Ambesoli and Mount Kilimanjiro (I think)

Saturday 1 to Sunday 2 October

A long day as we crossed the country from the Rift to Ambesoli in the south-central region to see a safari park renowned for its birds nestled beside Mount Kilimanjiro. And another long story so photos first.

We stopped to view the Great Rift, which passes through Kenya. It starts in Lebanon and continues through to Mozambique. Modern geologists are now defining several rifts, rather than just one long rift. As these rifts develop further, the land on either side will separate and a sea will form. That, of course will take millions of years.

We spent some time on Kenya’s major road between Nairobi and Mombasa. Traffic was chaotic. Bruce sat in the front passenger seat. He did offer to swap with me, but I don’t think I could have handled the style of traffic and the overtaking.

We passed many roadside stalls. Onions, oranges, tomatoes, melons and bananas were offered. There was even a stall selling slingshots, a popular weapon when predators are part of the environment.

We had a single day to explore the Ambesoli National Park in the south east of Kenya. The park sits at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro on the northern side. The mountain is actually in Tanzania.

We stayed at Kibo Safari Lodge – our first real tented camp. The room was large and comfortable if not a little dark. We had become used to restricted power – usually 5:30am to 9:30am, 12:30pm to 2:00pm and 6:00pm to 12:00am. When you have cameras, smartphones and computers to recharge it takes a little planning and organisation.

This park has a swamp and that is where most of the action is. As it was just before the rains the rest of the park looked parched. In fact, we watched countless willy willy’s (dust spirals) throughout the day.

As expected there was a wonderful array of birds. The park reports more than 400 species have been sighted. I really enjoyed seeing such a variety and using Mwendwa’s book to identify them. Yellow throated Sand Grouse, Yellow Neck Spurfowl, White Headed Buffalo Weaver with orange bottom and an extraordinary number of water birds.

There are great numbers of hippopotami and elephants on the edge of the swamp or wallowing in it.

There is never any shortage of the Zebras and Wildebeest – they have become quite a common sight for us.

Most entertaining of all were the Masai Ostriches. It must have been the mating season because we saw numerous displays of fighting, chasing and mating. The males make quite a dance about it, flapping their wings around and if the female is interested she fluffs up her feathers as well.

Mwendwa pointed out that the Masai Ostriches with their pink legs and neck are quite different to the Somali Ostriches that we had seen in Samburu.

We watched a couple going through the ritual, but the mating was all finished in a couple of minutes, and they were off in their separate directions.

Although we saw the gruesome kills in Masaimara we were able to watch some of the birds succeed in their hunts.

A swamp was a mass of birds, all hunting, some succeeding.  As we watched, a Saddle Billed Stork managed to catch a fish and beat it to death before devouring it. The beautiful bird has long stick like legs and a large red beak.

Soon after we watched a Yellow Billed Egret catch himself a healthy looking frog.

A little further on we watched a very tall Blue Heron catch a huge fish, big enough for a decent human meal.

And soon after a Grey Crane showed the patience of Jove and was rewarded with a decent size frog.

The swamp is famous for its Lesser Flamingos, a smaller bird than we saw in Mexico. Unfortunately, they were at such a distance that the photo shows just a pink blur. We did find a single flamingo which obliged my camera.

We watched a hyena meandering along the grass, but once he spotted us he took cover, with just his beautifully rounded ears on show. And a jackal sauntered back and forth, perhaps looking for some carrion. He certainly looked healthy with a beautiful bushy tail.

We lunched at Observation Hill, a small extinct volcano mount that gave us a great view over some of the swamp areas and a fuzzy outline of Mount Kilimanjaro. Unlike Masaimara there are very few trees to lunch under at Ambesoli, but there was a rather nice shelter shed and toilets. Photo-hunters and their guides descended on the lunch spot at 1:00pm. Little Yellow Weaver Birds and Superb Starlings joined us, squabbling over the crumbs the tourists dropped. They were very entertaining.

As we drove, one of us would spot a new bird or animal. Mwendwa had sharp eyes and could pick up tigers, cheetahs and leopards that we would never see, however every now and then Bruce or I would spot an interesting creature.  It was most often a bird.

There was the Crested Hoopoe Bird, a black bird with a brilliant red crest, a Golden Baboon different from the Grey Baboon we had already seen, a single Fish Eagle watching for prey from a lie lying log, a Grant Gazelle feeding its young, and a pair of Secretary Birds with long lanky legs, who cooperated with my camera.

I spent a long time waiting for one or other Lilac Breasted Roller birds to show off their magnificent teal blue wings.  They clung to the twig that was wavering in the wind and refused to budge.

We returned to our lodge, exhausted after identifying so much and thirsty for a beer.  We tried and tried again to get photos of Mount Kilimanjiro, but the pre-rains haze was against us.

Next stop was Tanzania!

What we saw…

  • Yellow throated sand grouse
  • Yellow neck spurfowl
  • White headed buffalo weaver with orange bottom
  • Water birds
  • Hippo and ostriches
  • Thompson Gazelles and Buffaloes
  • Hippopotami
  • Fish Eagles
  • Water birds
  • Hippo + elephant & calf
  • Elephant line
  • More hippo & elephant, ducks flying
  • Spur winged northern goose (black & white red beak) and ibis and blacksmith lap wing and Egyptian Geese and ostrich
  • Ostriches copulating
  • Crown bird
  • Zebras
  • Flamingos & various animals including wildebeest.
  • Elephant crossing
  • Saddle billed stork red beak with fish
  • Goliath stork – big
  • Blue Heron
  • Yellow billed egret with frog
  • Jackal & hyena’s ears
  • Ostriches chasing female
  • Lake with wildebeest & zebras
  • Black & white chirping bird Blacksmith Lapwing
  • Lesser Flamingo one only
  • Spoonbill
  • Purple heron. Very tall. With fish
  • Grey crane with frog
  • Pink neck & legs on Masai ostrich. Other is Somali ostrich.
  • Crested hoopoe bird with red crest
  • Yellow baboon. Others were grey baboons
  • Fish eagle on a log
  • Wildebeest neck and mane like a horse
  • Elephants in swamp & gazelle feeding its young
  • Secretary birds
  • Lilac breasted Roller bird
  • Grouse
  • Giraffe