Camping At Olorgesailie/ Magadi Waterfowl Census

I can’t believe I’ve been to Magadi twice this year. The place is so fascinating to me. It’s wild and looks like somewhere on another planet. I don’t know how animals and plants thrive there. My first experience in January involved the drama of walking barefoot through muddy pools and on sharp pebbles. The second visit in July had drama also, but of a different kind.

Sharp shale rocks.
Walking on sharp shale rocks…

It began with a delay in leaving Nairobi because the driver of the van had forgotten his bag in public transport. He had to trace the matatu, get the bag then come pick us at the Museum. At some point we even contemplated spending the night there then going home the next morning. Part of the group had long gone in the Land Rover. But finally he arrived and we left more than an hour later than the scheduled time.

A section of Lake Magadi, Kenya.
Wading through muddy pools in January.

A few minutes later guys from the other group called to warn us against using Magadi Road since it was packed with traffic. We passed through Karen- Ngong –Kiserian and actually arrived at a certain shopping centre before them. Here we bought food and other stuff then continued with the journey.

Lake Magadi, Kenya.
Views that awaited us at the Lake.

We found our way to Magadi Road. The landscapes grew more amazing as we proceeded. Especially where the road would descend and you’d get these impressive views of hills stretching for miles around. At some point a Spotted hyena ambled out of the bush onto the road looking full. A while later we drove into Olorgesailie Museum, our camping destination. I was excited to be there, my interest having being sparked by reading Rupi Mangat’s article on the place some weeks earlier.

Campsite at Olorgesailie Museum, Kenya.
A section of our campsite.

The road leading to this Museum is the dustiest I have ever seen. The dust must be several inches thick! By this time it was already dark. We set about pitching tents then making and taking supper. We had conversations about the state of pseudo-conservation where positive information released to the public is the opposite of what actually happens. Reference: The Big Conservation Lie by John Mbaria.

Dusty lake shore.
Dusty lake shore with goat hoof prints.

The shower water was refreshingly cool. I thought I would go right to sleep after that but no. I was arrested by the breathtaking night sky. Olorgesailie has no electricity, so the stars are clearly visible. I only wished we’d been there the previous night when the blood moon eclipse was happening. All the same, the sight was stellar (pun alert). I found myself worshipping in awe of God’s creation. I imagined Abraham when God told him he would have descendants as many as the stars. It’s incredible how each is in its proper place. You put each star in its place and because of your mighty power not one is missing (Is 40.26). So is every person on earth- where you are is where God uniquely placed you.

Flamingos above Lake Magadi, Kenya.
I didn’t get any star shots, just hundreds of flamingos. 🙂 Impressive for a phone shot, eh?

Despite being told earlier about hyenas roaming the camp, I stood outside for a good 20 minutes or so while everyone else was in their tents. I was startled by a flying creature at some point- could have been a bat or Nightjar. Only because I had to sleep, I got into the tent. But sleep evaded me. I know that part of Kenya to be hot but this night it was cold. I couldn’t believe it. Most of the night I was awake because of that. I woke at around 4 am to the sounds of night creatures and guys preparing breakfast. I listened to these sounds until 5 am when breakfast was ready.

Olorgesailie, Kenya.
Imagine encountering a hyena here…

After breakfast we were divided into groups then left for Lake Magadi. The ride seemed to take forever because again, no sleep for me. As we neared Magadi though beautiful views welcomed us. Recent rains had brought with them vast grass cover. The blonde- coloured grass looked soft and puffy though we later came to experience how prickly it was. The sunrise showed off as well. Add to this flocks of flamingos flying back and forth and the early morning train rolling in and you get the perfect start to the day.

Flamingos at Lake Magadi.
Flamingos and more flamingos…

My group was allocated the section closest to the gate. There were several Yellow-billed Storks, African Spoonbills and Great White Pelicans nearby. We walked along the shore counting and recording bird species. I was the scribe this time which gave me the chance to take photos. Only with my phone since my camera was still being serviced after the drowning incident in Nyahururu. One year of having this phone and I’m still surprised by its camera resolution.

Tourists at Lake Magadi, Kenya.
Little humans in a huge landscape. How’s this for a phone photo?

The landscape in Magadi is unforgiving- the rocks are sharp and the grass prickly. When the sun decides to show up in full force it scorches to the bone. Thankfully today it wasn’t that hot. Our counting exercise went fairly well. In fact we finished at 9.10 am as the first group. Until our leader decided to check for birds at the base of a distant hill. The rest of us wanted to chill by the lake and watch the thousands of flamingos though.

Grassy shores at Lake Magadi.
That grass looks fluffy, right?

So we began to walk to the hill. And walk we did. For about 45 minutes seeing nothing much apart from the occasional Magadi/ Chestnut- banded Plover performing mating dsiplays. The patterns left on the lake bed by evaporating water caught my eye. Some spread out like ribs from a sternum while others formed triangles.

Dry Lake Magadi bed.
Triangular shapes on the lake bed.

By the time we got considerably closer to the hill, we discovered that what looked like water was a mirage. Not a single waterfowl was in sight. What a waste of energy! Now we had to walk all the way back. The sun was scorching. I was so upset I couldn’t even talk. We trekked back to where we’d seen the last flamingos and rested while taking snacks. Then walked some more to the gate.

Tourist at Lake Magadi, Kenya.
Starting/ ending point near the gate.

We sat under some trees and waited for the other groups. A few minutes later one of them arrived. Young Maasai boys walked by with herds of goats. They seemed unaffected by the blazing sun. It was more than an hour until the next groups arrived. I thought our group had it tough, but they had gone through worse! They were covered in dust up to the eyelashes. Some had huge sections to walk, much bigger than ours.

Landscape at Lake Magadi, Kenya.
The distant hill we had to walk to.

After everyone arrived we headed back to camp. It was time to take down the tents, have lunch and leave. A Red-and-yellow Barbet perched close by, giving us amazing views. When all was done we boarded the vehicles and left. Somewhere along the way it began to rain. It’s hard to imagine rain in Magadi given the climate. In spite of this, cows there are healthy. I didn’t see any skinny ones- I wonder what they eat?

Landscape at Olorgesailie, Kenya.
Wild country.

It was great to stay at Olorgesailie Museum, even though only for one night. This prehistoric site is renowned as the “factory of stone tools” and the only place in the world with the largest number. In addition, the area hosts the highest number of migratory bird species in Kenya. Did you know there’s also Mount Olorgesailie? Now you know! That’s why I tour this country often, I gotta see it all.

Mt. Olorgesailie, Kenya.
View of Mt. Olorgesailie from the campsite.
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