Safari Reports

Birdwatching in Kenya, 8 Days Birding Tour Report

By: Lorna Mee, Australia
Birdwatching in Kenya as reported by Lorna Mee, Australia covering over 336 species recoded, Tour led by Chege wa Kariuki

We recently had an excellent trip to East Africa . We had wanted to go there for a long time; it promised some great mammals, a great cultural experience, and some birding. We travelled into 9 different countries, South Africa , Tanzania , Malawi , Zimbabwe Zambia, Kenya , Uganda , Botswana , Congo and it was much better than we expected. Africa isn't only about birds, the mammals were awesome, and the people were wonderful, gentle, helpful and friendly wherever we went. The mammal highlights were; Elephants by the hundreds in Botswana , Zebra and Wildebeest and Buffalo by the 1000's in the Masai Mara and the myriad of other animals in The Serengeti N.P, Lake Nakuru N.P., Nairobi N.P. and the Ngorongoro Crater. We saw Giraffe, Lions and Leopards, Cheetah, Buffalo , White and Black Rhino, Hyenas, Jackals, Hippopotamus, Rock Hyrax, Hartebeest, six different species of primate and many different antelope which were impressive and all very different.

For the first 6 weeks we did just the mammals and the cultural experience, and incidentally identified 150 birds. Bird watching is frustrating when you are on a wildlife safari as the tours are aimed at mammals. This can mean whizzing past a tree full of interesting looking birds in pursuit of a lion, and persuading 20 non birdwatchers to spend 20 minutes watching and identifying an insignificant looking little brown bird is something of a lost cause. That's not to say such a safari is a waste of time. Many of the guides are quite happy to point out interesting looking birds. You still see plenty of species but are likely to miss out on a few good opportunities.

Our Last 8 days in Africa, consisted of Graeme attempting to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, 5890metres above sea level, while I did a bird watching safari with Birdwatching East Africa from Nairobi . We found it on the internet. www.birdwatchingeastafrica.com

My guide, Chege Kariuki was highly professional and a thorough gentleman. We got down to business immediately, from the moment he picked me up from my hotel, locating and identifying 50 birds in 50 minutes in the gateway of Nairobi National Park, before we had even entered the National Park. The remainder of the day was spent in the park. We visited many different habitats in Nairobi National Park , which incidentally is right on the edge of the city, with a backdrop of skyscrapers and the roar of jets coming in to land. We checked small wetlands, swampland, open savannah, grasslands and dry forest, where we counted 115 birds for the day. An exhausting, exciting and overwhelming eleven hours of birding, my guide having the eyes and ears of an eagle and an equal passion for finding and identifying every bird possible. We also managed to stumble on a black Rhino, gazelle, warthog, zebra and giraffe.

Our next destination was Olorgesaille; an evening of birding, and the next morning a bird walk along a dry river bed before the day heated up. All the way up the rift valley, stops along the way showed a distinctive change of habitat and species, en route visiting some ponds which are gradually disappearing, due to human encroachment, and of course the ubiquitous sewerage ponds, which yielded at least 15 different waterfowl.

Day three was spent in Gatamaiyu Forest , in the central highlands, a lovely rainforest, boasting mountain species. While hunting the Scaly Francolin and waiting in the thickets, we were distracted by a visiting sunbird, before being rewarded with a sighting of a pair scratching in the undergrowth. My guide was also rewarded here with a new bird, the Sharpe's Starling a specific mountain species, to add to his list of over 850 odd. Today we ticked off another 81 birds.

Day 4 was spent around Lake Naivasha , where we searched for Sharpe's Longclaw, a Kenyan endemic and globally threatened species, found on the grasslands plateau and endangered due to loss of habitat (sounds familiar). I really enjoyed this search and chase. Lake Naivasha is one of two fresh water lakes along the rift valley, and offers superb birding with the lake fringed by papyrus on the shores and acacia woodland habitat, supplemented by dormant volcanoes. 116 bird species for the today.

Day 5 was spent at Hells Gate N.P., and then onto Nakuru National Park , referred to as “the greatest ornithological spectacle in the world”. And it sure was with lesser and greater flamingos by the hundreds of thousands. The alkaline habitat, acacia woodland, grassland, rivers and inlets with marshes, is a great habitat for many bird species, as well as the usual exciting mammals: giraffe, buffalo, white rhino, waterbuck, leopard, eland, spotted hyena, and more.

We spent Day 6 in Nakuru, getting intoxicated on the wildlife spectacle. This day yielded 129 birds. Then we drove on to Lake Baringo Conservation Area where we located the White faced Scops Owl, Spotted Eagle Owl, Water Thick-knee, Spotted Thick-knee, and the local Heuglin's Courser, assisted by a local guide who keeps an eye out for the location of these birds.

Here we also spotted the Northern Red Bishop, another new bird for Chege.

Top In my 8 days we located and identified 335 different species.

44 waterfowl

33 Cisticola and Warblers

21 Raptors

17 weavers

15 Waxbill 6

13 Sunbirds

9 Doves and Pigeons

9 Waders

7 swifts and swallows

6 Hornbills

7 Barbets

6 Woodpeckers

5 Francolin

5 Kingfishers

4 Bee eaters

2 Rollers

5 Larks

4 Owls

3 Whydas

2 Bustard

2 Flamingoes

1 Ostrich

1 Trogon

Secretary bird, one on nest, one on wing , one on the ground

and many, many more.

Top My guide went to great lengths to find the rarer, more shy and difficult to find birds, and was very patient with sighting, identifying untiringly for this apprentice birdwatcher. Birdwatching in Kenya was both wonderful and frustrating.

In conclusion, there's a lot more to bird identification than I'd ever realised. I found I had jumped into the deep end, as the birds were endless and tricky to identify. Birding in Kenya happened way too fast to even absorb a small percentage of it on the spot. No time to write the information down, or learn it, then and there, or even to repeat it , or in the time that you do, the guide has found four more bird species, that you wish you knew something about. Such is the problem of birding in a foreign country. Especially when there's a guide to identify everything for you and you are so unfamiliar with the calls and flight patterns.

It was a wonderful experience to go birding in Kenya , the cultural experience far surpassed anything I have done in my life. I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my Kenyan guide, and I would just love to do it all over again with the knowledge I now have.


Lorna Mee


From: John Gabriel, Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Hi Chege, Maurice and I have talked about our day with you in the Nairobi National Park on many occasions. From a birding point of view it has been the high point of many years birding and I know that I have boasted about it to many people over the past six months. Your knowledge of the birds and of the park made it a truly memorable experience for which I want to thank and compliment you. To see more than 150 species in a day is spectacular, and when leopard and cheetah are added to the day's viewing, it becomes even more so”
From: Josep del Hoyo, Spain, (Editor, Handbook Of The Birds Of The World)
“Chege was very knowledgeable on every site that I visited with him and we succeeded in videoing several difficult birds.”
From: Jack Jeffrey Hawaii Bird Photography & Tours www.jackjeffreyphoto.com
Birdwatching East Africa (BEA) is one Kenya’s best kept secrets. Chege wa Kariuki and his staff are the best there is to offer for game drive, birding, photography, and mobile tent camping safaris. They create unique adventures for birders and photographers providing unparalleled opportunities to see many of Kenya’s bird species, numerous mammals, including the big five. The staff are very knowledgeable, friendly, courteous and provide in depth information about Kenya’s wildlife, habitats and people. The camp staff is unsurpassed. Their chef provides wonderful meals made from produce from local farms, and the campsites have comfortable tents, showers and toilets, and are a very safe environment for clients. These are just a few of the reasons we use Birdwatching East Africa as our guide and outfitters for birding and photo safaris when in Kenya.
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