Lake Baringo

About 290km North of Nairobi, Lake Baringo is the most northerly of the Rift Valley Lakes. It can be reached from Nairobi in a day or you can break the journey by stopping at Lake Nakuru or Lake Naivasha – both worth a visit in their own right. From the other side it can be reached from Samburu. Some guides recommend that if you’re coming from Samburu you should stop at Maralal to break the journey, it can be done in a single day (we’ve done it several times) but be prepared for a hot, dusty, bumpy and long trip (7-8 hours). Once you get there there’s a couple of hotels, one on an island in the lake, and a camp site to stay at.

The lake is fed by two rivers, El Molo and Ol Arabel and has no obvious outlet, despite this it’s is one of only two freshwater lakes (it is in fact slightly saline, but not enough to bother the crocs, hippos or people who swim in it) in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. The climate in the region is generally hot and dry and away from the lake shore the surrounding countryside appears quite barren. However the imposing cliffs house a variety of bird life and are also home to the Rock Hyrax (a small rodent-like mammal). The Hyrax are really rather endearing and quite interesting to watch, but from a birders perspective they are of interest as the favourite food of Vereaux’s Eagle, which as a result are sometimes seen soaring over the basalt cliffs near the West shore of the lake. The scrub around the edges of the lake also has some interesting birds -if you can find them. Heuglin’s or Three-banded courser is not uncommon and you may also be able to see Lichtenstein’s Sand-grouse and the Spotted thick-knee. Your best chance of finding them in the scrub is with a local guide, but beware, a number of the “guides” will promise to show you a phoenix if that’s what you’re interested in – at a price of course.

While it lacks the spectacle of some of its saline neighbours such as Lake Bogoria and Lake Nakuru with their huge flocks of flamingos, it more than makes up for this with the sheer variety of birdlife to be found in and around its shores. (It’s also very well placed for a daytrip to Lake Bogoria.) More than 470 species have been recorded there in total, and more than 300 have been recorded in a single day. A recent bird census, carried out in two three hour spells on consecutive days recorded just over 280 species in the 6 hours, and that was outside the main periods for northern or southern migrants. While you’re unlikely to see all 470+ species in a short visit, there are plenty of birds to be seen even by novice birders. Pale and dark phase Gabar Goshawk, Paradise Flycatcher, African Fish Eagles, Marabou Storks, Shikra and White-faced Scops Owl are amongst the regular sightings, while some the less common birds that can be seen there include Hemprich’s Hornbill (along the cliffs), the African Darter and occasionally the African Skimmer.

The Gabar Goshawks are an interesting local fixture. Lake Baringo Club has a pair which have been nesting in the grounds for a few years now. The pair is made up of a pale phase female and a dark phase male, in each of the years they have nested there they have raised 2 chicks, one pale and one dark! The presence of nesting Hamerkops also gives you the opportunity to see some of the other birds which take advantage of the extraordinary constructions that these birds build. Since 1999 this includes a pair of Grey Kestrel that have taken up residence in a Hamerkop nest, an unusual sighting since these birds are only occasionally seen this far east in Kenya.

The lake used to boast a large Goliath Heronry but, although Goliaths are still breeding around the lake, the Heronry has disappeared. Zimmerman does describe the Goliath breeding as being “sporadic” around this area so maybe this vanishing act is only temporary!

The Baringo district is also at about the most southerly (and easterly) end of the range forJackson’s Hornbill, although they are still very common in the area. Further south and east these birds are replaced by Von der Decken’s Hornbill which they closely resemble (except that they have white spotted wings). Some authorities consider the 2 to be conspecific.
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