3rd - 26th November 2012
We arrived at Nairobi Airport in the early afternoon, following a very long and tiring flight from Australia. Even so, we were very keen and up for the task of seeing a huge number of birds during the tour. So in the grounds of the airport and flying above it, our first birds of the tour included Marabou Stork, Black Kite, African Palm-Swift, Common Bulbul and Pied Crow.
Leaving the ever-expanding and traffic-locked city of Nairobi, we headed for the nearby peaceful haven of Nairobi National Park, an extensive area of true wilderness harbouring large game and many splendid birds, all set against the bizarre backdrop of city skyscrapers and large factories and numerous aeroplanes flying into and out of the adjacent Nairobi Airport! We spent the rest of the afternoon birding in the park. As is the case in the national parks of Kenya, we were restricted to viewing from the vehicle, but this was to work well for us throughout the tour, as much of the roof of our sturdy 4x4 vehicles could be removed, provided a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape.
As we ate our picnic lunch in a picnic area just inside the parks gates, we were bombarded with a series of new birds as we watched Sacred Ibis, Red-eyed Dove, the beautiful Diederik Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Winding Cisticola, Pale Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, the very large Long-tailed Fiscal, Superb Starling, Rufous and House Sparrows, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Speke's and Baglafecht Weavers, Brimstone Canary and Yellow-rumped Seedeater. Following lunch we drove down onto the plains, driving through the scattered acacias we added many more new birds including the stately Common Ostrich, Long-tailed Cormorant, a good number of Cattle Egrets, a very close Hamerkop, hovering Black-shouldered Kites, quite different from our similar looking Australian Kites, a distant Black-chested Snake-Eagle, one or two coveys of obliging Yellow-necked Spurfowls, large flocks of Helmeted Guineafowls and perhaps best of all, good close looks at both White-bellied and Hartlaub's Bustards. There was also Crowned Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, a splendid Dusky Turtledove, stunning Little Bee-eaters, numerous Red-naped Larks, Red-rumped Swallow, both Rosy-breasted Longclaw and the fear less common Pangani Longclaw, several Grassland Pipits, a couple of flocks of Yellow-bellied Eremomelas and we watched the very uncommon African Moustached Warbler, in full song. We saw a whole array of cisticolas, which included small Pecoral-patch and Wing-snapping, as well as larger Stout, Rattling, Winding and Croaking. We saw several Northern Pied Babblers, a rather sneaky Brown-crowned Tchagra, which was very reluctant to show himself, Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, large flocks of Red-billed Quelea and out-of-plumage White-winged Widowbirds, a few Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus, stunning Purple Grenadiers, Crimson-rumped Waxbills, African Citrils, African Quailfinches and Brimstone and Yellow-fronted Canaries. We also enjoyed great looks at a pair of wintering Palearctic migrants, the very beautiful Pied Wheatear. We also saw a good number of mammals, a couple of us had a quick look at a Slender Mongoose, we saw three Lions, herds of Common Zebra, amazingly, both Black and White Rhinoceros, Giraffe, African Buffalo, Common Warthog, Eland, Africa's largest antelope, Eastern Thompson's Gazelle, Impala and Kongoni. It was a great start to the tour.
The following morning a little birding in the grounds of our hotel in Nairobi produced several new birds which included very close Hadada Ibis, a large flock of Little Swifts, a few Speckled Mousebirds, an Olive thrush, a pair of White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers, Common Fiscal, several Pied Crows and Spectacled Weaver. There was also a Western Yellow Wagtail, a migrant from the northern Palearctic.
Following breakfast we drove to the south, heading for Lake Magadi, just north of the border with Tanzania. We made our first birding stop in a patch of acacia woodland, literally on the extreme southern edge of the ever expanding suburbs of Nairobi. The birding was very good and new birds came thick and fast. We observed a single African Hoopoe at very close quarters, beautiful Wire-tailed Swallows were flying all around us, we enjoyed great looks at the attractive Cape Robin-Chat and the equally attractive White-browed Scrub-Robin, a single Buff-bellied Warbler showed very well in a large acacia, as did a diminutive Red-faced Crombec. A singing Cisticola performed nicely and even bust into song for us, a Tawny-flanked Prinia showed well, a Yellow-breasted Apalis popped into view, along with a female Bronze Sunbird and a dazzling male Variable Sunbird took our breath away. We watched both Tropical and Slate-coloured Boubous, at one time we could see both species in the same field of view, a Hildebrandt's Starling bedazzled us, we saw several Chestnut Sparrows, the diminutive Grey-capped Social-Weaver showed very well, alongside the equally diminutive Speckle-fronted Weaver, we watched a family party of White-bellied Canaries and a pair of Streaky Seedeaters. However the bird that stole the show was the rarely observed Wahlberg's Honeybird. There was also a couple of Palearctic migrants, we had good looks at an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and a Willow Warbler.
We then made a series of birding stops in the splendid Ngong Hills, which produced a great many new birds. We saw a perched Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, a Dark Chanting Goshawk was observed in flight, as was a Shikra and we watched a pair of African Hawk-Eagles, the male was performing his spectacular display flight and guess what, the female, surprise surprise, took no interest at all! A pair of Crested Francolins crossed the road, a few Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves showed while we were having our picnic lunch, several Namaqua Doves were seen well and we found a tree full of African Mourning Doves, resting up during the heat of mid-day. We saw a few Laughing Doves very well, saw a White-bellied Go-away-bird, a party of Blue-naped Mousebirds, a pair of splendid Grey-headed Kingfishers attending a nest hole in the bank of a large river, a Rufous-crowned Roller was scoped as it sat on power lines and both Von der Decken's and African Grey Hornbills flew across the road in front of our vehicles. This area also produced no less than five separate species of barbets, Red-fronted Tinkerbird and Red-fronted, Black-throated, d'Arnaud's and Red-and-yellow Barbets, all of which were seen very well. Our main target bird in this area was the attractive and well marked, but unfortunately, all too rare Short-tailed Lark, which following a little searching, we saw extremely well. While searching for it we also enjoyed very good close looks at another very uncommon species of lark, the Fawn-coloured Lark. We observed the very attractive Fischer's Sparrow-lark on a couple of occasions. On one occasion we came across a large flock of hirundines, most of the flock were made up of Northern House Martins, a Palearctic migrant, there were also smaller numbers of Plain Martins and a single Barn Swallow, another Palearctic migrant. We saw a couple of Long-billed Pipits, an African Bare-eyed Thrush and a lovely Little Rock-Thrush. We saw three species of wheatears very well, the resident Shallow's Wheatear and two Palearctic migrants, the Northern and Isabelline Wheatears. A Spotted Morning-Thrush was observed, along with a Northern Crombec, both Ashy and Levaillant's Cisticolas were seen well, as were Grey-backed Camaroptera and the Grey Wren-Warbler. A Chin-spot Batis popped up on one occasion, an African Paradise-flycatcher flew across the road in front of our vehicles, a pair of Abyssinian White-eyes were observed, we were transfixed by Marico, Hunters, Beautiful and Eastern Violet-backed Sunbirds. A single Isabelline Shrike showed well, yet another Palearctic migrant, a Brubru popped into view as did a pair of the uncommon Pringle's Puffbacks. Several Eurasian Golden Orioles, another Palearctic migrant, showed during our picnic lunch, Red-winged and Greater Blue-eared Starlings were observed, as was a Northern Grey-headed Sparrow and a pair of Yellow-spotted Petronias. Splendid Vitelline Masked Weavers were much admired as were Black-necked and Holub's Golden Weavers. We had a quick look at a female Green-winged Pytillia, we saw a male Red-billed Firefinch and a pair of very uncommon Southern Grosbeak-Canaries.
In the middle of the afternoon we reached Lake Magadi were our main target bird was the extremely range-restricted Chestnut-banded Plover, which we quickly located and saw very well in the scope. There was also a supporting cast of other new birds at the lake, which included many hundreds of superb Lesser Flamingos, good numbers of Black-winged Stilts, a few Blacksmith Lapwings and three species of Palearctic migrants, Ruff, Common Greenshank and Little Stint. New mammals along the roadside today included a troop of Olive Baboons, a couple of Unstriped Ground Squirrels, a Bushbuck, several Grant's Gazelles and a single Gerenuk.
A quick look around the grounds of our hotel in Nairobi, the following morning, produced several new birds which included African Darter, Mountain Buzzard, African Pied Wagtail, Yellow White-eye and Bronze Mannikin. We then drove out of Nairobi and travelled to Thika where we birded in the gardens and grounds of a large hotel. The Thika River was in flood and there was a huge amount of water swirling by us. The track along the riverbank was a little slippery, but our visit was very worthwhile with great looks at the following new species, Egyptian Goose, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Spot-flanked and White-headed Barbets, the uncommon Eastern Honeybird, Mountain Wagtail, Black Sawwing, a female Black Cuckoo-shrike, the simply stunning Ruppell's Robin-Chat, Grey-capped Warbler, White-bellied Tit, Abyssinian White-eye, Green-headed, Amethyst and Collared Sunbirds, Red-billed Firefinch and Rufous-backed Mannikin.
We also added one more Palearctic migrant, a Common Sandpiper.
We continued our journey to Mount Kenya, making a quick stop at a papyrus swamp, on the outskirts of Thika. Here we found a few White-rumped Swifts flying over the swamp and a good number of African Golden Weavers in the papyrus. Our second birding spot was in an area of farmland at Muranga, here our main target bird was the endangered Hinde's Babbler. New birds here included African Swamphen, Lilac-breasted Roller, Cardinal Woodpecker, Lesser striped Swallow, the very beautiful White-headed Sawwing, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Fork-tailed Drongo and Common Waxbill. We also saw three very uncommon species of birds, we enjoyed very good looks at a Little Bittern, in this instance, a migratory bird from the Palearctic, we found a roosting Spotted Eagle-Owl and had good looks at a Lesser Honeyguide. Try as we may, we only managed a quick glimpse at a Hinde's Babbler.
We continued on to Mount Kenya, where our destination for the night was the wonderful Mountain Lodge. We arrived just in time for lunch, just as a heavy downpour of rain hit the mountain. During lunch it rained very heavily and just as we finished having lunch, it stopped just as suddenly. We spent the rest of the afternoon birding from the roof of the lodge, which is a fantastic place from which to watch birds in the surrounding temperate rainforest. New birds for the tour included Great Sparrowhawk, Eastern Bronze-naped and Olive Pigeons, African Green-Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrot, Hartlaub's Turaco, Mottled, Alpine and Scarce Swifts, the very large Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Rock Martin, Mosque Swallow, Cape Wagtail, Mountain Greenbul, Hunter's Cisticola, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Montane White-eye, Black-backed Puffback, Montane Oriole, Red-billed Oxpecker, Waller's and Sharpe's Starlings, and the beautiful Brown-capped Weaver. We also saw three species of Palearctic migrants, Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail and Blackcap. New mammals for the tour included Sykes's Monkey, Scrub Hare, Ochre Bush Squirrel, Blotched Genet, Southern Tree Hyrax and Waterbuck. We even enjoyed brief views of the very impressive peak of Mount Kenya. During the night some of us were woken by a member of staff in order to observe a Marsh Mongoose and a beautiful Leopard, which could be seen in the lodges spotlights, which lit up a large salt lick and waterhole in front of the lodge.
After breakfast the following morning, we were back up on the roof and new birds included Grey Heron, Black Stork, Tamborine Dove, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-whiskered and Slender-billed Greenbuls, White-starred Robin, Brown Parisoma, Grey and Black-throated Apalis's, Black-headed Weaver, Yellow-crowned Canary and Thick-billed Seedeater. Leaving the lodge we drove back down the mountain, birding as we did so. By the time we left the lush green forests of the mountain, we had added a further 10 species of raptors, Lizard Buzzard, African Harrier-Hawk, European Honey-Buzzard, Augur and Eurasian Buzzards and Wahlberg's, Booted, Long-crested, Martial and African Crowned Eagles. We admired a beautiful Klaas's Cuckoo, had good looks at the range restricted Tullberg's Woodpecker, observed the uncommon Angola Swallow, watched a beautiful male African Stonechat, saw the diminutive African Dusky Flycatcher, were thrilled by the stunning African Paradise-flycatcher, added Northern Double-collared Sunbird, the gorgeous Red-collared Widowbird, a beautiful male Yellow Bishop in full breeding plumage, enjoyed good looks at the Grey-headed Negrofinch and the equally stunning African Golden-breasted Bunting. We also enjoyed great looks at the very beautiful Guereza Colobus, an absolutely stunning species of monkey.
We then drove to nearby Naro Moru River Lodge, at the foot of Mount Kenya, where we had lunch. Following lunch we enjoyed a very pleasant walk through riverine forest and some adjacent farmland. Here we enjoyed more new birds for the tour which included Ring-necked Dove, the impressive looking Crowned Hornbill, we picked out a couple of Ethiopian Swallows sat on telegraph wires, amongst a large flock of Barn Swallows, admired a Cabanis's Greenbul, a pair of White-browed Robin-Chats, we had surprisingly good looks at a few normally more retiring Rufous Chatterers, saw the beautiful Tacazze Sunbird, the much smaller Easter Double-collared Sunbird, a few Cape Rooks, greatly admired the very beautiful Violet-backed Starling and some members of the group saw a Yellow-breasted Waxbill. We also enjoyed good looks at a migrant from the northern Palearctic, a beautiful Nightingale, which unfortunately, do not sing on their wintering grounds.
After breakfast the following morning we birded the nearby Solio Plain, a huge expanse of rolling grassland, which had until recently, been uninhabited. Now much of the plain has been taken over by a large ranch, which farms game animals and there is also a number of new settlements, housing squatters that have recently been evicted from Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Mountains National Parks. Even so, the Solio Plain is still a great place for observing grassland species and we found many new birds for the tour which included Black-headed Heron, a small group of African White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures, we saw a few Tawny Eagles, enjoyed good looks at both Common and Greater Kestrels, very much enjoyed watching small flocks of stunning Grey-crowned Cranes, saw one or two huge Kori Bustards, flocks of Black-winged Lapwings, enjoyed huge numbers of Red-capped Larks, Plain-backed Pipits, Northern Anteater Chats and a few Capped Wheatears and a small flock of Long-tailed Widowbirds. We also saw two migrants from the Northern Palearctic, an adult female Pallid Harrier and several Whinchats.
We then drove up into the Aberdare Mountains National Park where we very much enjoyed the cool mountain air. An amazing 400 kilometres of electrified fencing now surrounds the Aberdare Mountains National Park, aimed at keeping the animals in and people out! Surely a sign of the times, this will undoubtedly increasingly happen to all the world's wild areas, as pressure on land and resources intensifies. Following a picnic lunch inside the park, we set off to find the parks special birds, slowly gaining in altitude as we did so. On a small lake we added Little Grebe, Yellow-billed Stork and the uncommon African Black Duck. We saw small flocks of Scaly Francolin and the near-endemic Jackson's Francolin, we had good looks at a Black Cuckoo, several obliging White-browed Coucals, a very close Greater Honeyguide, several perky Alpine Chats, even had good looks at the normally very skulking Cinnamon Bracken-Warbler, had good looks at a couple of Brown Woodland-Warblers, enjoyed good close looks at the endemic Aberdare Cisticola, admired a Black-collared Apalis, saw the rather skulking African Hill-Babbler very well, we saw good numbers of both Golden-winged and Malachite Sunbirds, watched a couple of Black-crowned Tchagras, a large flock of Slender-billed Starlings and the rather shy Abyssinian Crimsonwing. We also enjoyed good looks at the Common Rock-Thrush, a migrant from the Northern Palearctic. We also added new mammals for the tour which included Vervet Monkey, Spotted Hyena, African Elephant and several Bush Duiker. In the late afternoon we drove to Nyeri for an overnight stay.
As we were loading bags into our vehicles in the grounds of our hotel, the following morning, we saw a new bird for the tour, the attractive Southern Black Flycatcher. We then drove to a nearby quarry where we met up with a young man who is the guardian of a pair of Cape Eagle-Owls, which nest in the quarry. Here we enjoyed great scope views of a single bird which sat on a fully exposed rocky ledge. Other new birds here included Horus and Nyanza Swifts and Red-winged Starling. A little further down the road we did some birding at a small dam, where new birds included a Great Egret, a couple of Red-billed Teal, a few Yellow-billed Ducks, a Black Crake, a couple of Red-knobbed Coot, a few very close Brown Parrots and a couple of Pied Kingfishers.
A short drive took us to the famous Thompson's Falls and while admiring the falls a Peregrine Falcon flew by us and landed on some rocks along the edge of the falls, where we were able to enjoy great scope views, of this delightful falcon.
We then continued on to Lake Nakuru National Park, where we enjoyed a superb lunch. We then spent the rest of the afternoon birding around the lake. During the last twelve months Kenya had experienced much more rain than usual and many of its lakes, including Lake Nakuru, were holding far more water than usual. This had made Lake Nakuru far less alkaline than usual and because of this there was only a handful of Lesser Flamingos present, but there was a good covering of Greater Flamingos. The edge of the lake was literally packed with birds and new birds for the tour included Black-necked Grebe, Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Great Cormorant, Little and Intermediate Egrets, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Hottentot and Cape Teal, Southern Pochard, African Fish-Eagle, Pied Avocet, Grey headed Gull and Malachite Kingfisher. Plus a collection of Palearctic migrants which included a few Common Ringed Plovers and a large number of Wood and Marsh Sandpipers. Impressively huge and ancient Yellow Fever Trees surround the lake and birding these, also gave us a fine selection of new birds for the tour. Which included Green Woodhoopoe, Nubian and Bearded Woodpecker, African Grey Flycatcher, Arrow-marked Babbler, Northern Puffback, African Black-headed Oriole, Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling and Red-headed Weaver. We also found a few Eurasian Hoopoes, migrants from the Palearctic.
We spent the following morning birding around Lake Nakuru and once again new birds came thick and fast. Around the lakes edge we greatly admired a family party of Saddle-billed Storks, several beautiful African Jacanas, a good number of Spur-winged Lapwings and a large flock of Whiskered Terns. More Palearctic migrants included a few Northern Shoveler, a couple of Northern Pintails, a Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, a Montagu's Harrier, a couple of very uncommon Temminck's Stints, a few Gull-billed Terns, at least two uncommon White-winged Terns and a small flock of Sand Martins. Amongst the Yellow Fever Trees new birds included Brown Snake-Eagle, Striped Kingfisher, Common Scimiterbill, Grey Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Black-lored Babbler, Grey-backed Fiscal, Brubru and Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike. We also saw two more species of Palearctic migrants, the very large Steppe Eagle and the beautiful Eurasian Hobby. We also added one new mammal, the rather uncommon Bohor Reedbuck.
Following lunch at our lodge at Lake Nakuru, we drove to Hells Gate National Park, which is not far from Naivasha. Inside the park we birded a long narrow gorge which was lined with steep precipitous cliffs. Here we found a large nesting colony of Ruppell's Griffon Vultures, unfortunately, far fewer in number, than their used to be. Other new birds here included a pair of impressive Verreaux's Eagles, a couple of Lanner Falcons and a delightful pair of Cliff Chats. We then drove to Lake Naivasha, where we spent the night at a lodge by the lakeside.
Following breakfast we birded in the grounds of our lodge, which ran down to the shore of Lake Naivasha. New birds we encountered here included a few Black-crowned Night-Herons, a couple of Squacco Herons, the uncommon Black Egret, a couple of Purple Herons, a perched African Goshawk, which we were able to see well in the scope, several Eurasian Moorhens, an immature Red-chested Cuckoo and the very impressive Giant Kingfisher. Reluctantly leaving Lake Naivasha behind, we set off for Lake Baringo, further to the north. A quick stop at a roadside lake produced large numbers of White-faced Whistling-Ducks, a Silverbird and a beautiful male Pin-tailed Whydah, in full breeding plumage. Continuing on to Lake Baringo, we stopped to admire a
Northern Red-billed Hornbill and a Striped Ground Squirrel, which was observed along the edge of the road.
We awoke the following morning to find the water levels of the lake were dramatically high and we watched as the sun, reflected in the swollen waters, slowly rose over the lake. Prior to breakfast some members of the group saw a Striated Heron and a Woodland Kingfisher, along the edge of the lake. Following breakfast we met up with two local bird guides, who took us to the day time roost of an African Scops-Owl and then called in the beautiful Pearl Spotted Owlet. We spent the rest of the morning birding in the scrub not far from our lodge. New birds here included the near-endemic Jackson's Hornbill, a splendid Greyish Eagle-Owl, the range restricted Pink-breasted Lark, a Red-fronted Warbler, a small flock of Brown Babblers, a couple of Northern Grey Tits who showed very well, as did the diminutive Mouse-coloured Penduline-Tit, we greatly admired the large Grey-headed Bushshrike, we saw several Northern White-crowned Shrikes, had a quick look at a flock of Wattled Starlings, enjoyed watching small flocks of both White-headed and White-billed Buffalo-Weavers, as well as Lesser Masked, Little and Golden-backed Weavers and African Firefinch. We also saw yet another Palearctic migrant, the rather drab Spotted Flycatcher. We also saw a Cape Hare, in this area.
Following a well earned lunch we returned to the bush with our local guides in order to hunt out some of the more secretive and illusive inhabitants of this arid country. Firstly, we were taken to see a pair of beautifully marked Heuglin's Coursers, who were sheltering from the heat of the sun. We were then taken to a day-time roost of Slender-tailed Nightjars, which were sat under thick cover and just about impossible to see, until they flushed from cover and even then, it took some time before we were all able to enjoy good views of one sat out in the open. A pair of Spotted Thick-knees was next in line, they were hiding in the shadows of a large thorn-bush and we saw them incredibly well.
Behind Lake Baringo, there are kilometres of endless cliffs, which dominate the landscape and the following morning we birded this area, where we added the range-restricted Hemprich's Hornbill, the unassuming Brown-tailed Rock Chat, the well marked Spotted Morning-Thrush, the rather shy Lead-coloured Flycatcher, several Fan-tailed Ravens, large flocks of Bristle-crowned Starlings, a pair of Blue-capped Cordon-bleus and African Silverbill.
Leaving Lake Baringo, we set for the Kerio Valley and on the way, a Double-toothed Barbet flew in front of the bus. On our arrival at the Kerio Valley we did some birding on an attractive scrubby hillside and although it was hot and sunny, we were well rewarded with great looks at both the Ross's and White-crested Turacos, we also enjoyed good close looks at the very attractive Black-headed Gonolek, we enjoyed watching the antics of a small flock of White-crested Helmet-shrikes and we also enjoyed good close looks at the very uncommon Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver. Following a picnic lunch, we set off for the long drive to Kakamega Forest, in Western Kenya, not far from the border with Uganda. On the way we stopped at a supermarket in Eldoret, to buy some supplies and circling above the car park were a couple of Hooded Vultures.
The following morning after a very early breakfast, we were in position shortly after dawn, birding an area along the main track through the forest, which gave us a good vantage point to watch birds at different heights in the forest. The four main target species at Kakamega are Equatorial Akalat, Turner's Eremomela, Chapin's Flycatcher and African Shrike-flycatcher. We managed to find all four, in the first hour of birding! We saw a large number of new birds for the tour, as West African type rainforest, only occurs in Kenya, at Kakamega Forest. Flocks of Stuhlmann's Starlings were often observed flying overhead and could be seen perched in the highest bare snags. There were also cumbersome Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills which we watched as they bounced from branch to branch, before finding a comfortable perch, where they would sit hunched up, surveying the forest below them. Dead and rotting trunks attracted a pair of beautiful Yellow-billed Barbets and the treetops themselves were also favoured by Red-tailed Bristlebill and Northern Black Flycatcher. High in the canopy Square-tailed Drongos were often the leaders in the mixed-species feeding flocks, which included other species such as Olive-green Camaroptera, African Blue-flycatcher, Dusky Tit and Green Sunbird. Foraging Black-necked Weavers gleaned in the foliage along with Dark-backed Weavers that sang their strange, squeaky musical songs and we were very fortunate to see a Southern Hyliota high above our heads. A pair of White-headed Wood-hoopoes probed the mossy boughs and there were colourful Red-headed Malimbes, African Thrushes, nasal-tufted Grey-throated Barbets and colourful Yellow-spotted Barbets.
The mid-canopy was home to a number of greenbuls that included the brightly coloured Joyful Greenbul and the rather plain Ansorge's Greenbul. Mackinnon's Fiscal showed incredibly well low down in the canopy for a change. Bocage's Bush-shrike was a popular find as were two-tone Black-billed Weavers but one of the most stunning and popular species that sought the shelter of the vine tangles was Luhder's Bush-shrike and we enjoyed several good sightings of this very striking bird. Other species seen in Kakamega Forest included Blue-headed Bee-eater, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Vieillot's Black Weaver and Southern Citril. There was also a large flock of
European Bee-eaters, another migrant from the Palearctic.
In the undergrowth skulked the hardest of all the birds to see but we managed to get good looks at Brown-chested Alethe, Snowy-headed Robin-Chat, Chubb's Cisticola, White-chinned and Banded Prinias and Black-crowned Waxbill. We even managed to get good looks at the most skulking of all birds, the White-spotted Flufftail. We also watched a troop of Blue Monkeys, moving through the canopy of the forest.
We spent the following morning birding around the now sugar cane dominated countryside around Mumias, which only a couple of years ago, was an area of rough grassland, which has now almost completely disappeared under cultivation. We searched for species which perhaps are more easily found in neighbouring Uganda, which was just a few kilometres away to the west of us. We really hit the jackpot, when we enjoyed good looks at the uncommon Speckle-breasted Woodpecker, this is the only area in Kenya where this predominately Ugandan bird occurs. The Yellow-throated Greenbul, a surprisingly attractive bird, for a greenbul was seen well and we also enjoyed good views of the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. We stumbled across a small flock of the decidedly uncommon Compact Weaver, who were busily weaving their intricately woven nests. Somewhat surprisingly, we saw our first Feral Pigeons of the tour, in one of the roadside villages, a Blue-spotted Wood-Dove popped up in front of us, we enjoyed good looks at both Blue-headed and Senegal Coucals, a brightly coloured Copper Sunbird, a stunning Yellow-mantled Widowbird and a small flock of the uncommon Bar-breasted Firefinch, also put in an appearance. We then returned to our lodge in Kakamega Forest, in time for lunch.
Following lunch and a short siesta we drove back into the forest, and birded one of the narrow trails in the forest. As we left the lodge a flock of White-throated Bee-eaters were spotted and we stopped to admire this intra-African migrant, a non-breeding visitor to Kenya, from breeding grounds further to the north. The birding was surprisingly good for the afternoon and we prised six new species for the tour, out of the forest. All six of them, are normally very difficult birds to find. We found a very responsive Black-billed Turaco, a surprisingly obliging Blue Malkoha, the rather secretive Hairy-breasted Barbet and the unobtrusive and rarely seen Least Honeyguide. We enjoyed watching a couple of displaying African Broadbills and we even managed to get a good look at a Uganda Woodland-Warbler.
Reluctantly leaving Kakamega Forest, we drove southwards to Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria. Here we found three Abdim's Storks sitting on the crossbar of one of the soccer goals, at the local soccer pitch! This species is an intra-African migrant, it is a non-breeding visitor to Kenya, from breeding grounds further to the north. We enjoyed flight views of a couple of African Open-billed Storks, enjoyed great looks at a Grey Kestrel, an Eastern Grey Plantain-eater performed well for us and a Broad-billed Roller was seen well in the scope, as it sat on telegraph wires. Our main reason for visiting this area was to search for a number of specialities that exist in the remnants of the once extensive papyrus swamps that surround Lake Victoria, however, this fast-disappearing habitat, makes assess increasingly difficult. We did remarkably well and managed to find all the sought after species, even the very difficult Papyrus Canary. The other papyrus specialities included Greater Swamp and White-winged Warblers, Carruther's Cisticola, Swamp Flycatcher, Red-chested Sunbird, the stunning Papyrus Gonolek and Yellow-backed Weaver.
Leaving Lake Victoria, we drove to an extensive area of rice paddies, close to Herero, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch, in a slightly shady spot we managed to find. We saw a number of new birds here which included African Marsh-Harrier, the very handsome Long-toed Lapwing, a few Banded Martins, several Fan-tailed Widowbirds, small numbers of both Souther Red and Black-winged Red Bishops and a very active group of Zebra Waxbills. We also added two more Palearctic migrants,
Curlew Sandpiper and Red-throated Pipit.
We then set off for the long and somewhat bumpy drive, to the Masai Mara Game Reserve. We did a little roadside birding on the way, not far from Lolgorien, where we added Trilling Cisticola and the uncommon Red-headed Bluebill. As we entered the Masai Mara Game Reserve we found a good number of Sooty Chats along the roadside and that evening, some members of the group were fortunate enough to enjoy good looks at a pair of African Wood-Owls, in the grounds of our lodge.
The following morning we gazed across an endless sea of grass, that is the Masai Mara, dotted not only with acacia bushes but with countless numbers of grazing antelope. We began our exploration of this area on the scrubby slopes of the Oloololo escarpment. The rock strewn hillsides were perfect habitat for the migrant Tree Pipit, which we saw well and the Familiar Chat, which also performed very well for us. As the morning warmed up, the raptors took to the skies and we added three more birds of prey to our ever growing list. The first was a magnificent Imperial Eagle, an uncommon Palearctic migrant to Kenya, this was followed by several sightings of the Bateleur, everyone's favourite, the third new bird was the very uncommon Western Banded Snake-Eagle, which we saw very well in flight. Another good find this morning was the diminutive Green-capped Eremomela, which has a very patchy distribution in Kenya. The best sighting of the morning was the very impressive Schalow's Turaco, with its extreme hairstyle and bright red wings.
Following lunch, as we were walking to our vehicles, a member of staff at the lodge, pointed out a very beautiful Narina Trogon to us, which started the afternoon off very well. We then ventured out onto the open plains in search of both mammals and birds. A small area of wetland had Spur-winged Geese around its perimeter, along with African Wattled Lapwing. In the grasslands we found a wintering flock of Lesser Kestrels, migrants from the Palearctic, we observed several Red-necked Spurfowls, a splendid Black-bellied Bustard, a small flock of European Rollers, yet another Palearctic migrant and a very close Flappet Lark, however, without doubt, the bird that stole the show, was the magnificent Secretary-bird, which was greatly admired by the whole group. New mammals here included a family party of Bat-eared Foxes, who unfortunately, were sleeping in long grass and basically, all we could see, was the top of their ears! We faired better with a large band of Banded Mongoose, we enjoyed good numbers of beautiful Topi, surely one of the most impressive antelopes in Africa and we also found a much less common Oribi.
We began our second full day in the Masai Mara Game Reserve by visiting a nearby escarpment, to search for the Rock-loving Cisticola, which try as we may we failed to find. However, we did find three other new birds, we enjoyed good looks at the very uncommon Ovambo Sparrowhawk, the very attractive Bare-faced Go-away-bird and the uncommon and range restricted Rufous-chested Swallow. We also had good looks at a few Yellow-spotted Hyrax, who were sunning themselves on the top of a large rounded rock.
We then spent the rest of the day driving from one side of the Mara, to the other, enjoying a picnic lunch along the way. As we traversed the plains, we found a good number of new birds. We made birding stops at a number of wetlands along the way and on one occasion we were pleased to enjoy good looks at the very uncommon Rufous-bellied Heron and a couple of White Storks, another migrant from the Palearctic. In the grasslands we found a fine pair of Coqui Francolins, the very beautiful Temminck's Courser, a couple of flocks of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, we enjoyed watching a Great Spotted Cuckoo, another Palearctic migrant, we admired a beautiful Black-and-white Cuckoo and we played hide-and-seek with a White-tailed Lark. We were then taken to an isolated tree on the plains, nesting in the tree were a dozen or so Rufous-tailed Weavers. Until recently, this species was endemic to nearby Tanzania. However, a few years ago, half a dozen birds crossed the border into Kenya and now nest in this single tree, Tanzania's loss and Kenya's gain! New mammals today included Steinbuck, Kirk's Dikdik, Blue Wildebeest and best of all a stunning Cheetah, which we enjoyed all by ourselves. Following dinner, we did a little spot lighting
and despite a few technical difficulties with the lodges vehicles, we enjoyed watching a Spring Hare, which looked like a miniature kangaroo and we also saw an Egyptian Mongoose. On arrival back at our lodge, some of us were fortunate enough to see a Senegal Galago.
Today was very much a travel day, as we drove from the Masai Mara, back to Nairobi. Even before leaving the park, we added two new birds to the trip list, the handsome Golden-tailed Woodpecker and an attractive Brown-throated Wattle-eye. Leaving the Mara we headed out over the Loita Plains and were delighted to find a stunningly attractive Two-banded Courser along the roadside and a little later we found a small group of Swahili Sparrows.
On the way to Nairobi we made a detour up on to the Kinangop Plateau, near Magumu, to a remnant patch of high grassland to search for the endangered Sharpe's Longclaw, one of the few endemic birds to Kenya. Unfortunately, the grassland is rapidly disappearing, as it is being turned into agricultural land, with grave consequences for the longclaw. In no time at all we were enjoying good scope views of this rapidly disappearing species. Before arriving at Nairobi, we made one final birding stop at Marguu Swamp, near Limuru, where we added two species of uncommon ducks, the Moccoa and the White-backed.
The following day was once again very much a travel day, however, we began the day by birding a patch of thorn bush close to Lukenya, not far from Nairobi. The birding here was very good and new birds for the tour included Abyssinian Scimitarbill, the range-restricted Banded Parisoma, the uncommon and very attractive Red-throated Tit, Chestnut Weaver, Black-faced Waxbill and Straw-tailed Whydah. Around mid-day we arrived at Hunters Lodge at Kiboico, where we enjoyed lunch. The grounds of the lodge were full of birds and we managed to add three new birds to our ever growing list, Ashy Flycatcher, Black-bellied Sunbird and Grosbeak Weaver. We continued towards Tsavo East National Park, which would be our final destination today, on the way we made a brief stop at a Baobab Tree, where our guides knew that Mottled Spinetails nested. Right on cue we enjoyed super close looks at a few of these birds flying around the tree.
We arrive at Tsavo East National Park in good time and spent the rest of the afternoon driving to Patterson's Camp, regularly picking up new birds along the way. These included Pygmy Batis, a Lesser Grey Shrike, a rather uncommon Palearctic migrant, a few Parrot-billed Sparrows, a flock of Black-capped Social-Weavers and the very attractive Somali Golden-breasted Bunting. It was getting dark as we approached Patterson's Camp and we flushed a Donaldson-Smith's Nightjar, from the side of the road.
Leaving Patterson's Camp, we refuelled our vehicles in the town of Voi, where somewhat surprisingly, we added three new birds, the self introduced House Crow, the very large White-naped Raven and the beautiful Cut-throat Finch. We spent the rest of the day driving through Tsavo East National Park, driving through some very remote country before arriving at Watamu, on the coast. The birding in the park was very good and we added a whole swag of new birds, which included
Somali Ostrich, a huge flock of over 200 migrating Amur Falcons, this was a tremendous spectacle and was greatly enjoyed by everyone. We saw a pair of rarely observed Harlequin Quail, flocks of stunning Vulturine Guineafowl, the very small Buff-crested Bustard, the attractive Black-headed Lapwing, a large flock of Kittlitz's Plovers, a flock of Caspian Plovers, an uncommon Palearctic migrant and we enjoyed close looks at Black-faced Sandgrouse. We added no less than three new species of bee-eaters, the uncommon Somali, Madagascar, a non-breeding visitor to Kenya and best of all, the incredibly attractive Northern Carmine. We also added Red-winged Lark, attractive Chestnut-headed and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, the delightful Golden Pipit, the range- restricted Tsavo Sunbird, Taita Fiscal, the attractive Rosy-patched Bushshrike, incredibly beautiful Golden-breasted Starling, both Magpie and Fischer's Starlings, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Eastern Paradise-Whydah and the very uncommon Purple Indigobird. We also added four more species of Palearctic migrants, Rufous Bushchat, Garden Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Red-backed Shrike. The best find today however, was a breeding colony of Somali Sparrows, at the Sala Gate, of Tsavo East National Park. This species has never before been recorded in southern Kenya. New mammals observed in the park today included a large troop of Yellow Baboons, the handsome Beisa Oryx and the range-restricted Desert Warthog. As we neared the end of our long journey, the humidity gradually increased as we approached the coast and we were finally greeted by the warm waves of the Indian Ocean lapping on the beach below our hotel. In the grounds of our beautiful resort there was an ornamental pond with papyrus growing in it and lots of nesting Golden Palm Weavers.
The next two days were spent in the marvellous Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, where the birding is never easy, but the rewards are many and varied. Over the course of the next two days my long-time friend and guide David came out of retirement, to ensure that in the thick, tangled forest, we found the many specialities of this intriguing area. New birds came thick and fast. We were very pleased to find a perched Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, David took us to a day-time roost of the nocturnal Bat Hawk, it was an absolute pleasure to be able to enjoy good scope views of this reclusive species, in full daylight. We also found a rather responsive Fischer's Turaco, which we saw amazingly well. By far the most sought after of all the specialities of this area, is the Sokoe Scops-Owl, which is endemic to this forest. Finding them at night can be very difficult, so one of the forest guides went into the forest before dawn, located one of these birds and then tracked it down at its day-time roost. Later in the day we drove with him to the spot, where following a short walk into the forest, we were able to see this little gem in broad daylight, which was a very special treat. We tracked down a Green Barbet, had good looks at the uncommon Scaly-throated Honeyguide, an Eastern Nicator showed surprisingly well and a Yellow-bellied Greenbul, was somewhat less obliging. We also saw Black-headed Apalis, Pale Batis, the dainty Little Yellow Flycatcher, the range-restricted Amani Sunbird, the amazing Four-coloured Bushshrike really tested our patience but eventually we all saw this stunning bird very well. We also enjoyed good looks at roving flocks of Chestnut-fronted and Retz's Helmetshrikes and the highly localised Black-bellied Starling. The sighting that most of us enjoyed the most, was a very responsive Thick-billed Cuckoo, this very uncommon species repeatedly flew towards us, on a number of occasions. Today I also had a fleeting glimpse of a fast disappearing Four-toed Elephant-Shrew.
We also visited nearby Mida Creek, where we checked out a high tide roost of migrant waders, from breeding grounds in the northern Palearctic. New birds here included Grey Plover, Lesser and Greater Sandplovers, Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and Whimbrel. Three species of terns, once again, non-breeding visitors to Kenya, were also observed here. The Lesser Crested and Saunder's Terns breed to the north in Somalia and Common Terns, breed in the Palearctic.
Today we visited a different section of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and this worked well for us, enabling us to add yet more new species. We had a good look at the decidedly shy Green Malkoha, Bohm's Spinetails circled above the forest and we found a couple of obliging Trumpeter Hornbills. We enjoyed great views of a very responsive Eastern Green Tinkerbird and equally good views of the uncommon Pallid Honeyguide, we added three skulking species of bulbuls, Fischer's Greenbul, Northern Brownbul and Tiny Greenbul, they were all very vocal and eventually, we succeeded in getting good looks at them. We saw the Red-tailed Ant-Thrush and Forest Batis very well, a noisy party of rather nervous Scaly Babblers rather begrudgingly showed themselves and we enjoyed good looks at the very localised Plain-backed Sunbird.
We made a second visit to Mida Creek, where we added Eurasian Curlew, a non-breeding visitor from the Palearctic and best of all we enjoyed scope views of several beautiful Crab Plovers. One of the very special birds of this area, is the uncommon and endemic Malindi Pipit. Our local guide David took us to the rather small Arabuko Swamp, where we managed to enjoy very good close looks, at this seldom seen species.
Reluctantly leaving the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest behind be drove further north along the coast to Kilifi, where we spent an hour or so birding. The only new bird we found was the uncommon Village Indigobird, which we saw very well. We then entered Tsavo West National Park, where we birded our way to our lodge where we would spend the night. We had only added one new bird in the park, the highly localised Red-naped Bushshrike, this is the only part of Kenya where this bird occurs. We then enjoyed the magnificent spectacle of a female Leopard with two full grown cubs, just as it was getting dark. As we were nearing the Voyager Safari Camp we spotted a Plain Nightjar on the track ahead of us and we watched it for some time, as it sat in the spotlight for us.
Following breakfast we spent an hour or so birding in the grounds of our lodge, where we saw a surprisingly large number of new birds. These included the uncommon Knob-billed Duck, a dark morph and equally uncommon Gabar Goshawk, a pair of Water Thick-knees, very close African Orange-bellied Parrots, the beautiful Violet Woodhoopoe, super looks at the range-restricted Brown-breasted Barbet and we found a good number of African Reed-Warblers and Taveta Golden Weavers nesting in a reedbed. We then set off for the nearby Taita Hills and along the way we enjoyed good looks at a large flock of White-headed Mousebirds and a large group of Dwarf Mongoose.
On our arrival at the Taita Hills, we concentrated our efforts in the Ngangao Forest Reserve, which is home to three critically endangered species of birds, Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis and Taita White-eye. Deep inside the forest we had to work very hard as none of the three specialities were prepared to give themselves up easily. The first one we encountered was the Taita White-eye, which we saw very well. Sometime later we also enjoyed good looks at the Taita Apalis but try as we may, we were unable to find the Taita Thrush. We did find some other new birds for the tour which included
Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler and Yellow-bellied Waxbill. We then drove to our overnight lodge and just before arriving there, we had fairly distant views of a couple of Southern Ground-Hornbills. We then completed our journey at the bizarre Taita Hills Salt Lick Lodge, with its turreted rooms on stilts, looking for the entire world like a series of rockets ready to blast off into outer space.
The following morning we did a little birding around the lodge, which netted our last bird of the tour, the uncommon Black-cheeked Waxbill. We then endured a rather fast and furious drive to Nairobi airport, where we arrived just in time to take our flight back to Australia. Our African adventure had come to an end, the birding had been hectic and the new birds were relentless. We had seen a total of 657 species of birds and 57 species of mammals, there is no doubt that Kenya remains the foremost wildlife experience in the world.