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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Kenya, 8th -29th January 2005 ,
Having visited Kenya in 2002, we were fully aware of the potential for birding there. It is difficult to visualise the vast size of the country, and the enormous amount of driving which would be required to fully appreciate the varying habitats available to the birder. Kenya is a country of dramatic extremes and contrasts. Deserts and mountain snows, highland forests and woodland, vast inland freshwater and soda lakes, and the coastal areas fringed by the warm Indian ocean. Geographically, Kenya is bordered to the north by Ethiopia, to the east and northeast by Somalia, the northwest and west by Sudan and Uganda, and to the south, Tanzania. From the eastern coastline to Uganda in the west is a distance of approximately eight hundred miles and a similar distance from Ethiopia in the north to the Tanzanian border in the south. The coastline stretches for about three hundred miles of mostly white sandy beaches, translucent warm Indian Ocean fringed by tall palms. Due to it's position astride the equator midway between north an south Africa, and the extremes of habitat, Kenya supports a wide variety of wildlife, up to 1100 species of birds and of course a wide range of mammals.
My investigative work via the internet, led me to believe that moving up from the Mombassa area where we were in 2002, to further up the coast around Watamu and Malindi could prove quite advantageous.
We decided to book once again with the African Safari Club, and finally agreed on Watamu, some 100 kilometres north of Mombassa. We booked for three weeks, 6 days at the coast, 7 days on safari (Out of Africa), and the remainder of the holiday back on the coast. Both my wife and I like to bird in the mornings and late afternoons, and spend the hottest part of the day relaxing on the beach or around the pool. African Safari Club specialises in safaris and has their own vehicles and guides, unlike some of the other tour companies who sub-contract the safari work to local companies.
Our flight from Gatwick left on time, and in just over nine hours we landed at Mombassa in beautiful warm sunshine, somewhat different to the weather we left in England. We were soon through the airport, and on our way up to Watamu. The coach had seen better days, and the expected 2 hour journey was prolonged by more than another hour. The position of the hotel was first class and accommodation in the small single storied bungalows perfect, but our first reflections indicated that birding would be quite difficult regarding our morning and evening walks.
After a good nights sleep we woke bright and early for our first full day. After breakfast, with the sun high in the sky, we decided, since the tide was out, to stroll out to the far reef. We could see numerous waders and water birds in the distance and with our binoculars around our necks, we explored further. We had Pied Kingfisher, Lesser Sandplover, Ringed plover, Sooty Gull, Black headed Heron, Grey Heron, Common and Lesser crested, and Roseate Terns fishing in the shallows, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Egret, Grey Plover, and Ruddy Turnstone. Back on dry land we soon picked up both the Golden Palm and African Golden Weavers. In the gardens we soon had Ring necked and Red eyed Dove, Fork tailed/Common Drongos, African Pied Wagtail and of course numerous House Crows. The sky was full of Swifts, African Palm and Little, and a Black kite flew overhead. It was not a bad start, but having realised there were few walking places, we decided to go along to the Turtle Bay Beach Club hotel to contact Jacqui Kaye, recommended to me by Steve Baines. Steve is a guy who I have communicated with by E Mail, and his kindness helped us enormously. Steve visited the Watamu area last year and I found his report on the WWW. He stayed at the Turtle Bay BC hotel, where Jacqui Kaye was the resident conservation/birding/environmental supervisor, and she organised birding packages for him through "Spinetail Safaris", a local organisation recently set up in the Watamu area. Jacqui was very helpful, especially as we were the first clients she had had from outside the Turtle Bay Beach Club hotel. Our package included an all day trip to the Arabuko Sokoke forest, a visit to Mida Creek, another to the Sabaki river mouth, and finally to Lakes Jilore and Chem-Chem. Included in the trips were A TBBC vehicle, a one to one specialist bird guide, and either Jacqui or another representative from the hotel. The overall price for the package was inflated as there were only two of us; normally they take four. The initial trip to the forest was arranged for the first week before our safari, and the remainder when we arrived back. She also arranged for us to meet David Ngala, the instigator of "Spinetail Safaris." firstname.lastname@example.org
David Ngala, who works for the forestry, formed the bird watching service together with three other established bird guides, and is the foremost birding guide in the area. His knowledge of the flora and fauna is exceptional. He was the first bird guide in the Arabuko Sokoke, and is very passionate about the forest and is an avid conservationist, and in addition he is a very likable guy.
Prior to our leaving for the TBBC hotel we had asked how far it was to walk. By all accounts this would be impossible, and we were advised to get a taxi, which turned out to be quite expensive - 1000 k shillings return (about seven pounds) and it was less than a ten minute drive. Whilst we were there we had stunning views of a variety of weavers bathing in a bath set up in the gardens. Amongst them were Golden Palm, African Golden and Village Weavers in full breeding plumage. We had seen Village Weavers in The Gambia on our previous visits, but only in their drab non breeding attire.
The next few days were spent around the hotel and beach areas & it soon became apparent that at almost the same time every afternoon an African Fish Eagle appeared on a small island out near the reef, always in the same place. Sacred Ibis & Common House Sparrow were added to our list, as were White Throated Bee eaters which appeared on the telegraph wires each afternoon, and the occasional Pied Crow.
Arabuko Sokoke forest, the largest remnant of the East African coastal dry forests, can be split into three main areas/habitats. The first is Afzelia, dense evergreen forest, then Brachysteria which is a more open environment with large trees, and finally Cynometra, which has tangled undergrowth again with large trees. The forest contains six globally threatened species. The Sokoke Scops Owl, Clarke's Weaver, Amani Sunbird, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat and the Spotted Ground Thrush.
We had an early morning call at 5:15am and were picked up at 6:00am for the short drive to the forest. On the way there, David scanned the roadside and wires for anything of interest. We reached the entrance to the forest; it was still quite early, just the right time to start birding. The tranquil feel of the forest was quite amazing, with birdsong all around us. David was quite amazing; he seemed to know every one of the different songs and where to look for the birds. We soon had more to add to our total. Tambourine Dove, Forest Batis, Black Headed Apalis, African Goshawk, Plain Backed Sunbird, Tiny Greenbul, and the first of the endemics, the Sokoke Pipit. The song of the East Coast Akakat was all around but we could not find it. We also added Little Yellow Flycatcher, Jacobin (Black & White) Cuckoo, Ashy Flycatcher Spotted Flycatcher, and another of the endemics the Amani Sunbird. Pale Batis, Collared Sunbird, Chestnut fronted Helmet Shrike, Dark backed Weaver, and the Little Spotted Woodpecker were soon welcome additions to our lengthening list. It was quite apparent that without the expertise of David, not only would we have missed many of these birds, but it would have been so difficult for us to identify them. As the morning progressed, we were driving deeper into the forest. The trees and undergrowth of the first two areas of the forest were surprisingly growing from white sand, but as we progressed further the white sand turned to red. We found areas where trees had been broken by Elephants which live in the forested area, and we were fortunate to see the rare Yellow backed Elephant Shrew almost the size of a hare, and the slightly smaller the Four-toed Elephant-Shrew. David also pointed out tracks made by forest poachers, and saplings smeared with the musk from the Civet Cat. As arranged we arrived back to our hotel in time for lunch, and were picked up again at about 2 o clock. Our afternoon excursion into the forest soon gave us more new species. Black headed Oriole, and the superb Carmine Bee eater were the next ticks on our list, and of course many of the same birds we saw in the morning. With bird watching it really doesn't matter how many times you see the same bird, it is always nice to have more time to study different aspects of any of the species.
Another of the endemics, the endangered Clarke's Weaver was a welcome addition, as well as Retz's Helmet shrike, Thick billed Cuckoo, Yellow rumped Tinkerbird, Lizzard Buzzard and Black breasted Starling. We soon realised that one of the main objectives of the afternoon visit to the forest was to find the diminutive Sokoke Scops Owl. Every few minutes David would disappear into the forest and later re-appear from a different direction. He obviously new the various daytime haunts of this elusive bird, but unfortunately for us it could not be found. We alighted from the vehicle at one point for the driver to advance down the track a couple or three hundred yards to wait for us whilst we birded the track. We saw our transport in trouble, and it eventually slewed to a halt. A cloud of dust enveloped the rear of vehicle, and we realised it had become stuck in the deep sand. Just our luck we thought, it always seemed to happen to us. When we finally reached the carrier, it was axle deep in sand and no matter how much pushing forwards or backwards, it just would not move. We decided to collect sticks, logs and any other materials we could find to place under the wheels and along the first part of the track. We moved the materials very carefully just in case something nasty was hiding beneath. After a number of attempts, and a great deal of pushing and shoving, the vehicle was finally out, but we had wasted a good deal of time. We carried on further up the track and added Green Barbet, Southern banded Snake Eagle, Eastern bearded Scrub Robin, and Emerald spotted Wood Dove to our list, but still no Sokoke Scops Owl. The light was fading fast, we were still deep in the forest, and still has to navigate past the place where we had become bogged down earlier that afternoon. It was now 7:00 o clock, and quite dark, so the lights of the vehicle had to be switched on. David asked the driver to stop at a certain point along the track. We could hear him calling the Owl and after a few moments came back to the truck and said that the bird was close by and did we want to try to find it. Of course we did, so armed with torches; we followed David into the undergrowth. David moved forward and said the Owl was very much closer. He shone the beam of his torch into the lower branches of a nearby tree and there he was, as pretty as a picture: another one for our list, brilliant; we had now seen four of the six endemics, and heard one of the others. On the way back Fiery Necked Nightjars alighted on the track in front of us giving us superb views in the headlights. Suddenly further along the track the driver put his foot hard onto the accelerator, and at breakneck speed, we went past the deep sandy area and soon reached the road back to the hotel. In all we had had a brilliant day and enjoyed the company of David our guide and Jacqui from the TBBC hotel.
With our safari starting the day after tomorrow, we decided to have a lazy day and fill in the spotting diary. We had now reached 72 different species so far, and had great expectations for our forthcoming safari adventure.
After an early morning pick up from our hotel, we, along with another English couple, Mike and Caroline, and a guy from Switzerland, started our drive to Tsavo East national park, a distance of about 100 km from the coast. The roads were awful, and the truck we had was none too comfortable, but we eventually arrived at the Crocodile Camp at about 11 o clock, our base for the next two days. Many of the tour companies use Tsavo as an introduction to the big game drive, and call it the red elephant safari. Looking at the soil in Tzavo, the name rings true, as the soil is bright red. After being shown to our banda, (accommodation) we had time to relax and explore the surrounding area before our first game drive which was due to start at 3:30pm. The Crocodile Camp was situated on the Galana River, in an ideal setting. When we visited Kenya in 2002, that was the one thing which disappointed us was that we had no time to ourselves.
The first bird that welcomed us was a beautiful Grey headed Kingfisher just a few feet from us, the bright red bill, blue wings, and chestnut belly looking superb in the strong sunlight. African Pied Wagtails searched around on the lawns for tasty titbits, and Common Bulbuls were everywhere. We watched Superb Starlings, and Golden Breasted Starlings bathing in a nearby bath, and pair of Red billed Firefinch was by the waters edge. As we sat and had a cold beer, we spotted both the African and Eurasian Golden Orioles flying backwards and forwards in the tree canopy. We also had good views of a Scarlet chested Sunbird, a Marsh Sandpiper, Little Spotted Woodpecker and a Giant Kingfisher sitting on a log on a sandbank in the river. We glimpsed our first Crocodile soon afterwards, and a female Black Cuckoo Shrike in a nearby tree.
Our safari commenced, six people per truck, and we were soon adding more to our list. Lilac breasted Rollers were probably the most common birds we saw as were the White headed buffalo Weavers. There were birds everywhere, but at 40 miles an hour it was difficult to see and identify anything. We were the only ones on board interested in birds so it became quite embarrassing for us to ask the driver to stop for a little brown job sitting in a bush. As the drive progressed, we had Somali Courser, Carmine Bee eater, African Grey Hornbill, Yellow necked Spurfowl, Red billed Hornbill, Eurasian Golden Oriole and our own Barn Swallows everywhere. With the excessive speed we were travelling at, and the convoy of trucks, we were all getting covered in red dust, it was quite disappointing. There appeared to be very few animals, which majority of people had come to see, but we did see Giraffe, Baboon, Zebra and an assortment of Antelope species. We arrived back at camp at about 7:30, giving us time to have a quick wash and brush up before dinner.
The following day we had a call at 5 o clock in the morning. We had breakfast and started on our all day game drive. Once again there were plenty of birds around. We went on a different route this time, and soon had some of the stork species. White, Black, Abdin's and the ugly Maribou Storks were all new ones for this trip. Once again we saw many of the birds we had seen before, but added quite a few new ones to our list. Crested Bustard, which we first identifies as Black bellied Bustard, Helmeted Guineafowl proved to be quite common, but the Vulturine Guineafowl we saw just the once and they were truly handsome as the sunlight reflected off the iridescent blue coloured plumage. The Kori Bustard, a huge bird, some 35 to 40 inches in length walked directly in front of us, giving us wonderful views. We also added Temmincks Courser, Black headed Plover, Laughing Dove, Egyptian goose, Wattled Starling, Speckled Mousebird, Taita Fiscal, Black Crake, Green Heron, and Somali Ostrich to our list.
Whilst we stopped for lunch at a small village we picked up Red cheeked Cordon-Bleu. After lunch we were asked if we would like to visit a Massai village and the unanimous decision was "no thanks", which suited us fine. Mike had a quiet word with our driver/guide and reminded him that we were not in a Grand Prix, and suggested that we continue at a more leisurely pace. We came across a number of Elephant cooling themselves down in a small stream. They were spraying water all over themselves, and mixed with the red dust from the soil, they were turning bright red. We were very fortunate to have our first sighting of a Leopard lying on a branch of a tree. We were not that close, but could clearly see the spotted tail, and parts of the body through the foliage. As always, I had my camcorder with me and had stunning footage of the "Red Elephants". Wherever possible, I also took film of many of the birds we had seen. It was difficult when we were in the forest, but in the open savannah, filming was much easier once the vehicle came to a halt. The guide knew very little about birds, so most of the identification had to be done by ourselves via the field guide we had brought with us. Anything we were not sure of, could quite easily be identified on our return to camp. The afternoon was much more pleasant and we were surprised on our return that the others within our group who chose to visit the Massai village, had only one distant glimpse of an elephant. We arrived back at camp at about 7:30, giving us time to have a quick wash and brush up before dinner. Traditionally, each evening the camp staff fed the crocodiles, however this did not materialise, and only one croc surfaced to be fed. This time of the year is the breeding season for the crocodiles, and as the river was full of fish, they declined the tasty morsels offered to them. The following morning we were scheduled to fly up to Lake Nakuru so after a hearty breakfast, we were all raring to go. We had good filming opportunities to get some good footage of Nile Monitor Lizards before we left. We had enjoyed the first of our safaris, but felt that it was spoilt by driving too fast, and what we didn't expect, was to have the safari contracted out to another company, something we had not experienced before. Up to now we had amassed a list of 109 different species, and had probably missed half as many again.
Right on time we were taken out to the airstrip for our flight up to Lake Nakuru. African Safari Club has their own fleet of small twin propeller aircraft, which can hold twenty people. It was a very smooth flight, taking us directly over Nairobi, and then Lake Naivasha; the flight was about two hours, during which we had lovely views of the snow covered summit of Mount Kenya, which allegedly was once higher than Everest until it lost its top. Mount Kenya 17,058 ft high is on the equator; it seems strange to see snow on the summit.
On arrival, we were escorted to our various vehicles; we had our same five, with the addition of Utta, a lady from East Germany. Our driver was Danson, a very likable chap who had a wide knowledge of the animals and birds. It was quite amazing; the airstrip where we had just landed was covered with Zebra. How on earth did they clear them away before we landed? Danson immediately spotted a distant Rhinoceros, so we circled to get a better view. Lake Nakuru is renowned for the one and a half million flamingos which inhabit the lake, so we were all quite looking forward to enjoying the spectacle. As we made our way towards the lake, we spotted a Long crested Eagle perched high in a tree, and Danson pointed out an Anteater Chat nearby. We reached the lake and the spectacle was everything we expected. Wherever you looked were Flamingos, Greater and Lesser, a shimmering pink carpet over the surface of the lake. The roseate mass along the shoreline was a spectacle of great beauty. Closer to the shore were Pink Backed and Great White Pelicans massed along the edge. Black winged Stilts waded in the shallow waters and Grey headed Gulls Swooped overhead. The alkaline constitution of the lake supports a vast flowering of the blue-green algae and diatoms on which Flamingos live. So rich are the waters that the flamingos assemble in between one and two millions at any one time, and attracts great ornithological attention. The word "Nakuru" derives from a Massai word meaning swirling dust, which we soon experienced once away from the lake. As Danson explained, we call it safari powder; whirlwinds of dust spiralling into the sky. A little further on we came across a group of seven White Rhinos grazing on the sparse grassland. It was a truly wonderful sight, especially as we were no more than ten yards from them - no need to use the camera zoom. Danson explained that White Rhinos were often seen in groups whereas the more scarce Black Rhino were solitary animals except when breeding. Yellow and Grey Wagtails walked between the feet of the Rhinos which were being scrutinised by Oxpeckers busily searching for ticks and mite. To the left we could see a large group of Yellow billed Storks and mixed up with them were Spur winged and Blacksmith's Plover. As we approached the Nakuru Lodge where we were having our lunch, we watched Hadada Ibis swooping down onto the nearby plain; a Purple Glossy Starling, singing sweetly from a tree near the entrance to the lodge. We finished our lunch and strolled about in the beautiful gardens before being transported back to the airstrip for our flight to the Massai Mara. Nakuru had realised another 16 species, bringing our total to 125. The flight back to the Mara was not quite as smooth as the one up to Nakuru. Soon after take, off the plane swerved violently to the right, and out of the window I could see a Yellow billed Stork close by. We arrived at the Mara airstrip at 2:00 pm after a 30 minute flight, and were soon shown to out accommodation. The Mara Buffalo Camp is situated on the Mara River, the same one that the Wildebeest cross when migrating to the Serengeti each year. Whilst waiting for our first safari, which was to begin at about 3 o clock, we strolled around the gardens and soon picked up some new species. A beautiful African Blue Flycatcher flitted around in the bushes on the edge of the river which was swarming with Hippos, and an African Green Pigeon was feeding in the tree just behind our banda.
The Massai Mara/Serengeti National Reserves are reckoned to provide the greatest show on earth, boasting in the region of three million animals. Our experiences in the Mara three years ago, gave us an unforgettable experience, so we were hoping that this year would be just as good. In our introductory talk, the camp boss had told us that after dark no one must leave or return to the banda without a guide, as Hippos would be coming out of the river to graze on the grassy areas in front of our accommodation. They are not just big, they can also be very dangerous. The Mara gave us our first Buffalo and Wildebeest for the holiday, and we soon added Hammecop, Baglafelcht Weaver and the exotic Grey crowned Crane to our total. Our party were in three trucks which fanned out and went in different directions and did not necessarily stick to the main tracks; we went wherever there was something of interest. Suddenly, Julius our driver moved off the track and headed towards a bushy area; he moved forward slowly, and pointed to his right. There was a majestic male Lion with a female, he was a beauty. After we had got all of our photographs, and video footage, we moved forwards slightly and had magnificent views of four more females with at least twelve tiny cubs. After a while the driver somehow gave a signal to the other trucks, which appeared just like magic. When they arrived, we moved away. On the way back to camp we had Ruppell's Long tailed Starling, Yellow throated Longclaw, and Greater Blue eared Starling. Back at the Buffalo camp before we prepared ourselves for our evening meal, we found Brown Parrot in the same tree as the African Green Pigeon. We also had Wire tailed and Lesser striped Swallow perched on the roof of our banda.
The following morning we had an early start and were on our way just before sunrise. Herds of Elephant, quite close to the camp, were awakening ready for the day ahead. We then spotted a pair of the strange looking Secretary Birds. They are usually seen in pairs hunting on foot with a measured gait; a large black and white bird with long tail feathers and legs bedecked in what looks like black plus twos. This bird has very powerful legs and feet, which it uses to kill its prey. Further along the track we found Crowned Plover and Tawny and Martial Eagle. Throughout our safaris to date we had seen many Eagles but the species not identified. Julius, quite an elderly guy, certainly knew much more about the birds than some of the other guides, and his identification skills were becoming very helpful to us. It was quite strange; when we started our safaris the other members of our group just wanted to see the animals. Now, as we were progressing, it was they who were asking the driver to stop when a bird came into view; quite encouraging. A Bateleur, a type of eagle with a very short tail, flew overhead, and a White headed Vulture was perched on top of a tall tree. In the distance we could see a number of Vultures circling high in the sky; could this be the result of a kill. We approached carefully, and saw a pair of Cheetah, with very full bellies, strolling across the track in front of us obviously looking for shade from the baking sun. We had wonderful filming opportunities, and took full advantage. A little way to the left we could see that the vultures we had previously seen circling were on the ground, fighting for the residue from the Cheetah's kill. When we reached the Vultures we could see that there were three different species, Hooded, White Backed, and the huge Nubian/Lappet Faced. We had another of the vulture species later on; his was the Griffin Vulture. We also found Red fronted Barbet, Bronze Sunbird and Pallid Harrier, before returning for our breakfast. The remainder of the day proved to be just as good as what we had already experienced, not only for majority of the animals and birds we had already seen, but further views of Lion and Cheetah and Rhino. As were returning from the rhino, we looked back at the vast Massai Plain and Mike remarked "this is MAMBA country" Not quite understanding the meaning of mamba he explained " Miles and miles of bugger all"; it was really spot on. We did also have good sightings of the massive Southern Ground Hornbill, Secretary Bird, Black bellied Bustard, and Pin tailed Whyda. Back at the Buffalo Camp, before dinner, we had Bronze Mannikin, Purple Grenadier, female Common Fiscal, and Long tailed Fiscal.
We all went down to dinner and then returned to our banda. We were in number eleven and Caroline and Mike were in number twelve. Caroline returned first and was quite amazed at the smell and mess outside the front of their accommodation. There was Hippo poo everywhere, on the path, on the veranda, all over the shirts she had rinsed out for Mike and up the door. Obviously, while we were having our meal, a Hippo had come up from the river and evacuated his bowels right outside their chalet, and as Hippos do, flicking its tail from side to side at an enormous speed, spreading the effluent far and wide. Isabel and I couldn't speak for laughing so much, and eventually Caroline and Mike could see the funny side, and laughed with us.
The following morning, the front of number twelve had been cleaned up, so the smell was much sweeter. We had our last Massai Mara safari after breakfast, and as before it was brilliant. If anyone wants to experience the wildlife of Kenya, the Mara is a must. The other reserves are good, but the Mara is special, and will never be forgotten. Before we left, as we waited for our plane to take us to Amboseli we picked up another of the weaver family; the Holub's Golden Weaver, making our total to date 156.
Once again the flight down to Amboseli was excellent and as we approached the landing strip we had our first sighting of Mount Kilimanjaro, with its peak covered in snow. After landing, we were escorted to our accommodation at Twiga Camp, tents on a hard polished wooden base, which in turn had a hard roof sheltering it from the strong sunlight and rain (when it eventually comes). The setting was truly magical. The ten tents, accommodation exclusively for the "Out of Africa Safari" were situated on the edge of a beautiful green lawn, which in turn was dotted with mature trees, and a winding stream of clear water beyond the lawn. Of all the places we had ever visited, this was an unbelievable tranquil serene place, never to be forgotten. Once we had settled in, we were invited on a short walk to the hippo pool, just a few hundred yards away, and then for tea and biscuits. Once again we were told that under no circumstance should we venture outside our tent, or the camp after dark, without an escort, as many of the animals were extremely dangerous. We had quite a bit of time to ourselves before our next safari so we explored the garden area which seemed to be teeming with birds. In and by the stream we saw African Jacana, Hamercop, Sacred Ibis, African Black Crake and the Grey headedKingfisher. We had a short safari in the latter part of the afternoon to see the sunset, with a backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro. Whilst waiting for the sun to disappear over the Horizon, we had good views of Southern Black Flycatcher, Long tailed Fiscal and Black faced Sandgrouse. We went for dinner, and had drinks around the fire. Our dinner was a superb eight course a la carte menu with silver service; how the other half lives!!
The following morning we were awoken quite early with tea and biscuits on the veranda outside our banda. Groups of birds, seeing we had some food, came very close to us. The beautiful Superb Starlings were hand tame, and would eat the crumbs from your hand. We also had Grey headed Sparrows, and African Pied Wagtails feeding with them. We also noticed two birds on the lawn which we could not identify immediately, but later on, after referring to our field guide, we realised that they were White Browed Sparrow Weaver and Northern Whitecrowned Shrike. Our breakfast was at the Hippo pool, "al fresco" style. In the reeds on the edge of the pool we spotted African Black Crake, showing off his bright red legs and vivid yellow beak. In the reeds beyond we had stunning views of a tiny Malachite Kingfisher, together with more common Pied Kingfisher. The pond was full of Hippo, serenading us with their grunts while we ate our breakfast. Across the pond we could see a young Crocodile sunning itself on the bank. One of the staff threw some rice onto the floor just behind us, and in seconds the ground was covered with brilliantly yellow coloured Weavers and the blue and orange Superb Starlings; what a wonderful sight. Isabel spotted a different Starling in the flock, one with a red eye and no white on the breast. We confirmed this one as Hildebrandt's Starling.
Our morning safari got underway, and this time we were in a much larger open topped truck, holding about twelve people. Amboseli was very dry, as they had had no rain since early November, and the grassland looked quite parched. The guide explained that due to the lack of grazing pasture, most of the animals were quite spread out, and not in large herds as we saw on our last visit to Amboseli. As we approached a small river we noticed a goose-like bird on the bank. The guide called it an Abdin's Stork, but as we had seen this species before, we knew it wasn't. A quick look in our field guide confirmed it as a Spur winged Goose. We gave the field guide to the driver but he was adamant we were wrong and he was right. A large African Fish Eagle was perched high in a tree on the other side of the river. For the rest of the journey he would not speak to us and kept very quiet when birds were in view - oops. Most of the animals and birds on view throughout Amboseli were ones we had seen before, but it did give us the opportunity to get more video shots and time to study them more closely.
Back at Twiga we had lunch and realised that we would be having quite a bit of time to ourselves before the afternoon safari. It gave us a chance to do our own thing and explore the area around the camp. It was so quiet and peaceful, just the songs of the birds piercing the tranquillity. We could hear the sound of woodpeckers drumming, and eventually found them; a Bearded Woodpecker exploring the bark of a nearby tree looking for insects, and a short way away in another tree was a Grey Woodpecker. After checking the weavers at a nearby feeding station, we realised that some of them were differently marked, with a reddish brown collar. Our reference book showed us that this was the Taveta Golden Weaver, a species found specifically in the Amboseli region of Kenya. We also had Pale Flycatcher, White headedBuffalo Weaver and an African Cuckoo. We also had very close up shots of the Redbilled Hornbill close by, and an African Mourning Dove walking about on the lawned area. A hubbub of noise in some trees some way off alerted us to explore further, and luckily one of those birds came into a tree very close to us which we identified as a Green Wood Hoopoe. We added Great White Egret to our list before the Afternoon game drive took place.
Once again the game drive was uneventful, although we did get further good views id Cheetah. We could see Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance, with its snow-capped summit and had good footage of the sunset with the mountain as the backdrop. The evening meal was once again superb. We were told that an early morning game drive for the sunrise over Amboseli was scheduled for our last day, with a 5 o clock wake up call. We, as did some of the others in our party, decided to decline the offer, and relax in the garden until the party returned for the special Champagne Breakfast, which was very special. We did go on the last game drive but once again we did not see anything we hadn't seen before. We had good shots of an Emeraldspotted Wood Dove while we waited for the aircraft for our flight back to Bambouri airstrip Mombassa. Our journey back to Watamu arrived just in time for dinner.
The next day gave us the chance to cast our minds back to our safari adventure, and we both agreed however many more times we went on safari, it could never better those seven wonderful days. Checking out all the new birds we had seen on safari, and filling in our spotting diary, we had now a total of 175 for our holiday, and we hadn't finished yet.
Our next trip with "Spinetail Safari" took us to the Sabaki Estuary. David once more was our guide so we were extremely pleased. Our trip took us north of Malindi to where the Galana/Sabaki River enters the Indian Ocean. The estuary, consisting of mud banks, sandbanks, sand dunes and marshland is renowned for it's thousands of waders, gulls, terns, and rarities which quite often turn up there. Once through the tiny villages, we entered scrubland before reaching the estuary. There we found Tawny flanked Prinia, Zanzibar Red Bishop, Purple banded Sunbird, and in the air David pointed out Eurasian Marsh Harrier and Red necked Falcon. We reached the estuary, and on the grass bank we had Grassland Pipit, Yellow Wagtail and Northern Wheatear. There literally were thousands of waders scampering around in the muddy water's edge, including White fronted Plover,Terek Sandpiper, Greaterand Lesser Sandplover, Little Stint and Sanderling. On the sandbanks we could see Flamingos and Pelicans, Caspian, Sandwich, Gull billed, Common and Saunder's Terns, and the large Heuglin's Gull. Of course there were also many waders which we had seen before, too many to mention. Our total had now increased to more than 190, and we still had Mida Creek, and the lakes to visit.
Mida Creek, which is situated to the east of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest, is a vast tidal mangroved inlet, once again holding thousands and thousands of waders and other water birds. The premier reason to go to Mida Creek was to see the Crab Plover and TerekSandpiper. After a careful walk out onto the mud flats, we soon had both, as well as adding EurasianCurlew, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Bar tailed godwit and Kentish plover to our list. Once the tide started to come in, we receded to the broadwalk, a rope and plank bridge which led to the hide, which we reached after precarious twenty minutes. The tide was encroaching fast, and the birds on the far mud flats all started to more towards the shoreline. There were many more waders on view but no new ones.
Our last birding safari with Spinetail was a visit to Lakes Chem Chem and Jilore, both fresh water lakes surrounded by coastal scrub. Chem Chem in particular is surrounded by productive bush very good for a variety of songbirds. On the way we bypassed Malindi, and took a short cut through many tiny villages. It was just after six in the morning, and one of the first things we noticed were the amount of small children obviously walking to school. As each village was passed, the children wore different coloured tops, denoting the school to which they belonged. Very few had shoes, and considering it was sometime before school commenced, they must have had to walk miles. Every one of them, without exception, looked so happy, and most gave us a wave as we passed by; no Four by Fours, no Range rovers, no cars, just Shanks's Pony. Once again David was amazing, picking birds out from nowhere. We already had an excellent list of sightings, and felt that maybe many of the birds we would see would be repeats, but how wrong could we be. No sooner than we started our descent to the lake we were picking up new birds. Black backed Puffback, Morning Thrush, Scaly Babbler, Mouse coloured Sunbird, Northern Brownbul, Red faced Crombec, Tropical Boubou and Violet backed Starling were all welcome additions. A little bit further on we had stunning views, and perfect videoing opportunities, of a Carmine Bee-eater. We soon added GreyFlycatcher, Common Waxbill, Klass's Cuckoo, Grey backed Camaroptera, Amethyst Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver, Bare eyed Thrush, Eastern Green Tinkerbird, and Pale Flycatcher before we reached the lake. In the reeds around the lake we saw Rattling Cisticola, and the meagre remains of the once huge lake gave us White facedWhistling Duck, Intermediate Egret, Purple Heron, Long tailed Cormorant and Mangrove Kingfisher. In the sky was a large group of Open billed Stork. Our return journey up the hill gave us Blackthroated Wattle-eye, this was a first for David, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Black crowned Tchagra, and Yellow bellied Greenbul. We then picked up our transport and moved on to Lake Jilore, just a few miles away. After Lake Chem Chem, Jilore turned out to be quite a disappointment; there were still plenty of birds but very few we had not seen before. We did however add Zanzibar Red Bishop to our list.
Once again we were more than satisfied with our birding safaris, and bid farewell to David and the TBBC representatives.
The last few days of our holiday were spent relaxing on the beach, and filling in our checklist booklet. Around the scrub just a short way from the hotel we found, Black and White Mannikin, White browed Coucal and finally Grossbeck Weaver.
Our holiday was now over, three weeks which were absolutely fantastic. The safari was perfect and we would highly recommend it to anyone who wanted an adventure. Spinetails Safari also gave us something we had not expected, thanks to David Ngala, Jacqui Kaye and the Turtle Bay Beach Club. We were more than satisfied with our overall bird watching total of 238, many more than the 150 we had targeted.
If we could help anyone wishing to do something similar to us, please don't be afraid to contact me on email@example.com.
Brian & Isabel Eady.