.
The rangers suggested a ‘shortcut’ which went uphill. “They can’t be serious,” I thought. The incline was so steep, I gave up by just looking at it. Still, I mustered the little energy left and we began the climb. We encountered those nasty dry bushes again. This time, there were also prickly plants everywhere which made it worse. The shuka came to my rescue. That was the hardest walk of my life. More challenging than going round Mt. Longonot crater. It felt like a Survivor Africa challenge. We passed some buffalo bones and the rangers casually commented that lions could have done the damage. Yikes!
Finally we came to the top of the hill. The Land Cruiser came for us and back to camp we went. Lunch was quickly devoured as we had to take down the tents. I couldn’t believe it was already time to leave. It felt like a mini vacation that had ended too soon. After appreciation speeches from our hosts, we loaded our luggage into the vehicles ready for departure. It was a long ride back- I arrived home at around 8.30 pm.
I can rightly say my first waterfowl count experience was a blast! The next one is in June/ July and I can’t wait. Remember when I mentioned blind faith? This time I’m calling it stubborn faith – being relentless about things you love and want to do. The same day I registered for the bird count I also enquired about going to Samburu. At first I had been locked out but I got a chance last-minute. My year has began on an exciting note, I’m eager to see where else this stubborn faith will take me!0