Kenya

Kenya: The Saiwa Swamp National Park

Day two at the Saiwa Swamp was also great. I shared the campsite with with two others: Craig and Karin were on a four month tour of Southern and Eastern Africa before heading home to South Africa, where they run www.nelsonsafaris.co.za.  These guys had tremendous knowledge of the birdlife and also gave me tips on where to spot the rare De Brazza’s Monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus), which is endemic to the wetlands of central Africa.  The early morning mist soon cleared and i explored a new area of the swamp with the hope of spotting some.

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It wasn’t long before i found what i was looking for, and spotted a pair foraging in a tree. Interesting facts on De Brazza’s: Both sexes have cheek pouches to carry food, and males have blue balls 🙂

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After watching these crazy monkeys for a while, i set out to photograph a few more birds. These guys were flying fast between the grasses, catching small flies. It was tricky to photograph them in flight. I found the best technique was to pre-focus and hope for the best. Managed to get quite a few shots, although i don’t think they’d hold up to a large print.

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I took a few more shots of birds as the morning progressed, including this Shikra, or Little-banded Goshawk (Accipiter badius), and returned to camp and hit the road.

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Despite environmental challenges from nutrient loading from surrounding agriculture and poaching, Saiwa Swamp is a magical place.  I would love to return, and highly recommend making a trip to this infrequently visited destination.  You are likely to have the place to yourself, and can camp or stay in a wonderful tree-top cabin.

Kenya: The Saiwa Swamp National Park

I was up at 5:30 to head out at first light following breakfast. The Saiwa Swamp National Park is the last remaining place in Kenya where you can find the Sitatunga , a rare wetland antelope. They can be very shy and illusive so wasn’t sure if i would be lucky enough to see one. Regardless, i was pretty sure i’d see some decent wildlife. Saiwa Swamp did not disappoint. The birdlife is fantastic, both in the swamp and in the surrounding trees. Just one tree can host a large number of species. You can also see a number of species of monkey, including the Colobus, Vervet, and the rare De Brazzas.

The early morning light made the whole swamp very eerie, but the mist soon lifted as the sun warmed the day up.

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There was plenty of birdlife within the grasses.

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And in the trees above the swamp (Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash)

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The trees surrounding the swamp supported large numbers of small birds.

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And the occasional predator (Long-crested Eagle, Lophaetus occipitalis)

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Also saw a few mammals, such as this Black-and-White Colobus Monkey and Forest Giant Squirrel (Protoxerus stangeri)

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Saiwa Swamp keeps the Sitatunga pretty well hidden, as they are shy and stay in the grasses (first photo below). However, if you are lucky you can see them coming into the open.  I was lucky enough to see one emerge to take a drink (second photo below).

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Saiwa Swamp is surrounded by agriculture, and the staff tell me that nutrient loading from fertilizers is causing a shift in vegetation. The main source of food for the Sitatunga is being outcompeted by elephant grass. Adding a vegetation buffer, an approach used in Australia, wouldn’t work here as there aren’t funds to sufficiently compensate the farmers, who only have small plots. The reserve staff also tell me that ‘land creep’ would also be a problem. Some conservation money pays for staff to manually remove the elephant grass, but it looks like they may be fighting a losing battle. Hopefully the Sitatunga will enjoy their habitat for a lot longer, as they are beautiful animals and are found nowhere else in Kenya.

Day 1 at Saiwa Swamp National Park was awesome, so i was looking forward to day 2 as i went to sleep that night.

Kenya: From Kakagega to the Saiwa Swamp National Park

After giving Patrick a lift back to the National Park gate, I set off north with the intention of staying at the Saiwa Swamp National Park, as recommended by Jonatan and Sophie who i met at the Masai Mara. The Saiwa Swamp National Park is Kenya’s smallest national park  – just 3 km² – and was created to protect the habitat of the Sitatunga, a rare wetlands antelope.

I stopped off for a bite to eat in Kitale, which is a sleepy and pleasant town two hours from Kakamega and close to Saiwa Swamp. After a tasty chicken quesadia and latte (yes, really) at the Coffee House, I made my way to the supermarket to stock up on supplies. A young guy approached me asked if it was the Landrover was my vehicle. I was ready for him to try to get some money from me, as often happens in Kenya. However, he proved my assumptions wrong by pointing out the slow puncture on my back tyre before heading on his way. The constant attempts to relieve a muzungu (white person) of money can wear you down at times, but when someone goes out of their way to be kind to you it picks you right back up again.

At the garage the mechanic was quick to find the air leak, coming from the valve. He told me it would be KSH 350 to fix it (no idea at all if that is the correct price, but it sounded ok) and I asked him to proceed. After removing the tyre from the wheel he said he had made a mistake, and a different valve would be needed at the cost of KSH 500.  I told him that KSH 350 was the price we agreed upon, and he should fix it for that or not at all.  I was glad he decided to go ahead, as I had already been to two other garages and they didn’t have an air pump, so I would have had to have used the spare.

My journey from the Mara to Kitale, via Kissi, Kisumu and Kakemega, looked like this (click to enlarge map):

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After fixing the wheel back to the vehicle, we realised that the high-lift jack supplied with the vehicle was faulty, and we couldn’t lower the vehicle to the ground. This was fixed Kenya-style, with everyone joining in to lift the Landrover, whilst the jack was kicked out from underneath.

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After stocking up on supplies I made my way to Saiwa Swamp, with the aim of staying in the treehouse accommodation that had been recommended to me.  The dirt track to the reserve is in good condition, and it’s great fun waving to all the kids playing at the roadside along the way.  I paid my entrance fee to enter the park, but they couldn’t find the keys to the treehouse accommodation.  I pitched my tent as night fell and looked forward exploring the swamp the following morning.

 

Kenya: Patrick Inziani – Kakamega Wildlife Guide

If you read my previous post you’ll know that Patrick Inziani was my guide at Kakamega National Park, and that i was impressed with his identification skills. I asked him to write down his experience and contact details so i could recommend him on this blog. I didn’t realise there would be so much to include. [UPDATE: Patrick has sent me this word document LINK HERE to download to give further information]

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Education:

Higher Diploma in Wildlife Management

Employment History:

Field Assistant to research expeditions from various universities and institutions, including Moi University, Kenyatta University, Kyoto University, Borne University, Tsukuba University, Nature Kenya, Birdlife International

National Museums of Kenya Worked at the National Museums of Kenya with the Ornithology, Herpetology, and Primaology departments.

Guide information:

Patrick is a very serious birdwatcher, botanist, herpetologist and lepidopterist. In addition to guiding at Kakamega, he can arrange itineraries to clients who want to travel to other parts of Kenya for birding, big game watching, and village excursions.

Contact details:

Telephone: +254 721 628343

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That’s it, plug over. Needless to say i highly recommend Patrick. If you are visiting Kakamega Forest then you can contact him on the details above.