Great White Pelicans at Lake Nakuru

Great White Pelicans at Lake Nakuru

The distance from Samburu to the Maasai Mara is a bit much to cover in one day, so we schedule an intermediate stop at Lake Nakuru en route. Nakuru is a very welcome break from the long stretch of road, and it also happens to be one of David Muteti’s favorite safari destinations. It is a small reserve with a habitat unlike anything we saw at Samburu or will see in the Mara.

 

Obviously, the lake itself is the centerpiece of the area. It is large, alkaline and home to thousands of water birds … most notably the great white pelican and both the greater and lesser flamingo. Its shores are lined with the eye-catching yellow fever acacia, with golden trunks and branches that stand out against the deep green background of the surrounding hills … and the variety of wildlife here is extensive. It is probably the best place in Kenya to see and photograph both black and white rhino. They are here in fairly large numbers and the population, for now, is stable or possibly even growing slightly. The area is well protected from poachers … and thankfully for the rhino, there are no elephants here. The wildlife service has engineered things in this way because the confined habitat would never support both species of large herbivore.

 

The reserve is also unique in that the city of Nakuru is clearly visible on the not so distant hills. It is a wild place, to be sure, but its proximity to an urban area gives it a bit of a drive through game park feel. Nevertheless, the animals and photo opportunities are here in abundance.

 

Great White Pelican on final approach at Lake Nakuru

Great White Pelican on final approach at Lake Nakuru

 

Our late afternoon timing coincides perfectly with the incremental and exhaustive arrival of wave after wave of pelicans. It is an excellent opportunity to practice capturing birds in flight … thinking through the process very carefully and leaning heavily on the very knowledgeable Kevin Woisard for advice, I’m able to capture some sharp images of the pelicans as they glide in for a landing. Towards sunset we have the opportunity to photograph white rhino in various states of lethargy … grazing with head down through the short grass near the lake’s edge and resting comfortably on the earth in the last rays of sun. We understand and duly acknowledge that this may be the only time on this trip that we have any sort of glimpse of a rhinoceros.

 

White rhino taking it easy after a long day of eating

White rhino taking it easy after a long day of eating

We are lodged at the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge, which gets highest marks for comfort and food quality. It also features a strolling guitarist who croons through the evening meal and graces us with a very catchy and somewhat innovative original tune … “The Antelope Song.”

 

The morning drive takes us around the lake, to a lioness and two cubs resting under a tree. They are lazily tearing at a carcass … last night’s kill was a baby Rothschild’s giraffe. We watch quietly for a few minutes when a small, privately owned automobile pulls up. Its occupants appear to be local folks, who sit, like us, observing the lion family and the unfortunate giraffe. Without notice, a young boy, perhaps 10 years old, exits the car with camera in hand, directly in the line of sight of all three lions. The cubs immediately make a start for him, and mother lion leaps to her feat and unloads the deep, throaty rumble that is the signature sound of an irritated simba. We shout him back into the safety of his car, but David pulls alongside the driver and advises him in unmistakable terms that he is placing his family at risk and violating the rules of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

 

The baboons at Nakuru are prolific … it seems the habitat here is ideal for them. Food is plentiful and the trees afford exceptional opportunities for both exercise and sanctuary from lion attacks. They are common on every stretch of road. A wide turn on the far side of the lake brings us alongside a large troop that includes several juveniles. They permit us close access for photographs, including full face shots of the adults and several minutes of young ones hanging from the brush along the road.

 

Young baboons not far from the shore

Young baboons not far from the shore

Nakuru is beautiful, but we are anxious to see the rolling, wide-open grassland of the Maasai Mara. Departure is scheduled for early in the morning.

Cape Buffalo fending off yellow-billed oxpeckers at Nakuru

Cape Buffalo fending off yellow-billed oxpeckers at Nakuru

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