Kenya Feel The Love - Jim Galloway
Donaldson Smith's sparrow weaver, Plocepasser donaldsoni

Kenya Feel The Love

First off, sorry about the delay. I know I said I’d try and do these more regularly but that seems to have fallen rather flat! Uni work has been crazy, plus there has been a round of applications and admin to sort across the Christmas/New Year period. ​

Now onto the meat of the matter. Over Christmas a fairly big change to my gear happened. My trusty 550D, while in no way out of the picture (ha.) is no longer my main camera. Enter the 5D Mark IV. This was a huge surprise as I thought if I were to upgrade it would be to the Mark III, but that turned out not to be the case. Before the new year, I had limited chances to try it out, aside from some shots of garden birds during work breaks.  From that I found it both easy to work with, but also a huge step up in terms of image resolution and managing settings. The extra 12MP really makes a difference, as the image below has been liberally cropped. 

This makes a huge difference especially in wildlife photography, as it not only allows for closer images of skittish subjects, but also allows for more control over framing. By taking a wider shot, I can crop and position the subject with more flexibility (really getting the whole rule of thirds thing now!). I’m not going to say much more on the technical/practical side of things, that will most likely come with a full rundown of my setup.

The 5D got its’ first outing during a two-week field expedition to southwest Kenya. This was the field component of my MSc, and involved game drives in Samburu, Hell’s Gate, Lake Nakuru, and Maasia Mara National Parks/Reserve, and a research project based around Lake Naivasha. I’ll run through each area, with a few pictures and a bit about the project. ​ Having arrived a little delirious at Nairobi Airport on the Saturday, we collected our baggage and ourselves and bundled into safari buses. Thus came a 6(ish) hour drive to Samburu national park, where at one stop we saw fruit bats roosting by the road.

Wahlberg's epauletted fruit bat, Epomophorus wahlbergi

Samburu was the smallest park we visited (165km2). Immediately on arrival we disembarked at the gate to stretch our legs before the game drive.). A troop of baboons was in the distance, but they were just out of range, and as they had juveniles with them, discretion was the better part of valour. The game drive continued through from the gate to the SOPA lodge in the park. Key spots along the way included White Throated Bee-eaters, Donaldson Smith’s sparrow-weavers, Common Warthogs, and East African Oryx.

​Having reached the lodge, we were pleasantly surprised by both the accommodation (spacious rooms, showers, and to my relief plugs for charging batteries), and the food (all-you-can-eat buffet style, the students’ friend). There were plenty of beasties around the lodge including two habituated Jennets and a host of birds that joined us for meals.

A further 3 drives in Samburu netted shots of Reticulated Giraffe, African Elephants, and a stunning 30 minutes with a leopard coming down from a tree after a nap.

​Leaving Samburu early on Monday, we drove down to Lake Naivasha, where we spent most of the trip. Accommodation was again a pleasant surprise: hot showers, access to electricity, and the food was amazing. Agamas and carpenter bees were found in and around the bandas, and birds flocked the camp, feeding on insects drawn by the human presence.

Hell’s Gate was one of the parks we knew more about, as it is one of the places were many key ecological studies were conducted, along with its’ impressive rock formations. Vultures, more giraffe (Rothchild’s), and zebra. Having seen the vultures take off, we carried on to perform a monitoring exercise on a herd of zebra, before walking back to the gate via a rock formation favoured by rock hyrax (fun fact, they are most closely related to elephants!) 

Over 5 days while we were at Naivasha myself and a friend conducted a research project that  examined at the way Sacred Ibis forage. We were looking at whether they save energy by staying in areas where they have successfully foraged by seeing how many steps they took after successful and unsuccessful attempts to find food. Our results showed that yes, they did move less after a successful attempt, but couldn’t empirically show the benefits of taking more steps after failure, or less after success. Whilst doing this there was plenty of opportunities for photos, vervet and colobus monkeys where found in the trees, and birds were all around the edge of the lake, including fish eagles, giant kingfishers, and herons and egrets.

Halfway through we got to go to Lake Nakuru, for two drives and an overnight stay. On the drives, we managed to see flamingos, another leopard, and a wonderful, close-up white rhino, as well as our first experience of lions, both in trees, the latter with a buffalo kill. The accommodation was fairly basic, hostel-esque with bunk beds, disrupted by ant infestations at one point (fortunately not in our banda).

For the last 3 days we got to go to the Maasia Mara, where in 4 game drives we saw a huge number of antelope/deer/gazelle, a cheetah on every drive, more lions, (sadly no males, but with lots of cubs), elephants, and hippos, with baboons around camp and bumpy roads! The Maasia Mara was indescribably huge, with the effect of reducing ones sense of self, with wide plains and the occasional rise. My only regret of the trip is that I didn't take more landscape photos while I was out there, but the wildlife was so impressive, it is only a small regret!

At the end of this we drove back to Nairobi, had a pleasant evening in a hotel and finally flew back on the Friday morning, arriving back in Falmouth at around 11.20, finally stumbling into bed at around half past midnight, having been up from around 2am GMT.

Kenya was an amazing experience, with so many interesting events, a lot of singing (mostly Toto, predictably) and was a chance to better get to know my course mates and peers. But with all things there were some dark patches. Huge areas around Lake Naivasha taken up for industrial flower production, the ever present signs about poaching and saying no to corruption, the litter, and the sometimes uncomfortable feelings when safari vans crowded animals. My only advice is that people need to do their research both at home and when travelling, and ensure they respect the land, people and wildlife when they visit. All three will pay you back tenfold if you do, for all three are fascinating, charming, and one of a kind. The need to protect these areas is too big a topic for this post, but in the future I may talk about my relationship with conservation and sustainability. Take nothing but pictures is a philosophy I can get behind.

Great Rift Valley Lookout, Kenya

I’ve been going through the 3167 photos I took since Saturday (blame the high speed continuous shooting mode on the 5D, lots of duplicates!), and have whittled them down to 300. They should be up in the next couple of days, if not sooner, but I’ll have to do some revision of species names, and label them all, which could take a while! My next post should come slightly sooner after this one, and will most likely talk about my history with UK wildlife.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all enjoyed this whistle-stop tour of my time in Kenya. If you have any questions and/or feedback, you can leave a comment, check the about page, or use the social media buttons at the bottom of this/any page! ​

All the best,

Jim

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