Drinking in Baringo bird wonderland and drifting ‘real estate’

Thursday August 12 2021
Samatian Island, Lake Baringo.

Samatian Island, Lake Baringo. The lake is famous for its birdlife, crocodiles, hippos, and Rothschild giraffe. PHOTO | COURTESY


The boat slips into silent mode as we glide along the shoreline of Baringo’s flooded lake. Overhead, a pair of African fish eagles circles the air, swooping down to perch on a dead tree trunk and lifts off again. It’s strange. And we discover why on approaching the secluded bay.

The pair of eagles has a youngster, still mottled in baby feathers and looks nothing like the mantle of copper and white feathers it will have in adulthood.

An African Fish Eagle

An African Fish Eagle with a catfish just fished out of the lake as it learns to hunt in Lake Baringo. PHOTO | BONNIE DUNBAR

Minutes later, one of the young eagles lifts off its low perch to swoop down to grab a catfish with its talons in one swift move. It’s the first time I see an eagle fishing, unstaged. All the times, it’s the guides who lure eagles to the fish.

The youngster returns to its perch with the catch, and looks around, unsure what to do next, while its parents send shrill calls to assure it of their presence.

“Goodness!” exclaims Dr Bonnie Dunbar, a researcher based in Ol Kokwe Island, the largest on the lake.


“The parents are teaching it to hunt! The catfish is dead.”

The young eagle throws back its head and sends a loud shrill. The catfish slips off the perch, and the eagle looks around, not knowing what to do next.

The parents fly to it but the youngster’s not attempting another ‘’hunt’’ – and after a while we all give up on it. It has been amazing to get so close and see something that natural. In our excitement, we missed filming the incident.

The reason we were privileged to see this unscripted eagle drama is because of the quietness of the boat, a luxury pontoon with cushioned seats, tables and wine holders, with a canopy for shade from the blazing Baringo sun. For those who would fancy a BBQ on board, there’s a BBQ deck. One can also take a dip in the freshwater lake and use a side ladder to climb back aboard after a swim, which we did. The indulgence was worth the sensual and warm water.

Teeming water life

When Lake Baringo burst its banks in 2013, Dr Dunbar says there was an influx of wading birds — the yellow-billed storks and Spoonbills. The researcher in Dunbar then decided to act on her dream of owning a luxury boat to sail and enjoy the now changed lake.

That is how she acquired the luxury pontoon we are lounging in, christened “Angel’s Ark.”

The powerful engine means we can sail the entire lake in a day.

“The lake is three times higher in living memory,” said Dr Dunbar as we sailed by the hippo pod by Ol Kokwe. But we didn’t see many of the wading birds and she said; “The reason we are not seeing wading birds is because the lake has left no space for waders.”

Instead, long floating grass forms a drifting ‘real estate’ is now dry and matted on the scrub where the lake receded. It’s where we saw the eagle family.

The midday sun moves higher and gets hotter. Lunch is laid out on the tables — a selection of cheeses, salmon, salads and fruits to wash down with chilled white wine.

“Lake Baringo presents breath-taking scenery overlooking both sides of the Rift Valley,” said Dr Dunbar. “It easily accessible in comfort for sightseeing and fishing. And you don't have to worry if a storm comes up as it is a strong boat and we can return to shore quickly.”

We drift past the rock face of Gibraltar’s island and the Giraffe Island minus the rare Rothschild that were moved to safety across to Ruko Conservancy on the mainland. Along the secluded bay on Ol Kokwe, the hot geysers are submerged, their presence only revealed by the steam and bubbles long the shoreline. A crocodile suns itself on the rocks.

At full throttle, we head to the mainland. With the wind on our faces and music in the background. Exhilarating! Our coxswain, Perry Hennessy, who traversed the lake for 25 years, sails along the cliffs that until now appeared far away. We are on a stretch between Kampi ya Samaki and Loruk.

Suddenly a burst of black liquid spouts out of the water. We ask if we stumbled upon an oil well but the coxswain says, “Oh it’s just the lungfish under water.”

The Lake Baringo ecosystem has much to offer from bird watching to snake watching, at the snake park, hiking to the ancient footsteps, and boat rides like the one we had to Ol Kokwe.