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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
KENYA [Coast, Tsavo East, Shimba Hills], 15 - 30 October 2007,
We went to Kenya in October 2005 [report on Birdtours] and loved almost everything about the holiday. My son, Phil, and wife, Lorraine, were both keen to return and I certainly had no intention of arguing about that!
We again stayed at the Turtle Bay Beach Hotel in Watamu, which proved to be as popular as ever. For families, it takes some beating. We intend to return!
I had met Jonathan Baya [email@example.com] on my last visit and he had taken me on a tour of the local area. I had spent a couple of hours birding with him and it was obvious that he was a good guide and a genuine character. Happily, Jonathan has now developed his guiding business with the help of staff at the Turtle Bay Beach Hotel and he is also working in partnership with other hotels in the area. In view of my confidence in Jonathan, I asked him to arrange a two-night safari for us. He did this in association with Nemo, who I had also met in 2005. Nemo continues to develop his interest in birds and is more than capable of identifying local birds if anyone wants a couple of hours across the road from the hotel. You will find Nemo on the beach when he is not away accompanying clients, normally on safari.
We can understand why people are a little cautious of some of the characters on the beach. They do hassle and it is easy to let this get under your skin. Nemo needs to make a living selling safaris etc just like the rest of his colleagues. The difference is that he really does know quite a lot about the birds in the area so you can be assured that you will not be wasting your time or money if you do decide to ask him to show you around. He lacks Jonathan’s experience as he is much younger but his interest is there for all to see.
15 OCTOBER – Left Northumberland in the early afternoon, drove to Manchester for the Mytravel flight.
16 OCTOBER – Arrived Mombasa at about 10am, slightly ahead of schedule. We lost that time and more as we had to wait on the bus for the best part of an hour as we were missing several passengers. After a long flight, the delay did not go down too well with most of the tourists. However, the bus was parked next to the airport fence, which proved to be a popular site for Zanzibar Red Bishop, including one male, and several Pin-Tailed Whydah. I was able to take an occasional look through my scope at more distant birds but didn’t want any hassle with officials so kept that to a minimum. Lesser Striped Swallows appeared to be nesting at the airport and there were a few other species in the immediate area. Eventually, we got away and almost two hours later we arrived at our “second home”. I didn’t see very much on the journey but two Carmine Bee-eaters certainly caught my eye!
I met Jonathan at 6pm and we discussed old times and also what we were doing to do over the coming fortnight. In 2005, I had been the only birder in the hotel so I was delighted to find that fellow birders had booked through the hotel to go on a trip to Sabaki with Jonathan. After our conversation, I did the same.
After a lazy morning, I met my birding colleagues at 2pm and all 5 of us joined Jonathan for several hours’ birding. On our way, we had great views of several Carmine Bee-eaters and I also increased my life list with good views of African Open Billed Stork and Rattling Cisticola at a small pool next to the road.
We made our way to Sabaki and walked along a track for a short time, seeing several species, including two Black Headed Plovers, Spur Winged Plovers and a small party of Cordon Bleu/ Firefinch.
We made our way across the dunes/ grasses, seeing several birds but from quite a distance. Eventually, we got closer to some of them and we could identify a significant number of waders. In amongst them, there was a single Pink Backed Pelican and further on, we saw two Yellow Billed Storks and a Curlew with the longest bill any of us had ever seen on this species.
Lifers included a group of Lesser Flamingos, Sooty Gull, Pale Flycatcher, Dimorphic Egret [dark morph] and Grosbeak Weaver. We looked for Madagascar Pratincole and a glimpse of a fast flying dark bird raised our hopes momentarily but it disappeared behind the grasses next to the sand and we never saw it again. We were birding for several hours and this is a very birdy spot. I had not realised that the area was so vast and that many of the birds would be too far away to identify. However, it was a very enjoyable afternoon.
On the return trip on the previous afternoon, we had arranged to visit the Arabuko- Sokoke Forest on the following morning. We left the hotel at 6am and were soon at the HQ, where Jonathan arranged the paperwork while we looked around the immediate area, but without success. We then made our way to a different area, hoping for Peters’s Twinspot along a track inside the forest. Although there was plenty of activity, we could not positively identify the birds that were flying from one side of the track to the other. A Tambourine Dove was much more co-operative, as was a Golden-Rumped Elephant- Shrew, albeit for a short time. We then noticed movement further along the track and were delighted to see a Caracal, with two young. We watched the three of them for several minutes before they made their way out of sight. The van then moved further along and we stopped to get a glimpse a Red Capped Robin Chat flying across the track. As we were about to move off, one of the young Caracals came back onto the track and ran straight past the van, before doing the same thing in the opposite direction a few seconds later. Hopefully, the family was quickly re-united.
After that, rain interruptions threatened to ruin our walk around the forest but we were always close to the van, which acted as a shelter on more than one occasion. Jonathan took us to an area where he had recently seen Clarke’s Weaver. This area was full of birds and lifers came thick and fast by way of Retz’s and Chestnut Fronted Helmet Shrikes, Black Backed Weaver, Eastern Nictator, Ashy Flycatcher and Scimitarbill. Brief flight views of two Thick Billed Cuckoo were enough to identify but insufficient to satisfy. Similarly, we obtained views of Little Yellow Flycatcher, Yellow Bellied Greenbul and Amani Sunbird, all lifers but none seen well enough to fully enjoy. However, we had better views of those birds than of Clarke’s Weaver, which was nowhere to be seen.
After that, we made our way back to the hotel, seeing two wet Woolly Necked Storks on a tree at the side of the track, where we re-joined the road back to Watamu
I had a day off, which was just as well as I didn’t feel too grand.
Still feeling a little shaky but I was well enough for an early morning trip across the road with Jonathan and Nemo, who I met for the first time on this trip. We spent a couple of hours walking around the back of the village where they both live. Jonathan said we would paddle through water to an “island” so off came the shoes and socks. I thought I must have been mad for agreeing to this but quickly changed my mind as Nemo pointed out the reason for the trip – Mangrove Kingfisher, which I had failed to see on my last trip. With shoes back on, we wandered around and my life list quickly increased when we got excellent views of a singing Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin and then flight views of a Juvenile Great Sparrowhawk. Frustrating views of a Black and White [Jacobin] Cuckoo were cancelled out by great views of Black Backed Puffback and Black Crowned Tchagra.
We called it a day and agreed that we would meet at 6am on 22 October to start our safari
A quiet day, with views of an Osprey flying and fishing over the sea.
We were awake early and we met Jonathan, Nemo and John, our driver, at 6am. I had arranged the trip via e mail. Jonathan had asked Nemo to arrange the van and driver and together they had booked the Lodges for our two nights.
Safaris are not cheap! Even when you have contacts, the price appears to be disproportionately high. I suppose it‘s a matter of supply and demand. I’ve now done two safaris and I think I’ve decided that it’s difficult for drivers to appreciate what birders like. They are used to showing off the animals. I love seeing them myself but I become very frustrated when we drive past birds that could well be lifers! I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands. If Jonathan had been driving, I estimate that I would have an additional ten birds on my life list. You need a birder at the wheel. We have spoken about the possibility of acquiring a van and coming to a suitable financial arrangement. If that comes off, I’ll let you know!
Anyway, our convoy of vans was escorted along the track to Sala Gate, Tsavo East NP, by a few armed policemen, one of whom was in our van – very comforting! I don’t think there have been any recent incidents along this stretch of road but nobody is taking any chances – and quite right too. Consequently, we saw virtually nothing until we stopped at the entrance to the Park, where we gladly stretched our legs after the best part of a 2 hour drive, which was very bumpy at times.
Outside Sala Gate, I scanned the bushes and saw several birds, including Golden Pipit, which seemed to be numerous, Eastern Violet Backed Sunbird, Fischer’s Starlings, unidentified Cisticola sp and Long Tailed Fiscals. By the river and on the sand banks, there was plenty of life, including a small Crocodile, which was out of the water close to the tourists. That didn’t seem to bother anyone - other than me!
Eventually, we got through the Gate [long queue] and we were off towards Voi. We stopped regularly and saw a number of birds we had seen last time. However, I also saw a couple of lifers - Pygmy Falcon  and Kori Bustard. I also saw the back half of a Somali Bee-eater, which was one of the most frustrating birding moment of the trip. Nemo had spotted it as we drove along and we stopped immediately. I picked up the bird but it was only showing its back. I was sure it would do what Bee eaters normally do – fly up and come back down to the same area – but it just cleared off!! So, I can tick the back half a Somali Bee eater…
We got to Voi in time for lunch , watching several elephants at the water hole while we ate. They were accompanied by the usual waders and herons. Later in the afternoon, I also saw a couple of Black Saw Wing flying above the water.
We met again at 4pm and went off on a drive for a couple of hours. It was a very good game drive and we saw several animals along the pipeline road. Close views of a female Lion, two massive Elephants among a large group of younger elephants, large numbers of Buffalo, Zebra and several antelope species all made for an excellent trip. We saw a few birds too and lifers for me included Ostrich , Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture  and a single Hartlaub’s Bustard. We also saw a few small birds, one of which was identified as a Red Winged Lark after close and lengthy scrutiny. Other birds seen included Crowned Plover, Cut Throat Finch  and several birds of prey. Going back towards the lodge, the most common bird on the track was Northern Wheatear.
I then made a mistake by agreeing to change our original plan about the following day. Instead of birding early on and leaving by the Voi Gate towards Shimba, I agreed that we could leave by the Buchuma Gate instead.
We had an early breakfast, checked out and were immediately amongst the birds. Augur Buzzard was a lifer and we also got good views of a pair of Gabar Goshawks. We travelled on further and stopped to watch large numbers of Vultures circling in the distance. They turned out to be White Backed Vultures. As we watched them, more birds appeared close to the bus, including 8 Golden Breasted Starlings which flitted around nervously but stayed long enough to show brilliantly. A Woodpecker then flew into a near by tree and this proved to be a lifer for me when we identified it as a Nubian Woodpecker.
We moved on and then I realised my mistake. Buchuma Gate was still about 60km away and we had less than 2 hours to get there! I would never have agreed to the suggestion if I had realised that I was about to deprive myself of the morning’s birding in Tsavo East. I was so annoyed with myself and everyone else that I almost exploded internally!
As we sped past everything at 50km per hour, I just looked out bewildered. I had saved for two years to come back to this place and here I was, involved in some speed “time trial” to reach the exit Gate within a given time. I couldn’t help myself when I spotted 2 Kori Bustards and shouted for the driver to stop. We backed up and they showed very well, as did a number of other birds – it just made matters worse.
We reached the Gate with 10 minutes to spare and made our way towards Mombasa. We were not looking forward to the last 20 miles or so, given our experience of the road in 2005. However, we were absolutely delighted to find that the whole stretch of road has been re-built so it was a joy to travel into Mombasa [well, within reason!]. However, imagine our despair when we then found that one of the three ferries that make the Diani crossing was out of action, leading to a long queue, which held us up for almost two hours. It was like being cooked alive; a two hour sauna. If you want to get a better feel for what it was like, go into a greenhouse next Summer for 2 hours, with the windows and doors closed! We all almost passed out. It was over 90 degrees outside, with no breeze – it was very unpleasant.
Eventually, we got on the ferry, crossed the water in about two minutes and made our way to Shimba Hills, considerably later than anticipated. We were staying at the Lodge and it proved to be very different to any other Lodge we have used. All was very calm, and a little old-fashioned but charming at the same time. We liked it. We also liked the two African Wood Owls that were sat in the trees near the car park and the cheeky Colobus Monkeys that stared down at us as we made our way to check in. We also spotted a Crowned Hornbill in a tree near our room. In view of the lost time, we were back outside within a few minutes for a drive around the nearby Reserve.
We saw a number of birds on the trip, including a few lifers for me. Several good views of Silvery Cheeked Hornbills were particularly well received and we also saw Brown Hooded Kingfisher. A first winter Eurasian Roller was a surprise but showed well, which is more than I can say about a Klaas’s Cuckoo, which did the opposite! We also came across a large herd of Buffalo, with resident Oxpeckers for company and Jonathan and Nemo were confident that the antelope we saw inside the forest area was a Bongo. I’ve checked the internet since we returned and I can only presume that if that is right, there must be a re-introduction scheme at Shimba Hills for this species.
I could hear a knock on a door while I was in the shower close by [there were no en suite facilities at the lodge as far as I could tell]. I presumed it must be someone at our room so I quickly looked along the corridor to see Jonathan standing outside the room. “Fischer’s Turaco outside” he whispered. In less than two minutes, I was with him but it had gone! We heard them on several occasions throughout the day but apart from one red flash, I just could not connect.
We had a brief walk along the walkway and got onto a small group of birds flying above the trees. They proved to be Bohm’s Spinetail, which was a lifer for me. We also saw Little Greenbul and I nearly saw a Turaco again, but missed that one too!
While we ate breakfast, we looked out over the pond to see an elegant African Fish Eagle in the trees and then another lifer, Trumpeter Hornbill, flew into the trees opposite. A Brown Hooded Kingfisher then appeared and sat close by for some time.
We left the Lodge and went back to the Reserve. Striped Kingfisher was a new bird for the trip and then I had my first lifer of the day when three Green Barbets flew into a tree near the van. I quickly added Tropical Bulbul [previously glimpsed but never seen well enough] and Crested Guineafowl before we made our way towards Sheldrick Falls. We left the van and walked down to the falls, which seemed like a good idea at the time. It proved to be a mistake as it was much too far away and we had no water with us. The waterfalls were impressive as was the Green Headed Oriole we saw on the way back but our thanks go to Nemo for legging it up the hill to fetch bottles of water for Lorraine and myself before we each had a heart attack!
We arrived back at the van and collapsed for a while before we moved off for one last look for Sable Antelope, which had eluded us so far. Happily, we did find a small group as we made our way towards the main gate so we were pleased to see this rare species.
After that, it was next stop Turtle Bay. We arrived mid afternoon, having no wait at all at the ferry as the third boat was back in use…
Another early start saw us on our way to Mida Creek to meet Sammy Sabaganga, who we had met in 2005. We were accompanied by two others birders, George and Pauline, from the hotel. It was great to see Sammy again and astonishing to see that an Eco Camp is now well developed, courtesy of hard work and hard cash from a couple of people who have funded the scheme. So, Sammy’s initial dream of creating something like this has been brought into reality, albeit slightly different from his original plans.
As for birding, there were the usual waders to see and George and Pauline “enjoyed” their walk along the boardwalk!
Happily, we all got good views of Crab Plovers and Terek Sandpipers along with the more common birds. Towards the end of our stay, we had a couple of European Bee- Eaters fly above us.
I met Jonathan at 6am and we set off for the Gongoni area. Along the road to Malindi, we got excellent views of Lizard Buzzard and after driving through the town, a number of birds sat out on the wires running parallel with the road to Lamu.
Carmine Bee-eaters were everywhere and you didn’t get far without seeing a Grey Headed Kingfisher and/or Lilac Breasted Roller! What a combination and only 7am. We stopped on a couple of occasions to check out pools and saw good numbers of Open Billed Storks and White Faced Whistling Ducks, together with other species.
Jonathan then stopped the car near a bushy area and we walked across the immediate area to see two Malindi Pipits ahead of us. That was the first lifer of the day. We spent a lot of time studying a Longclaw species before deciding that it was a Yellow Throated after all and then moved further on towards the saltpans, which were relatively quiet. Another mile or so ahead, we stopped again at a pool by the road. Jonathan then drove off the road and we walked towards the pools, which were stuffed full of birds!
My first scan brought my second lifer of the day as a massive Goliath Heron stood proudly close by, not giving us a second look as we approached the water’s edge. Open Billed Storks, Kingfishers, Herons, Egrets and waders were well represented and, of course, Carmine Bee-eaters were everywhere! A Wahlberg’s Eagle flew around above us and we flushed 4 Snipe from the grass. It was a splendid place, presumably totally dependent on water levels. The chap living on site told Jonathan that he had seen a Grey Crowned Crane on the previous day. If he had, it wasn’t there when we were.
I had a day off.
I met George, Pauline and Jonathan at 6am and off we went to the forest again. George was feeling quite poorly and he did very well to keep going throughout the morning.
We had an excellent start, seeing at least 4 Peters’s Twinspot on the track. It was clear from the debris on the track that elephants had passed by fairly recently so I kept my eyes and ears on alert!
We moved on to the area I had visited a few days earlier, only to find that things were much quieter. Splendid views of three Little Yellow Flycatchers helped to raise the spirits but it was hard work. Another lifer, Black Headed Apalis, also showed well and we all got splendid views of a pair of Amani Sunbirds.
Jonathan decided we should move to a different part of the forest so we drove along the main road for several miles before coming to a different track. We walked along for a while but it did not seem any better. A brief flurry of activity gave us hope as we saw Chestnut Fronted Helmet Shrikes, Scimitarbill and Green Wood Hoopoes. A Honeyguide species remained unidentified and then Jonathan shouted “Clarke’s Weaver”. He had seen at least one with the Helmet Shrikes.
I looked up into the tree and saw a flash of yellow. There was lots of activity in the area –and then all of the birds flew off! So near and yet so far. We tried to guess where the flock was going but did not get any closer to it so we decided to call it a day. As we made our way back along the track, Jonathan suddenly asked the driver to stop. He got out and made his way to the back of the van. We joined him and he quickly pointed out two superb Sokoke Pipits sat on a branch fairly close to us. Apparently, he had heard an alarm call as we travelled along – pretty impressive and a very good end to the morning.
Our last full day.
I took a beach walk with Caesar, one of the guys from the Funbase team at the hotel. Their job is to make you feel part of the family at the hotel and they are very good at it. My darts, table tennis and beach boules improve dramatically after a fortnight but they only have one way to go!
We had a nice walk, with Caesar telling me about the constant erosion as a result of higher tides and the dangers to the Turtles as a result of plans to develop the area they use for nesting. Quite depressing really. A few waders, plus Palm Nut Vulture, White Browed Coucal, Osprey and Black Kite was a good trawl in a short time. Best sighting was that of George, back to work with his optics after a day or so on the sick list.
We went to Jonathan’s house at lunchtime to meet his family.
In the afternoon, I met up with Jonathan again and we strolled around the area close to his house. New birds for the trip were limited to Golden Oriole [1w] and Village Indigobird but we saw a few other birds very well in our two-hour walk.
We had a decent departure time so we were able to have breakfast before we left for the airport. I even picked up a new bird for the trip when I saw a single Hadada Ibis on the grass close to the airport entrance. There seemed to be a large number of small birds in the vicinity as well but I could not identify them.
We actually left a few minutes early and arrived back in Manchester on time. Those heading for Gatwick had to leave the plane and collect their bags before checking in again. You could feel the tension! Originally, the plane was scheduled to fly to Gatwick first so you could imagine how happy the Gatwick passengers were. I’m not sure that Mytravel will be on their Christmas card list!
A three-hour drive followed and we arrived home in the early hours. I am sure we will go to Kenya again and I hope that next time, I will be able to sort out that little safari problem, one way or the other. It’s a memorable experience to see animals in their natural surroundings and I would recommend a safari to anyone who gets the chance to go on one. Personally, I can’t get enough of it but I want to see a few more birds as well next time!
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