The boat swayed as it moved away from the shore. Ahead, Lake Naivasha stretched to the horizon. Besides a sea, I had never seen such a vast water body. As we leave the shore, a pair of black and white Pied Kingfisher stare at us with far less fascination than we had for them. In a flash, one flies into the air, does a one-eighty and dives straight into the water, resurfacing with a fish. Naivasha’s banks were checkered with pied kingfisher families. I later found out that’s because they are cooperative breeders—the young kingfishers sometimes stick around to help raise their brothers and sisters. Everywhere we looked, Kenya was bursting with life.
I remember the lake in a series of images. Blink. The shore from the boat, a snapshot of chocolate brown Hammerkops wading in the shallows, a family of Egyptian Geese in a row, a Marabou Stork with it’s pink head raised and giant wings outstretched. A Great Egret surveyed the scene from the reeds and we watched the whole lot from our boats. As we travel further onto the lake, the image shifts.
The verdant water plants give way to islands of muddy-pink. Several heads turn towards us and a grunt of surprise fills the air. A family of Hippo stare as we pass, floating without a care in the world. I think it’s rather unflattering that the collective noun for a group of hippos is a bloat. Instead, maybe they should be called a “hakuna matata”, Swahili for “no worries”. But beware, you would have something to worry about if you messed with a Hippopotamus.
They are territorial animals, and if so inclined, can be surprisingly swift! Hippos are responsible for the highest number of human deaths by any mammal in Africa. One of them opened its giant maw to yawn and reminded me of the plastic hippos in the Hungry Hippos game. While the plastic hippos swallow marbles, a real one could devour an entire watermelon in a bite. Our boat man steers us away from the hippo family and someone points at flash of colours in one of the trees on the shore.
Warning on the banks of Lake Naivasha. Photo credit: Emily Gilford
Perched in the branches is a Lilac-breasted Roller. The bird looked runway ready! Mint green, white, lilac, red, cyan, brown and purple, the Roller seemed to demand our attention. Lake Naivasha is home to lots of different bird species, each more spectacular than the last. I could scarcely keep up with my binoculars and bird book! Shiny Ibis, Fish Eagles, Blacksmith Plover, the list goes on! In a search for more birds, we head towards the center of the lake.
To and fro, our boat rocked, lulling us to sleep. Lake Naivasha started to look like Van Gogh paint swirls, I could no longer tell where the plants ended and the water began. From the middle of the lake, Naivasha’s town, looked like a game of Tetris on the horizon. I blinked and we were at the shore again. Did I really see Black headed gulls bobbing in the water like little rubber ducks or dream them up?
That was my first (albeit rather groggy) day at the lake. In total, we spent five days here, working on mini animal behaviour projects that we’d later present posters on. A few of us were lucky enough to spend our days cross-legged on the grass, watching a colony of Village Weaver birds on Naivasha’s shore, do what birds do best—fight and impress the females. Sometimes to mix things up, they fought the females too!
By the fifth day Lake Naivasha had started to feel like home. We got to know each other, lived in green caterpillar-shaped tents and ate dinner by torch light. But it was time to take down our tents, say goodbye to the mosquitoes and leave. Our next stop was going to be very different from Naivasha. At approximately 3,500 meters above sea level, the Aberdare mountains were going to be just a bit nippy. But on the bright side, no mosquitoes!
Annie Megan Santamaria