From Lake Naivasha, we headed out early for the next leg of our safari—with a dispassionate send-off from the resident troop of black-tie-attired colobus monkeys (the only primates, we're told, without thumbs).
It’s just an hour’s drive northwest to Kenya’s fourth largest city, Nakuru, and nearby Lake Nakuru National Park—one of the country's smallest and best game parks. Along the way, especially at higher elevations, we could clearly see the broad sweep of this stretch of the great, 3,700-mile-long Rift Valley, flanked here by the 10,000-foot Mau Escarpment on the west and the highlands and mountains of the Aberdare Range on the east.
The number and range of animals we
were spotting continued to amaze us.
Lake Nakuru is a soda lake, one whose highly alkaline waters support a distinct range of organisms, among them, certain algae that just happen to be irresistible to flamingos. Depending on the season and a number of more immediate conditions, the lake’s shallows can be swathed in pink as anywhere from thousands to more than a million of the showy birds congregate, methodically straining the water.
Though we saw far fewer flamingos than we'd hoped for, what they lacked in numbers these flamboyant birds made up for in the splashes of color and elegance they threw against the backdrop of the lake's calm, gray-blue waters.
With the top of our safari van raised, and Eric, our knowledgeable guide and driver, at the wheel, we cruised the park for the rest of the day. Both the number and range of animals we were spotting continued to amaze us.
It started with our first lion sighting, a big male walking through tall grass nearly a hundred yards away. It was uphill all the way from there: rhinos—both white and the critically endangered black; water buffalo; hundreds of zebras, two varieties of gazelle; impala; waterbuck; giraffes; velvet monkeys…and more lions.
Besides the flamingos, we saw white pelicans and spoonbills, hovering black-and-white kingfishers, a variety of gorgeous songbirds, imposing, five-foot-tall marabou storks, a couple of ostriches and the showy, snake-eating secretary bird.
Around mid-day, we wound our way up to
the top of Baboon Cliff for a spectacular overview of the lake and parklands below. There we met some more amazing birds, some red-headed rock agama lizards and the engaging rock hyrax.
The best place to spot a leopard is draped
over a lower, horizontal branch of a tree.
That afternoon, we’d stopped to admire one of those marabou storks standing by the water’s edge when we noticed something moving in the grass not ten feet away. A better look, through binoculars, revealed the sad truth; it looked like a dying flamingo.
At first, it appeared the poor bird lay on its side, writhing. But, on closer inspection, we could see that a rock python, and not a very big one at that—maybe seven or eight feet long—had caught the big bird unawares, squeezed the life out of it and started ingesting it head first.
With fascination slightly outweighing revulsion, we watched as the ambitious snake unhinged its jaws and began stretching its mouth around the feathery
LEOPARDS WERE NOT SPOTTED!
As we slowly cruised the park, besides looking for animals grazing in the open, we were constantly scanning the trees on either side for as far as we could see. It seems the best place to spot a leopard, especially mid-afternoon, is draped over a lower, horizontal branch.
Now and then, Eric would stop, pull out his binoculars and check out some dark mass on an acacia limb two hundred yards away. And, though we never did spot a leopard, this technique paid off in other ways, including being able to sneak up on a young lion resting languidly in the crotch of a tree.
GOOD NIGHT, HIPPOS
When we got back to Lake Naivasha Resort that evening, the wildlife wonders continued. Sally and I were rounding a corner on our way to our second-floor cottage when we saw the giraffe leisurely trimming the hedge up there next to our door. We stopped and watched with renewed admiration for this majestic creature.
Just before going to bed, we decided to take one last look out our patio doors onto the dark lawn below. There, munching away on the grass just below our deck were no fewer than eight huge hippos! We watched a while, quietly closed the doors and drifted off to sleep, smiling.