Up bright and early to enjoy the beautiful on Lake Naivasha, the bright-eyed group of students and life long learners sent out to count African Fish Eagles and Hippos.  On the Lake by 7:15 after a delicious breakfast, the group split into 2 different boats to attack each side of the lake.  The gorgeous sunny atmosphere allowed for easier identification and photographs.  The African Fish Eagles we abundant on the east side of the lake with a mixture of individuals, pairs, and juveniles present.  There was an interesting characteristic visible between the different behaviors of eagles acclimated to humans and those not a familiarized.  This was evident when our driver would attempt to bait the eagles for photos with a fish and the un acclimated eagles would stray away from the bait where as the familiarized birds would swoop down and catch the fish.

Towards the swampier area of the lake we saw a pair of African Fish Eagles attack a Pelican for its fish and succeed!

After meeting half way the groups headed straight across the lake back to Elsamere for lunch. After a full morning and a break for lunch we headed to both the indoor and outdoor classroom to enrich ourselves with knowledge on both birds of prey and journalism and photography techniques!

Right before dinner we got to speak with Mordecai.  He had very insightful ideas about conservation.  He had a very striking and truthful message that provided a overview of Kenya’s growing problems surrounding conservation.  The title It’s an Elephant was eluding to the message that we as conservationists can not have tunnel vision.  Animals are also not the only root of the problems that are occurring often times humans are in fact at the base of the catastrophic problems!

We can only sit in anxious anticipation for what is to come tomorrow as we head to Hells Gate!

Sunrise / Meera Subramanian

In the early morning, we visit Lake Oloiden, the small lake adjacent, and once part of, Lake Naivasha. Flamingos, mostly lesser, with a few greater popping up twice as large, form pink flocks along the shores. The water is a deep green, thick with algae. We keep a distance and run the engine low, but our presence is still mildly disturbing to the birds, which move in a synchronized counter-clockwise motion in unison. Some peel off in flight, the pale pink erupting into flaming florescent and black as their great wings unfold and lift off their pencil-thin bodies. Clunky black beaks pull them forward, a downward frown etched on their faces. Having boats on this lake doing tourism is a new thing and inspires Brian to write a piece about the complicated world of eco-tourism.

Flamingos flying / Arianwen Jones

Flamingos flying. / Arianwen Jones

Meera Subramanian

Lesser flamingo / Meera Subramanian

Cormorants / Meera Subramanian

Meera Subramanian

Rupert Wilson speaks after breakfast. Author of The African Baobob, he is a lawyer who trains in conflict resolution and points out that more and more environmental issues are ripe for facing with this approach. He says he doesn’t believe that the next wars will be fought over water, that it’s simply too necessary. He thinks that the increasing scarcity of the clean drinking water will foster cooperation, not conflict.

In the afternoon, we visit the Mvuke Primary School, a public school of 700 students within the KenGen compound of red-roofed houses, but students include children from surrounding settlements as well as staff kids. Miss Jane meets us, along with two other teachers, including the science teacher. We’re led into a classroom with nearly a hundred middle school students in white and gray uniforms contrasted with striking red ties.

Mvuke Primary School / Munir Virani

They give us a huge round of applause and we say “Hello!” and they all respond in unison. Meera tells them who we are and then tosses out questions to them. How do we protect the environment? (Don’t litter. Don’t cut down trees.) What kinds of birds do you have here? (Pelicans. Flamingos. Eagles. Ducks.) Why are trees important? (They help make rain.) They cheer madly when Munir does the African fish eagle call. Then they ask us questions, and Brian is our star responder. What is the deepest lake in America? (We’re stumped. It’s Crater Lake, we learn later.) What is the longest river? (The Missouri-Mississippi.) How many freshwater lakes do you have? (Who knows exactly, but just one state is called Land of 10,000 Lakes.) What kinds of trees do you have? (Maple. Oak. Pine. Fir. Redwoods.)

Afterward, we go to the home of Sarah Higgins, the local who came as a guest lecturer a few days ago. In addition to being a farmer, she also is a volunteer bird rehabilitator in a country that has no official support for injured birds. She shows us a Wahlberg’s eagle, a pair of crowned eagles, and a tawny eagle that we all fall in love with. It stands, golden as a retriever and nearly as soft looking, its feathers spiked a bit atop its head as it watches us with curiosity and caution both.

Sarah Higgins with a tawny eagle. / Meera Subramanian

A man in a green jumpuit comes out with meat and a falconry glove and lures Tornado to his fist. The bird is stunning. But there’s more. Marsh eagles. A one-winged fish eagle. A pair of augur buzzards. A pelican. A lilac-breasted roller recovering a hurt wing.

Meera Subramanian

And an eagle owl that might not make it.

Meera Subramanian

But Sarah is doing her best to see that at least it has a chance.

On day two of the surveys, we take opposite sides of the lake. The wildlife is abundant.

Cape Buffalo among invasive hyacinth. / Meera Subramanian

Maria leads the pack. / Teeku Patel
Maria leads the pack with a grin. / Teeku Patel

A waterbuck lets us get a close look. / Meera Subramanian

Hippos snort up water in agitation when we get too close. / Meera Subramanian

While we get surprisingly close to wildlife, we also see that flower farm greenhouses also come much too close to the shore. Human impact has greatly altered the lake’s ecosystem. Papyrus that once ringed the lake and created floating islands of filtration are now mostly gone, replaced with invasive hyacinth. Native fish are also long gone, replaced by numerous introduced species including crayfish, tilapia, carp, and large-mouthed bass (introduced for the pleasure of President Roosevelt in 1927).

Flower farm greenhouses / Arianwen Jones

Greenhouses up close / Meera Subramanian

Lunch was late, by the time one of our boats found their way out of a papyrus thicket that nearly sucked up their vessel! Oh, and once they got out, they ran out of gas in the middle of the lake. Luckily, the second boat had some spare fuel. All in a day’s field work!

Evan and Chris looking a bit dejected. / Munir Virani

Evan and Chris looking a bit dejected, as Drew learns to "live with the papyrus." 🙂 / Munir Virani

In the afternoon, Meera leads the students into the world of environmental journalism.

Lake Naivasha in the early morning light. / Arianwen Jones

Lake Naivasha is nearly 200 square kilometers in size, so we split into two groups and climb into boats to travel the shoreline, counting hippos and African fish eagles. In one boat, Arian takes the clipboard and Maria the map, and note numbers and GPS location as we spot pods of snorting (and scary to us, in our thin aluminum boat) hippos and the distinct white spot among the green acacia trees that indicate a fish eagle.

Arian keeps track of numbers. / Meera Subramanian

Shiv is our guide. He tosses out fish we’ve brought to lure the eagles toward us and we get our first opportunities to practice our wildlife photography, shooting fast and hoping we can focus well enough to get a clear shot of whether the large raptors (which resemble American bald eagles) have a ring on their leg.

African fish eagle / Meera Subramanian

Monitoring the movement and pairing of the birds is helping to understand their conservation status. Here’s a short video that Munir did for The Peregrine Fund:

We meet the other boat halfway around the lake and return over the now-choppy water, fairly soaked by the time we arrive back at Elsamere for a nice hot lunch.

In the afternoon, Munir gives an introduction to Kenya’s birds of prey and Teeku talks about how to work with your photographic subject.