KENYA BIRDING TRIP REPORT

3rd – 18th  NOVEMBER 2008
By Philippa Hodgins  ( AUSTRALIA )
Email: philippa.hodgins@hunterlink.net.au

Highlight locations included Kakamega Forest, Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria, Nakuru and Samburu National Parks, providing a great range of habitats as well as spectacular scenery – Lake Victoria, Mount Kenya, the Rift Valley and its soda lakes, and a magical equatorial rainforest remnant at Kakamega.

In November 2008, I was fortunate to travel to Kenya on a bird-watching safari with my friend Julianne Schwenke (spouse of our esteemed editor). We used a Tanzania-based company, Birding and Beyond Safaris, who I would heartily recommend. They tailored an itinerary to our time restraints and were happy to run a 15 day tour just for the two of us. We travelled in the delightful company of our local Kenyan guide, Cliff and Tanzanian driver, Geitane, in whose care we felt safe at all times. Cliff has completed the ornithological guiding course at the Kenyan National Museum and is a fount of knowledge and boundless enthusiasm, who went birdwatching during his hours off and is responsible for training a cohort of young birdwatchers in his home village of Lake Baringo. We used an extended troop carrier with a safari-viewing “pop-top” – our personal mobile bird hide! Accommodation varied from absolute luxury (at Samburu River Lodge, Rondo Retreat and Naoromoru River Lodge) to only-just-reasonable (at Wajee Nature Park). All meals were included and food was of excellent quality and freshness, ensuring we remained in perfect health.

 

Highlight locations included Kakamega Forest, Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria, Nakuru and Samburu National Parks, providing a great range of habitats as well as spectacular scenery – Lake Victoria, Mount Kenya, the Rift Valley and its soda lakes, and a magical equatorial rainforest remnant at Kakamega.

 

I was pleasantly surprised by the climate: as we were never below ~ 1500 metres, the days were in the balmy mid 20s and the nights chilled for good sleeping (and open fires). There were brief periods of rain but nothing seriously discouraging.

 

And the birds! I saw 390 species and it’s hard to say which were the most memorable. I guess the countless flamingos were the most extraordinary spectacle, but wonderful views of common and Somali ostriches, nesting secretary birds, herons and storks, a huge variety of raptors, coursers, dikkops, owls, owlets and nightjars and so on and so on….. . Seeing multiple species of which there are only 1 or 2 representatives in Australia was exciting – bee-eaters, sunbirds, rollers, starlings and of course those species of which we have no examples here – barbets, hornbills, woodpeckers, tchagras, weavers, widows, turacaos. I guess the rarest birds that we were privileged to see were the blue-headed bee-eater at Kakamega and the Hinde’s babbler at Wajee. My infamous dip was on the grey parrot, a pair of which flew overhead at Kakamega whilst I was taking a pee in the forest! Somehow seeing a pair in the aviary in Dunedin Botanic Gardens a few weeks later was not consoling. If I never see another cisticola it won’t be too soon.

 

“Birds of East Africa” by Stevenson and Fanshawe was a very adequate field guide, but what was a coincidental delight was “A Guide to the Birds of East Africa – a Novel” by Nicholas Drayson, which we had found in Australia a few weeks before our departure. This latter is recommended reading for all birdwatchers regardless of any lack of travel plans. For the interest of those who have come upon this gem of a book, a hadada is an ibis.

 

Of course, we also took notice on mammalian species which appeared in our field of view. There were many monkeys, antelope species, huge families of elephants, two species of zebras and giraffes, a solitary rhino, and lots of cranky hippos and crocs. Sadly for Julianne, we saw no big cats.

 

Of non-birding interest was our timing: we were in Kenya during the US presidential election and in fact at Kisumu, near the home of Obama’s grandmother, at the time of his victory. This was huge in Kenya – there was great revelry, an immediate public holiday, huge press coverage, and apparently a dozen new born males named Barek within 24 hours of the result. Julianne wore a selection of Obama tee-shirts which were great ice-breakers.

 

I would recommend Kenya as a birdwatching destination, as it is accessible, fairly safe, quite economical, there is a fabulous array of species, and English is spoken everywhere. I really endorse Birding and Beyond as an operator, and would definitely use them again if biriding in Tanzania or Uganda, which are their other destinations.

KENYA BIRDING TRIP
REPORT
Kenya 2001
By Mark Sutton

Introduction

This report covers a birding trip taken to Kenya,
covering sites north of Nairobi. The group consisted of myself, my wife
Linda, 8 year-old son Brent, my brother Richard & his girlfriend
Ann-Marie. This was our first trip to East Africa, but had birded Africa
previously in South Africa (twice) and the Gambia. We were initially
going to arrange a completely independent trip, but found that hiring
a minibus & driver was not much more expensive, and the thought
of somebody else with local knowledge, doing the driving was very tempting.
We eventually booked the vehicle through Anthony W. Raphael of Birding
and Beyond Safaris, who also pre-booked most of our accommodation and
provided very useful advice & site information. Our driver, James,
proved to be a very experienced safari driver and had a good knowledge
of the sites we visited, as well as being good company.

Transport

We hired a safari minibus for the duration of
the trip; this is a minibus where the roof lifts up to allow the passengers
to stand. This is extremely useful for birding and mammal watching in
the National Parks. The vehicle capacity was about 10 passengers (but
realistically about 7 plus baggage) so it proved to be very spacious
and comfortable for the 5 of us.

Health

No problems – we all took either Larium or Doxycycline
anti-malarials, Brent had to take Larium as Doxy. is not suitable for
children.

Food

Food was generally very good even for vegetarians,
with most meals being taken in the hotels.

At the Kakamega forest we had to cook our own
meals, but cooking utensils & firewood were provided at both sites.
At the mount Kenya met. station all food was provided & cooked by
the guides, as part of the package.

Weather

We visited Kenya during the “mini” wet
season, but this had little effect on the birding, although it made
some areas difficult to drive and stopped the vehicle driving up Mount
Kenya to the Met. Station.

We were unable to get to a couple of sites around
Siaport, Lake Victoria, due to the poor road conditions.

Books & Tapes

Trip reports: The following 2 reports proved to
be very useful:

Bird watching in Kenya Feb/March 1995 by Mike
Hunter
Birding in Kenya (1980 to 83) by Steve Whitehouse.

Site Guides: Where to watch birds
in Africa – Nigel Wheatley, published by Helm – Invaluable.

Field Guides: Field Guide to
the Birds of East Africa – Terry Stephenson & John Fanshawe, published
by T& A D Poyser. This had only been recently published and proved
to be an excellent field guide. The format of having the text and range
map opposite the illustration is very useful.

Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania – Zimmerman,
Turner and Pearson published by Helm. A good guide, but I preferred
the East African guide.

The Kingdom Field Guide to African Mammals (Poyser)
– very good.

Sound guides: African bird sounds volume 2, 11
CD set , with target species transferred to tape.

Costs

The “Safari” cost USD 5,350, which was
split between the 5 of us. This included the vehicle & driver plus
all running costs, most accommodation and food at the hotels and the
cost of the Mount Kenya trip (4WD, guide & food).

National park & site costs:

Hells Gate N.P. USD 15$ per person
Lake Nakuru USD 27$ per person
Kakemega approx KSh 100sh per day per group plus guide tips.
Saiwa Swamp N.P. USD 15$ per person.
Thomson’s Falls KSh 100sh.
Mount Kenya N.P. USD 15$ per person.
Samburu N.P. USD 27$ per person.
Nairobi N.P. USD 20$ per person.

Flights, booked with Sabina through Trail finders
cost £419 from Manchester (incl Airport Taxes). We had to transfer
to Swiss Air at the last minute, due to Sabina going into liquidation.

Accommodation

Lake Naivasha Hotel – Expensive
@ £60.00 per room B&B, very comfortable with easy access to
the Lake.

Stem Hotel – Just before Nakuru
on road from Lake Navasha, B&B included in the package price. A
little shabby but clean and comfortable. Swimming pool.

Sunset Hotel – Kazumu. Half Board
included in the package price. Used by bird tour companies. Good standard
hotel. Swimming pool.

Golf Hotel – Kakamega. Half Board
included in the package price. Used by bird tour companies. Good standard
hotel. Swimming pool.

Isechenco Guest House – Kakamega
Forest. Self-Catering included in the package price. A row of wooden
chalets on stilts in the middle of forest. Very basic but excellent.
Cooked on open fire.

Udos Bandas – Kakamega Forest.
Self-catering included in the package price. Several thatched bandas
of various sizes. Good clean accommodation. Cooked on open fire. Pit
toilets.

Alakara Hotel – Kitale. B&B
included in the package price. Shabby noisy hotel in the middle of Kitale.
Good restaurant.

Roberts Camp – Lake Barringo.
Self-Catering. Stayed in excellent bandas. Camp next door to Lake Barringo
Club where swimming pool can be used for 200 shillings per day.

Naromoru River Lodge – Half Board
included in the package price. Used by bird tour companies. Excellent
accommodation and food plus swimming pool. ahl@africaonline.co.ke

Met Station – c/o Naromoru River
Lodge, Mt Kenya. Wooden dorm type chalets very basic with pit toilets.
Food provided and cooked by hire staff.

Samburu Lodge – Samburu Game reserve, Full Board
included in package price. Used by tour companies, excellent standard
excellent pool.

Wajee Bungalows – Wajee Camp
Nature Reserve. Pre booked bandas but upgraded to bungalow at an extra
1000 shillings. Basic but clean and comfortable.

Blue Posts Thika – Near Kieni
Forest. Half Board included in package price. Good standard hotel.

Paradise Hotel – Centre of Niarobi.
Clean and comfortable, cost 2600 shillings for triple and 2100 shillings
for a double.

Contacts
Birding and Beyond Safaris, Tel +255 744 286058
tours@tanzaniabirding.com
Web site www.tanzaniabirding.com

Itinerary

10/11 Am: Arrived Nairobi at 06.45, met Anthony
and our driver James. Drove to Naivasha, with a short stop at Limuru
Pond.Pm : Birded around hotel grounds and lake shore.Highlights: Limuru
Pond – White-headed Duck. Naivasha- Fischers and Yellow-collared Lovebirds
(Plus hybrids?), Sharpes Pied babbler.

11/11 Am: Birded around grounds
before going into Hells Gate N.P.Pm: Drove the 70Km to Nakuru stopping
briefly to view Lake Elmenteita from the road. Spent the evening birding
along the road to the South of the N.P.Highlights: Hells Gate – Hildebrants
Francolin, Schalow’s Wheatear. On route – Adnims Stork, Lake Elmenteita
– Lesser Flamingos.

12/11 Am: Spent the morning in
Lake Nakuru N.P.Pm: Spent the afternoon travelling to Kisumu, briefly
calling into a site for Sharpes Pipit, arriving at the hotel at dusk.
Nakuru to Kisumu 200Km which look 3 hours Highlights: Nakuru – Grey-rumped
Swallow & Mocking Cliff-chat. On route – Sharpes Pipit & African
Openbill.

13/11 Am: Early morning spent
around the hotel grounds & nearby gardens, before moving to Hippo
Point after breakfast.Pm: Journey to Kakamaga. Birded an area of fields
& wet grassland to the West of Mumias bridge before moving to Mumias
bridge. The evening was spent around the hotel grounds.Highlights: Hippo
point – Carruther’s Cisticola, Black-billed Barbet, Marsh Tchagra &
Black-headed Gonolek. Mumias area – Blue-breasted Bee-eater & Rock
Pratincole. Golf Hotel – Ross’s Turaco & Red-headed lovebird.

14/11 Am: Early am around the
hotel grounds, before driving to Isecheno.Pm: Spent the afternoon and
evening birding the Zimmerman grid.Highlights: Isecheno – Blue-headed
Bee-eater, Turners Eremomelia, Uganda Woodland Warbler.

15/11 Am: The morning was spent
birding around Isecheno.Pm : Drove to Buyangu and spent the afternoon
and evening birding near the Bandas. Highlights: Isecheno – Great Blue
Turaco, Petit’s Cuckoo shrike, Grey-green Bush-shrike, Red-headed Malimbe,Buyangu
– Crested Guineafowl, Blue-shouldered Robinchat.

16/11 Am: The morning was spent
birding around Buyangu.Pm: Drove for 2.5 hours to Kitale and booked
into the hotel, the late afternoon was spent around Saiaw Swamp.Highlights:
Buyangu – Purple-throated Cuckooshrike. Saiwa Swamp – Blue-headed Coucal,
Double-toothed Barbet, Chubb’s Cisticola & Grey Winged Robinchat
(RS only)

17/11 Am: Early morning was spent
around Saiwa Swamp before returning to the hotel for breakfast and the
5-hour journey to Lake Baringo.Pm: The afternoon & evening was spent
around the grounds of Roberts Camp & the adjoining Hotel.Highlights:
Saiwa Swamp – Grey-winged Robinchat (for MS)Lake Baringo – Bristle-crowned
Staring & Northern Masked Weaver.

18/11 Am: pre-dawn walk to the nearby cliffs, returning
to Robrts Camp late morning.Pm: The afternoon was spent birding the
nearby scrub, enlisting the help of local “guides” for Courser,
Owl and Nightjar. Highlights: Cliffs – Hemprich’s Hornbill, Pallid Honeyguide
& Brown-tailed Chat, Roberts Camp area- Heuglins Courser, White-faced
Scops owl & Slender- tailed Nightjar.

19/11: Birded around Lake Baringo
first thing, before departing for the Naromoru river lodge, calling
in on Thompson’s Falls en-route. In the afternoon we took a short cut,
along a dirt road, across the plains to the lodge, but managed to get
the vehicle stuck. We spent about 3 hours, unsuccessfully, trying to
free the vehicle from a muddy pot hole until, fortunately, a Landrover
came by which managed to tow us out. Highlights: Thompson’s Falls –
Cinnamon Chester Bee-eater, Tinkling Cisticola, Tacazze & Golden
Winged Sunbirds.Short cut across plains – White & Black bellied
Bustards, Red-footed Falcon, & 100’s of Lesser Kestrels.

20/11 Am: Spent the early morning
around the grounds of the river lodge, before departing for Mount Kenya
in the hotel 4WD vehicle. The vehicle was not allowed to drive to the
meteorological station, due to the wet & slippery condition of the
road, instead it dropped us of at the entrance to the National Park.
Pm: Walked from the entrance gates to the Meteorological station, a
4 hour walk of about 8 Kms. Highlights: Naro Moru – Hartlubs Turaco
& Red-fronted Parrot.Mt Kenya- Mountain Greenbul, Moorland Chat,
Brown Woodland Warbler & Mountain Yellow Warbler.

21/11: Early morning was spent
birding around the Met. Station.After breakfast we walked up to the
high altitude moorland, returning to the met. station late afternoon.
Highlights: Jackson’s Francolin & Cinnamon Bracken Warbler. Richard
had Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird, a couple of hours walk above the
tree line.

22/11 Am: Walked back down to
the Entrance gates where we met the vehicle, which took us back to the
Naro Moru river lodge where we had lunch.Drove the 4.5-hour journey
to Samburu, with a short stop near Isiolo for Boran Cisticola.We arrived
at Samburu at approx. 16.00 and spent the last few hours of daylight
exploring the reserve.Highlights: Mk Kenya – Abysinian Ground-thrush.
Journey – Jackson’s Widowbird, Boran Cisticola. Samburu – Kori Bustard,
Senegal Courser, Golden Pipit & Vulturine Guinea fowl. Cheetah &
Leopard.

23/11: Spent the whole day around
Samburu.Highlights: Pygmy Falcon, Harlequin Quail, Black-faced Sandgrouse,
Yellow vented Eremomelia, Pygmy Batis, & White-faced Mousebird

24/11 Am: After an early breakfast we left Samburu
and headed to Wajee Camp which took 6 hours, This site had been recommended
for Hinde’s Pied Babbler, an extremely localised endemic Pm: Birded
around Wajee Camp, & the nature trail, where we were accompanied
by the resident guide.Highlights: Samburu – Somali OstrichWajee Camp
– Hinde’s Pied Babbler.

25/11 Am: Early morning was spent
birding around the grounds, before departing for an area of Paddy fields
which were on route to the Blue Posts Hotel . (Wajee to Blue Posts took
3 hours including the stop at the paddy fields) Pm: Booked into the
hotel before moving on to Keini Forest, a couple of hours drive away.
James, our driver was not happy with us visiting this site as it has
a reputation for theft & car jacking. We spent a couple of hours
in the forest before departing well before dark. We did not spend enough
time at this site, which showed a lot of potential.Highlights: Paddies
– White-winged Widow birdKieni Forest – White-browed Crombec & Black-tailed
Oriole.

26/11: Early morning around the
hotel grounds before moving on to Nairobi National Park. The journey
from Blue Posts to Nairobi N.P. took 2 hours, through rush hour traffic.Highlights:
Nairobi N.P. – Black Rhino, Pengani Longclaw, Northen pied Babbler &
Red-throated Tit.

27/11: Departed for the UK.

Sites Visited

Limuru Pond

Situated about 30Km from Nairobi alongside the
A104. If approaching from Nairobi, a minor road on the right just before
the lake on the right can give good views over the lake and surrounding
marsh.

Lake Naivasha

All our birding was carried out around the grounds
of the Lake Naivasha hotel and adjacent lake shore.

Hells Gate N.P.

Situated just south of Lake Naivasha and can be
accessed from the road to Fisherman’s camp.

Lake Nakuru

We entered the park at the main gate, on the south
side of Nakuru Town, skirted around the west shore of the lake and drove
to the southern shore, which was the most productive for White Rhino.

The track passed below Baboon rocks, a popular
view point, this section of, wooded track, produced Cliff Chat. The
whole shoreline was fringed with Lesser Flamingos.

Kisumu – Lake Victoria

The best birding around Kisumu is at Hippo point,
which is about 1 mile from the Sunset Hotel.

Kakemega – Isecheno

We birded the network of paths known as the Zimmerman
Grid, located behind the Rest House and also a circuit to the pumping
station, down the path to the main track leading to Shinyalu & back
to the Rest House.


Kakamega – Buyangu

All our birding was either around the immediate
environs of the campsite or on the track to & from the viewpoint.

Saiwa Swamp

The boardwalk here gives excellent views over
the marsh, which was very productive on both our evening and morning
visits to the reserve. Several Blue-headed Coucal were seen on both
visits, perched on dead trees, which protrude from the marsh. We also
birded the woodland on the far side of the boardwalk and it was form
this track where we saw several Sitatunga antelope.

Lake Baringo

We stayed at Roberts camp, the camp and the grounds
of the Hotel next door proved to be an excellent birding area. We walked
to the nearby cliffs, starting off just before dawn and birded the area
around the base of the cliffs until late morning. Local guides tout
for business in the village & even outside the gates of the camp,
these guides are very useful for the Heuglin’s Courser & day roosting
night birds.

This area held a huge variety of species and supposedly
holds (held?) the record for the highest number of species recorded
in a day.

Thomson’s Falls

A couple of hours were spent here on the way to
the Naro Moru River Lodge. We birded from the falls viewpoint &
an area of marshland both between the falls and the main road and on
the far side of the main road.

Mount Kenya

The Naro Moru River Lodge was used as a base to
cover Mount Kenya. We pre-booked a two-night stay at the meteorological
Station. The hotel provided: transport to/from the National Park gates,
guide/cook and porters. We originally arranged for the vehicle to take
us all the way to the Met. Station, but the road was closed due to the
heavy rains. This proved to be advantageous, as the walk provided excellent
birding. We spent the full day on the mountain birding the area from
the met. Station, to the open “Moorland” just above the area
of giant heather.

Accommodation at the Met station is very basic
(several shared chalets with bunk beds), it can also be very cold at
night, so a good sleeping bag is recommended.

Isiolo

This is the traditional site for Boran Cisticola,
which is located on the route to Samburu. Much of the scrub appeared
to be in the process of being destroyed.

We found 1+ Boran Cisticola just after we turned
left to Isolo (but still on the A2) in area of scrub between the junction
and an area of cultivation.

Samburu
The vast majority of the birding here was done from the vehicle, driving
slowly around the maize of track that crisscross both Samburu &
Buffalo Springs reserves.

We also birded the grounds of the hotel complex.

Wajee

As far as we know this is the only know site for
Hinde’s Pied Babbler. A small group of birds live in the grounds of
this small private reserve. The wardens initially insisted that we use
a guide to show us the birds, which he did. Once we had paid for the
tour, we were then allows to wander freely around the reserve.

Contact details:
Tel (0171) 60359, Fax 60438 or 02 743615 Nairobi.
PO Box 148, Mukurwe-ni, Nyeri, Kenya.

Kieni Forest

Our driver, James was very reluctant to visit
this site, as it is notorious for car jacking. We only spent a couple
of hours here so did not really give it justice. We parked near a small
track leading into to the forest & birded the track for a couple
of 100 meters.

Nairobi N.P.
Situated on the outskirts of Nairobi, this
is an excellent site to start or finish a trip to Kenya. Most birding
was carried out from the vehicle, with a couple of hours on foot around
the hippo pools.

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