Ololokwe, or Ol Donyo Sabache as it is more properly called, is a huge flat topped, cliff-lined mountain lying just North of the very centre of Kenya. To many it is the doyen of all mountains in the arid lands of Kenya. It forms the subject of cliché paintings of the north. Geographically it appears as an isolated bump lying at the southern extreme of a massive chain of highlands and mountains that extend into the Ethiopian Highlands. Just to its north is the Mathews Range that reaches deep into the Turkana deserts, with sister mountains of Nyiro and Ndutus.
It provides a last physical stop for large migrating raptors that have taken the easy ride down mountain slope winds of the Great Rift Valley. Here they have to summon their energy for a real flight to more distant mountains and hills. It is a natural gathering point that could be found by running a finger down a map. Whether or not it actually does funnel migrant raptors had to be found by hard work, for Ololokwe stands at 6200 feet rising out of flat hot plains at some 2700 feet. It’s a long walk up.
When I lived at Lewa Downs, I had made a few exploratory treks up there pushing through rhino trails. Then it had the Big Five, and it was normal to encounter leopards gamboling about on the flat pans of rock. Buffalo were particularly spooky and ill tempered. The rhino were down to one, when it finally got rescued by Lewa Downs.
A Crowned Eagle used to nest in a broken off cedar tree that lay in a small valley through which clear spring water flowed, and continued some 600 meters on to flow over the cliff edge. It has been gone now almost 20 years.
When I first joined the Peregrine Fund, I was asked to search Kenya for an area of raptor abundance in terms of species diversity and numbers of individuals. It was important to find an area in which migrant raptors were as abundant. The choice took only a moment. Ololokwe has some 60 species of raptors recorded in an area of some 9km/sq. The rate of encounter is impressive. Sit long enough anywhere in Kenya and you get a huge list. But the “rate of encounters” of raptors is a useful way to get a real picture of its importance. There is hardly a moment of the day when eagles, buzzards, vultures and falcons are not airborne.
Laila and I visited Ololokwe and as it is now owned by a community ranch called Namunyak, we had to take the necessary guides and asakaris with us. It is not the way I used to do it, but it worked out well especially as our guide was very knowledgeable and keen to learn more about raptors. The area has changed recently. There is a lodge positioned between two valleys where the rhino used to drink at a spring. Lesser Kudu were once in large numbers here, but now only tracks of a single individual. Obvious was the intensive grazing pressure by livestock, from base to summit. The result has certain led to the impoverishment of bio-diversity at every level, but it is still fantastic and redeemable.
We spent two nights in old cattle rustler’s caves. Laila took some awesome photographs despite the rather gloomy weather. Ololokwe remains Kenya’s foremost raptor place. We spent two pleasant days and nights overlooking vast scenery and watched Peregrines, Ruppell’s Vultures, Verreaux’s Eagles, Augur Buzzards zoom past our faces most of the day. We did not see the Taita Falcon or Barbary, perhaps because of an overly protective pair of adult Peregrine Falcons defending their young
(Photos by Laila Bahaa-el-din)
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