In her memoir, avid bird watcher Lynn Thomson notes “Sometimes I think that the point of bird watching is not the actual seeing of the birds, but the cultivation of patience. Of course, each time we set out, there’s a certain amount of expectation we’ll see something, maybe even a species we’ve never seen before, and that it will fill us with light”
It is with this in mind that we set out for an adventure to discover just what Kenya has to offer as far as its birdlife was concerned. Listed as one of the top 10 world best birding countries, Kenya is home to about 11% of the World’s bird population and 60% of the birds of Africa. For our first bird watching experience, we decided to start with the Soysambu Conservancy. Covering 48000 acres, the conservancy is located in a bird region thanks to Lake Elmenteita whose shoreline is an important foraging site for the lesser flamingo and major nesting ground for the great white pelicans making it a UNESCO heritage site.
We had an early morning meet at the Nairobi Serena Hotel for breakfast before heading out to our destination; Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp. The day promised to be action packed and a good breakfast was needed to stock up on our energy levels. Luckily, the intercontinental breakfast buffet spread at Nairobi Serena hotel was more than sufficient.
After getting our fill, we headed out for the pristine and scenic Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp. They say that finding a good driver is as important as finding a good musician and Daniel aka Mchina did not disappoint. It was all laughs and giggles during the entire ride to the camp as Mchina told us tales of his encounters from his many years working as a driver guide.
Just two hours from Nairobi, the drive to Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp is a scenic one and the Great Rift Valley view point is a must stop. If you are looking to get your loved ones or yourself a souvenir, the curio shops here are well stocked; from the colorful Masai shukas to beaded jewelry and carvings, both big and small. As amazing as the views are though, we had to continue with our journey to Soysambu conservancy. With 450 recorded species of birds in the conservancy alone, there was plenty in store for us to see and learn.
The Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp offers a blend of exclusivity and adventure and is styled to echo the richness of Soysambu’s past, while guaranteeing an excellence of cuisine and décor. The camp’s lounge stretches out to beautiful views of the lake clustered with patches of pink and white giving a hint of the kind of bird life that one can look forward to while staying at the camp thanks to the flamingos and pelicans. The serenity and tranquility of this camp is only interrupted by the continuous honking and grunting of the lake birds. You can hear them all night as you lie awake in your tent, giving a sense that you are truly in a bird watchers paradise.
Eric the naturalist at the camp proved the perfect guide with his immense knowledge of the birds and wildlife in the conservancy. Armed with a pair of binoculars and books listing different kinds of birds, we embarked on a journey of discovery, and seeing Soysambu conservancy through the eyes of this great guide we got to learn a lot about the many species of birds found here including some interesting facts on the differences between the greater and lesser flamingos, as well as stopping to explain how Hippos mark their path when we encountered fresh Hippo poo.
Eric is a great source of knowledge, taking time to explain about the history of the conservancy, and more importantly what made Lake Elmenteita such a big hit with the birds. The alkaline waters are rich in the blue – green algae (Spirulina’ Arthrospira fusiformis) which the flamingoes feed on thus making it a suitable habitat.
Apart from the flamingoes, we were able to identify the beautiful sounding Cape Teals (Anas capensis), Cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp), Spoon Bills (Platalea Alba), Yellow-billed Storks (Mycteria ibis), Terns (Sterna spp.) and the beautiful Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) as some of the birds found in this shallow lake.
But it’s not only the birdlife that makes this place special. The camp also organizes day and night game drives where you can get to see other wildlife such as the buffalo, Leopard, Lion, Colobus guereza monkey, Waterbuck, Gazelle, Impala, Eland and the more nocturnal species like the aardvark, hippo and hyena. The conservancy is also home to a population of around 90 Rothschild’s Giraffe, thus responsible for more than 10% of the world’s remaining wild population of this endangered species.
You can also catch the flamingos at Lake Bogoria which is two and a half hours drive from the camp. With a spectacular sight, reflecting searing blue skies and the rose pink of flamingo. The Lake is also famous for geyser and hot springs along the bank of the lake
Other activities found at Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp include, Recurve target archery, Horse riding, guided Jogging ,Swahili lessons, Water-color painting, Yoga, Swimming lessons or you can team up with the chefs for some cooking lessons.