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Care for a Soda…Lake?

We had eyes on Lake Nakuru long before we physically presented ourselves there, eyeing it from the journey into the (gorgeous) town of Nakuru, as well as from our lofty overnight perch at the Alps hotel. We knew we’d likely get our first glimpses of thousands of flamingos there – not to mention countless other avian species – as well as chances for more big game, even Leopards! But seasoned in the act of wildlife viewing, we knew better than to anticipate what we’d see beforehand.

African sunsets are legendary, and sunrises weren’t too bad either. Being at a reasonably high elevation, we enjoyed scrumptious golden light for the full golden hour and more. At the entrance to Lake Nakuru National Park, while our guide sorted out the entry particulars, we busied ourselves with photographing crows, starlings and shrikes in the magical light.

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The photography was so immersive, it actually was difficult to get in the van to begin the drive into the park itself. I can’t properly put into words how it felt to experience this. There was just so much life, in every direction we turned our excited eyes. From impala to warthogs, guineafowl to eagles, it was all on show. I’ll be sure to share all of these with you over the coming weeks, but for now here are a few highlights from our day within the national park.

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African Hoopoe – the only one we saw, but one is much better than none!

We landed our first sunbird of the trip a little while after nailing impeccable views of Grey-headed Kingfisher and a pair of Bearded Woodpeckers who were working the same tree at lakeside. This Scarlet-chested Sunbird wasn’t in its most striking dress as this one is an immature male. A few days later we would be confronted by a gorgeous adult male, but again, more on that later.

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We encountered troops of both Olive Baboons (whom we sped past as apparently this particular troop is well-known for their naughty habits) and Vervet Monkeys, but by far the most exciting mammal for the morning was a lone male Black-backed Jackal that slunk past, almost going undetected save for the sharp eyes of our guide, Washington. The moment was gone, but briefly returned as the jackal doubled back to reassert his territorial boundary. After urinating quickly on his chosen shrub, he disappeared. In case you didn’t believe me about the golden light lasting for well over an hour, this image was made at 9:26am!

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Prior to our trip, I was kicking myself for not buying a new teleconverter, for some extra reach while out in the field. Well, I had my good old 1.4x on me, but I never once bothered to put it on. Not only because the wildlife was generally tame and approachable, but also because of temperature distortion – the shimmering effect that coated everything that was more than 100m away. By midday, the sun sat in its cloudless sky and baked the ground, increasing its temperature to at least the high thirties. But the high elevation of the lake only brought a steady stream of cool wind. This extreme temperature difference further enhanced the distortion, and when we found a small group of White Rhinoceros snoozing in the distance, nothing I did could’ve gotten me a tack sharp image. Getting a better view of these tanks is one of the main reasons we’re visiting this amazing location again in 2020!

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Arriving at the lake itself, it was a complete shorebird extravaganza. I waited in vain for any cloud to appear, but hey, I’ll take a high contrast picture of a Pied Avocet over no picture of a Pied Avocet any day. Lots more shorebirds including Curlew Sandpipers, Ruff and the uncommonly seen Kittlitz’s Plover as well.

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Lunch was a serene picnic among another troop of Olive Baboons and a passing herd of Cape Buffalo. Ok, maybe we were a little antsy to not have any of our lunchboxes stolen by the baboons and a little worried about the approaching buffalo, but nothing was seized and nobody was gored. Birding was excellent here – in particular at a towering fig tree – we landed solid views of Black-headed Oriole, Cardinal Woodpecker and an Amethyst Sunbird that frustrated me by flitting about in the shadows, never flashing that rosy gorget which gave it its name. This White-headed Barbet was another new bird, and gifted us with a real show as it fed on the fruits.

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I’ll be honest with you, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever in life want to take a picture of dust. But here, I did. Dust devils were everywhere, and some were huge funnels of dust reaching hundreds of feet into the sky. I photographed this one from a safe distance :-)

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A group of Hildebrandt’s Francolins scratched around in the steep, rocky hills, while I couldn’t help but wonder how many times they’ll shift the leaf litter until their luck runs out.

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By this time, the sun had already started falling, and the light was becoming delicious again. I wasn’t complaining that there was a Long-crested Eagle sitting in it.

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We made our way to a lookout called Baboon Cliff, and if any of us had any doubt as to how it got its name, that doubt was immediately shattered.

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Rock Hyraxes were an unexpected bonus, did I mention the light before?

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We eventually wrenched ourselves away from the lookout and headed back to our hotel, just in time to catch the sunset over Nakuru.

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And just as the sun was setting in the west, his counterpart was rising in the east. Sipping on some water, feeling the rapidly cooling breeze, hearing the last diurnal birds sing their final songs and watching the moonrise – all from our own private balcony four stories up – we pondered what was ahead of us the next day.

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