Discovering the new world of birding safaris

Thursday, November 26th, 2020 01:00 |
The conservancy boasts of rare bird species, such as the Lilac breasted roller. Photo/PDHARRIET JAMES

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Distinguished by its long legs, a dramatic black crest of feathers on the back of its head and its body covered in whitish-gray feathers, with two long, black-tipped tail feathers, the secretary bird intently pecks the ground in search of rats, mice and snakes. 

“Secretary? “I quip as my tour guide of the day, Livingstone Korieto explains to me the genesis of the iconic bird’s name. 

“In the early 19th century, secretaries in Europe were famed for tucking their quill feather pens behind the ear as they worked.

That resemblance, coupled with their grey tailcoats and dark knee-length pants inspired the bird’s name,” he explains as he stops the four-wheel drive safari vehicle to allow me to have a better gaze of the interesting creature. 

The bird’s bare face is usually yellow, orange or red. It’s head looks like that of an eagle and its legs, like that of a stork and possesses a snake killing prowess that is unbelievable. 

Livingstone adds that the thickened soles of the birds’s feet are used to stamp on their prey within seconds, killing it and swallowing it whole.

It’s diet comprises of insects, crabs, birds and small mammals, such as rats and mice.

Merits of bird watching

We are at the 18,000-hactare (44,479 acres)Oserengoni wildlife sanctuary in Naivasha, Nakuru county on a bird watching adventure.

It’s an interest that I am trying to develop after reading quite a bit about the significance of bird watching, for instance, how it provides an intimate connection between people and their natural environment.

It’s a hobby that requires great patience as one requires to study as you learn their nesting areas.

It also requires mental alertness as a bird can be here now, and any slight move will make it fly away.

I personally found it as a meditative activity as one spends quite a long time in the quiet with no distractions. 

While Naivasha is known for many activities, such as hiking Mount Longonot, mountain climbing at Hells Gate, boat riding at Lake Naivasha and Oloide. Birdwatching is the least known activity in this place.

There are over 400 species, which can be viewed at Lake Naivasha’s extensive riparian fringe such as the pelicans, cormorants, Egyptian geese, African fish eagle or the large waders, such as the saddle-billed stork or goliath heron.

And if you are tired of the lake, wildlife sanctuaries such as Oserengoni offer game drives not just to watch wildlife, but for those who are fascinated by birds. 

The area is a proud host of over 320 bird species and is now home to a number of threatened bird species, such as vultures, African fish eagle, augur buzzard, as well as the Grey-crested Helmetshrike.

As we were driving along, we heard a beautiful call that was a combination of a warble with imitations and whistles.

“That’s a black-headed Oriole, which is common in this place,” said Livingstone as we drove further into the sanctuary.

Its bright yellow colour and distinctive black head makes it conspicuous and prefers to find refuge in thick bushes or high trees.

Livingstone tells me that their diet comprises of insects, fruits and even nectar and they have a quick digestion of about five minutes. 

Plenty of food

The vultures in this place don’t lack carcasses to feed on in the open glades.

One of the species found at Oserengoni is the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, which in 2007 was deemed to be “near threatened’ due to the poisoning of carcasses that they eat in the wild.

Also, loss of habitat is another cause of their decline in number. In this place, they have found a safe haven and many other species to feed on.

We also saw the black-shouldered kite,  which is easily identified by it’s black shoulders and red eyes and mainly feed on rodents, lizards and small birds.

We also saw the spotted eagle owl resting on top of a leleshwa tree and common ostrich strutting in the vast land. 

After the informative evening on the game drive, it was time for the sundowner and despite the fact that it was a chilly weather, the view of the place was stunning and had this calming effect to the mind.

The property has two lodges; Kiangazi and Chui, where one can spend the night after booking for such game drives.

I spent the night in one of the 16 cottages at Chui Lodge set in this magnificent sanctuary. 

What was also interesting about the lodge is that the property is a waterhole for wild animals, such as zebras, warthogs, giraffes, which come to quench their thirst, and the sight of it coupled with the dramatic Mau Escarpment as a backdrop is simply stunning.

“Here, one can watch a wide variety of wildlife, such as  zebras, warthogs, impalas, waterbucks and even leopards.

But what Naivasha is least known for is the birdlife. We have over 300 species,” Gilbert Ombeva, the lodge manager.

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