boat birding in Baringo
Car-camping in Kenya is not too different from what it would have been in the US: we pitched our tents by the lake and then spent the weekend hanging out, playing board games, drinking beer, reading books, and lighting campfires at night to roast marshmallows. Yet, this was unmistakeably an African camping trip, as the lake near which we set up camp was swarming with hippos and crocodiles. There was a Nile monitor calmly wandering around the campsite when we pulled up, and we saw crocodiles not more than a dozen feet from where we put up our tents.
Even more unnerving than seeing the crocodiles during the day was hearing the hippos grunt nearby while we lay in our tents at night. Hippos spend most of the day avoiding the sun by submerging themselves in the lake, but they come out to graze after nightfall. Though they are herbivores, hippos are also known for being particularly mean-spirited, and the thought of these behemoth animals, some of which reach three tons in weight, stumbling around our campsite was almost enough to keep us awake all night.
Lake Baringo is home to a diverse array of African birds, many of which nested right over our heads. However, the best way to go birding is to wake up early and take a boat along the reed-lined shores of the lake. So we grudgingly set our alarm clocks, got up with the sun, and rented a boat for three hours. We saw dozens of different birds, but the highlight of the trip was the opportunity to feed African fish eagles.
Once we left the reeds, we were approached by several fishermen in small, traditional boats made from balsa wood. We purchased a handful of small fish and then sped across to the island in the middle of the lake where the eagles nest. Cameras at the ready, we watched as our boatman whistled to the eagles while waving the fish to attract their attention. As soon as he threw a fish, one of the eagles would leave his nest and swoop down to snatch it out of the water.
On the way back to Nairobi, we stopped by Lake Bogoria to see the geysers that give an alkaline green tinge to its blue waters and the flamingos that flock to its shores. We had read that most of the flamingos that had in years past blanketed the waters of Lake Nakuru have since migrated to Bogoria. It seems, however, that our guidebook’s projection of two million flamingos was overly optimistic. Even so, Bogoria made for a scenic detour and a perfect ending to our holiday camping trip.