Our eager group started off the day on Lake Naivasha. We split up into two groups to take boat rides across the lake, where we tempted African fish eagles with fish. Unfortunately, not many of us were able to get fantastic shots of the eagles, but we gained a quick hands-on lesson about how difficult it is to photograph moving birds.

Pelicans near the shore of Lake Naivasha

One of many of Naivasha's hippos

From the shores of Naivasha, we began our hike up Barton Hill, where we had the opportunity to witness wildlife literally with every step.

After lunch and a lecture about digital photography and Lake Naivasha, we piled into the van. We met with Simon Thomsett, who is currently studying cheetahs under the employ of National Geographic. As a hobby, he works to rehabilitate raptors. He showed us several species, including the tawny eagle and the African fish eagle, two of the birds that we are specializing in studying for this course.

Simon's tawny eagle

Dinner time!

Noticing our awe in these majestic birds, and Kenya in general, Thomsett cautioned, “I try to knock the awe out of whatever awestruck students I meet. Kenya is a beautiful place, but it has its fair share of problems.” This insightful message seems to foreshadow what we will learn over the course of the next two weeks.

View of afternoon landscape

We’ve arrived at Elsamere on the shores of Lake Naivasha. Soon after first light, we climb into a narrow boat to cross the water to Barton Hill. Time to take a good look at our surroundings.

Munir Virani

We’re joined by two other young biologists who are specializing on birds of prey work. Evan Buechley has worked with condors in the American Southwest for The Peregrine Fund (Munir Directs the Africa and South Asia programs for The Peregrine Fund) and is now studying the augur buzzard population of Lake Naivasha.  Shiv Kapila is a young Kenyan studying the African fish eagles on the lake. Both are following up on studies previously done by Dr. Munir Virani.

We climb Barton Hill, which is on private land. Yellow fever trees ring the shoreline and, as we move uphill, we pass zebra, giraffe, warthog, Thomson’s gazelles and eland (Kenya’s largest antelope whose bulls display their sexual prowess by clicking their knees!). Flocks of cormorants fly overhead and an occasional African fish eagle and augur buzzard pass by, below us once we are on top of the hill.

Munir Virani

Lake Naivasha is an area made famous in the time between the World Wars as a place of colonial excess. Today, we can see the endless hoops of plastic-covered greenhouses that grow a third of all of the cut flowers sold on the European market. Luckily, the rains returned this year, after years of drought, raising the lake levels again, but the water has been compromised as it leaves and as it returns to the basin. Flower farms and the human populations that live in the area to labor within them both need tremendous amounts of water, which is extracted from the lake without regulation. They also return sewage, toxins, and other pollutants that have turned the water into an algal soup. We’ll be learning a lot about this in the days to come.

Zebras wth greenhouses in background / Meera Subramanian

In the afternoon, Munir gives a lecture about Lake Naivasha and Teeku invites us into the world of digital photography. Susan is one of many wonderful staff at Elsamere.

Susan from Elsamere. / Meera Subramanian

Susan on Elsamere's dock. / Meera Subramanian