Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Kenya, April 9th-22nd 2006,
(Nairobi, Naivasha, Shimba, Taita, Malindi, Tsavo & Amboseli)
Participants: Alf King, Jeannine King – seasoned but by no means expert birders, both in our mid-50’s.
Birding Outcome: We ended up with a trip list of 375 species of which 128 were birds new to us in Kenya and 99 were lifers.
Background: Having previously enjoyed an excellent birding trip to Kenya in 2004 we were keen to return but this time visiting some different areas and habitats. We were particularly interested in the Tsavo and the Malindi regions combined with other areas that could be fitted into a fortnight. We had been keen to visit the Masai Mara, where we have never visited, but time was against us so we finally decided to leave this for another time. On a previous trip we had visited such as Lake Baringo, Lake Nakuru, Kakamega Forest and the Kolongei Escarpment (all excellent) so this time set our sights further South and East.
On the previous trip we had used the services of Nigel Moorhouse at Sarus Bird Tours and had no hesitation whatsoever in using him again. Our previous trips organised by Nigel proved that he has infinite patience when details are changed coupled with excellent knowledge of the places and the birds, which, combined with a very good network of contacts on the ground makes him our number one choice. Our major limiting factor was that of school holidays in the UK so we weren’t at all flexible in terms of timing. Taking all of this into account we eventually agreed upon a schedule that took in Naivasha, Wajee, Nairobi NP, Magadi Road, Shimba Hills, Malindi, Taita, Tsavo East & West and Amboseli.
Ground arrangements were organised through Ben Mugambi of Ben’s Ecological Safaris (also known as Besttours) who had looked after us on our previous visit. Once again all services provided by Ben were very good and his friendly forbearance together with excellent natural history knowledge were invaluable. We travelled in a safari bus with lift-up lid which was most comfortable for four people including the driver. This form of transport provides for the best birding opportunities when within the National Parks where the possibilities for birding on foot are quite limited for reasons of safety.
Timing: As already mentioned our flexibility with timing for the trip was non-existent and whilst late March/early April would have been preferable we had to “make do” with what we had. With Easter being a little later this year this meant that the rainy season had already commenced by the time we arrived. As we will all have learned this would be something of a relief for the country as the rain was very much needed. From our selfish point of view it meant that a number of species were already dispersing from their dry weather locations as we arrived. Consequently we failed to find a few species that we had hoped for, but on the other hand we may have seen some that we didn’t expect; I would guess that the total number of species was reduced by around 25 due to our timing. When we encountered heavy rains it naturally curtailed some of our birding but this didn’t happen too often to spoil the trip. What we did see however were some fabulous examples of breeding activity and nest-building, especially amongst the weavers, that we would never have seen before the rain, and these were some of our treasured memories of the trip.
Travel: We travelled from Manchester to Nairobi via Amsterdam with KLM/Kenyan Airways departing on the afternoon of April 8th and arriving at Nairobi at 7.30 am on the 9th. The flights were very good and without the logistical difficulties that seemed to plague KLM in the past. Due to the Easter holidays we were limited by the high cost of some flights so were obliged to stay over on Saturday 22nd in Nairobi and take the Sunday morning flight. At other times of year we would have been able to take the Saturday evening flight but this was prohibitively expensive this time around. The extra night meant a little extra cost on the ground with no additional birding opportunity, but such inconveniences are common around school holidays.
Costs: We opted for comfort wherever possible and the costs of the trip reflect this. In addition there are no really cheap flights to be obtained over the Easter period.
The on-the ground cost with Sarus was £2040 each for all accommodation, transport (including flight from Nairobi to Mombassa), all meals, guiding, driver etc. The flights cost £558 each, so the total cost was around £5200. Overall we regarded this as very good value for the services received. We didn’t need much spending money most of which was used for tips together with drinks at the various hotels.
Literature: We used the field guides “Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania” by Dale A Zimmerman, Donald A Turner and David J Pearson and “Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa” by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe of which we found the latter to be the most useful. For general research we checked out trip reports generally using the www.travellingbirder.com site. In addition Nigel Moorhouse has a vast knowledge of the birds of Kenya that he gladly shares.
Accommodation: Having got past the age where sleeping bags and tents might seem exciting we preferred a degree of comfort and this is reflected in our arrangements. We stayed at:
Lake Naivasha Country Club – set in an area that has enjoyed some notoriety over the years this is an excellent place to begin such a trip. It is only a couple of hours away from Nairobi and is very comfortable, permitting any recovery necessary from your journey. Cottage accommodation in impressive grounds.
Wajee Bungalows – described as “fairly basic” by Nigel this is a perfectly comfortable place to stay with very good service and gives ready access to the local endemics. A three bedroomed bungalow was provided for us with camping and bandas also being available.
Whistling Thorns – a very relaxed atmosphere and good standards of food and facilities makes this a comfortable stopping place. Cottage accommodation with camping also available.
Royal Court Hotel – surprisingly comfortable and relaxed hotel giving access to a speedy escape from Mombassa.
Shimba Hills Lodge – a typical “tree lodge” arrangement that will be found in a number of game areas in Kenya. Very friendly and good standard of service but with quite small and stuffy rooms. This latter was largely due to the recent rains.
Driftwood Beach Club – very relaxed and welcoming facilities right on the beach at Malindi. Night-time entertainments might not suit those who want to rise at 04.30 but we did seem to be in a very small minority. Quite spacious cottages accommodation in pleasant grounds.
Voi Safari Lodge – this was at personal request as we had visited here some ten years ago and had been taken by the setting, which is still wonderful. As it turned out, however, it was the least satisfactory of all of the places that we stayed largely due to the large numbers of tourists that they were dealing with on a daily basis. This meant that the service was quite off-hand (most unusual in Kenya) and the food was fairly ordinary. It would still compare quite favourably with places that we have stayed in a number of other countries, but there are better alternatives in the immediate vicinity.
Ziwani Tented Camp – this was an unscheduled stop brought about by adverse weather conditions. It proved to be quite luxurious and would satisfy those with a hankering to stay under canvas whilst retaining many of the comforts of home. The food was excellent.
Kilaguni Serena Lodge – for me this was the best accommodation that I have encountered in Kenya enhanced by the fact that we had a suite provided for our stay. The dining hall is magnificent in design with the whole of one side being completely open with views over the waterholes together with all of their attendant birdlife. Many of the birds are extremely confident and will steal food from your plate given half a chance. Once again the food was outstanding.
Amboseli Serena Lodge - a good standard of comfort and food with the only drawback being a lack of any views over the surrounding countryside. The position is very good for game drives.
Fairview Hotel – this was a simple stop-over allowing us to connect with our morning flight out of Nairobi. It was very comfortable indeed but its proximity to the Israeli Embassy was limiting if you wanted to explore anywhere outside of the hotel. We didn’t so this was no problem to us.
The standard of service and comfort in the majority of places is very high indeed and at times praise is inadequate. Food was generally very good and at times excellent – large cooked breakfasts, four course lunches and five course dinners did nothing to improve our waistlines. Standards of hygiene appeared to be very good and there was no food that we needed to be at all wary of, except for the highly calorific sweets on offer. If you enjoy a drink the local beers are quite acceptable if a little gassy, and the pilsner is preferable to the standard lager. Most hotel water is reckoned to be potable but there are plenty of supplies of bottled water available. Kenyan tea and coffee also comes highly recommended.
It should go without saying that Kenya is not an affluent country and tipping certainly helps in showing your appreciation of good service. It is also obviously very welcomed by individual staff members and yet you are put under no pressure at all to tip. What might be a relatively small amount of money to you will be valued and spent well locally.
Finally it was notable that we didn’t encounter any other birders at all during the whole trip.
Security: There are reported issues relating to security in Kenya, particularly in the major centres and common sense combined with reasonable care is necessary as in many places around the world (including UK). We didn’t venture out in the evenings for example, largely due to early starts requiring early nights, so were relatively insulated I suppose. We encountered no problems at all personally, nor were we hassled to any great degree by hawkers etc., all of whom are simply trying to make a living. We were accompanied by an armed guard between Tsavo West and Amboseli, this being a local requirement due to robberies in the area some years ago. How effective a single guard might be against a gang is questionable and the system seems to be perpetuated as a pocket-money opportunity for individual members of the army. On a chastening note we were witnesses to an armed robbery of a vehicle ahead of us on our way to the airport on the day of our departure. The vehicle that was robbed was obviously targeted specifically and it all took a matter of minutes. However, the sight of obviously experienced armed men waving AK47’s at you does give pause to reflect upon fate.
(Note: Species marked with an asterisk* are life birds.)
Saturday 8th/Sunday 9th April
Despite our misgivings with KLM we availed ourselves of their internet check-in facility and all of the travel arrangements went like clockwork. We arrived at Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta airport slightly ahead of schedule and were met promptly at 8.00 by both Ben Mugambi and Augustine, our driver for this leg of the journey. We had a brief discussion about our objectives and the general logistics before setting into the rain.
On landing it was impossible to ignore the torrential downpour all around Nairobi and this set the scene for the first couple of days. We eventually managed the dash for the bus without getting too wet and set off to Naivasha. Fortunately with it being Sunday the traffic was reasonably light, otherwise the weather would have given us major problems. As it was a number of intersections were awash and one car was seen to have been abandoned as the water had risen over half-way up its side. As we left the city the weather improved to a steady drizzle. We reached the Limuru Pond area within an hour for our first birding break. We were delighted to begin with a visit to the local effluent treatment facility close to the ponds, such sites being a fundamental requirement of all birding trip. At these pools we saw a good number of the common water birds, including the only Hottentot Teal of the trip. More notable was the first Singing Cisticola as the first representative of the family and a pair of Holub’s Golden Weaver which was a lifer. Having enjoyed an hour’s steady birding the clouds moved in quickly once more so we repaired to the bus and carried on to Naivasha where we reached the Country Club without any more ado.
Having settled in to our rooms and enjoyed a good lunch we birded within the extensive grounds of the club for the next few hours. This is an excellent site to begin our reacquaintance with many of the commoner Kenyan birds, and more importantly their calls. Notable new birds on this occasion were Grey-headed Bush Shrike and an obliging pair of Mouse-coloured Penduline Tits. Once more, unfortunately, the weather closed in quickly and we were fortunate to just avoid a soaking in the torrential rain that resulted. Later that evening Jeannine and I enjoyed a further stroll outside of the compound where we found cape Robin Chat, Chin-spot Batis, Black-lored Babbler and Arrow-marked Babbler before enjoying our first multi-coursed dinner.
Birds seen: Little Grebe, Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelican, Long-tailed Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, Hamerkop, Marabou Stork, Hadada Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Greater Flamingo, Egyptian Goose, Red-billed Duck, Hottentot Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Augur Buzzard, African Marsh-harrier, African Fish-eagle, Black Kite, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Blacksmith Plover, Little Stint, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Klaas’ Cuckoo, Mottled Swift, African Black Swift, Pied Kingfisher, White-fronted Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Green Wood-hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, White-headed Barbet, Grey Woodpecker, Barn Swallow, Plain Martin, Common Bulbul, Arrow-marked Babbler, Black-lored Babbler, Cape Robin-chat*, White-browed Robin-chat*, Northern Anteater Chat, Common Stonechat, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Singing Cisticola, White-bellied Tit, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit*, African Paradise Flycatcher, Chin-spot Batis, Common Fiscal, Red-backed Shrike, Grey-backed Fiscal, Tropical Boubou, Grey-headed Bush-shrike*, Common Drongo, Black-headed Oriole, Pied Crow, Cape Rook, Superb Starling, Red-winged Starling, Amethyst Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, House Sparrow, Rufous Sparrow, Baglafecht’s Weaver, Speke’s Weaver, Holub’s Golden Weaver*, Streaky Seedeater, Brimstone Canary. (Trip list – 78)
Monday 10th April
A quick tour around the grounds was followed by the kind of hearty breakfast to which we were to become accustomed. We then smartly headed off towards the edges of the Aberdares and Wajee Camp. On the way we stopped off on the escarpment road between Naivasha and the Kilangop grasslands just before reaching Kirima Village. This proved to be a good spot with a lot of feeding activity and notable sightings were Hunter’s Cisticola, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Golden-winged Sunbird and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater. Moving further on we then stopped at the Kilangop grasslands where we were to walk for a while looking for the endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw amongst other things. As soon as we alighted we could hear the familiar “wet-my-lips” call of Common Quail as well as other less familiar calls. Walking through the fields we soon saw Grassland Pipits in abundance together with calling Rufous-naped Larks when a confidently striding bird was soon seen and quickly identified as the Sharpe’s Longclaw that we had come to find. In truth, provided that the site is known, the birds aren’t so difficult to locate. We enjoyed lengthy views of a pair of the birds until it was time to move on.
We then walked on through the grasslands towards a small quarry and lake to meet the bus, and in the process flushed a Quail from right under my feet (for the first time ever in my recollection). At the quarry were numerous hirundines both in flight as well as perched providing excellent opportunities to study their subtle differences. In addition a Cape Wagtail was parading about for all to see. We climbed up through the fringes of the Aberdares towards Wajee, at one point coming across a very small hillside pool only a few metres long on which were both White-faced Whistling Duck and African Black Duck, the latter being a target of the trip. As we watched these a Mountain Buzzard suddenly took fright and erupted from the tree alongside us providing great views for everyone. Pushing on we stopped at “the fishing lodge” for our packed lunch taking the opportunity to observe the many Aberdare Cisticolas that were all around together with a number of Red-fronted Parrots that decided to put in an appearance as well as numerous Alpine Chats. As we finally approached Wajee Camp Black Saw-wings and Jackson’s Francolins were also seen.
The weather had been threatening all day and we had encountered spells of blustery rain whilst approaching Wajee. We did manage a brief look around before the weather and the night closed in and saw White-starred Robin, Eastern Double-collared and Green-headed Sunbirds amongst a small number of species. A welcome hot meal preceded a fairly early night.
Birds seen: Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelican, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Hamerkop, Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, Hadada Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Greater Flamingo, African Black Duck*, Gadwall, White-faced Whistling Duck, Augur Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, African Fish-eagle, Common Quail, Jackson’s Francolin*, Northern Lapwing, Ring-necked Dove, Tambourine Dove*, Red-fronted Parrot, Klaas’ Cuckoo, Mottled Swift, African Black Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Eurasian Bee-eater, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Red-capped Lark, Rufous-naped Lark, Grassland Pipit, Sharpe’s Longclaw*, Cape Wagtail, Common House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Rock Martin, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Plain Martin, Common Bulbul, Alpine Chat*, Cape Robin-chat, Northern Anteater Chat, White-starred Robin*, Olive Thrush, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Aberdare Cisticola*, Singing Cisticola, Hunter’s Cisticola, Montane White-eye, Common Fiscal, Red-tailed Shrike, Tropical Boubou, Common Drongo, Pied Crow, Cape Rook, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird*, Golden-winged Sunbird, Green-headed Sunbird, Long-tailed Widowbird, Baglafecht’s Weaver, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Purple Grenadier, African Citril, Streaky Seedeater.
Tuesday 11th April
The camp is in 22 acres of land which is surrounded by cultivated farmland and acts as an reserve for a number of bird species, and its existence depends upon continuing support from the birding community amongst others. We needed a very early start to locate the main target species, Hinde’s Babbler, so we proceeded down a very slippery slope into the woodland, led by the local guide Ricky. We quickly located a number of loud calls accompanied by movement in the bushes and a shadowy group of about five birds could be seen moving quickly through the undergrowth. As these bird generally feed outside the grounds of the camp we needed to get onto them quickly which was proving difficult in low light conditions. Suddenly one bird decided to perch up on top of a bush to preen itself for half a minute giving us all clear views before it dropped down and scuttled off evading any further sightings.
Following this success we continued along the glutinous paths locating a number of good birds along the way, although they were sporadic to say the least. A pair of roosting African Wood Owls gave very confiding views as did a pair of Tambourine Doves scuttling along the forest floor like rats. This is fascinating territory to visit, especially in kinder weather, representing highland forest remnant that is becoming scarcer by the day in Kenya.
Amongst the Birds seen here were: Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Olive Thrush, Variable Sunbird, Hinde’s Babbler, Montane White-eye, Southern Black Flycatcher, Bronze Sunbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Cape Robin-chat, Red-faced Cisticola, African Wood Owl, Amethyst Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Abyssinian White-eye.
The weather began to close in again so, after a cup of tea and extensive boot-scraping operations we were ready to set off for Nairobi once more. There was steady rainfall as we left and, coupled with the previous rain, this made the road surfaces quite treacherous. At one stage for a distance of four or five miles we literally slithered down the roads as the laterite clay surface combined with water to produce something akin to ice to drive on. The rear of the bus was continuously attempting to overtake the front and Augustine admitted that he was just pointing it in a general direction for much of the time. Eventually after what seemed an age we gained a metalled surface and were able to make better headway towards the Kieni Forest our next stopping place.
We paused at Blue Post, a hotel where we collected a packed lunch and whilst there saw our first Lesser-striped Swallows of the trip. At Kieni Forest there are a number of target species that should be reasonably accessible. Unfortunately, once again, the heavy rainfall had made birding very difficult with a distinct absence of sound or movement. We relaxed over our packed lunch then, with lowering skies, we did a circuit of the forest with little real success. The only birds seen were Black-collared Apalis, Yellow Whiskered Greenbul, Grey-headed Negrofinch and White-starred Robin. Rain began to patter so we returned to the bus and headed towards Nairobi.
As we travelled towards Nairobi the weather worsened; we had intended calling again at Limunu Ponds to check out the ducks but by this time the rain was torrential so we pushed on towards our destination at Whistling Thorns. Here we were able to clean up and enjoy a good meal before awaiting the weather of the next day.
Birds seen: Glossy Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Tambourine Dove, African Wood Owl*, Little Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Pied Wagtail, Lesser Striped Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Common Bulbul, Hinde’s Babbler*, Cape Robin-chat, Ruppell’s Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Common Stonechat, Olive Thrush, Southern Black Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Black-collared Apalis, Red-faced Cisticola*, Hunter’s Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Abyssinian White-eye, African Paradise Flycatcher, Chin-spot Batis, Common Fiscal, Red-tailed Shrike, Tropical Boubou, Pied Crow, Collared Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Golden-winged Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Green-headed Sunbird, House Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Baglafecht’s Weaver, Slender-billed Weaver, Grey-headed Negrofinch*, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Streaky Seedeater,
Wednesday 12th April
The day dawned with some cloud and rain but this began to clear as we enjoyed a good breakfast. Leaving at 8.30 we were joined by Ben’s trainee Halima and headed off towards the Magadi Road but stopped after a few hundred metres to survey the “Widowbird Field”, an area of high grass that seemed to be perfect territory for displaying widowbirds, notably red-collared and white-winged together with whydahs, streaky seedeaters and other occasional finches.
The Magadi Road is an area with a somewhat unprepossessing name that offers superb birdwatching. The road goes for about 70km to reach Lake Magadi passing through open dry scrub and grassland. Small pools of water and sluggish streams act as magnets for hordes of bird species and the old-fashioned birding approach of sitting and waiting produced excellent numbers and views of a range of birds. Stopping places are difficult to describe but anywhere where there was water present was key, most notably one spot where a small bridge crosses a bend in the road. Here we were able to park in welcome shade, the sun having come out in full by then, and quietly watch the comings and goings around the stream. Following the recent rains most birds were actively nest-building and this was evident by the type and scale of activity all around. In particular the general busy work of the various weavers were a delight to watch in providing really close-up views. Amongst birds seen here were Rattling Cisticola, Southern Grosbeak Canary, Hildebrandt’s Starling, White-browed Scrub Robin, Red-fronted Barbet, Red-and-yellow barbet, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Fischer’s Sparrow-lark, Spotted Morning-thrush, African Silverbill, Grey-headed Silverbill, Red-fronted Warbler, Somali Golden-breasted Bunting, Bush Pipit, Kori Bustard and Secretary Bird.
We drove on, stopping and birding at regular intervals until we reached a rest area at Oleoside. Here we parked up for some time to enjoy our picnic lunch and the general peace and quiet together with some occasional lazy birding. We then took a short walk towards an area surrounded by bushes and containing a water pump for the local villages. Amongst numbers of the more common birds this turned up Slaty-coloured Boubou, Green-winged Pytilia and a spectacular Steel Blue Whydah. Ben then gave an impromptu demonstration of the use of spotting scopes to a few of the local boys, which seemed to go down really well before we returned to the bus for our onward journey. We were now well into the afternoon and Ben said that we had a choice: we could push on the rest of the way to Lake Magadi where the only new bird we were likely to see would be Chestnut-banded Plover, or we could drive back slowly picking up birds here and there. As the trip to the lake was a total journey of 100km and would take some time on these roads coupled with Ben’s dismissal of the plover as being easily seen at Amboseli we opted for the latter option. A hooded vulture proved to be the highlight of the return journey; needless to say Chestnut-banded Plover is still absent from my life list!
A really excellent day’s birding was rounded off with a hot shower and a hearty meal washed down with a couple of cold beers. Does it get any better than this?
Birds seen: White-backed Duck, Augur Buzzard, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Hooded Vulture, Peregrine Falcon, Crested Francolin, Speckled Pigeon, Namaqua Dove, Ring-necked Dove, African Mourning Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, White-browed Coucal, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Blue-naped Mousebird, Eurasian Bee-eater, White-fronted Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Red-fronted Barbet, Black-throated Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Fischer’s Sparrow-lark, Fawn-coloured Lark, Bush Pipit*, African Pied Wagtail, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Rock Martin, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Northern pied Babbler, White-browed Scrub Robin, Spotted Morning Thrush*, Isabelline Wheatear, Capped Wheatear*, African Grey Flycatcher, Grey Wren Warbler, Rattling Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Taita Fiscal*, Grey-backed Fiscal, Lesser Grey Shrike, Tropical Boubou, Slate-coloured Boubou, Pied Crow, Hildebrandt’s Starling*, Superb Starling, Red-winged Starling, Western Violet-backed Sunbird*, Hunter’s Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, White-winged Widowbird*, Red-collared Widowbird, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Vitelline Masked Weaver*, Grey-capped Social Weaver*, Red-billed Quelea*, Cut-throat Finch, African Firefinch, African Silverbill, Grey-headed Silverbill*, Green-winged Pytilia*, Purple Grenadier, Village Indigobird, Straw-tailed Whydah, Steel-blue Whydah*, Paradise Whydah*, Northern Grosbeak Canary* and Somali Golden-breasted Bunting.
Thursday 13th April
We had a relaxed breakfast before departing and enjoyed the various birds in the grounds of Whistling Thorns including the resident White-browed Coucals, which were the only ones that we encountered on the trip as well as a couple of Fischer’s Lovebirds in the trees.
We proceeded to Nairobi National Park in good time only to encounter Kenyan bureaucracy at its most obdurate. At this point we were the only visitors seeking admission to the park and we were at the main office which should have presented no problem. Entrance to the parks nowadays is obtained by the purchase of a card that can be computer read which should also make things more efficient. However the general level of mistrust of everyone and everything in Kenya means that additional documentary proof of ownership and use of these cards needs to be provided. The absence of an exit stamp from one of the other parks sometime earlier in the month led to long and detailed discussions before we eventually entered the park 40 minutes after arriving. These cards are intended to reduce corruption and speed up access but left us less than impressed with their efficacy. On the other hand they do seem to be a useful job creation scheme.
Nairobi National Park has been described many times by many people so I won’t go into detail here. It offers excellent birding opportunities all year round and at particular times can be outstanding. The recent rains had caused an eruption in the vegetation with a resultant diminution in the numbers of species that could be confidently predicted. Once again however the level of breeding activity and display was quite thrilling and made up for any minor disappointments in species numbers. In particular the grasslands provided excellent display grounds for the various widowbirds and bishops. The whole of the park provides a range of habitat that favours different species in different areas and, this being Ben’s home patch he knew it very well indeed so was able to pinpoint those areas where we might have greatest success. We encountered a number of new and interesting birds with one of the most impressive being the Flappet Lark which has a display flight that includes banging its wings together with a sharp crack, hence the name. These birds can be heard from quite a distance. Other highlights included a White-backed Night Heron at the crocodile pool, our only sighting of African Green Pigeon and a slightly controversial Ashy Cisticola (looking, behaving and singing like one but seemingly off-territory).
Leaving the park more easily than we had entered in the late afternoon we made our way to the airport and here bade farewell to Augustine and Halima and went to connect with our internal flight to Mombasa. Here things got slightly complicated as with this being just before the Easter weekend flights to the coast were very popular and busy. Some confusion reigned as to whether our seats had been confirmed and we were denied access to the ‘plane until ten minutes before scheduled take-off, with one airline official seemingly more intent upon preventing us boarding rather than her paperwork being put out of order. No matter, we then had an uneventful flight to Mombasa where we met up with John, our new driver, and made our way to the hotel for a comfortable overnight stay before heading off to Shimba Hills.
Birds seen: Common Ostrich, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, White-backed Night Heron, Hamerkop, Saddle-billed Stork, Hadada Ibis, Secretary Bird, Tawny Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Montagu’s Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite, African White-backed Vulture, African Fish-eagle, Martial Eagle, African Harrier-hawk, Lesser Kestrel, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, Blacksmith Plover, Crowned Plover, African Green Pigeon, Tambourine Dove, Fischer’s Lovebird*, Mottled Swift, Little Swift, African Palm-swift, Striped Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, White-headed Barbet, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Lark, Flappet Lark*, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Common Bulbul, Common Stonechat, Pale Flycatcher, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Pectoral-patched Cisticola, Rattling Cisticola, Ashy Cisticola*, Winding Cisticola, Stout Cisticola*, Buff-bellied Warbler*, African Paradise Flycatcher, Long-tailed Fiscal, Red-backed Shrike, Taita Fiscal, Red-tailed Shrike, Common Drongo, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Blue-eared Starling, Hildebrandt’s Starling, Ruppell’s Long-tailed Starling, Collared Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, House Sparrow, Grey-headed Sparrow, Rufous Sparrow, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Yellow-crowned Bishop*, White-winged Widowbird*, Red-collared Widowbird, Yellow Bishop, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Common Waxbill, Yellow-rumped Seedeater,
Friday 14th April
An early start saw us onto the Likoni Ferry to Kwale and onwards to Shimba Hills. This is a large area of mixed forest and woodlands with grasslands interspersed offering species that are quite restricted in range in Kenya. It also offered tsetse flies in abundance and these caused us several problems whenever we were amongst the trees. Unlike mosquitoes these insects have jaws and they are most happy to use them giving quite a nip as well as a follow-up swelling. Invariably there would be one ready and waiting just when you had got your binoculars focused on something interesting. Bird numbers weren’t extensive but the key species were present. Highlights within the forest were Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Green-headed Oriole, White-eared Barbet, Green Barbet, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Pale and Ashy Flycatcher, Croaking Cisticola, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike and Black-backed Puffback.
The lodge offered typical tourist comforts together with an attractive waterhole that attracted African Fish-eagles that hunted over the pool and Fischer’s Turaco in the mornings together with Crowned Hornbill and a selection of mammals at other times. In particular the squirrels were most attentive to any signs of unguarded food. Kenya Crested Guineafowl is a speciality of the area and displayed very confidingly all around the edge of the pool.
Birds seen: African White-backed Vulture, African Fish-eagle, Martial Eagle, African Harrier-hawk, Kenya Crested Guineafowl*, Namaqua Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Red-eyed Dove, laughing Dove, Tambourine Dove, African Palm-swift, Blue-naped Mousebird, Brown-hooded Kingfisher*, Little Bee-eater, Eurasian Roller, White-eared Barbet*, Green Barbet*, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Red-rumped Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul*, Common Bulbul, Pale Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Siffling Cisticola, Croaking Cisticola*, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike*, Black-backed Puffback, Black-crowned Tchagra*, Green-headed Oriole*, House crow, Collared Sunbird, Black and White Mannikin,
Saturday 15th April
A little bit of birding around the lodge road revealed more Turacos, Little Yellow Flycatcher and Dark-backed Weaver. Our journey towards Malindi once again took us via the Likoni Ferry also stopping briefly at a large shopping plaza where we were able to stock up on numerous items very cheaply as well as enjoying a welcome ice cream, the weather now having become quite warm.
The road to Malindi was covered in one stretch with no stops for birding other than at Mida Creek. This is a very good site but needs knowledge of the tide times to gain greatest advantage. We arrived while the tide was out yet it rose really quickly on a spring tide with a full moon. Even with such a brief exposure to the area it was obvious that more exploration of this area was required. (We later learnt that the local fishermen from the islands in the creek are very amenable to chartering their dhows for bird exploration and, as with most things in the area a good price would be negotiable. This could have proved very interesting had we known and if we had the time available to explore.) We arrived at the very comfortable Driftwood in time for a leisurely lunch and a little rest; at the coast the temperatures were far too high to sensibly go birding around midday.
We later explored the road to the north of Malindi picking up a skulking Scaly Babbler on the way, before visiting the salt workings at Congoni which has traditionally been a good spot for waders. To Ben’s consternation there was an almost total absence of birds whatsoever here arising, it turned out, from a recent reorganisation of the whole salt works under new management. Clearly they hadn’t been informed that its purpose was to act as a roosting place for the benefit of European birders rather than for producing salt! Despite some minor disappointments it had been a good day with the prospects of more forest birding in the morning and the comforts of exceptional food in the evening.
Birds seen: Pink-backed Pelican, Intermediate Egret, Greater Flamingo, Kenya Crested Guineafowl, Lesser Sandplover, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Blacksmith Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Sooty Gull*, Gull-billed Tern, Fischer’s Turaco*, Little Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Crowned Hornbill, Grassland Pipit, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Scaly Babbler*, long-tailed Fiscal, Common Drongo, Black-bellied Starling*, Dark-backed Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary.
Sunday 16th April
For the visit to the Arabuko Sokoke Forest an early start was needed so an early breakfast had been organised with the ever willing catering staff at 4.30. Our early night of the previous day had proved a little futile however. Seemingly the weekend celebrations are always provided in style by Abdul’s disco on a Saturday night which commences at 11.00 pm and ends around 2.15 am. This provided hits old and new for us all to dance the night away, even though we were trying to sleep the night away. Needless to say at 4.30 the next morning we weren’t at our most attentive or cheerful although it is worth noting that we seemed to be the only tourists up at that hour. A tip for the future might be to visit Arabuko Sokoke on days other than Sunday.
We arrived at Arabuko Sokoke for the 6.00 start picking up our local guide Willy by the main gate then attempting to access the forest via the Mida Gate. This attempt was truncated after 400m due to the roadway being completely blocked by a fallen tree, probably due to elephants. We made a loop around the outside of the forest and entered by the Kararacha Gate and proceeded into its depths. Birding was decidedly slow with nothing to be seen and very little to be heard and this had made Jeannine quite grumpy following our disturbed night and very early start. The birds that we did see however made up for things in terms of quality, including Plain-backed Sunbird, Forest Batis, Chestnut-fronted Helmet Shrike, Retz’s Helmet Shrike, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Eastern Nicator and Red-tailed Ant-thrush, all lifers. In many experiences of birding in warm climes we have felt that bird activity doesn’t really become noticeable until well after dawn and this succeeded in reinforcing that view. For the first hour there was no sound or movement to be seen at all and it wasn’t until about 8.00 that real sightings began to be made.
With little more to be found on this visit (probably having been shown our daily ration) we moved across the road to have an extended opportunity at Mida Creek. We arrived an hour before high tide to be greeted by large flocks of waders many of which were highly mobile. I have long wanted to see Crab Plover and there they were a flock of 60+ birds creating a white wash on the water. Another target for some years has been Terek Sandpiper and they also were present in numbers although they don’t flock together. Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper were present in the many hundreds and the overall sights and sounds were really thrilling. Once again we were able to see the changes wrought by the tide at first hand as it literally swept in, first moving the birds around in their flocks and then they suddenly disappeared as one leaving a virtually birdless estuary behind. I will repeat my advice to anyone visiting Mida Creek to make sure that you know the tide times (displayed in many hotels) and get there at least an hour before high tide.
We then moved slightly further north and went into an archaeological area called Gede ruins for which a small fee was payable. From the viewpoint of history and antiquities this is an area which is worth visiting, but it also has its share of birds. Most notable during our wanderings were Trumpeter Hornbill, Palm-nut Vulture and African Hawk-eagle.
The exertions of the morning coupled with the hot weather and impending rain in the afternoon called a halt to the birding for the day and, having had eleven lifers it was quite satisfactory so far, yet I hoped for more to come from the forest. A relaxing afternoon followed another delicious and leisurely lunch. It was hoped that an early night would this time be undisturbed.
Birds seen: Black-headed Heron, Yellow-billed Stork, Palm-nut Vulture, African Hawk-eagle*, Kenya Crested Guineafowl, Crab Plover*, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Greater Sandplover, Lesser Sandplover, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Blacksmith Plover, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper*, Sooty Gull, Tambourine Dove, Trumpeter Hornbill*, Crowned Hornbill, Yellow-bellied Greenbul*, Eastern Nicator*, Red-tailed Ant-thrush*, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Forest Batis*, Retz’s Helmet-shrike*, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike*, Black-bellied Starling, Collared Sunbird, Plain-backed Sunbird*, Dark-backed Weaver.
Monday 17th April
The 4.00 am alarm had me springing out of bed but not accompanied by Jeannine this time as she had decided that early morning forest birding wasn’t her preferred option. I emerged at 4.30 to find one of the staff laying out a teapot and a cup for me – the standards of service in Kenya in general are just amazing.
Once more we arrived to meet up with Willy at 6.00 and set off into the forest in the bus. The bird activity was quite a contrast to the previous day and we were connecting with individuals pretty regularly. We halted with regularity at favoured spots to seek out specific species with both Ben and Willy attempting to attract the birds with mixtures of whistling and hissing; it wasn’t clear whether these were being made in co-operation or in competition, but personal standards appeared to be high. A couple of individuals stand out, the first being the Sokoke Pipit that Willy and I pursued (he could see it, I couldn’t) almost on hands and knees before it halted and gave excellent albeit brief views before melting into the undergrowth once more. Secondly we took a long time to obtain views of a loudly calling Four-coloured Bush-shrike that skulked away for ages. Eventually I recorded its call and played it back and it emerged instantly then proceeded to follow us for the next fifteen minutes eventually accompanied by its mate, both of them standing fully out in the open now that we had managed to see them.
Eventually we pushed on into the forest to a depth of about 15km where we then marched for around 2km through the scrub to reach the area where the Scops owls might be found. Much searching of individual trees by Willy eventually turned up a roosting pair to add to the tally. Whilst they are very rare indeed I find that I cannot get too excited by a pair of roosting owls at the best of times. We returned to the centre, connecting with Clarke’s Weaver and a flock of 50 Black-bellied Starling before bidding farewell to Willy and returning to the hotel.
The afternoon found us at the Sabaki Rivermouth, a most impressive expanse of river, sand dunes and estuary with a mixture of localised ecosystems. Once more the success of river viewing is greatly influenced by the tides and we were just behind the rise of the high tide, possibly missing out on a few terns and gulls both of which were relatively scarce at all times. We had a most enjoyable walk with some interesting birding, notably finding Malindi Pipits in good numbers that were then replaced within 100m by Grassland Pipits such is the specific nature of their individual environmental preferences. Further highlights were connecting with a Madagascar Pratincole, in clear contrast with a Collared Pratincole, both of which were held in the wind directly overhead, and a superb Zanzibar Red Bishop in the reeds.
Another good day producing eleven lifers gives an indication of just how good an area the Malindi region is; we would have been happy to have stayed here much longer. A final evening at the excellent Driftwood was enjoyed together with the prospect of a normal start time the next day.
Birds seen: African Spoonbill, Little Sparrowhawk*, Crested Francolin, Madagascar Pratincole*, Collared Pratincole, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Spur-winged Plover, Black-headed Plover*, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Sokoke Scops-owl*, Little Swift, African Palm-swift, Speckled Mousebird, Common Scimitarbill, Green Barbet, Grassland Pipit, Malindi Pipit*, Sokoke Pipit*, Red-rumped Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Plain Martin, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Scaly Babbler, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Pale Batis*, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Four-coloured Bush-shrike*, African Golden Oriole, Black-bellied Starling, Superb Starling, Collared Sunbird, Amani Sunbird*, Plain-backed Sunbird, Zanzibar Red Bishop*, Dark-backed Weaver, Clarke’s Weaver*.
Tuesday 18th April
A leisurely drive through Tsavo East to Voi Safari Lodge was to be the main part of the day. We called at Mida Creek for one last view and were once more greeted by the sight of hundreds of waders all around. Whilst nothing rare presented itself the spectacle was marvellous. After travelling along the coast road we turned off onto the Kilifi to Mariakhani road and after about one kilometre stopped at a stand of trees. There, almost as if by order was a Brown-headed Parrot, one of our target species.
We entered the Tsavo East P ark at the Pachumo gate then wound our way slowly to the lodge, birding along the way with many of the regular species of the dry grassland being seen. The most notable of these were a trio of Southern Ground Hornbill that Ben managed to track down for us. A fairly average lunch was taken at the lodge after which we enjoyed another game drive when the heat of the sun had faded into the afternoon, where we were able to revisit a number of species seen on our previous visit to Kenya thereby boosting the trip count. Towards the evening there were a few clouds gathering but nothing serious.
Birds seen: Little Grebe, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, Greater Flamingo, Red-billed Duck, Tawny Eagle, Black-chested Snake-eagle*, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Crested Francolin, Grey Crowned Crane, Crab Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover, Lesser Sandplover, Kittlitz’s Plover, Grey plover, Crowned Plover, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Crested tern, African Mourning Dove, Laughing Dove, Brown-headed Parrot*, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Klaas’ Cuckoo, Little Swift, Blue-naped Mousebird, Eurasian Roller, African Hoopoe, Southern Ground Hornbill*, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Red-billed Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, D’Arnaud’s Barbet, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-lark*, Red-winged Lark, Pink-breasted Lark, Golden Pipit, Lesser-striped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Northern Wheatear, Capped Wheatear, Red-backed shrike, Taita fiscal, Red-tailed Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Rosy-patched Bush-shrike, Wattled Starling, Fischer’s Starling, Purple-banded Sunbird*, Grey-headed Sparrow, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Red-billed Buffalo-weaver, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, Black-headed Weaver.
Wednesday 19th April
This proved to be one of the more interesting days in our birding travels. We set off for Taita Hills, an area of relict forest with three endemic species and a regular target area for birders. As we got into the general area there was a build up of cloud and, as the hill region (Ngangao forest) that we were going to was at a slight elevation we gradually entered into some mists. First however we had to negotiate the roads to this forest which seemed to entail driving up the roughest slopes that we could find. We were frankly astonished that the bus managed this but John the driver seemed quite unperturbed by it all. We finally reached the forest and then embarked upon some classic forest birding, classic simply because we encountered not one single bird whilst in the forest. The cloud and mist had descended and caused all of the birdlife to go into hiding until it passed, which it showed no likelihood of doing for some time. After an hour or so plodding up and down in the forest we decided to call it a day and head elsewhere, having seen one Eastern Double-collared Sunbird and a couple of Ashy Flycatchers. Such is birding.
We headed off for inland water by the name of Lake Jefe. Once again this involved a very long drive along a rough road which wasn’t helped by having to follow a very slow and uncooperative lorry for some 20km which refused to allow us to pass. Eventually we reached the lake, instantly becoming the point of interest of a horde of village boys wanting to see what we were doing. The lake was quite large but, as it lies on the Tanzanian border and was extensively fringed with reeds it didn’t give too much ready access. We did have some good views though and turned up a few good birds not least Whiskered, White-winged and White-cheeked Terns, Black Egret, Squacco and Taveta Golden Weaver. Once again the weather started to turn against us and large black rain clouds gathered and began to discharge. As the road hadn’t been so good in the dry we were reluctant to try it in the rain so had to depart after only 30 minutes or so birding, making our way towards Tsavo West and our lodge at Kilaguni.
A long drive eventually got us into the park in the late afternoon having largely avoided the rain on the way and we wended our way through slowly birding as we went. To get to Kilaguni Lodge the final stretch involves crossing the river over a simple ford. Unbeknownst to us, however, there had been very heavy rain in the hills all that day which had resulted in the river becoming swollen and, to put it simply the ford could not be crossed without serious danger to life and limb. Our only option was to loop round five kilometres to another shallower ford where we should get across. When we did this we found it to be also in spate and after discussion our driver declared that neither could be crossed that night; and we certainly weren’t going to argue with his experience of such conditions. The only alternative we had therefore was to loop back through Voi town then along the main road to the lodge, a detour of 150km on dirt roads in the dark. This held out the depressing prospect of arriving there around midnight, but Ben had other ideas. On this side of the river just outside the park there was some tented accommodation that might be able to squeeze us in so we headed there to find out, incidentally spotting a roosting Verraux’s Eagle-owl on the way there.
Ben’s persuasive ability together with a number of unoccupied tents meant that the Ziwani Tented Camp was more than happy to provide us with accommodation for the night. Local power problems meant that there was no telephone link available to inform Kilaguni of our position so we decided to worry about that the next day and for the moment enjoy the camp which was splendid, providing very comfortable accommodation together with a five course dinner once more.
Birds seen: Long-tailed Cormorant, Squacco Heron, Great White Egret, Black Egret, Little Egret, Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, White-faced Whistling Duck, Augur Buzzard, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Jacana, Spotted Thick-knee, Ringed Plover, Three-banded Plover, Crowned Plover, Spur-winged Plover, Black-headed Plover, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Tern, White-cheeked Tern*, Black-faced Sandgrouse, African Mourning Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Verraux’s Eagle-owl, Little Swift, Pied Kingfisher, Lilac-breasted Roller, African Grey Hornbill, D’Arnaud’s Barbet, African Pied Wagtail, Golden Pipit, Red-rumped Swallow, Rock Martin, Mosque Swallow, Southern Black Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Red-tailed Shrike, Fan-tailed Raven, Golden-breasted Starling, Hildebrandt’s Starling, Superb Starling, Red-winged Starling, Fischer’s Starling, Amethyst Sunbird, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, House Sparrow, Grey-headed Sparrow, Rufous Sparrow, Yellow Spotted Petronia, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, White-winged Widowbird, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Taveta Golden Weaver, Black-headed Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Purple Grenadier, Village Indigobird, Pin-tailed Whydah.
Thursday 20th April
Following a little birding in the grounds of the lodge we made our way to Kilaguni, in the process crossing the ford that contained a gentle stream of water together with piles of debris. Ben sorted out the arrangements for us with his usual charm and we found that we had been given a suite for the stay, which was very comfortable indeed and offered excellent views over the waterhole. Kilaguni Lodge is really one place where I would recommend anyone to stay if possible. It has a very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, excellent accommodation, excellent food of course and an amazing restaurant with an entirely open side giving vies over the surrounding countryside. It is probably the sort of place that would be disdained by “hard-core” birders but if you don’t object to a bit of comfort now and then do go there.
Birding in the surrounding park was pretty good although it was proving more difficult to turn up new species as the trip progressed, of course. What you do get from safari buses generally is very good views of the birds that you are watching. Combine that with the fact that everyone else is largely engrossed with the larger mammals and you get the peace and space for some good old-fashioned birding. Once again the heat at midday meant that a longish break needed to be taken and the bird activity at this time is also severely limited. Highlights of our couple of trips out included Amur Falcon, Diederik Cuckoo, Lesser Honeyguide, Buff-crested Bustard and Northern Brownbul.
Our evening meal was accompanied by numerous hungry birds and a few bats, whilst the Marabou looked on.
Birds seen: Common Ostrich, Hadada Ibis, Marabou Stork, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Amur Falcon*, Peregrine Falcon, Buff-crested Bustard, White-bellied Bustard, African Jacana, Blacksmith Plover, Spur-winged Plover, Diederik Cuckoo, Blue-naped Mousebird, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Lesser Honeyguide, Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-capped Lark, Red-winged Lark, Pink-breasted Lark, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Golden Pipit, Wire-tailed Swallow, Northern Brownbul, White-browed Scrub Robin, Grey Wren Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird, Grey-headed Sparrow, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, White-winged Widowbird, Yellow Bishop, Fire-fronted Bishop*, Black-headed Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Paradise Whydah and Somali Golden-breasted Bunting.
Friday 21st April
The journey between Kilaguni and Amboseli was a little slow due to the requirement to be accompanied by an armed guard to protect against bandits, none of whom had been encountered for six years or more. A number of safari buses travelled in a loose convoy which pretty well disintegrated in the space of twenty kilometres. We managed to stop on a couple of occasions to look at birds but in general pushed on through to the army compound where we dropped the guard. We then did a round trip before checking into the lodge at lunchtime.
Amboseli Lodge is perfectly comfortable but pales a little by comparison with Kilaguni. It is a little frustrating as there are no good views of the surrounding countryside to be had from anywhere within the lodge itself. Given that this is the closest that you are likely to get to Mount Kilimanjaro this design is somewhat baffling. The surrounding countryside is excellent for both birding and scenery however and this would explain why we were originally scheduled for two nights here. The environmental pockets are quite diverse with extremely dry and sandy areas as well as marshland and sluggish rivers. This generally served to concentrate groups of birds in particular places providing very good sightings of all of the species that we encountered. Highlights included Long-toed Plover, Two-banded Courser, Brown Snake-eagle and Gabar Goshawk. Many of the ground-nesting birds had chicks with them which added to the experience.
Birds seen: Great White pelican, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Saddle-billed Stork, Marabou Stork, African Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Secretary Bird, Tawny Eagle, Brown Snake-eagle*, Montagu’s Harrier, African White-backed Vulture, African Fish-eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Amur Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Grey Crowned Crane, African Jacana, Spotted Thick-knee, Two-banded Courser*, Kittlitz’s Plover, Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Plover, Crowned Plover, Long-toed Plover*, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Little Swift, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Fischer’s Sparrow-lark, Grassland Pipit, Red-rumped Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, White-browed Scrub Robin, Capped Wheatear, Winding Cisticola, Rosy-patched Bush-shrike, Wattled Starling, Superb Starling, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Black-headed Weaver, African Golden Weaver*, Cardinal Quelea*.
Saturday 22nd April
Our last day of birding dawned clear for a long morning drive around the Tsavo West Park taking in the spectacular scenery together with the regular Kenyan sight of packs of safari buses prowling the countryside looking for prey. We still managed to pick up a couple of new birds with the highlights being Madagascan Bee-eater, Pangani Longclaw, Banded Martin, a spectacular view of Spurwing Geese in flight, a confiding Malachite Kingfisher, a close-up Pallid Harrier, and a Spotted Flycatcher at the lodge. In particular the park affords really close-up views of many species which have clearly become confident through exposure to many visitors.
We lunched expansively then began our way back to Nairobi. We chose to drive via the Amboseli Lake to look for Chestnut-fronted Sandplover but could find only Kittlitz’s in the bone dry expanse. We then took the major route to Nairobi stopping off close to the Athi River at an area of grassland where we found our last new birds of the whole trip in White-tailed Lark and White-bellied Canary.
Our final stop-over was the Fairview Hotel where we said our farewells to John who had provided a reassuring presence throughout the difficult parts of the journey. Once more the hotel provided very comfortable accommodation before our departure the next day.
Birds seen: Great White Pelican, Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Intermediate Egret, Sacred Ibis, Red-billed Duck, White-faced Whistling Duck, Spurwing Goose*, Steppe Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Grey Crowned Crane, Kori Bustard, Collared Pratincole, Long-toed Plover, Speckled Mousebird, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Madagascar Bee-eater*, Grey Woodpecker, White-tailed Lark*, Pangani Longclaw*, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Banded Martin*, African Grey Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Rattling Cisticola, Zitting Cisticola, Brubru, Beautiful Sunbird, Chestnut Sparrow, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Cardinal Quelea, Red-billed Firefinch, White-bellied Canary*.
Sunday 23rd April
We left on time for the airport and, other than the slightly disturbing experience on the road, everything proceeded without a hitch. We bade farewell to Ben who once again had been an excellent guide and mentor relating to all things Kenyan, but especially the birds.
Little remained other than to wend our way back to a relatively gloomy Manchester with the prospect of writing up this trip report to provide some memories of another great trip to a wonderful country.
If you have any queries regarding this report or if I can offer any advice, please contact me directly.