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Birdlife in Kenya

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Kenya Bird“With just two weeks of birding time, this Central Kenyan tour may have been thought to have it's limitations but the participants were to find that in this country of endless wonder , new birds would still be appearing as we ended the tour in Nairobi on the final afternoon.

An amazing 533 species of birds were recorded, of which only two species were heard only, so 531 forms were seen by members of this fortunate group, together with 63 identified mammals excluding a pipistrelle bat and two rodents, and 20 reptiles and amphibians. A whole host of butterflies and dragonflies, as well as the fascinating botanical fauna were pointed out, but the whole was just too much to take everything in!

All of this, experienced in the comforts of luxurious lodges deep in the heart of prime birding country, offering not only comfort but the finest food that anyone could hope to find in the wilds of any country on this planet.

Still the superlatives come, the most scenic, the friendliest people, the easiest place to see birds and wildlife, the most comfortable of climates imaginable, all were uttered by the participants on this trip. The negative publicity issued by ill-informed government officials were defied by the participants and in Kenya they found the most peaceful of nations ready to welcome them, and make them feel at home.

Kenya BirdThe ornithological highlight as far as globally rare, and never before seen by a tour group, was the relocation of a pair of Karamoja Apalis near the area where the leader had discovered them in January of this year, a then first record for Kenya. They were much appreciated as they bounced around in their spiny Whistling Thorn habitat. Whilst there were some local rarities, nothing quite came near that.... And it was saved for the return journey for Nairobi, to spice up the journey!

Arriving close to schedule, the group were transferred to their Nairobi base for a few hours rest, before heading off to Nairobi National Park with a picnic for their first introduction to East African birding. Colourful jewels such as Variable and Bronze Sunbirds, Red-collared Widowbird and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, a Paradise Flycatcher in the car park, dainty Red-rumped Swallows, and comical Speckled Mousebirds were found before entering the Park.

Once inside the Park seeing ponderous Black Rhinos, stately Maasai Giraffes and grassy horizons dotted with gazelles and ostriches, reminded the group where they were. The prize find in Nairobi Park, was a very obliging Finfoot resting on a log in the river. One group member had over a hundred new species on this first day, and had no idea that things were just only going to get better!

Departing Nairobi, we left for our lengthy drive to Amboseli National Park. Many birds were seen on the journey, but it was not until after lunch at the luxurious Tortilis Camp that the real birding started with multi-hued Lilac-breasted Rollers and dainty Namaqua Doves interrupting the meal.

The next morning provided very interesting birding, the swamps had a good variety of water birds such as the world’s largest heron, the Goliath Heron, noisy and attractive African Fish-Eagles yodelling from the remnant trees adjacent to the water, Two-banded Coursers piping from the barren dusty landscape, Malachite Kingfishers waiting patiently on papyrus stems and White-headed Buffalo-Weavers launching clumsily to reveal their red rumps, prompting a "what on earth was that?" response from the fast-overwhelmed participants.

Vulturine GuineafowlAmongst the mammals we were treated to Hippopotamus, Elephants, Giraffe and Lions and a most endearing frog-hunting Serval, and the often secretive Mt. Kilimanjaro was kind and gave a superb backdrop during most of our full morning. After a sumptuous meal we ventured out again in the afternoon seeing African Jacanas skittering over the floating vegetation, coaxed Crowned Cranes responding with a quick two-step, and watching the sun set through the lattice of acacia branches, clothing them in a rosy hue, before the mountain itself became draped in a misty gloom and darkness rapidly ensued.

As with all the National Parks and Game Reserves in Kenya, to ensure no poaching there is no driving in the protected areas after the sun has set, as daunting as this may have seemed for finding owls, our third species of owl in the Park came as a surprise for the group. Hearing a Barn Owl outside of the building, the leader, who was doing the nightly checklist at the time, played back a Barn Owl call directly off the computer. He was not expecting a response, when an Owl shot into the building just missing his head, and proceeded to scream from a beam. Not finding the intruder there, it then flew into the dining room and continued its noisy complaining sitting above the diners!

From Amboseli we drove to Tsavo West National Park finding several Lesser Kudu and a Cheetah on the way, plus a stop to look for (and find) White-headed Mouse birds. Entering the Park we found that in spite of the lack of rain that the area had suffered, with leafless bushes and relative silence, many species were still in residence, amongst the variety located on the way to our lodge at Ngulia, were several agitated Pearl-spotted Owlets and true gems such as Eastern Violet-backed and Tsavo Sunbirds and Green-winged Pytilias.

The beautiful vista was appreciated at breakfast whilst Dodson's Bulbuls boldly helped themselves to the breakfast cereals. The morning heralded countless species of birds, but star performer was a showy Red-naped Bush-Shrike, a species that is so rarely seen. The bush was quite quiet and very dry, but with persistence the bird tally continued to mount throughout the day.

We punctuated our long drive to Thika with a stop at Hunter's Lodge where Giant Kingfishers were putting on a fine display, whilst we enjoyed our coffee. Arriving at Thika in the evening, we settled in and made arrangements for our birding in the grounds the following day.

In the early morning there was little activity in the grounds as it was quite overcast, however we did find specialities like Trumpeter Hornbill, Grey-Olive and Zanzibar Sombre Greenbuls. We then departed for Mountain Lodge on the lower slopes of Mt. Kenya. After lunch we went birding on the roof and one new bird quickly followed another in this rich forested habitat, the montane starlings were particularly kind, and three Abbott's Starlings topped that list. In the evening a parade of small mammals such as Marsh and White-tailed Mongooses, and larger beasts like Bushbuck and Elephants vied for attention. Hot water bottles were a welcome novelty for many of the group that evening, ensuring a very comfortable night.

Egptian CranesThe next morning we had breakfast whilst the sun warmed the air making the birds more active. Mt. Kenya was in all its splendour, and a gathering of new species were attracted by the insects, which were themselves attracted by the lights that burned all through the night. Leaving Mountain Lodge we proceeded slowly from the slopes of the mountain, finding an obliging pair of Black Ducks feeding near a bridge, and a host of dancing gem-like Golden-winged Sunbirds. Our next destination was Naro Moru.

A walk around the grounds resulted in a horrendous shock on finding that the beautiful grounds had been levelled for a new golf course. The alternative was to drive along the road crossing this part of the Laikipia Plateau, and we soon found both bountiful mammals, with no less than ten Golden Jackals, and birds, which included the comet-like Long-tailed Widowbirds.

Taking the dirt road across to the main Nyahururu road we found splendid creatures like watchful raucous Black-winged Plovers and furtive Capped Wheatears bobbing on the posts. The abundant game included such locals as Jackson's Hartebeest, and Beisa Oryx. On arriving at the paved road, we soon stopped for and successfully located Mackinder's Eagle Owl, also finding many of the little known but sizeable Elementeita Rock Agama. Our lunch stop by the Ndaragwa River, had us accompanied by dancing Mountain Wagtails and busy Dusky Flycatchers, but the appearance of a male Abyssinian Crimsonwing stopped consumption for a while.

The warmth attracted many colourful butterflies to the waters edge, where swallowtails engaged in their mud-puddling activities. A stop at Thomson's Falls rewarded us with a very tame cross-legged Mountain Buzzard, and in town Slender-billed Starlings were sharing television aerials with their cousins the Red-winged Starlings. Following this we descended into the Great Rift Valley continuing our journey to Lake Baringo, and another halt was called for with a Saddle-billed Stork on a roadside pool.

In the morning we scoured the lodge grounds discovering Red-and-Yellow Barbets, an obliging Red-chested Cuckoo and the immense footprints of Hippos outside of our rooms, although the recent wet season had produced a bountiful food supply and they were grazing elsewhere. Continuing to the lakeside, we could see that the floods experienced a couple of months earlier had brought the level right up to the jetty. The sedges abundent in mixed Weavers in their breeding attires whilst a few stunning Northern Red Bishops buzzed randomly above the inundated grasses alongside the jetty.

Masked Weaver BirdBreakfast was a continuous interruption as a swathe of birds descended on the bird-table, Jackson's Hornbills were the largest but the least aggressive of the diners, five species of yellow weavers were having a free for all, whilst the starlings added an extra splash of colour. After breakfast we patrolled the nearby cliffs for and found Hemprich's Hornbill, watchful White-faced Scops Owls, teetering Brown-tailed and bouncy Cliff Chats. With local assistance of the resident Williams's we were able to appreciate Greyish Eagle-Owl, Heuglin's Courser and Nubian Nightjar at their daytime retreats. A walk along the shore rewarded with three Black Egrets, and dazzling rainbow-hued Knob-billed Ducks. Post lunch we left for Nakuru stopping for waterbirds along the way, arriving in the evening in time to see what the next day would be bringing.

Mere words cannot convey the magical spectacle of Nakurus Lesser Flamingos in the first rays of sunlight heralding the new day, but the huge gatherings of other waterbirds are none the less impressive! The hours seemed to speed by as we tried to comprehend the immense biomass of birdlife stretching out before us. A Madagascar Squacco Heron was found resting quietly on a vegetated swamp, a few White-winged Black Terns were in very striking breeding plumage and as the air warmed, the flocks of White Pelicans took to the air. We located two Black-headed Gulls and two White Storks that had apparently not returned back to Europe. Amongst the variety of mammals the fifteen White Rhinos and the Black Rhino were most appreciated.

Our final new destination was the incomparable Maasai Mara, a day of travelling, but punctuated with roadside stops for a few more forest species such as Narina Trogon, Banded Prinia and White-tailed Crested Flycatcher. Butterflies were putting on a splendid show on this beautiful sunny morning. A lunch stop in Kericho gave us a taste of the west in the form of Grey-throated Barbets, Mackinnon's Fiscal and Black-crowned Waxbills.

Another pause before arriving at the top of the Oloololo Escarpment rewarded us with some attractive bulky birds, Southern Ground-Hornbills, Black-and-White Casqued Hornbills and Schalow's Turaco.

Descending the last few kilometres we arrived, somewhat dusty... at Kichwa Tembo and were soon ridding ourselves of the days grime in well appointed and comfortable surroundings.... and a delicious meal soon followed.

We had an early morning drive prior to our picnic breakfast on the sides of the scenic Sabaringo Valley. The morning was quite chilly and birds loathe to become active, however with some effort the areas specialities were found, and a walk along the edge of the escarpment provided a stunning view overlooking the Maasai Mara and the winding Mara River far below us. As the sun warmed the area, we found four species of local specialities within a matter of minutes, including a pair of Yellow-bellied Hyliotas at their nest. After a sumptuous lunch we spent the afternoon at Musiara Swamp easily finding Rufous-bellied Herons and Saddle-billed Storks. The next day we completely circumnavigated the Mara, visiting the eastern valleys for Magpie Shrikes, Silverbirds and Yellow-mantled Widow birds. We seemed to encounter many lions, including overly cute cubs, but our first group had a posing breeding plumaged Black Coucal on a nearby bush.

The next morning we went birding in the grounds of Kichwa locating a showy Ross's Turaco warming itself in the early sunlight, whilst Red-tailed Monkeys ever present played in the fruiting trees. Sadly it was the morning we had to leave, but it was far from uneventful as we searched the thorn scrub for a few hitherto missing species with success. Then crossing the extensive red-oats grasslands we notched up a few more species, eventually arriving in the eastern hills of the Mara, before having our picnic adjacent to a pair of Karamoja Apalis, which required considerable searching before capitulating to the delight of everyone. On a small pool the entire group admired the elusive White-headed Saw-wings and Grey-headed Silverbills as they quenched their thirst.

Our final meal at the Carnivore toasted the end of a very successful bird tour, and it was difficult to absorb all that we had seen in a mere two weeks in one of the most bird-filled countries in the world. Only the participants will notice everything left out of this briefest of reports, what we had experienced would easily run into volumes”.

Feedback From Clients

Patty Belinda

Davies, What an awesome trip!!!! Everything went off without a hitch. We had the most incredible game viewing I think anyone could ever have. The hospitality of the Kenyan people was like no other in the whole world. The game viewing exceeded all our expectations. In the Samburu portion of the trip we saw a leopard get a kill, take it up in a tree, climb down and call for her cub and find her. There were many herds of Elephants, Grevy's zebra's, Reticulated Giraffes, Eland, Grant Gazelle's, Impala's, Bushbuck, Gerenuk, Grey Duikers, Dik-Dik's, Warthogs, Olive Baboons, Vervet Monkey's, Lions, Jackals, Genet and more, I'm sure! Our driver, tent steward, waiters and all the personnel went far beyond their duties to make everything so personal a...

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