Category Archives: Outdoors

Introduction to Magnificent Birding at Lake Naivasha

If you are a keen birder, then Lake Naivasha in Kenya is one place to add to your bucket list. This article tells of the birds we have seen there and the activities available that enable you to see different species – boating for water birds, cycling for ground birds, and walking for woodland species.

Birds on the Lake
Given it’s a large lake, the most obvious activity to do when visiting Naivasha is to get out on a boat. The hippos are usually the draw card, but the myriad water bird species impress even those who think they aren’t interested in birds. Here’s what we have seen while out on the lake:

  • Great White Pelican
  • Great Cormorant
  • Long-tailed Cormorant
  • Cattle Egret
  • Common Squacco Heron
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Purple Heron
  • Black-headed Heron
  • Hamerkop
  • Marabou Stork
  • Yellow-billed Stork
  • Sacred Ibis
  • African Spoonbill
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Lesser Flamingo
  • Egyptian Goose
  • Yellow-billed Duck
  • African Fish Eagle
  • Black Crake
  • Red-knobbed Coot
  • African Jacana
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Blacksmith plover
  • Sandpiper
  • Gull
  • Swift
  • Pied Kingfisher

Birds while Walking
There are several Conservancies around Lake Naivasha where you can enjoy a walking safari and see woodland bird species. These include Wileli Conservancy, Green Crater Lake and Hells Gate National Park. In Hells Gate you can also hire bicycles to explore more of the park, and there are also places where you can ride horses. Whether you are on foot, bike or horse, spotting birds is easier than from a vehicle. Here’s what we saw on one walk in Wileli Conservancy:

  • Hadada Ibis
  • Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture
  • Auger Buzzard
  • Long-crested Eagle
  • Crowned Plover
  • Ring-necked Dove
  • Grey Woodpecker
  • Plain-backed Pipit
  • Common Bulbul
  • Cinnamon Bracken Warbler
  • Rattling Cisticola
  • Cuckoo-shrike
  • Common Drongo
  • Black-headed Oriole
  • Rüppell’s Long-tailed Starling
  • Superb Starling
  • Wattled Starling
  • Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Rufous Sparrow
  • Baglafecht (Reichenow’s) Weaver
  • Red-headed Weaver

OTA offers birding trips with an expert bird guide visiting Kenya’s birding hotspots including Lake Naivasha.

How To Get Ready For Your First Hill Country River Tubing Trip

Nothing spells more fun in Texas than hitting the road and heading out for some river tubing in the Texas hill country. Whether it is the Frio, Nueces, or Sabinal River, it gives you a chance to enjoy a crisp, refreshing dip and gently float down the river while hanging out with friends & family. More importantly, it gives you a chance to enjoy the natural splendor of the hill country in an up close, unique, and personal way.

For first timers, though, it can be a little difficult knowing what you need to make the trip a smashing success. Here are a few tips for someone taking on a tubing trip for the first time:

1. Check the Weather – Nothing will spoil a good time on the river than bad weather. Take the time to check local weather reports online. Depending on where you travel, the local chamber of commerce may have a “weather ticker” available for prospective visitors. Even if the weather does look nice & clear, plan your packing to anticipate some adverse weather. After all, as the saying goes, “In Texas, if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.”

2. Check River Levels – All too often, people assume that if there is a constant, dedicated flow in a river, and while that is true, remember that your in Texas. Scorching heat waves and a lack of rain can make for very low lake and river levels. Low water levels make for a trickling flow, making a tubing trip down the river take much longer than it should. The U.S. Geological Survey has a site link for some of these levels directly on the Uvalde County website for your convenience.

3. Find Out What is Allowed/Not Allowed – When your tubing down the river, you undoubtedly will have coolers with you containing both food and drinks. You want to be sure you are following the rules on what you can have. Research your trip, and find out about regional & state “dos and don’ts.” You’ll be in areas such as Garner State Park, Utopia Park, and the Lost Maples State Natural Area, so having access to these regulations should be relatively easy.

4. Don’t Travel During Peak Times – It is paramount that you find out when peak times are for visitors. While you cannot completely count on perfect solitude on the river, you don’t want to run into “morning gridlock” while sitting in a rubber tube in your bathing suit. Memorial Day weekend, for example, is the unofficial start to summer, so you can expect very large crowds at the river. Moreover, you may be traveling with your family, and though tubing can a great family activity, peak times can often bring non-family groups that may not suit your fancy.

This is your first time river tubing in Texas hill country, so you want to be sure you have a good time and want to go back again. A vacation of any kind, weekend trip or otherwise, is supposed to be a way to leave the worries of the world behind. By taking some time to do some research while planning out your trip, you increase your chance of having a smoother outing and can ultimately have the most fun possible.

The Secrets of Bukit Nanas

Think Kuala Lumpur, and images of massive shopping centres, fun-filled theme parks, meandering traffic, bustling eateries and street food come to mind. As Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur continues to capture the hearts of locals and tourists alike with abundant opportunities and attractions that it has to offer.

One of the oldest and well-known areas of Kuala Lumpur is Bukit Nanas where the KL Tower, the 5th tallest telecommunication tower in the world, calls home. Although Bukit Nanas is known for its serenity and tranquillity in the midst of the booming modern metropolis, many have yet to discover the hidden gems and attractions that the sprawling verdure have to offer.

Breath of Fresh Air

Throbbing with life in the middle of the bustling city centre is KL Forest Eco-Park, a small patch of greenery known as the only remaining virgin tropical rainforest in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The forest reserve is teeming with wildlife as a plethora of flora and fauna finds refuge within its premises. KL Forest Eco-Park, also known as the ‘Green Lung’ of Kuala Lumpur, boasts paved footpaths for enjoyable nature trails, including an impressive 200-metre canopy walk where visitors can enjoy a light trek with a wonderful aerial view of the treetops and the city beyond.

Reach for the Sky

Forget KLCC, the latest adrenaline-pumping, sightseeing experience is at the Sky Box at KL Towers, which officially opened its doors to the public on 20th May 2016. Located 300 meters from the ground, the Sky Box is an extension from the Sky Deck ledge and is made of glass (not for the faint-hearted!) so that visitors can enjoy an unobstructed panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur.

Since its completion in 1996, the KL Tower (known locally as Menara Kuala Lumpur) has been an icon for Malaysia before the KL Twin Towers took its limelight a year later. Unbeknownst to many, the KL Tower blends Eastern designs with Western architectural technology, and its interior is designed with Islamic motifs to reflect Malaysia’s Islamic heritage. The main lobby is decorated with glass-clad domes designed and arranged in the form of the ‘Murqarnas’ by Iranian craftsmen from Esfahan.

Gastronomic Treasures

Looking to have a nosh after an adventure in the reserve? Relish in local fanfare at Lot 10 Hutong, a ‘gourmet heritage village’ that offers signature Malaysian cuisine from well-known eateries, all clustered under one roof (within the comfort of an air-conditioned food court). For a more authentic experience, the renowned Yut Kee Kopitiam, a stone’s throw away from KL Tower, is where locals rave about their signature Roti Babi (pork bread), and Beef Rendang and Kaya Toast.

Respite in the City

At the foot of Bukit Nanas and nestled in the quiet cul-de-sac of Lorong P. Ramlee, guests looking for a quiet respite in the heart of the bustling city will find comfort at Oasia Suites Kuala Lumpur. Redefining and setting new standards to city hospitality experience as the destination of choice for the wellness-conscious, Oasia Suites Kuala Lumpur is a restorative retreat in the city that inspires and empowers guests to Journey Well when travelling through three wellness pillars – Refresh, Refuel, and Recharge.

Explore the treasures of Bukit Nanas that is Kuala Lumpur’s gold mine of nature and adventure for thrill-seekers and visitors alike! An idyllic green sanctuary for all, this is the ideal hideaway to escape from the hustle and bustle of the cityscape and revivify your senses

Suspended in the Delights of Nature

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet,
and the winds long to play with your hair.

~Daniel Boone~

After a day’s drive from Western New York, we cross the Bourne Bridge to Cape Cod and spend a delightful evening with friends in Mashpee. Early the next morning, we board the ferry for Martha’s Vineyard. I stand on deck at the rail the whole trip. During the 45 minute passage, I feel daily civilization slowly sloughing from my body. A gentle breeze wafts from the Vineyard shore across Nantucket Sound as we steam toward port in Vineyard Haven. By the time we dock and drive off the ferry, I sense that we are in a different reality. We are delighted to reunite with our Vineyard friends and relish our stay with them.

Our first destination after breakfast at the Black Dog is Gay Head Beach. Vineyard weather can change without notice but remains steady during our visit. The weather hovers between the seventies and eighties. On our way Up Island, a gentle breeze bathes us with salt air filtered through dense trees and shrubs as well as wafting across occasional meadows.

Wild turkeys and guinea fowl emerge from the woods to greet us. A long-horned steer suspends his grazing to return our gaze as we stop by his meadow. Goats also graze on a hill in the distance, not interested in our presence. Deer are also plentiful on the island but remain hidden in the woods.

Arriving at our usual parking spot, we load up chairs and provisions to carry across the dunes on the way to our spot on Gay Head beach. A gentle breeze faces us as we traverse the last dune. Lillian Hellman’s cabana continues to fade back into being part of the earth. A few other people walk the beach and others sit in the sun, swim or do both. Gulls come by to investigate our appearance on the beach, hoping for a potato chip or more. An osprey glides overhead and a seal pops up from the waves, possibly attracted by a nearby pod of fishing boats circled offshore for the bass and bluefish tournament. The seal keeps an eye on us as we do on him. I wonder if he enjoys our visit as much as we do his.

The dunes, breeze, surf, sky, beach sculptures and sand in our toes do their best to welcome us to beach environment. A couple of visitors enjoy the beach experience fully, with no interference from clothing- one woman sunbathing and one man swimming.

In addition to our two days at the beach, we also climb the lighthouse, recently moved back from the Gay Head cliffs to prevent its crashing into Nantucket Sound. We also spend time at our favorite haunts on the Vineyard, most notably Menemsha, an Up Island fishing village best known for its chowder and seafood. Competing for a place in our hearts are communing with the island itself and our time together recounting the Martha’s Vineyard stories each of us has collected over the years. All of us treasure both.

Step Into History at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In the northwest corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you find a tiny treasure trove of Americana. The heritage carved by the early settlers of this Tennessee valley is preserved. Open your imagination to the traditions of the mountain people. Rustic log cabins still echo the whispers of Elizabethan English. The mills and barns recall a time when man and nature were bound in an ongoing ritual. Their churches still ring with hymns from the past. Drive, walk, or bike the eleven mile loop road to span a century in the lives of Cades Cove.

The historic buildings are only a part of the Cades Cove experience. Hiking the area is an adventure. You are almost certain to encounter a bear or deer. You may also spot some of some of the cove’s other wild residents, wild hogs, river otters, woodchucks, skunks, bobcat, raccoon, gray or red fox, and chipmunk also dwell here. Recently coyotes have moved into the Smokies and you may see one at dusk or dawn.

Cades Cove is not a museum in the sense of something built for that purpose. It is the preserved remnants of the culture that flourished there from 1820 until the park began acquired the land in 1934.

Before the 1820s, the lush valley was disturbed only by wandering bands of Cherokees. Their old trails crisscross the land, coming down from the mountains and arising on the other side. Remains of some trails still exist in the existing roads and trails. They hunted the bear, bison, elk and deer that roamed the valley’s lush forest and grasslands.

The earliest settlers came into the valley from Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. The Olivers built the oldest remaining structure in the cove. The settlers were religious people. Two of their earliest buildings were churches. The first Primitive Baptist Church was erected in 1827 and replaced in 1887 by the one you see today.

John Oliver and his wife, Lorena Frasier Oliver, lie in the cemetery behind the church along with many other early settlers. Another tombstone refers to a parishioner who was “murdered by North Carolina Rebels.” This reflects the strife within the church caused by the Civil War.

Like any community, Cades Cove had its share of misfortune and sad stories. In the 1880s, Matilda Shields Gregory’s husband abandoned her and their young son. Her brothers built her a tiny log cabin. The larger cabin in front adds to the story. Henry Whitehead, a widower with three daughters, courted and married Matilda. He built the larger home for them. It appears to be a frame house at first glance but closer investigation reveals four-inch-square sawed logs. There were once three such “transition” houses but this is the only one remaining. Notice the innovative brick chimney on the larger house. These two buildings represent the roughest and the finest of the log homes in the cove.

Sometimes the sorghum mill is operating. Another attraction about the mill area is the educational displays that offer a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th century for residents of these mountains.

Over two million people visit the cove each year. They are drawn by the overpowering natural beauty, the plentiful wildlife and a chance to step into another culture, another time. Cades Cove is the largest open-air, living-history museum in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. It is a fitting tribute to those rugged pioneers who carved a life out of what was then one of the most isolated and beautiful spots on earth.

5 Places to Visit in Texas If You’re Crazy About Scenery

If you are looking at places to visit in Texas for the views and scenery, then you are in luck. Texas boasts everything from canyons to deserts to oceans to hills to forests. In short, Texas has it all. With the wildflowers blooming in the spring and the leaves turning in the winter, there just really is no wrong time to take a vacation. Fortunately, there are more places than can be listed that are worth your time. But if you had to narrow it down, you would certainly want to give the following five spots a go:

1. Enchanted Rock

Located deep in the Hill Country, Enchanted Rock has become a top destination for tourists and native Texans alike and for good reason. With a Fredericksburg address, this state park is a popular place for rock climbers. Standing about 425 feet tall, this pink granite rock formation offers the perfect opportunity for stargazing and hiking. It is an easy hike for most everyone and has a beautiful view at the top. Just beware: this state park has boomed in popularity over the past few years, and there is almost always a wait at the entrance, particularly during the summer and Spring Break.

2. Palo Duro Canyon

Located near Amarillo in the Panhandle, there is a reason this second-largest canyon in the United States was one of Georgia O’Keefe’s favorite choices for a painting. She even wrote one time that, “[The canyon] is a burning, seething cauldron filled with dramatic light and color.” The beauty of the canyons also inspired a symphony. They serve as the backdrop to the famous outdoor musical, “Texas” each summer, which attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. Definitely add this to your list of places to visit in Texas if you haven’t already done so.

3. Brenham

When you hear “Brenham,” you most likely think ice cream. And it is true: Brenham serves as the headquarters to the world-famous Bluebell factory. And this charming town, situated just in between Austin and Houston offers some real Texas fun, as well as some breathtaking scenery. The countryside is bursting with wildflowers, including the famous Texas bluebonnet. In fact, Brenham is known as the heart of Bluebonnet country and is on the Bluebonnet Trail. This is also a popular spot for some brilliant wineries and is known as a prime stop on the Texas wine trail. There are also beautiful golf courses, dairy farms, and the historical state park, Washington-on-the-Brazos, which is, after all, the birthplace of Texas.

4. Balcones Canyonland

A lot of people do not think of the Balcones when they think of places to visit in Texas. But they should. This national wildlife refuge is nestled high into the hills of the Hill Country. With multiple bird sighting opportunities and miles of hiking trails, this is a quiet, beautiful retreat from the bustling metropolitan areas.

5. Davy Crockett National Forest

If you are traveling down Highway 69, you won’t be able to miss the gorgeous and scenic Davy Crockett National Forest. Known for its beautiful pine trees, this spot houses over 160,000 wooded acres including a couple of camp spots. With a beautiful lake and the Neches River serving as a border, this forest offers visitors the chance to hike and swim for days.