We left Aberdare NP late yesterday evening after having had a successful couple of days. Simon has already written about the eight black servals which were stunning. We were disappointed at the few mountain buzzards which were our target species. We arrived back in Solio and were paying for a night of camping when we bumped into Annie Olivecrona again. She invited us to her place for an evening drink.
We arrived at Annie’s to find two more Swedish overlander families camping. There was also the overland couple we had met a few days previously who had given tips on preparing our car (visit their Web site). Overlanders are people who kit up their cars and set off on trips by road. Discussions of car parts and expedition sponsorship continued over a few drinks and Annie insisted we stay for dinner and camp out. It was a lovely evening and great to hear from these people who had been traveling for eight months in their cars across some tough countries with their kids in tow (visit the Web site).
All the overland vehicles (including our 27-year-old Range Rover on the far right)
We were a bit groggy in the morning but we got up with the sun all the same and headed back to Solio Wildlife Sanctuary. It had rained during the night which gave us a much more successful wildlife experience than the previous visit. We saw a few migrants such as Eurasian Hobbies, Steppe Eagles and Harriers. We finally found a juvenile Crowned Eagle as well. We must have seen more than a hundred rhinos. A giant forest hog stood feeding knee-deep in the swamp. This was quite a surprise as this species usually occurs in thick forest.
Giant Forest Hog
Annie had seen a leopard the day before. It had taken a kill up a tree so we believed it would still be there in the morning. Sure enough, we did spot it, though it came down the tree and ran off on seeing us so we didn’t get the photos.
Leopard far away
How different the two experiences in Solio were highlights how difficult it is to come to conclusions about wildlife. We are sometimes too quick to judge. The simple thing of the rain falling changed our whole outlook. We would really need to spend a lot more time in Solio to get a real feel for the raptor situation but from what we saw, it is not doing too badly. We hope to return after the big rains have hit for some final photo opportunities and a data count.
In our quest for raptors, Laila and I drove first to Sungare Ranch where we stayed in a friend’s house on a small conservancy before taking a drive early this morning through Solio Sanctuary. It is dominated by Yellow Fever Acacia which grows by the banks of a swamp and small stream. White Rhino teamed everywhere. We stopped to see some 125 vultures feeding from a carcass. Comic relief was provided by a lumbering White rhino that decided to mud bathe behind the vultures. Amused and curious many vultures filed over to have a look.
Vultures at the cinema (watching a Rhino mud bathe)
We saw numerous Augur Buzzards, one Martial Eagle, a few Tawny Eagles, one migrant Steppe Eagle, a Bateleur Eagle and a few harriers. The Crowned Eagle which we were so desperate to see evaded us. There were no other or very few migrant raptors despite threatening rain. Solio does have an enormous variety of raptor species in a small area, and because of the road network and see-through forest habitat it is usually a fantastic place to photograph raptors. It is fairly dry now at the end of the dry season. A number of buffalo and zebra had died of drought, or perhaps from a form of colic brought about by eating fresh shoots on an empty stomach.
We were invited for lunch at Annie’s house just outside the sanctuary. She is setting up a Chimpanzee Sanctuary for abandoned chimps. We met a Swedish overlander couple. “Overlander” is a term I am rapidly having to understand. The discussion centered on suspension and engines, then where one was going and where one had come from. Our beat-up ancient Range Rover looks like it has a few trans-African safaris under it belt, but in truth we only arrived from Nairobi, while they had driven all the way from Sweden!
Annie talked of the chimpanzee smuggling and her own plans to expand the sanctuary to include an area set aside for chimps. Her frustrations and passion reflected that of so many conservationists. But never for a moment was there a hint of giving up. She insisted that we return later again on our next visit.
We went back into the sanctuary to meet Benson the warden to discuss the raptor situation. We asked him to keep an eye out for nests and he was shocked to learn that a Crowned Eagle nest can measure about 2.2m across by 2m deep. He told us of a disturbing incident whereby an eagle got poisoned with what he believed to be furadan.
We had a good day watching the rhino but we were a little disappointed at the few raptors we saw. We vowed to return once it rained as the migratory birds pass through in large numbers with the rain.