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A Report from

Western Kenya, November 4-21, 2005 ,


Shane Woolbright, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Day 1-2.  My KLM flight to Nairobi via Detroit and Amsterdam was problem free.  Nairobi airport is less chaotic than other third world airports.  The line at the entry was short.  The visa process was quick.  Payment of $50.00 to enter the country was requested in US currency.  My tour company, Natures Wonderland Safaris, was there to meet me when I cleared customs.  My birding guide is Joseph Mwangi.  He had a driver, the fine Peter Gitau,  and van hired for this trip as, for the most part, it would be he and I birding together.  We arrived at the Nairobi Safari Club a few blocks from the city center of Nairobi at 10:30 p.m. Nairobi time.  A suite of rooms was comfortable enough if a bit older in nature. However, it was my only accommodation in Kenya with telephone, television, and air conditioning.  Internet service in the lobby was available for pennies.  The flight from Oklahoma City took 27 hours including 6 hours in layovers and two hours of airport baggage collection, visa lines, and transportation to the city center.  I felt fine on arrival and was ready for Africa.

Day 3.  I slept in the first day, waking at 7:30 a.m. and taking breakfast at the breakfast bar downstairs.  Breakfast at the hotels and lodges designed for tourists is nearly the same everywhere in Kenya.  There is a table of cut fruits:  watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, mango, guava, passionfruit.  A table held breads with a few sweet from fruit or nuts, but none of the overly sugar coated desserts common at an American spread.  Granola and cereals were available.  Natives used the sour, runny European style yogurt on the cereals while I stayed with milk.  The hot table had white, runny scrambled eggs.  These also were the same in every hotel used.  Thankfully, each hotel also had a chef at one side who made omelets and another who made crepes..  I stayed with omelets for the most part with onions, green peppers, and cheese.  Complementing the eggs were beef sausages and pork sausages called chipolattas.  Bacon was at every table.  Not American but more like stringy, tough Canadian bacon.  Tasty but chewy.  The drinks available were a heavy coffee served with hot milk so as to not cool the steaming brew and hot tea.  The juice table had eight kinds of fruit juice although most locations had only four juices available.  The runny orange juice was fresh squeezed.  Each morning for the duration, I typically had enough food to last much of the day.  I brought nut and fruit oatmeal cookies along on the trip, and these were consumed each day around 11:00 a.m. as a mid-morning pick me up as we rarely ate before 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  I took time after breakfast to use the hotel e-mail to write home.  Most of Kenya has poor telephone services.  Only one in ten homes in Kenya have a land line.  But cell phone use has exploded and local area wireless networks are being placed all over Kenya.  Birders and safari participants should bring their laptops as all hotels had a wireless network available.  However, seven of the networks weren’t functioning during my stay, so three of four nights a connection was not available.  A telephone call from a lodge outside of Nairobi to the US could be had for $20.00 at one location over the land line.  Internet cafes with fees of less than $1.00 per hour were available although the speed was quite slow, and these were only in the few major cities we visited.

Joseph and Peter picked me up at 8:30 a.m.  Being Sunday, the traffic was light.  It had rained in the night, and the sky was cloudy.  The temperatures in Nairobi are usually near 60 degrees in the early morning and rise into the low 80’s during the day.  The high country is cooler, the desert areas warmer.  Today, the overcast held until 10:00 a.m. when the skies cleared and gave us a bright day.

We drove 15 minutes from town to Nairobi National Park.  The park consists of a kopje, a small, low rocky hill that sat above a large swath of grassland set aside in the 1950’s.  The unbridled population growth of Nairobi has come up to the park on two sides while the other sides of the park are threatened by the local exploding farm population with its constant pressure to graze livestock in the park.  It’s a popular place with a few black rhino here, along with zebras, Massai giraffe, eland, antelope and other range fauna.  There are fine gardens at the entrance area and here we found variable sunbird, red billed firefinch, African paradise flycatcher and many others.  The trip down the rocky hill from the entrance held long tailed fiscal and purple grenadier.  The grasslands had cisticolas and larks along with bateleur eagles in the sky. 

On this day, I was joined by Mike Davidson.  Mike is a member of the board of Nature Kenya and is working to better develop the birding infrastructure in Kenya by seeking funding for such things as birding software, bird sound recordings of Kenya birds, and up to date checklists for top birding locations.  Mike has been a recreational birder for a few years since his retirement and has a keen eye.  His company was welcome.

At mid-day we stopped at a creek for lunch.  The hotels packed picnics for us most days.  This day’s picnic looked like every other day’s picnic.  It held a hard boiled egg with salt;  two very small sandwiches in the form of a roll with sliced beef or lunch meet with butter;  fruit which was either an orange, apple, sliced pineapple, tomato, passion fruits or some combination of these;  some rather dry cheese and hard crackers;  a slice of cake and a roll;  and a packet of fruit juice and a bottle of water.  Joseph had Peter buy two cases of bottled water for the trip, and we drank it all. 

The creek at this basin was more of a set of oxbows.  For 300 or more yards it was 50 feet or so across and three to six feet in depth it appeared.  Here we met Brian Finch.  Brian is among the most knowledgeable ornithologists working in Africa.  I was fortunate to spend an hour with him walking along the creek and finding via his ear such uncommon varieties as brown crowned chagra, yellow spotted petronia, crimson rumped waxbill, and dark capped yellow warbler.

The drive through the grassland turned up Shelley’s francolin, red-naped bush shrike, and grey hornbill.  A stop by the waterholes turned up the elusive black duck which we were to find on four other locations when this is normally are a hard to find variety.  The breeding season was beginning, and we seemed to find most of the varieties of the park in song or flight including overhead sightings of seven martins or swifts.  The day ended with a list of 118 birds seen.  The majority of these would be seen on other days.  The day’s mammal list included serval, black tailed mongoose, Burchel’sl Zebra, hartebeest, eland, bushbuck, vervet and Sykes monkeys.  We birded continuously until 6:30 in the evening before returning to the hotel.

We returned to the hotel where the evening buffet awaited.  Evening meals never start before 7:30 p.m.  The Nairobi Safari Club had the least interesting buffet of the journey.  The hotel had exercise room and other amenities, but I was still tired from my trip and had back problems stemming from my arthritis so I spent the evening resting.  The night’s sleep was fine with outside noise from the city not entirely bothersome.

Day  4.  After breakfast, Peter and Joseph picked me up at 8:30 a.m. again.  We drove north to the Twin Falls at Thika.  Here, two small rivers meet, but above the confluence, they each drop over wide waterfalls of 70 feet in height.  The area between the two gorges created by the waterfalls is a local park and tourist operation.  We stopped here where Joseph led me to a large tree with trumpeter hornbills and a promontory where giant kingfishers sat.  From here we drove to the base of Mount Kenya and up a dirt road to Wajee Camp.  Here I found my first taste of roads outside the city.  Bad.  Rough.  Slow.  Dangerous when wet.  It began raining, and the dirt track to Wajee Camp was driven at 10 miles per hour in the better areas.  The camp is pretty much that.  It’s a small place where people can pitch a tent and take the few nature trails there.  The forest is secondary for the most part and interspersed with farm areas.  This was selected as the only good place to find Hinde’s Babbler.  A guide at the camp first showed us the roost of the Africa wood owl before looking for the babbler.  Rain forced us to the camp for a while.  It broke and we returned to look for the babbler with success coming over an hour later.  African Pied babblers were here as well and seemed desirous of ousting their counterparts, so the Hinde’s spend time avoiding the pied babblers. 

From here we drove up the slopes of Mount Kenya to a point above 7,000 feet where the Serena Mountain Lodge is located.  The drive into Mount Kenya was fine as the rain stopped.  All parks have a bit of prolonged protocol for entry in Kenya, and one must get used to this as well as the guards at the gates of every lodge.  While waiting at the entry gate, we heard the calls of the glorious black and white colobus monkeys.  These look like black squirrel monkeys with the exception that the fur is nearly a foot long and bright while along a line that runs along the back of the arms and across the back so they appear to be wearing a cape of sorts.  The tail is very long and black for the first half then turning white with a large ball of long white fur at the end.  Watching them fly from tree to tree was a huge enjoyment. 

Quickly after seeing them, we encountered Hartlaub’s turaco.  A crow sized green bird with a great crest and red underwing linings that show bright in flight.  A huge beautiful bird.  Nearby, the trees held eight silvery cheeked horned bills – birds with huge casques above the large horned bill who were quite loud in the evening.  The hornbills size was impressive and there were many which indicated a good expanse of older forest.  The skies held black sawwings as well.  Cinnamon bracken warblers called from the brush along with spot flanked barbets.  Our trip list exceeded 140 species by the end of this day owing to the dearth of birds sighted at Wajee Camp due to rain and slow driving eating the daylight.

The Serean Mountain Lodge is exquisite.  The rooms are small, unheated and not much to speak of except they overlook a lighted waterhole with bushbuck, waterbuck, Verreaux’s eagle owl and all sorts of other wildlife.  The lodge is faced with black stained half timbers and looks a bit like a square battleship set in primary forest.  The food at the evening buffet was very fine, the service fast, the beer cold.  Montane nightjars called in the night.  The lodge has a rootop where the morning sun illuminates red fronted parrots and bronze napped pigeons flying to feed and cape wagtails by a water trough in the pond.  Walks in the forest can now be arranged where forest elephant roam..  The view from the roof today showed a bright, cool sky with fine views of Mount Kenya’s summit.  This is the rainy side of the mountain and the forest is lush.

Day 5: After some uneventful morning walks, we began birding our way down the mountain and found eastern honeybird, montane white-eye, alpine swift, paradise whydah, and many raptors including long crested eagle, two snake eagles, and African fish eagle.  We proceeded from here to Samburu with little birding along the way.

We stopped at a junction of roads in the Great Rift Valley and found 5 local specialties including Boran cisticola, Fisher sparrow lark, rufous bush chat, and black crowned tchagra.  The junction included a curio store.  Avoid curio establishments as they have little in the way of art and much in the way of high priced pressure sales.  I found few places that had true local art.

The road to Isiolo, the town and provincial center for the Samburu area was rough and slow going.  The 15 kilometers from Isiolo to the Samburu park entry were not road.  The road was so rough that people drove off of the roads on the desert shoulders instead.  This drive took an hour.  By now it was 4:00 p.m. and we took two hours to drive the 13 kilometers to the Samburu Serena Lodge.  This was a fine drive.  Secretary birds, Somali ostriches to go with the common ostriches seen in Nairobi, a dozen Kori bustards with males displaying, Heuglin’s courser, and yellow headed spurfowl were among the sightings.  These were interspersed with good views of the desert elephants as Samburu is acacia scrub country.  The scrub has a good deal of grass here in the protected park is in stark contrast to the eroded, dusty, overgrazed and degraded areas of the overcrowded Isiolo province.  Here, north of Nairobi by only 200 kilometers, we were in the rain shadow of Mount Kenya.  The wet upper slopes of high montane forest give way to this dry eroded plain.  Although looking as if it could hold nothing, the acacia thorn was crowded with people and goats.

The Serena Samburu Lodge is posh.  Individual cabins line the then-flowing Ewaso Nyiro river.  The flow of the river stemmed from overnight rains in the mountains to the west.  The east flowing Ewaso Nyiro never meets the sea.  It drains into the Great Rift Valley into a marshland area and disappears there as the mountain rains are not enough to keep it flowing year round.  Although looking large, it runs small in the dry season.   Still, it is a river teaming with crocodile, Nile monitors, and elephants.  The huge yellow bark acacias that line the river have raptors and owls.

The evening buffet was sumptuous.  I stayed away from salads, but noticed the entire trip that Europeans were paying no attention to warnings to avoid salads.  All along the trip people took care to drink bottled drinks, but the food bars were clearly used, and I had no ill effects.  Hot vegetables including spinach, carrots, potatoes, arrowroot, and egg plant were available to go with fish, chicken, and beef dishes.  The bed in the room was fine.  Samburu had a fire a few years ago so the main areas were new.  The grounds were manicured, and like most of the places visited, there were blooming jacaranda, bougainvillea, and many other varieties of South American blooming trees and plants.  These trees always held sunbirds.

Day  6.  We left the Samburu camp at 7:00 a.m. the next morning and birded for 11.5 hours.  We stopped 20 minutes for lunch in this period.  We spent the day standing in the back of the van with the pop-up roof up.  We bounced over the entire Samburu ecosystem and found black faced and chestnut bellied sandgrouse, blue-naped, speckled, and white headed mousebirds, crested francolin, vulturine guineafowl, Somali bee eater, grey headed silverbill, pearl spotted owlet, red crested bustard,bearded woodpecker, and rosy patched bush shrike.  The day list of birds seen was near 80 but most were those already seen.  Mammals included the wonderful Beisa oryx, Kirk’s dikdik, gerenuk, white tailed mongoose, and Grevy’s zebra.  A huge leopard tortoise was an added treat.  Back to the lodge for a big dinner and good night.  We would bird the refuge again the following day before departing for the Naro Moro River Lodge.  The lodge is the only place where there were biting insects on this trip, and they were only apparent in the evening and consisted of a tiny mosquito whose bites were tiny.  I am normally have allergic reactions to insect bites, these were harmless. 

Day 5.  We left the Samburu Lodge and birded the morning roads.  Eastern chanting goshawk, pygmy falcon, Taita fiscal, African silverbill, and  another pearl spotted owlet were spotted along with 40 ostrich and more Kori bustards.  The drive was slow back to Isiolo and onward.

We stopped at Meru Forest, a forest preserve on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya with a smattering of success.  We were required to take two local guides along on our forest walk, but the late morning woods were quiet save for white eared barbet and black collared apalis and Kenrick’s starling.

On the road to Naro Moro we found golden winged sunbird on the road which would bring to ten our count of sunbirds for the day.  Joseph has found as many as nine at the lodge in one hour to go with the resident Narina Trogon.  The woods around the lodge, unfortunately, were being bulldozed for a golf course development so the lodge’s future as a birding destination is in doubt.  In the evening the lodge grounds provided views of wryneck, golden breasted bunting, rufous chatterer, sulfur breasted bush shrike, blackcap, Arican black duck in the stream,and African harrier hawk above it.  The lodge was near deserted as only two others joined the dinner.  For once, there was no buffet but a prix fixe menu.  The beds here were fine and the rooms very comfortable.  Again, we had a night at the best facility in the area.

This lodge was an elongated group of cabins spread along the narrow mountain stream that is the Naro Moro River.  It is stocked with trout some of the year and has large overhanging trees.  The lodge has wonderful gardens and tame birds.  An African dusky flycatcher and a paradise flycatcher both flew up to my shirt to take flying insects therefrom.  Both sat on rails within touch distance in the early morning.  The trogon, so cooperative for all of Joseph’s previous clients seems to have left with the bulldozers arrival.

Day  7.  After birding the grounds and breakfast, we left to go the meteorological station at 10,200 feet elevation on Mount Kenya.  The drive to the entry of Mount Kenya National Park yielded a few raptors such as augur buzzard and tawny eagle.  We reached the entry to the park and found locked gates and no attendants.  I left the van and walked up to what looked like a ranger station and found two young rangers by a fire inside as we were at about 7,000 feet, and it was cool and damp this morning.  The clouds were ominous.  The rangers came to the entry desk and agreed to pictures.  We entered the reserve and found the road to be a one lane boulder strewn track that was slick as could be in wetness.  Sliding off of the mountain was not an unlikely occurrence on the wet track.  So likely was it that we stopped the van at 9,000 feet and hiked the rocky road to the station.  We did not get to hike to the moorlands for the endemic birds of this mountain.  Rain began on the walk and continued.  We took shelter at the ranger hut for a while and a break in the rain gave us Jackson’s francolin and white starred bush robin and yellow mountain warbler to go with black crowned waxbills.  But that was it.  Rain came hard, and we were quite wet when we reached the van.  The drive down was slow, slower, and interspersed with many stops due to the road..  It is less than six miles from the entry to the 10,200 foot point where the trail to the summit begins.  But, if you’re trekking, you have to start two miles before the entry to the park with porters from the porter station.  Just silly.

I would have loved to have seen the moorlands and the strange flowers growing there, but it was not to be.  The rain was too great.  We departed with Lake Nakuru as the evening destination.  Stops to view the many swifts yielded good looks at Alpine Switft.  Along the way to Nakuru, we stop and meet a local farmer who is protecting the nest of the Cape eagle owl, also called the Mackinder’s eagle owl.  The farmer tells the locals that owls are not evil as some believe.  We spot rock martins on the rocky escarpment where the owls roost in the day and find what remains of an African otter that has been consumed the evening before.  We go on to Lake Nakuru.  Here Joseph leaves us for two days to return to Nairobi.  We are joined by Elias Kamande, an environmental student and volunteer with the Kenya National Museum.  Elias is not a polished bird guide, but for the next two days, that would not be necessary.  He is a fine conversationalist and well versed in Kenya’s overall environmental situation.  He spends much time volunteering time to teach youngsters the value of Kenya’s natural heritage.

We left the bustle of the City of Nakuru where I stopped at an internet café to write home. From any high point, we could see the wide flat Lake Nakuru just outside of the city.  Lake Nakuru is an alkaline lake as waters flow into this basin of the Great Rift Valley here with no outlet.  The lake is eight miles long and flat and surrounded by a broad green grass and yellow bark acacia flatland.  The first thing one sees in the lake is the broad, very broad ring of pink around the lake.  The flamingoes are counted in the millions here.  Fifty yards across, the flocks span the entire shore of the lake and are joined by African white pelicans and pink backed pelicans – and they really are pink.  One can spend a huge amount of time staring at all that pink.  Greater flamingoes, whiter with big pink bills in contrast to the lesser flamingoes black bills, are also present.  They are tame, and there are areas where tourists can depart their vehicles for pictures.  This is unlike most areas of Africa parks where all are required to remain in their vehicles and not bother the animals.  In Africa, parks are for animals rather than people.

We had great, great luck at Nakuru.  Waterfowl were everywhere and we added black stork, dimorphic egret, squacco heron, ruff and many other shorebirds, maccoa duck and other ducks, and dozens of steppe, tawny, and fish eagles.  The bird trip list exceeds 300 by the evening.  We pull into the Lake Nakuru Lodge after 6:30 p.m.  The lodge sits on the north end of the lake on a hilltop with a view of the lake and the city in the background.  The grounds have all the manicuring and flowers of the other lodges.  This was the place, the place, to stay in this area for decades.  The older rooms are large with six foot high wainscoating on the walls, wooden ceilings, and big four poster beds.  The bath is dated and huge.  The food was fine..  Here we actually had access to freshly barbecued small steaks which were tender and fantastic.  Although the drive had taken 5 hours, the great meal and the unimagined pinkness made this an extraordinary day.  The valley is not as large as the Great Salt Lake basin, but one can imagine such a basin filled with pink birds and a shoreline full of wildlife.  That is Nakuru.

Day 8.  We start the day at 7:00 a.m. leaving the lodge to drive the flatlands around the lake.  Magic.  We find a dozen white lipped rhinoceros to go with another black rhino.  We find Rothchild’s giraffe to go with the reticulateds we spotted at Samburu.  Common zebras are here along with uncounted numbers of waterbuck and reedbuck.  We add three cuckoos and rollers to our list along with black cuckoo shrike.  Kittlitz plover and three banded plover are among the shorebirds.  Hamerkops are common.  We add rock thrush and stonechat along the escarpment and return to the lodge for a big buffet lunch.

Stuffed, we leave for Lake Baringo.  We drove slowly and stopped along the shore of Lake Nakura to scope the ducks – Maccoa, yellow billed, and Hottentot teal among others – pelicans, and herons along the shore.  We stopped at my shout as a shadow was moving below a low tree.  A leopard slowly rose and walked directly to our van and behind it and across the road and into the escarpment nearby. Few see leopards in Africa, and this one provided great shots for the camera.  After this, we began a five hour drive to Lake Baringo to the north.

Along the way, we stopped at some ponds and picked up Lesser Jacana and Barbary falcon and Jackson’s widowbird.  We were in Lake Baringo by evening and did a little birding before getting ready for the next morning.  The Lake Baringo Country Club has been there for 40 years or more.  Terry Stevenson, the noted Africa birding author and tour guide, lived here for 24 years and wrote an early guide to birds of Baringo still available at the front desk.  It just so happened that he had one of his tour groups here the day after we arrived.

Lake Baringo is a highland freshwater lake surrounded by acacia desert.  A long cliff face is a major geographic feature of the region, and this cliff face holds many unusual species. 

The country club has nice cabins with ceiling fans.  The cabins spread for a long distance from the clubhouse, so if you stay here, you may have a long walk for supper.  Also, the grounds are close to the lake so it’s likely that you will have a hippo grazing outside your room during the night.  This area is mostly privately held, so it is good to have a local guide to help with access issues.  Our bird list is near 370 today.

Day 9.  We start the day with Elias introducing me to MosesAengwo, a local birding guide.  We walk the cliffs in the early morning and quickly find Jackson’s and Hemprich hornbills along with red-billed and yellow billed later in the morning.  Dark chanting goshawks are here along with common kestrels.  Three barbets are located in short order.  Moses speaks to some local goatherds who fan out into the overgrazed acacia brush.  One returns and leads us one mile into the thorn to a tree with three white faced scops owls.  We retrace our steps back to the road to Baringo and another goatherd who has worked with Moses before quickly locates both slender tailed and long tailed nightjars.  A walk in the acacia turns up pale prinia,  green backed cameroptera, and pygmy batis among other small acacia varieties. 

An afternoon walk goes into an area of lava flows.  The rough walking in the thorn is one thing, but we had stopped at the reptile museum before starting here.  After seeing all the poisonous snakes available in the bush, I spent some time checking the ground rather than the air.   One area was truly intriguing as it looks like a landscaped rock garden.  A large jumble of boulders is interspersed with low growing aloe that has orange flower clusters.  Here and there are what are locally called desert rose.  These look like miniature baobabs.  There is a base the size of a tree trunk being nearly three feet across.  But this base rises only three feet.  Here small branches reach directly upward with magenta red flowers coming off of the branches.  Here in this rock garden we had several sunbirds including Hunter’s.  The rocks of the area are full of rock hyrax while we find Abyssinian hare in the acacia.  There are few people in the country club tonight.  No buffet.  Order from the menu.  The high speed fan was appreciated in the warm night.

Day  10.  This morning we take a boat onto Lake Baringo.  Along the shore we find pygmy, malachite, pied, and woodland kingfishers, black heron, gray headed social weavers, chestnut weaver, and on an island a Senegal thickknee.  The bristle fronted starling that was the target here and not found along the cliffs was feeding in a fig tree along with red winged starlings.  Coming to Lake Baringo and not taking a boat is a mistake.  Of course, be sure your boatman gives leeway to the hippos.

From here we leave for Kakamega.  En route, we stop in the hills above the Kerio River valley.  In a small remnant forest – here most of the forested hills have been cut – we found the fabulous Ross’s turaco and grey throated barbet.  This patch of forest is just before reaching a scenic turnout area.

On to Kakamega where Mike Davidson and Joseph will rejoin us while Elias returns to Nairobi.  We arrive in Kakamega at 5:00 p.m. and evening birding provides great views of the wondrous blue turaco and black and white hornbills.  These huge birds fly by with wing beats that sound like small helicopters – whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. 

We stayed at Rondo Retreat.  What a fine place.  Our quarters were in the Emerald Cuckoo House.  The retreat was originally a forester’s homeplace.  His health failed and he gave the forest to a religious group in Nairobi who used the area for an orphanage for  a while before it was rebuilt into a retreat and tourist location.  The house we had is a large yellow colonial home with a high wide veranda.  It’s great for sitting and, get this, e-mail.  There is a wireless network here, so bring your laptop and catch up on work and letters.  Amazing.  Inside the veranda, a long room stretches the length of the entry with a well stocked library on one side and a room with desks and chairs that are great for doing your trip list work.  Each person staying has his own room and bathroom.  Nice large four poster beds are in each room.  The food is individually prepared and quite good at the small dining hall next to the checkin.  Local artists have items for sale at the front curio shop.  This was the only place I saw in my travels where I liked the art objects for sale.

The trip list  is over 400.

Day 11.  Mike Davidson joins us in the evening.  The big surprise of the trip is that a wireless internet network exists at the Rondo area.  I can e-mail home over Mike’s computer and can even call the US on his cell phone.  Joseph, Mike and I spend the next morning walking the roads as the woods are difficult for birding due to the heavy growth.  As an indication of the bird life here, Mike who has birded Kakamega before gets 26 new birds on this trip.

Birds found include black capped waxbill, yellow fronted barbet, two tinkerbirds, blue shouldered robin chat, white headed sawing among many. 

After lunch, we drive to Mumias, a town in the sugar fields of West Kenya which has a river running through the city.  In the middle of miles of sugar cane, the river provided us with Angola swallow, rock pratincole, swamp warbler, slender billed weaver, red chested sunbird and black headed gonolek.  Blue headed coucal called but was not seen.

This was a fine drive as along the way, the road was packed with people waiting to see the vice president whose plane landed as we passed the airport.  The national election on a new constitution was in two days, and the v.p. was here to rally the troops to support the new constitution.  We had to drive slowly with all the people on the roads who were marching, holding banners, and sloganeering.

Day 12.  Today, we were joined by  Ben Obanda ( who guides in the Kakamega and is especially knowledgeable of its birds and their calls.  Our walks this morning allowed us to pick up many of the 13 greenbuls that are here including Cabanis, honeyguide, joyful, yellow whiskered, Shelley’s, Ansorge’s, Little, and Slender billed.  Bar tailed trogon was a treat for this day.

We had some 78 birds on our Kakamega list when at 10:00 a.m. the forest died.  We found only two more birds the balance of this day.  Still, the list was 490.

Day 13.  We skip birding Kakamega this morning in order to try to get to Kisumu on the shore of Lake Victoria before it gets hot.  We arrive near 9:00 p.m.  We go to the Dunga Beach area.  Stopping at a small creek, we wait a short time and Tom At The Bridge comes.  Tom is a local bird guide who has worked with the local fishermen on sustainable fishing for some time.  He shows us the environmental problems along the shores.  Population pressures have resulted in people moving into the papyrus swamps and their efforts have eliminated much of the papyrus which is home to many endemic varieties.  We manage to hear three of these and sight Carruthers cisticola.  The shores have many migrants including Kittlitz plover, three banded plover, bar tailed godwit, and a few gulls.  But the target birds are few.  Open billed and abdim storks fly overhead which is good.  The many migrants are already on my life list but add to the trip list and push us beyond 500 with the Mara and Lake Naivasha left to see.

It takes 6 hours to drive from Kisumu to the Massai Mara.  The road from the city of Kisii south is abominable and slow.  We arrive in the uplands above the broad Mara plain and find black crowned tchagra, southern ground hornbills, and crowned eagle along the way.  Entering the Mara at 5:00 p.m. we quickly spot bat eared fox, black backed jackal, and spotted hyena among the zebras and wildebeest.  The Mara is the north extension of the Serengeti and we arrive at the end of the wildebeest migration back to the south.  Black bellied and while bellied bustards are seen on the way to the Mara Serena Lodge,  This place is nice.  Small individual rooms that run from the central lobby at the top of a hill above the plane down the hill among gardens and flowers are beautifully arranged and appointed.  Each opens to a view of the valley below.  There is a pool below the bar area.  This is a very comfortable location.

Day 14.  Today, we drove the Mara for 13 hours.  The wind came in early and we found few species.  We did see the many mammals of the Mara including a nice pair of cheetahs.  Northern anteater chat, sooty chat, gumbaga flycatcher, and larks were added to the trip list.  We drove from the north boundary of the Mara along the Olooloo escarpment to the southern boundary with Tanzania.  Arrowmarked babbler and cardinal woodpecker were noted along with many tawny eagles.  The beauty of the Southwest Mara is extraordinary.  While birds were few, the mammals were many.  The views from the fabulous Mara Serena Lodge were mystic.  Black night as far as one could see, marvelous bright sky.  And all the Tusker one can drink.

Day 15.  We drove for 11 hours from the west side of the Mara to the east side where we would stay at the Mara Sarova Luxury Tented Camp.  We found bare faced go away bird – eight of these when one is uncommon – magpie starling, and white browed coucal along the way to the Mara bridge.  The bridge goes across a small rocky set of rapids that was mostly barren rock with the river being low.  Here the previous week, the carcasses of dozens of wildebeest that had failed to cross the river at a higher level had washed up on the rocks along with several hippo carcasses.  This area had thousands of vultures – white backed and hooded along with gorged marabou storks.  Some of those at the lodge had seen the wildebeest crossing the river along with many being taken by enormous crocodiles.  We found on croc who was over three feet in width and 18 feet long.  Peter was good at pointing out lions sleeping in the shade of small bushes.  In that shade we found water thick-knee, Wahlberg eagle, and pallid harrier.  In the afternoon we drove to the top of a small kopje.  I noted this would be a good lion hill as we were driving under a dead acacia.  In the dead branches sprawled in the top of the tree was our second leopard – snoozing and not awakening at our approach. 

The wind continued and few species were found today.  But we did find many carcasses of animals eaten by the lions and a large number of bustards.

The tented camp was fine.  Main lodge was on a hilltop again.  A long shaded lawn had individual tented accommodations on each side.  Brown parrots and grosbeak weavers were in the trees and dikdiks fed on the lawn.  The tent refers to the walls.  The floor was hardwood and the bath area was tile and stone with a wood roof.  The only tented part were the walls.  The bed was fine and large.  There was a fine writing table and plenty of room inside.  The wireless network here, as in most places, was not functioning.

Day 16.  We arose and birded the Mara for an hour in the wind and gave up.  Birds were not moving other than the bustards.   Breakfast and on to Lake Naivasha.  Along the way we found three banded courser and Hilldebrant’s starling.  The road was again horrid.  Added to the problem we came upon a line of trucks backed up from a freight train hitting a 24 wheel truck at grade crossing.  Peter drove off the road, around the trucks, to the accident scene where the cars had been uncoupled.  Peter drove through the ditch, through the opening between the cars, over the tracks, through the ditch on the other side, and off we went in the heavy dust.  Even with this, the drive took over 5 hours for a short distance. 

Lake Naivasha is the other major fresh water lake of Kenya.  The country club here has large rooms in garden settings.  A long walk across a lawn below high yellow bark acacias takes you to the lake edge where we found cut throat finch, icterine and buff bellied warbler, black lored babbler, black cuckoo shrike, black fronted bush shrike, sunbirds, and shore birds among the pelicans.  A review of the yard list indicated that few additional birds might be found here the following morning.  We enjoyed the evening birding even though a hippo grazed near the gazebo.  Waterbuck and zebras were also nearby.  Boats take tourists and birders around the lake from a dock at the end of the lawn.  We had scheduled a boat around the lake the following morning, but I decided that highland birding would be a better chance of new birds.

Day 17.  The lunchbox is late, and we aren’t allowed to bird the lawn as a cape buffalo is reported in the bushes along the way.  We leave for the nearby Kinnangop plateau to look for Sharpe’s longclaw.  In the only thick grassland seen, we stop the car to walk into the grass.  20 local children show up immediately to escort me hoping for a handout.  The longclaw is located shortly and we leave for Gatamayu forest south of Nairobi.  This forest is held as the government has found that forests are handy for watershed management.  It was a lovely clear still day and produced the best forest birding we had had other than our first day at Kakamega.  Uganda woodland warbler, Hartlaub’s turaco, bar tailed trogon, Abbot’s starling, white tailed crested flycatcher were among the finds. 

We left here for the Limuru Ponds to add ducks to the trip list.  As we approached the broad, shallow ponds we could see naked young boys jumping, yelling, and enjoying scaring the waterfowl.  Joseph spoke to them noting that this was inappropriate.  This quelled the action and reduced my horrow at possibly missing ducks.  There were many.  Southern Pochard, garganey, shoveler, yellow billed and white backed ducks, hottentot, cape, and red billed teal.  Sacred ibis and glossy ibis walked the shore while a great spotted eagle flew by just as we were completing our day.

For the 16 days I tallied 338 new birds for my world list of the 538 spotted on this trip.  We found the beautiful blue and red headed agama lizards, two large leopard tortoises, many crocodile, and a few Nile monitors along the way.  We identified 50 species or sub species of mammals.    The list included:

African elephant, black rhino, white rhino, hippo, cape buffalo, warthog, dikdik, bushbuck, Bohor reedbuck, steenbuck, waterbuck, deFassa waterbuck, Thompson gazelle, Grant gazelle, impala, topi, kongoni, gerenuk, white bearded wildebeest; reticulated, Massai, and Rothchild’s giraffes;  common, Burchell’s and Grevy’s zebras; banded, white tailed, black tailed mongooses;  ratel, black backed or silver backed jackal, bat eared fox, spotted hyena, serval, cheetah, leopard, lion, olive baboon, vervet monkey, Sykes monkey, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, black and white colobus monkey, rock hyrax, Abyssinian hare, African hare, tree squirrel, ground squirrels of three types, Beisa oryx, red bat, unidentified mice and bats.

Overall, there was disappointment in losing so much birding time to bad roads, rain, and three days of high wind as 650 birds is achievable on this route, but we had great luck with mammal sightings and had extraordinary accommodations compared to other trips to less developed countries for birding.  With road improvements occurring rapidly, the trip should be more comfortable and rewarding in the future.  With good roads, several added locations could be squeezed into this itinerary for endemics and local specialties.  Mike Davidson is working on grant funds to develop a Kenya bird calls CD.  Such a CD would be helpful in the dense woodlands.

Joseph Mwangi fulfilled his expectations as a guide and provided a tour with fine accommodations and food and skilled driver needed on this trip.  However, a new road with new asphalt had been laid to the Mount Kenya Serena Lodge and a new road bed was being laid to Lake Naivasha.  As these are completed, this trip will be fun filled as birding is a constant pleasure in the game parks.

Kenya Trip List  November 4-21, 2005

Common Ostrich                                                         
Somali Ostrich
Great White Pelican
Pink Backed Pelican
Little Grebe
Great Cormorant
Long Tailed Cormorant
Black Crowned Night Heron
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Dimorphic Egret
Western Reef Heron
Common Squacco Heron
Striated Heron
Intermediate Egret
Great Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Goliath Heron
Black Headed Heron
Black Stork
Abdim’s Stork
Woolly Necked Stork
Saddle Billed Stork
Marabou Stork
African Open Billed Stork
Yellow Billed Stork
Sacred Ibis
Hadada Ibis
Glossy Ibis
African Spoonbill
Greater Flamingo
Lesser Flamingo
White Faced Whistling Duck
White Backed Duck
Spur Winged Goose
Egyptian Goose
Comb Duck
African Black Duck
Cape Teal
Yellow Billed Duck
Red Billed Teal
Hottentot Teal
Northern Shoveler
Southern Pochard
Maccoa Duck
Secretary Bird
African Cuckoo Hawk
Black Shouldered Kite
Black Kite
Egyptian Vulture
Hooded Vulture
African White Backed Vulture
Rupell’s Griffon Vulture
Lappet Faced Vulture
Black Chested Snake Eagle
Brown Snake Eagle
African Harrier Hawk
Pallid Harrier
African Marsh Harrier
Gabar Goshawk
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Pale Chanting Goshawk
African Goshawk
Great Sparrowhawk
Little Sparrowhawk
Mountain Buzzard
Augur Buzzard
African Fish Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Tawny Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Wahlberg Eagle
Long Crested Eagle
African Crowned Eagle
Martial Eagle
Pygmy Falcon
Lanner Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Barbary Falcon
Sooty Falcon
Lesser Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Shelley’s Francolin
Crested Francolin
Hildebrandt’s Francolin
Scaly Francolin
Jackson’s Francolin
Yellow Necked Spurfowl
Red Necked Spurfowl
Vulturine Guineafowl
Helmeted Guineafowl
Black Crake
Common Moorhen
Red Knobbed Coot
Grey Crowned Crane
Kori Bustard
Crested Bustard
White Bellied Bustard
Black Bellied Bustard
African Jacana
Lesser Jacana
Pied Avocet
Black Winged Stilt
Senegal Thick-Knee
Water Thick-Knee
Spotted Thick-Knee
Heuglin’s Courser
Two Banded Courser
Temminck’s Courser
Rock Pratincole
Ringed Plover
Kittlitz’s Plover
Three Banded Plover
Blacksmith Lapwing
Spurwing Lapwing
Black Headed Lapwing
Crowned Plover
African Wattled Plover
Little Stint
Black Tailed Godwit
Spotted Redshank
Marsh Sandpiper
Common Greenshank
Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Grey Headed Gull
Gull Billed Tern
Whiskered Tern
Black Winged Tern
White Winged Tern
Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse
Black Faced Sandgrouse
African Green Pigeon
Tambourine Dove
Blue Spotted Wood Dove
Green (Emerald) Spotted Wood Dove
Namaqua Dove
Eastern Bronze Naped Pigeon
Olive Pigeon
Speckled Pigeon
Rock Pigeon
Red Eyed Dove
African Mourning Dove
Ring Necked Dove
Laughing Dove
Red Fronted Parrot
African Orange Bellied Parrot
Brown Parrot
Great Blue Turaco
Ross’s Turaco
Hartlaub’s Turaco
Bare Faced Go Away Bird
White Bellied Go Away Bird
Black and White Cuckoo
Black Cuckoo
Red Chested Cuckoo
African Emerald Cuckoo
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Diederick Cuckoo
White Browed Coucal
Blue Headed Coucal
White Faced Scops Owl
Cape Eagle Owl
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Pearl Spotted Owlet
African Wood Owl
Montane Nightjar
Eurasian Nightjar
Slender Tailed Nightjar
Long Tailed Nightjar
Mottled Spinetail
African Palm Swift
African Black Swift
Nyanza Swift
Alpine Swift
White Rumped Swift
Horus Swift
Little Swift
Speckled Mousebird
White Headed Mousebird
Blue Naped Mousebird
Bar Tailed Trogon
Grey Headed Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher
Striped Kingfisher
Malachite Kingfisher
African Pygmy Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Eurasian Bee-eater
Blue Cheeked Bee-eater
White Throated Bee-eater
Blue Headed Bee-eater
White Fronted Bee-eater
Little Bee-eater
Blue Breasted Bee-eater
Cinnamon Chested Bee-eater
Somali Bee-eater
Eurasian Roller
Lilac Breasted Roller
Broad Billed Roller
Rufous Crowned Roller
White Headed Wood-hoopoe
Green Wood-hoopoe
Common Scimitarbill
Abyssinian Scimitarbill
Southern Ground Hornbill
Red billed Hornbill
Eastern Yellow billed Hornbill
Ver der Decken’s Hornbill
Jackson’s Hornbill
Hemprich’s Hornbill
Crowned Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Trumpeter Hornbill
Silvery Cheeked Hornbill
Black and White Casqued Hornbill
Grey Throated Barbet
Yellow Rumped Tinkerbird
Red Fronted Tinkerbird
Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird
Hairy Breasted Barbet
Spot Flanked Barbet
White Throated Barbet
White Headed Barbet
Double Toothed Barbet
Yellow Billed Barbet
Red and Yellow Barbet
D’Arnaud’s Barbet
Scaly Throated Honeyguide
Greater Honeyguide
Lesser Honeyguide
Least Honeyguide
Eastern Honeybird
Eurasian Wryneck
Nubian Woodpecker
Fine Banded Woodpecker
Buff Spotted Woodpecker
Cardinal Woodpecker
Bearded Woodpecker
Yellow Crested Woodpecker
Speckle Breasted Woodpecker
Grey Woodpecker
Brown Backed Woodpecker
Singing Bush Lark
Rufous Naped Lark
Flappet Lark
Fawn Coloured Lark
Pink Breasted Lark
Red Capped Lark
Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark
Chestnut Headed Sparrowlark
Banded Martin
Plain Martin
Sand Martin
Wire Tailed Swallow
Barn Swallow
Red Rumped Swallow
Angola Swallow
Lesser Striped Swallow
Rock Martin
White Headed Saw-wing
Black Saw-wing0
African Pied Wagtail
Mountain Wagtail
Cape Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Golden Pipit
Grassland Pipit
Plain Backed Pipit
Tree Pipit
Richard’s Pipit
Sharpe’s Longclaw
Yellow-Throated Longclaw
Rosy-Breasted Longclaw
Ansorge’s Greenbul
Little Greenbul
Yellow Whiskered Greenbul
Slender Billed Greenbul
Shelley’s Greenbul
Mountain Greenbul
Cabanis’s Greenbul
Honeyguide Greenbul
Joyful Greenbul
Common Bulbul
Red-Tailed Bristlebill
African Hill Babbler
Black Lored Babbler
Arrow Marked Babbler
Brown Babbler
Hinde’s Babbler
Northern Pied Babbler
Rufous Chatterer
Brown Illadopsis
Pale Breasted Illadopsis
Scaly Breasted Illadopsis
White Starred Robin
Equatorial Akalat
Grey Winged Robin Chat
Cape Robin Chat
Ruppell’s Robin Chat
White Browed Robin Chat
Snowy Headed Robin Chat
Brown Chested Alethe
White Tailed Ant Thrush
Spotted Morning Thrush
White Browed Scrub Robin
Rufous Bush Chat
Common Stonechat
Northern Wheatear
Pied Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Capped Wheatear
Alpine Chat
White Tailed Ant Thrush
Northern Anteater Chat
Sooty Chat
White Shouldered Cliff Chat
Common Rock Thrush
Olive Thrush
African Thrush
Spotted Ground Thrush
Spotted Flycatcher
Gambaga Flycatcher
African Dusky Flycatcher
Swamp Flycatcher
White Eyed Slaty Flycatcher
Northern Black Flycatcher
Southern Black Flycatcher
African Grey Flycatcher
Pale Flycatcher
Lead Coloured Flycatcher
Greater Swamp Warbler
Lesser Swamp Warbler
Olivaceous Warbler
Upcher’s Warbler
Icterine Warbler
Willow Warbler
Uganda Woodland Warbler
Brown Woodland Warbler
Little Rush Warbler
Cinnamon Bracken Warbler
Black Faced Rufous Warbler
African Moustached Warbler
Dark Capped Yellow Warbler
Mountain Yellow Warbler
Red Faced Cisticola
Whistling Cisticola
Singing Cisticola
Hunter’s Cisticola
Chubb’s Cisticola
Winding Cisticola
Carruthers’s Cisticola
Stout Cisticola
Rattling Cisticola
Boran Cisticola
Zitting Cisticola
Desert Cisticola
Pectoral Patch Cisticola
Tawny Flanked Prinia
Pale Prinia
Banded Prinia
White Chinned Prinia
Grey Wren Warbler
Pale Wren Warbler
Grey Backed Camaroptera
Olive Green Camaroptera
Yellow Breasted Apalis
Chestnut Throated Apalis
Grey Apalis
Black Throated Apalis
Red Fronted Warbler
Grey Capped Warbler
Northern Crombec
Red Faced Crombec
White Browed Crombec
Yellow Bellied Eremomela
Yellow Vented Eremomela
Turner’s Eremomela
Green Backed Eremomela
Buff Bellied Warbler
Banded Parisoma
Abyssinian White-Eye
Montane White-Eye
Yellow White-Eye
Northern Grey Tit
Dusky Tit
White Bellied Tit
Mouse Colored Penduline Tit
Spotted Flycatcher
African Blue Flycatcher
White Tailed Crested Flycatcher
African Paradise Flycatcher
Chin Spot Batis
Pygmy Batis
Common Wattle Eye
Jameson’s Wattle Eye
Yellow Bellied Wattle Eye
White Headed Shrike
Magpie Shrike
Red Backed Shrike
Red Tailed Shrike
Grey Backed Fiscal
Long Tailed Fiscal
Taita Fiscal
Common Fiscal
Black Crowned Tchagra
Brown Crowned Tchagra
Three Streaked Tchagra
Sulphur Breasted Bush Shrike
Black Fronted Bush Shrike
Grey Headed Bush Shrike
Rosy Pached Bush Shrike
Red Naped Bush Shrike
Luhder’s Bush Shrike
Bocage’s Bush Shrike
Tropical Boubou
Black Headed Gonolek
Papyrus Gonolek
Sooty Boubou
Slate Coloured Boubou
Northern Puffback
Black Backed Puffback
Pink Footed Puffback
Black Cuckoo Shirke
Grey Cuckoo Shrike
Common Drongo
Square Tailed Drongo
Montane Oriole
Western Balck Headed Oriole
Pied Crow
Fan Tailed Raven
Stuhlmann’s Starling
Kenrick’s Starling
Waller’s Starling
Red Winged Starling
Bristle Fronted Starling
Splendid Starling
Greater Blue Eared Starling
Lesser Blue Eared Starling
Ruppell’s Long Tailed Starling
Hildebrandt’s Starling
Superb Starling
Golden Breasted Starling
Abbott’s Starling
Fischer’s Starling
Magpie Starling
Wattled Starling
Red Billed Oxpecker
Yellow Billed Oxpecker
Eastern Violet Backed Sunbird
Green Sunbird
Collared Sunbird
Green Headed Sunbird
Green Throated Sunbird
Amethyst Sunbird
Scarlet Chested Sunbird
Hunter’s Sunbird
Variable Sunbird
Northern Double Collared Sunbird
Eastern Double Collared Sunbird
Marico Sunbird
Purple Banded Sunbird
Red Chested Sunbird
Beautiful Sunbird
Bronze Sunbird
Golden Winged Sunbird
House Sparrow
Rudous Sparrow
Grey Headed Sparrow
Parrot Billed Sparrow
Yellow Spotted Petronia
White Headed Buffalo Weaver
Red Billed Buffalo Weaver
White Billed Buffalo Weaver
Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow Weaver
White Browed Sparrow Weaver
Grey Capped Social Weaver
Speckle Fronted Weaver
Grosbeak Weaver
Baglafecht Weaver
Slender Billed Weaver
Black Necked Weaver
Spectacled Weaver
Black Billed Weaver
African Golden Weaver
Holub’s Golden Weaver
Golden Palm Weaver
Northern Brown Throated Weaver
Yellow Backed Weaver
Vitelline Masked Weaver
Northern Masked Weaver
Speke’s Weaver
Black Headed Weaver
Vieillot’s Black Weaver
Chestnut Weaver
Dark Backed Weaver
Brown Capped Weaver
Red Headed Malimbe
Red Headed Weaver
Red Billed Quelea
Yellow Bishop
Fan Tailed Widowbird
White Winged Widowbird
Red Collared Widowbird
Long Tailed Widowbird
Jackson’s Widowbird
Grey Headed Negrofinch
White Breasted Negrofinch
Green Winged Pytilia
Red Headed Bluebill
Red Billed Firefinch
African Firefinch
Crimson Rumped Waxbill
Common Waxbill
Black Crowned Waxbill
Black Headed Waxbill
Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu
Blue Capped Cordon Bleu
Purple Grenadier
African Silverbill
Grey Headed Silverbill
Bronze Mannikein
Black and White Mannikin
Cutthroat Finch
Pin-tailed Whydah
Paradise Whydah
Yellow Crowned Canary
Africn Citril
Yellow Fronted Canary
White Bellied Canary
Brimstone Canary
Streaky Seedeater
Thick Billed Seedeater
Golden Breasted Bunting


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