Biodiversity of East Africa 2023

Origins, Patterns and Conservation of Biodiversity in East Africa

Frankfurt to Toronto – June 16

Final post: Arjun and Madeleine

And with that, our highly anticipated field course has come to an end. It would be impossible to describe in one blog post how much we learnt and how much of an impact this course had on all of us, so suffice it to say this trip has left us with many new perspectives and much to reflect on. We honed our naturalist skills and deepened our understanding of ecological concepts. Many of us drastically increased the number of birds we can identify and expanded our understanding of tropical ecosystems and biodiversity. This course has also left us with many new friendships, both with each other and with the wonderful team in Kenya. Though we are sad to be leaving such a fantastic place and such lovely people, the memories we’ve created, friendships we’ve made, and experiences we’ve had will stay with us long after this course is over. Thank you to all the friends and family who have been following along with this blog (especially our top commenters, you know who you are)! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventures as much as we’ve enjoyed adventuring.

Our long flights gave us the opportunity to catch up on sleep and our field notebooks, and discuss topics for our final essays. During our layover in Frankfurt, Germany, we enjoyed some classic German treats, like bratwurst, pretzels, and beer. Allen even sported pretzel-themed socks for the occasion!  We have now landed safely in Toronto, and are looking forward to returning home to our beds.

We think we can speak for all the students when we say a wholehearted thank you to our wonderful instructors, Steve, Yuxiang, and Carol for their insightful lectures, engaging activities, and for all the hard work they put in to make this field course happen. Their extensive knowledge of the content and obvious passion for Kenya, ecology, and conservation issues shone through and made this course the formative and eye-opening experience it was. A huge thank you also to Mukhtar, John, John, and Chenze for the all the work on the logistical side, the amazing food, driving for 10+ hours some days to get us to our destinations safely, and for making the trip run smoothly. Field courses are no small feat to plan and teach, and we are grateful for all the effort and dedication that everyone put in to making this trip a success. A huge asante (thank you) to everyone involved!

A Frankfurt bldunch en route from Nairobi to Toronto

Back at Pearson – bags in hand.

Nairobi – museum, serpentarium & departure – June 15

Blog post 10. Team C. Allen, Rachael, May

Goodbye Kenya!

We woke up this morning with that bittersweet feeling that comes at the end of every trip: happy to be going home but very sad to be leaving such an incredible place.

Professor Lougheed’s friend from his graduate days, Dr. Taye Teferi, visited and told us about his work. We also heard several entertaining stories from their PhD days. The morning was filled with both education and lots of laughs.

At 9:30 AM, we set off for our final adventure here in Kenya: the Nairobi Natural History Museum. We saw enormous storks on the way to the museum – maribus. They were the size of May, but only half as deadly. We watched as their “dulaps waggled in the wind”. (Thanks for that unforgettable image, Alyssa.) There was a lot to see at the museum, but a lot of us particularly enjoyed the “Cradle of Humankind” exhibit. It was fascinating to learn where we (humans) come from in the very place where we originated.

We also visited the museum’s serpentarium. We learned a lot about venomous snakes found in Kenya, reminding some of us of how grateful we were to not have run into any during our adventures. But we also saw some of the less dangerous reptiles in the serpentarium, with some of us being lucky enough to have had the chance to hold a tortoise and an African Rock Python.

We hurried to leave the museum at 1:00 PM and returned to the Kolping Conference Centre. After our last wonderful meal by the Bunduz chefs, the entire crew gathered together to give our farewells to Carol, John (1), John (2), and Chenze – having said goodbye to owner Mukhtar the previous day. Without them, the trip would not have been as wonderful or even possible. We arrived at the airport and shared hugs, handshakes, and heartfelt good byes. One of us even got an autograph from the entire Bunduz crew on their shirt.

We are leaving Kenya with bags full of souvenirs (and dirty clothes), bellies full of delicious food, brains full of knowledge, but most importantly, lives filled with the most incredible experiences.

Goodbye Kenya, and thank you.

Always time for a new bird species. A yellow-breasted apalis

An effective sign in the serpentarium

Neophyte ophidiophile Allen

Rachael with tortoise at the Nairobi serpentarium

Alyssa with a new friend

Steve with (from left) John G (John the second), Chenze, our co-instructor and coordinator Carol, and John (the first and our driver)

Departure lounge at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Grace, Meg and Sol in back. Alyssa, Madeleine and I think Andy, partially hidden. Departure after 11 PM.

Arjun of the enigmatic smile. Always 12 steps ahead.

Kakamega – back to Nairobi – June 14

Blog Post 6: Alyssa, Kaida, Meghan

As a morning haze settled over our camp, we bade Kakamega—and our excellent guide Job—farewell. It was with heavy hearts we packed up our tents for the last time and loaded onto our trusty truck. As we drove by familiar landscapes, our minds wandered to all the amazing sights we had seen on our trip so far. Still, Nairobi-bound, our exploration of Kenya was far from over.

Views of verdant forests and dew-soaked tea bushes filled our windows, the rolling landscape disappearing into the mist beyond. Our ten-hour ride back to Kolping House was interspersed with snack breaks, card games,  naps, and many more glimpses of the wildlife that roam the Kenyan highlands. A troupe of olive baboons loitered by the roadside; zebras grazed alongside livestock in open pastures. As the hard-packed clay-soils of the Kakamega region thinned into a red dusting overtop the andesitic basalts common to the rift valley, soda lakes began to shine on the horizon. The striking hills bordering the valley captivated us all, but the most stunning sight of the day filled the shores of Lake Elementaita, where a flock of flamingos—thousands strong—stood on the shoreline, looking very much like the pink sands of a beach instead of the iconic birds they were.

We arrived at Kolping Conference Centre just as the sun dipped below the horizon, a few vendors awaiting us with their wares. We gladly made our packs a few shillings lighter as we prepared for our last dinner prepared by John (the second aka John G) and Chenze.

Though we were no longer in the rich tropical forest of Kakamega, the night-time herpetofauna hunt continued. The light rain enticed the amphibians to emerge, and Kaida stumbled across a mature Lake Victoria clawed frog by our rooms. Everyone excitedly gathered around to snap quick pictures of the unique frog. Later on, Kaida, Madeline and Grace discovered a small, unidentified frog on one of the many walkways around our compound.

With our long day of travel finally drawing to a close, we retired to our beds, eager to discover what our last day in Kenya has in store for us tomorrow.

Our resident Kakamega pied wagtail.

Lake Victoria clawed frog – just outside our dorms

Kolping Conference Centre, dorms to the right

Kakamega. Birds! Butterflies! Primates! Frogs! June 13

BLOG Post 9. June 9, Group A: Andy, Sol, Grace

Birds, butterflies, baboons, oh my! Sadly, today was our last day in Kakamega, so we didn’t let a second go to waste. We awoke to hoots and hollers from the local baboon troupe; some of us waking up early enough to see them swinging through the camp. As per usual John, John, and Chenze had whipped us up a breakfast fit for royalty, which prepared us for our second (and final) Bird-A-Thon™! With nothing but dense jungle between us and the ~350 bird species that call Kakamega home, we had our work cut out for us. Unlike our birding expeditions in the previous two camps, many of these birds are incredibly hard to find within the canopy and understory. A couple hours with cameras, binoculars, and some much-needed help from our local expert Job, and we had several noteworthy findings. After we were all birded out, we reconvened at the main hut and prepped for our next endeavour – butterflies! Our mission – which we chose to accept – was to hit the road, find representatives from the four local families of butterflies, and take some National Geographic worthy photos. Although we returned with some great shots of over twenty species, we were only able to find three families. Just another reason to return! We ended the morning by comparing observations from the Bird-A-Thon™. Some of the crowd favourite findings were the black and white casqued hornbill and the chestnut wattle-eye.

Post-lunch activities began with a frenzy of field notebook writing and some concerted butterfly identification. At 3:00, Dr. Wang delivered a lecture on the mechanisms and organisms present in the world’s wetlands, which was sat in on by a group of blue monkeys! Luckily wetland expert and co-professor Carol was there to relate our lesson to wetlands in Kenya. Allen gave an impromptu spiel about Dr. Lougheed and Dr. Wang’s NSERC alliance grant going towards eDNA research. We then had some free time to explore on our own and fill in our field books for the day.

Dr. Lougheed and Dr. Wang hiked up the road seeking sufficient cell signal so that Dr. Lougheed could upload some blog contents and a smattering of photos that we can supplement later on the truck trip back to Nairobi.

After dark, the group reconvened for a second night walk, hoping to find some new amphibian and reptile species. Job led us back to the pond where we briefly stopped to take-in the chorus of frogs before leading us down to a river deeper in the jungle where the search began. Dr. Lougheed demonstrated excellent herping technique by diving face-first into the reeds, turning off his headlamp, and using his other senses to locate a frog – emerging only slightly bloodied from his foray. Hooray – a Kivu reed frog, Hyperolius kivuensis! Satisfied, we headed back to our campsite to pack up and call it a night.

Our Kakamega Camp


Common names and families (clockwise from top-left): ukerewe ciliate blue (Lycanidae), friar (Nymphalidae), soldier commadore (Nymphalidae), hairstreak (Lycanidae), orange and lemon (Pieridae), central emperor swallowtail (Papilionidae), brown pansy (Nymphalidae), black tipped diadem (Nymphalidae), forest mother of pearl (Nymphalidae).
Photo credits (clockwise from top-left): Alyssa, Meg, Rachel, Arjun, Alyssa, Arjun, Alyssa, Meg, Meg

The field office. Dr. Lougheed on a roadside facing a paddock – the sweet spot with 2 or 3 bars and 4G (sometimes)

Dr. Wang giving a lecture on wetlands

Kivu reed frog, one of the 5 species of frogs that we found

Kakamega. Bird walks, tree walks and night walks! June 12

Blog post 8. Arjun and Madeleine – June 12

We were greeted by the croaking of frogs as we left our tents this morning. We began our day with a 7 am bird walk in the tropical rain forest, led by our knowledgeable guide, Job. While pointing out birds and their songs to us, Job told us he has been birding since he was eleven years old and has seen over 900 of the 1200 bird species in east Africa. He showed us many birds, including a few endemic within Kenya to the Kakamega rain forest, such as the Brown-Eared Woodpecker, the Petite Cuckoshrike, and the Grey-Green Bushrike. We also heard the chattering and tittering of the Olive Green Cameroptera, the Yellow-Billed Barbet, and the Red-Tailed Bristle Bill, as well as the Blue-shouldered Robinchat, which mimics sounds it hears in the forest. Naturally, this was an exciting experience for expert and beginner birders alike. We even saw some primates— both human and non-human— climbing in the trees. (Include photo of Sol climbing tree.) Our morning hike helped us work up an appetite for yet another delicious breakfast prepared by the skilled Bunduz cooks.

Turning our eyes to the forest itself, Job led another fantastic hike after breakfast. We learnt about several species of trees, ferns, epiphytes, and fungi that make up the Kakamega tropical rain forest. Ginger plants carpeted the forest floor. Dracina fragrens, a common house plant in Canada and native here in Kakamega, dominated the understory along the trail and in forest openings. Polyscias fulva and Ficus lutea were common species forming the forest canopy. From the forest floor to the canopy and everything in between, we saw the components that make tropical rainforest ecosystems so diverse— structurally and biologically— and so distinct from the temperate forests we’re used to seeing back home. Each part of the forest plays an integral role in the ecosystem, such as habitat structure, productivity, and nutrient cycling. We saw massive buttress roots adorning large trees and learnt that, due to the relatively nutrient-poor soil, large trees have shallow root systems so they require buttresses to remain anchored to the soil. These buttress roots provide habitat for mosses and vascular epiphytes— and make a great place for a photo shoot! Even trees that have fallen down play an important role; in a tree gap (an area where a large tree had fallen and has taken down several other plants), Steve stopped to tell us about the importance of tree gaps for early successional plant species and certain bird species due to the light that makes it through the dense forest to the forest floor. We saw several butterfly species, including Blue mother of pearl, Forest mother of pearl, and Green-backed swallowtail. The herpetologists in the crowd were also excited to see a Jackson’s tree lizard— a nice primer for the night herping hike this evening. On this hike, Job and Carol also pointed out tree species that have economic and medicinal properties for local communities, including Antiaris toxicarius and Olea capensis, which are used to treat various illnesses, and several species of trees with edible fruits, like Gambea albera. This hike perfectly complemented lectures Steve gave about patterns and hypotheses of biodiversity and why the tropics are such a diverse area.

Highly anticipated by many (but especially Meg), after dinner we donned our headlamps and headed out for a nighttime herpetology walk. Job took us to a nearby pond to find frogs, and it was a huge success! We caught several tree frogs (appropriately enough, calling from trees), Hyperolius viridiflavus viridiflavus,  and a bullfrog, Hoplobatrachus occipitalis. Alyssa performed an impressive balancing act to catch a Lake Victoria clawed frog from the pond. Much fun was had by all, and Madeleine and Alyssa enjoyed seeing the similarities and difference between these African frogs and the frogs they study in Canada. This was a perfect end to a very full day!

Seeing so many plant, fungal, insect, and herpetofaunal species today has made us reflect on the charismatic megafauna bias in conservation, where certain animals (particularly large mammals) receive disproportionate conservation effort and funding. Though we were all excited to see the elephants, lions, and cheetahs, we must not forget about the plants, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, and fungi that play essential roles in several ecosystems and are also worthy of conservation efforts. We reflect on this as we fall asleep under the forest canopy, surrounded by the croaking and chirping of frogs and insects.

Primate in tree with camera

Allen’s face framed by loop in liana stem

Lizard in the sauce – an added flavour

John (2) our amazing head chef.

John the second, our amazing Bunduz head chef

Night walk – searching for amphibians

Common reed frog subspecies common in Kakamega

Eastern groove-crowned bullfrog, Hoplobatrachus occipitalis

Lake Victoria clawed frog, Xenopus victorianus

Masai Mara to Kakamega – 11 June

Blog post 7. Team C. Allen, Rachael, May

We all arose pre-dawn to pack so that we could have breakfast at 7AM and depart soon thereafter. A few of us birded and added a few additional colorful species including a Purple Grenadier. Many bought souvenirs from local Masai men include Masai knives of varying lengths, beaded bracelets and shukas (Masai blankets). Our destination today was Kakamega Forest at a KWS camp site where we will be off line for a few days. The trip was long – over 8-9 hours with stops. We stopped in Narok to purchase snacks, diesel and food plus we topped off a SIM card for Dr. Lougheed so that he could (try to) maintain this blog. Folks passed the time in many ways – sleeping, eating food that is bad for us, (ketchup chips here too!), playing cards, and chatting,

And just like that, we’re hitting the road again! We woke up early this morning to break camp and hit the road as soon as possible as we had a long drive ahead of us. We took down our tents with some expert help from John (the first) and enjoyed one last delicious breakfast in Masai Mara. A few of us birded and added a few additional colorful species including a Purple Grenadier. Many bought souvenirs from local Masai men include Masai knives of varying lengths, beaded bracelets and shukas (Masai blankets). Although we were excited for what is to come in Kakamega, we were sad to leave Masai Mara and all its beautiful wildlife behind.

We stopped in Narok to purchase snacks, diesel and food plus we topped off a SIM card for Dr. Lougheed so that he could (try to) maintain this blog. Folks passed the time in many ways – sleeping, eating food that is bad for us, (ketchup chips here too!), playing cards, and chatting.  Some also napped or braiding each others’ hair – those with tresses at least. The transition from savannah to tropical forest was marked, the soil turning a vivid red and the trees becoming greener, and canopy becoming much denser.

At around 2:45 PM, we crossed the equator. Along the way, we saw an Eastern Paradise Whydah, a Brown-Capped Weaver, and innumerable domestic cows, dogs, a few pigs, and geese. We saw some lovely fields of tea at higher altitudes. For some of us (Rachael), the highlight was seeing the massive fields of corn. (Rachael loves corn).
Kenyans are a friendly and hospitable people; as we passed through the seemingly more prosperous towns of Kapsabet, Cheptutu, and Mukumu, many members of the local community waved to us. As it was Sunday, which is the typical market day for Kenyans, the streets were bustling despite the threat of thunderstorms.
We reached the lively town of Kakamega as the sun set, and finally arrived at the Kenyan Wildlife Service campground (called Udo’s) meeting our local biodiversity guide, Job, at the entrance of the forest. We set up our tents quickly in the dark beneath towering tropical trees, and after 11 hours of driving and settled in with a Bocage’s bush-shrike serenading us high up in the trees. As always, the Bunduz staff, John (the second) and Chenze created a wonderful meal in no time at all.

Purple grenadier on post at Tayari Tented Camp just before departure.

Wei sporting her new rhino hat purchased from a street vendor at a Narok gas station.

Kaida doing May’s hair. Verdant Kenyan crop land in the background.

Tea plantation on road to Kapsabet

Sunday market. Road to Kapsabet

Sign for Kakamega Forest – a welcome site after 9 hrs.

In camp. Debates, birdwatching, lecture (& laundry & eating) – June 10

Blog Post 6: Kaida, Alyssa, Meghan

We’ve been told several times on this trip that we were fortunate to see the rarities we have. From the goliath herons and bat-eared fox on Crescent Island on Lake Naivasha to the leopard and two carnivore meals at Maasai Mara, our exploration of the Kenyan ecosystems has been nothing short of spectacular. After seeing rainfall pass us by over the savannah and rolling thunderclouds on the horizon, today we were lucky enough to experience a rainstorm firsthand.

The morning began early for some and late for others. Inspired by yesterday’s constellations, Allen woke before sunrise to snap pictures of the stars. Alyssa noted many constellations unique to the southern hemisphere, such as Volans (the flying fish), Pavo (the peacock), Tucana (the tucan), Grus (the crane), and Chamaeleon (the chameleon). Unfortunately, clouds were covering Cetus the Whale (Alyssa’s most anticipated constellation), foreshadowing the rain that would befall us later in the day. The early-morning stargazing was capped with stunning views of Jupiter and a satellite whizzing by overhead.

By late morning, the debates were underway, with Team A (Andrea, Sol, and Grace) discussing in situ and ex situ strategies for conservation. Excellent points were made on both sides, however the debate resulted with the day’s only unanimous vote in support of ex situ methods—but only in combination with in situ practices. After another tamu (delicious!) lunch, several cows broke into our camp, running amok before their herder was able to wrangle them back to their pasture. With that brief (and entertaining) interlude, Team B (Meg, Kaida, and Alyssa) continued the debates, exploring the controversial topic of trophy hunting as a means of supporting local communities and conservation. Next up was Team C (Allen, Rachael, and May), who led an engaging discussion about international programs, such as debt-for-nature swaps, being a valuable conservation tool. Last but not least, Team D (Steve, Madeleine, and Arjun) rounded out the debates by parlaying the value of international treaties and their efficacy in protecting nature on a global scale, which resulted in the most dramatic flip-vote of the day.

After dinner, we finished the day with yet another rousing lecture from Steve on human demography and conservation, which wonderfully complimented our debate topics. From the humble beginnings of human populations, to present day distribution and impact, and finally projections of our species into future generations, we were left with much to consider over the duration of our 8-hour bus ride to Kakamega tomorrow.

Kenyan night sky. Photo Allen Tian

Bunduz truck agains tight sky. Photo by Allen Tian.

Grace delivering her opening statements in a debate on ex situ conservation

Kaida, Meg, and Alyssa debate

Madeleine, Arjun and Steve debate the value of international conventions.

red-headed weaver, one of many species in the scrub around camp

emerald-spotted wood-dove

Masai Mara! – June 9

BLOG Post 5 June 9th, Group A: Andy, Sol, Grace

Writing this blog after twelve hours in the Maasai Mara savanna, we realized that the only thing missing was the narration of David Attenborough. We started the day with breakfast at 5:30 AM under the constellations of the southern hemisphere, and the team was ready to hit the road. Looking out over the grasslands, it’s clear why Serengeti translates to “endless land”. Before the sun finished rising over the great expanse, we were already lucky enough to see zebras, gazelle, impalas, and even a sneaky hyena (or fisi in Swahili) – the game drive was on! Although we came set with charged cameras, an excess of water, and the famous Bunduz truck, nothing could have prepared us for the most captivating ‘lecture’ we would ever experience. The post-sunrise timeline was as follows: 7:00AM was Cheetahs and Warthogs. 8:00AM was African Crowned Cranes and Marabou Storks. 9:00AM was Elephants and Buffalo, and 10:00AM was a very elusive leopard! After spending much time with a magnificent (albeit sleepy) lion, we drove down to the Mara River to stretch our legs and soak up some sun.

Although the sun was blisteringly hot, the sight of the Mara River upon jumping out of the truck was enough for us to power through. After checking out some lizards including a red-headed agama, we met with our guide Daniel (and his associate Lenny) and set out along the shaded banks. Almost as soon as we set off, the sound of camera shutters began – a Nile crocodile! We continued our trek with multiple photo stops until we reached the Bunduz team, who had gone ahead to meet us on the other side. After a great lunch and a quick break among mongoose, we were back in the truck and into the thick of it. Our expert driver John took us to the Kenya-Tanzania border where we could have one foot in both countries at the same time, checking another country off the bucket-list (even if it’s on a technicality). We got back in the truck and set out again. This time, however, things did not go quite as planned. Shortly after finding a group of giraffes, disaster struck (well a slight disaster) – the mighty Bunduz truck got stuck! The whole team shuffled out into the tallgrass a purgatorial state between alert and amused, and the truck sprang forward (mutterings of perhaps we should skip dinner echoed). We were free to continue our adventure!

As if the first half of the day wasn’t enough, the evening game drive generated even more excitement. Our resident ornithologists were thrilled to spot a Hornbill, which re-energized the group for the rest of the ride. Nearing the end of our journey, we noticed the other safari vehicles congregating around a specific area – triggering our curiosity. As we got closer, we were fortunate enough to observe two cheetahs feeding on a topi, surrounded by jackals and a lapel-faced vulture (two species of scavengers) patiently waiting to clean up the leftovers. After seeing some wild Maasai cows or eland near the exit, Dr. Lougheed wrapped up our adventure saying this was the “best game drive [he] had ever been on.” Its safe to say that even without narration, today was better than any episode of Plant Earth ever could be.

Juvenile African cuckoo hawk seen near the entrance to Masai Mara

African crowned crane

Class in front of our Bunduz truck in Masai Mara

Panting male lion seeking shade beside our truck

Red-headed agama lizard seen on bridge crossing the Mara River

Banded mongoose swarmed us at lunch.

Cheetah, one of two that brought down a topi. Face coated in blood but with a full belly.

Eland seen near the end of the day in Masai Mara

Travel from Lake Naivasha to Masai Mara – June 8

Blog post 4. Madeleine and Arjun

Throughout this course, we’ve discussed the pervasive misconception that Africa is a homogenous entity. We are learning that this is far from true, as Africa is rich with diversity—in terms of flora, fauna, and geology, as well as culture. Extending this idea, we are already seeing the vast diversity present in just this small portion of the country of Kenya. This was perhaps most apparent today, where we woke up at Lake Naivasha—a freshwater ecosystem—and ended up in Maasai Mara—a savannah—and travelled through pastoral, agricultural land, and urban areas, among others. On our journey, we saw a change in the bird and mammal species, as well as the landscapes and geological features. These changes were apparent in only 230 km of travel, and showcase the diversity that is present in only a small geographical range. Having seen this, it would be exceedingly foolish to treat Africa—or even Kenya—as a singular culture or ecotype. The hippopotamuses, African Fish Eagles, and Lilac-Breasted Rollers of Lake Naivasha are remarkably different from the White-Browed Sparrow Weavers, Cutthroats, and field mice we saw in Maasai Mara. In the next several days of this course, we look forward to seeing more of Kenya’s diversity and learning about the plants and animals of different ecosystems.

This morning started relatively early, by waking up before the sunrise over Lake Naivasha. Though we needed to pack our bags and tents and have another tasty breakfast prepared by our wonderful cooks, we had enough time to sneak in some birding and photography. Many of the birds we saw are already familiar to us, such as the Egyptian Goose and Superb Starling. We even had a Glossy Ibis sighting. For over a half hour, Allen struggled to take a photo of a Lilac-Breasted Roller in flight but, in his words “failed miserably” (though we are sure his photos are actually great). We said goodbye to Lake Naivasha and its incredible wildlife and began our 5-hour drive to our next destination, Maasai Mara.

On our travels southward to Maasai Mara, we observed great changes in the landscape. From the brown silts and sands of Lake Naivasha and its lush vegetation, we entered lands of hardened clay and scrubland. But after arriving at our camp, just outside Maasai Mara National Reserve, the wildlife was abundant. Nests of White-Browed Sparrow Weavers graced many of the small trees scattered around camp. The weavers flew amongst us without fear, so bold that they would eventually approach within metres of us. Upon arrival at the camp, we were greeted by yet another Steve, a Maasai member of the staff. He sold us some wonderful trinkets crafted by his mother. Not long after, we gathered around to listen to the final article presentations, by Arjun, Meg, and Allen. The presentations sparked some lively conversations about wildlife conservation, the nature of Indigeneity, and statistical methods of inference, while the weavers looked on. Throughout the presentations and later into the evening, we saw a few other birds as well, including the Cutthroat (a type of waxbill) and the Bare-faced Go-away-bird. Then as usual, we had a delicious dinner. And with that, we are off to our tents to sleep, hopeful to hear the rolling cackles of hyenas in the distance, as promised by the hyena information sheets hung up next to the squatting toilets.

Packing the truck ready for Naivasha

Helping with dishes

Allen giving a seminar at Tayari Luxury Tented Camp

Naivasha. Boat trip to Crescent Island, geocaching & student presentations – June 7

Blog post 3: Group C: Rachael, May, Allen. Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Today was our last full day in Lake Naivasha, and dare we say it was the best one yet. We awoke to a cacophony of birds this morning, and a beautiful sunrise backdropping our tents, trusty safari bus, and some hippos. We started our morning fairly early with a lovely boat ride across Lake Naivasha, which was led by our boat guides, Jeremy and Nixon. Seeing our camp from the lake gave us a new perspective and showed us several new bird species, such as the Goliath Heron and the Great White Pelican. Our intrepid boat guides were very knowledgeable and had keen eyes, pointing out rarities such as Intermediate Egret, Sacred Ibis, and Hamerkop. We also saw plenty of hippos as we cruised along the lakeshore towards Crescent Island, a game reserve and tourist hotspot. Mount Longonot loomed in the distance, and tulip farms edged the shoreline of the lake. We arrived at Crescent Island at around 8 AM, and met our guide, Steve (not Lougheed). Crescent Island is the western edge of a crater impact basin of Lake Naivasha, and is reminiscent of savannah, with species such as Common Zebra, Ostriches, Thompson Gazelle, and Wildebeests. We got the chance to see some rarer species such as the Fisher’s Lovebird and the Bat-eared Fox. In our opinion, though, the cutest species was the Dik-dik – a tiny antelope. We noticed some abandoned building on the shoreline of the lake that demonstrated to us the inevitability of nature over humans and the unstoppable power of the riparian water level shifts, which we all found to be a valuable learning tool. As we were returning, we collected water samples to measure the alkalinity of the lake. Hippos flanked us as we made our way back to shore, giving us a bit of a fright. Our guides navigated us back safely, and we managed to get some great snapshots of the hippos.

Despite our long morning of activities, our day was far from over. In the afternoon, we continued our presentations on biodiversity articles, with topics such as coral bleaching and biodiversity sensitivity. Our presenters Kaida, Grace, Rachael, and Sol all did wonderfully and sparked fascinating, collaborative discussions. Prof. Wang touched upon the alkalinity of the water samples we collected earlier. It was an insightful extension upon our speaker, Silas, from yesterday. There was an intense geocaching competition among the three groups. The competition that was set up by our professors and their helpers, Allen and Arjun, was a great opportunity to practice our GPS skills and learn about Kenya’s history and biodiversity. Allen and Arjun hid nine questions across the campground for our teams to locate using GPS coordinates, and we spent the late afternoon searching for and answering them. The competition got confusing when primates, either monkey or human, took one of the questions from its hiding spot. Despite that, we learned a lot and had tons of fun. The competition was fierce, and we bought the winners some drinks from the campground restaurant.

After a delicious dinner. Including a Kenyan staple, ugali, Prof. Wang led a lecture on water issues in Kenya, projected on the side of our bus. Carol answered our questions. We retired for the night, eagerly awaiting adventures tomorrow. We had a wonderful time at Lake Naivasha, and look forward to our forays into Masai Mara.

Our Lake Naivasha camp at dawn. Meg to the right. Photo by Allen Tian

Grace, Steve and our boat captain and guide Jeremy.

On the water

Yuxiang’s boat crew

Class photo Crescent Island. Front (from L). Arjun, Kaida, May, Andy, Wei. Back (from L). Our guide Steve, Grace, Rachael, Sol, Meg, Allen, Madeleine, Alyssa and Yuxiang.

Helmeted guineafowl. Crescent Island

Dik-dik. Crescent Island

Goliath heron

Bat-eared fox

Fisher’s lovebird

« Older posts