Category Archives: kwenia

Kwenia’s Vultures and Visitors

Laila wrote about the visit to Kwenia, a temporary lake flanked by massive cliffs, filled with vultures.

It rained heavily during the drive down. But the night was initially wonderful as we sat around the camp fire with Sandy and Sandy, talking of the enormous potential the area had for exclusive high-end tourism. So close to Nairobi and yet unspoiled by electric lights, cell phone towers, tourist lodges, over-development and urban sprawl. But “progress” is on its way and this nationally important asset for Kenya could so easily vanish. Then it rained again, and we retreated to the car. I was very uncomfortable on the way down and could not sit in anything other than an awkward angle in the back of the car. I had to lie down. At 10:30 p.m. I got out to set up the tent in the rain. On crutches and hurting I must have done something that really hurt and I felt violently ill. It seemed like the head of the femur moved and I desperately needed to lie down to straighten it and get the load off. I was helped in to the soaked tent and there breathed a sigh of much needed relief. It had been a long day and I guess I was pushing the leg much too far.

We returned via Magadi, and the next few days we had Gustav and Kina, overlanders we had met in Solio, plus Wesley, a young American, come and visit. We went around the Portland Ranch nearby and our guests were stunned by the amount of wildlife. We went out on a night “game drive” and bumped into a good dozen Spotted Hyena very close to the car. We also saw a tiny Stone Curlew chick follow its nervous mother and push itself under her feathers for warmth.

stone curlew
Stone Curlew

Tim the Lanner flew in and Laila took some of the best pictures I have ever seen of a falcon in a stoop. I had lost a lot of what I had gained over the last week and was now back on two crutches. It isn’t easy flying a falcon on crutches! Laila took a picture of what we first thought was a Hobby, but on zooming in turned out to be a Sooty Falcon. The photo is not good, but shows how useful digital photography can be for identifying rare raptors at a long range.

sooty falcon
Sooty Falcon

The next day, I was flying Tim when what might have been an Eleonora’s Falcon came down from the gray rain-soaked clouds and mobbed Tim. Eleonora’s are larger than Hobbies, have less of a well pronounced second moustachial stripe, very little buff or rufous on the legs and always a dark head.

eleonora’s falcon
Eleonora’s Falcon

As predicted, whenever it rains, be it months out of season, we get visiting small migrant falcons. They feed on the airborne insects that fly only in rain, or just after it has past.

Despite the accident, we are remaining productive and getting some good observations. We hope to get the car fixed soon, and be on our way visiting Tsavo and other protected areas within the week.

Conserving a Beautiful Location – Kwenia

Staying at Hog Ranch once Simon was released from hospital was great. I had itchy hands as I had no camera with me and wildlife was tame. David Gulden, our host, was scratching a warthog on the nose and called over to me to “come and feel her warts.” A new one for me. I also marveled at a huge bull giraffe that bowed his head down to meet mine, just curious it seemed.

Sandy and Sandy have been endlessly kind to us and have been putting us up in their home. Simon has been progressing really fast and we are almost ready to take on our expedition. Simon’s bad hip is the one he needs for the clutch so I will have to pass my driving test (which embarrassingly I have not yet done) so I can do the driving.

Simon was feeling so well two days ago that with the two Sandys, we decided to go on a camping trip to a cliff site called Kwenia. We made the decision that morning and within a couple of hours were ready with the car packed. We didn’t get too far before the car starting giving us trouble and we had to turn back. That didn’t hold us back for long and we tried again the following day, on Obama Day (Kenya declared a national holiday in honour of Obama winning the American presidency).

It isn’t a pleasant road for the most part, but once we left the main road, we started to see Dikdiks and Kudus. The rain arrived, bringing in the termites which in turn attracted the Hobbies. The scenery got more and more beautiful until we arrived along a huge expanse of cliff faces on one side, mountains on the other and an empty temporary lake in between them, full of golden grass. Sandy and Sandy wowed and we all sat quietly contemplating the beauty of the place. Simon has been talking about Kwenia for a long time and I now understand why. We arrived as night fell, so we started a fire and discussed potential ways in which the place could be protected.

The rain returned and sent us running to the car where we all dozed until the braver of us got out and set up tents. I continued to sleep in the nice dry car. Morning brought light that allowed us to look onto the cliffs and see the real importance of the area: a colony of nesting Rüppell’s Vultures, the largest known in Southern Kenya (at last count, it had more than 200 individuals). We ate breakfast with binoculars glued to our faces as we tried to count them, then watched as they set off to whatever distant locations they may go to. Still so much is unknown about their daily routine but they do travel very large distances. We also had the pleasure of seeing Rock Kestrels and Egyptian Vultures on the cliffs.

vultures at kwenia
Rüppell’s Vultures at Kwenia (How many can you see?)

We set off and took a little detour to Lake Magadi to see the Lesser Flamingos. Simon and I hoped to see a Fish Eagle swoop down on a Flamingo but it wasn’t to be. We did, however, see what Simon believes to be an Imperial Eagle drinking from a puddle. If it was the Imperial, then it is quite a treat as they are extremely rare migrants from Europe. The scenery is beautiful around that area and we all returned pleased from a great little trip. We really do hope that Kwenia’s importance will soon be realised and that it will be conserved.

gerenuk at kwenia
Gerenuk in Magadi

lake magadi
Lake Magadi