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Naivasha Notes 3
Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project    Share

This last week has yielded quite a mixture of experiences. It started last Monday, when I awoke at 10pm with a strong fever after having felt sluggish all day- never a good sign in malaria country! So I decided to make the midnight journey to the local clinic- not an appealing prospect at this moment. But the friendly crew here at Elsamere got the van rolling, we jostled an uncomfortable fifteen minutes down the bumpy road, and I was heartily comforted by the local medic- “no malaria in Naivasha…you’ve certainly eaten something bad…” And so a few days in bed, comfortably coinciding with a few very rainy days that would have inhibited much activity anyhow, resulted in a rejuvenated and refreshed self. After this sedentary interlude, I felt ever more energized to capitalize on my time here in Kenya, so I’ve been busy back with the Augur buzzard surveys, albeit a bit behind schedule.

After a few days chasing buzzards, I was craving an adventure and a break from the routine, so I decided on tackling the local Mt. Longonot- an impressive dormant volcano rising dramatically out of the Rift Valley just south of Lake Naivasha. Having it towering on the horizon day-in and day-out, I had long been contemplating a trek to the summit. So I convinced Jared, a conservation intern and newfound friend here at Elsamere to accompany me on the outing. After piecing together a few connections on the cramped, speeding, rickety, and incredibly efficient matatu services, we arrived at Longonot town. From here, a handy motorbike gave us a lift up the remaining 5 km to the base of the mountain; an amazing experience in the effectiveness of the Kenyan public transportation system in and of itself! With threatening clouds and rumbling thunder in the not-so-distant Aberdare Range, we scrambled up the peak with a certain sense of urgency. However, along the way I was able to identify two solid Augur buzzard pairings- both exhibiting strong territoriality with pair flights and territorial displays. Sitting atop the summit of Mt. Longonot, at a respectable 2777 meters, the views are spectacular: the semi-arid Rift Valley stretches away to the north and south into the distance, while to the east and west rise the lush green escarpments of the Aberdare and Mau highlands.

Aloes abound on the walk up Mount Longonot
Aloes abound on the walk up Mount Longonot

All was witnessed via tantalizing glimpses through broken mist, with alternating shadows and shafts of brilliant sunlight. And the most rewarding sight of the day, other than the staggering views, was that of a Verreaux’s eagle; a sharply plumaged adult soaring amidst the massive headwall cliffs of the inner crater. This species is the African equivalent of the Golden eagle. While the thunder was really threatening at this point, we quickly worked our way down, but it would be interesting to return to document the status of this individual, or pair. As another pair of Verreaux’s is reliably nesting in nearby Hell’s Gate NP, this may be the second territory of the species within about 15 km of each other.

The view of crater rim at Mount Longonot
The view of crater rim at Mount Longonot

Back at Elsamere, I sit down by the lake and contemplate the impressive rise in the lake level- it’s come up over a meter in the last month. The heavy rains this season bode well for the recovery of the lake ecosystem, which by all accounts was in a dire situation last fall after prolonged droughts. But the heavy rain is inevitably a short-term band-aid that is helping to conceal the long-term affects of habitat alterations around Lake Naivasha. As I finish up surveys of Augur buzzards in the Oserion flower farms and Mundui grasslands this week, I hope to have specific insights into some of these changes and how they affect one particular species. Stay tuned for those results in the next posting…

Lake Naivasha's water level (up by one meter over the last month) - compare with photo in previous blog!
Lake Naivasha's water level (up by one meter over the last month) -
compare with photo in previous blog!

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