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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

Central Kenya and Northern Tanzania, 28 June– 13 July 2003,

Gruff Dodd

Gruff Dodd, 2 Clos Tawe, Barri, Bro Morgannwg, Cymru/Wales; Gruff@doddg.freeserve.co.uk

Participants - Clive Hurley, Eleanor Hurley, Gruff Dodd, Sara Dodd


Introduction and strategy

Sara and I have wanted to visit these two countries for many years but have been put off by the high cost. We eventually decided to visit this year, helped by our being joined by Clive and Eleanor, which made the cost a little more manageable, although it was still an expensive trip.

Another aspect of the trip that concerned us was the security situation. Kenya in particular has something of a reputation for lawlessness, with attacks on tourists documented alongside the countless stories of scams and hassles. We felt reasonably comfortable that we could deal with this, especially given that we were using a local ground agent for all the travel arrangements. However, we weren't prepared for the UK government suspending British Airways flights to Kenya and issuing a general warning against all travel to Kenya just a month before our planned departure date, due to a perceived threat from Al Qaeda.

There followed a two-week long period of soul-searching and arguing with insurance companies while we decided what to do - we were not due to fly in on a UK airline, but with Kenya Airways, and we just couldn't accept that there was a significant terrorist threat to 4 tourists travelling around in a minibus!

We eventually found an insurance company who was prepared to provide us with cover (1Stop Travel Insurance - www.gotravelinsurance.co.uk/), and decided that we would proceed, and ironically the UK government lifted their travel warning the day before we flew! We felt totally vindicated when we arrived - the general public in Kenya were totally baffled and bemused by the whole situation, as there had been no hint of a problem during the build up to our visit, and considerable speculation that the position had been engineered by the UK government as part of their and the US's "negotiations" with the Kenyan government over use of one of their air bases.

Planning this trip was undoubtedly the most difficult I have ever had to do. The number of possible species is totally overwhelming, and there are quite simply far too many excellent birding sites to cover even a fraction of them properly in just 2 weeks.

We decided early on to concentrate on the central part of Kenya and the large game parks of North West Tanzania. This meant that we missed key sites in both the east (Tsavo, Taitas, Sokoke-Arabuko and the Kenyan coast, the Usambaras, Pemba etc) and the west (Masai Mara, Lake Victoria, Kakamega, Saiwa Swamp, Bogoria, Baringo etc), but we felt that each of these areas were rich enough in birds to merit separate trips at some time in the future.

The inclusion within the itinerary of the Tanzanian sites certainly increased the amount of birding time lost through travelling, and probably resulted in a lower trip list than might have been achievable otherwise. However, we were anxious to try to see certain key species endemic to Tanzania, namely Ashy Starling, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Yellow-collared Lovebird, Fischer's Lovebird, Grey-breasted Spurfowl and the Tanzanian race of Spike-heeled Lark, which is both highly endangered and likely to be split in the future.

We managed to see all of these without too much difficulty and this, together with the stunning sight of the Ngorongoro crater and the phenomenal game spectacle of sites such as the Serengeti and Tarangire made this a worthwhile decision.

The other decision we had to take early on was between a 2WD minivan with driver or a self-drive 4WD vehicle. We eventually opted for the former on the grounds of both cost and convenience, and we were generally satisfied with this decision (but see "Travelling Around" section for comments on this). The main downside of this decision, however, was that we were very reluctantly forced to exclude both Mount Kenya and the Aberdares from our itinerary, as neither was accessible in our vehicle. However, both could be easily combined into a future West Kenya trip.

Even having decided which areas to visit, it still proved difficult to actually work out the logistics. Factors that need to be taken into account are the often poor roads, which can extend travelling time significantly beyond that suggested by a glance at a map, and the very high cost of both accommodation and national park entry.

The latter in particular proved a real challenge from a planning viewpoint. Entry to the parks is expensive, and you will therefore want to ensure that you maximise your time there to get value for money. However, while the fee entitles you to park entry for a 24 hour period, it does not allow multiple entry.

So, if you arrive, say, in mid-afternoon, and wish to bird until the same time the next day without having to pay two lots of entry fees, you will be obliged to stay overnight within the park boundaries. This in turn limits your choice of accommodation to extremely basic camping facilities, with attendant security risks, both from people and from animals, or the exorbitantly expensive lodges dotted around the parks.

This greatly complicated the logistics on the ground, and affected the route we eventually took. With hindsight, there are some things I would certainly do differently on a repeat trip, and these are discussed further in the "Itinerary" section. However, we had a great trip, with some excellent birds, and really outstanding game viewing (lions and elephants became almost commonplace!), and despite all the warnings and worrying beforehand we have nothing but fond memories from our visit to these friendly and fascinating countries.


Acknowledgements

During our planning stages we received a great deal of help and advice from a number of people, for which we are extremely grateful - thanks to Neil Baker, Stein Nilsen, Zul Bhatia, Norbert Cordeiro, Marlene Reid, Charles Msangi, Nick Brooks, Alan Williams, Alfred Owino, Brad Goodhart, Brent Beach, Bruce Hills, David Collinge, Erling Jirle, Fleur Ng'weno, Giles Daubeney, Jan Bisschop, John Fanshawe, Juan Jos Ramos, Lorna Depew, Mel Cardwell, Mike Bowman, Mike Brady, Nigel Redman, Paul Harris, Peter Jones, Tom Romdal, all of whom provided a great deal of advice, information and reassurance while planning the trip.

However, we are especially indebted to Nigel Moorhouse of Sarus Bird Tours (http://www.sarusbirdtours.co.uk/) who was an absolute goldmine on Kenya, providing me with checklists, suggestions on itineraries, information on individual target species, accommodation and other transport options, and basically pretty much anything else I wanted to know. To receive this volume of information was in itself amazing, but the fact that Nigel leads bird tours for a living makes his generosity even more remarkable - thanks very much indeed Nigel.


Getting there

Sara and I flew from Cardiff (CWL) via Amsterdam (AMS) to Nairobi (NBO) on a codeshare KLM / Kenya Airways flight, and back from Nairobi to Bristol (BRS), again via Amsterdam. Clive and Eleanor flew from Glasgow via Amsterdam. The flights were booked on-line through Airline Network and cost GBP 464 each including taxes.

Our flight times were as follows:

Outwards:

Depart CWL 27.06.03 14:50, arrive AMS 27.06.03 17:15
Depart AMS 27.06.03 20:40, arrive NBO 28.06.03 06:10

Return:

Depart NBO 13.07.03 10:10, arrive AMS 13.07.03 18:10
Depart AMS 13.07.03 20:05, arrive BRS 13.07.03 20:20

We'd originally booked to return from Nairobi to Cardiff, but two days before departure we got a call saying that they'd cancelled the Amsterdam - Cardiff flight, and we'd have to stay in Kenya for another night! An urgent phone call to Airline Network eventually identified that they had room on a flight to Bristol, which meant that we at least managed to get home on the same evening as we'd planned.

At the same time we found that KLM had brought our outward Cardiff - Amsterdam flight forward by 2.5 hours (but hadn't bothered to tell us!) and had also grossly overbooked this outward flight, and consequently we were advised to arrive at the airport early to ensure that we got a seat!! After several recent experiences of this nature, the ability of airlines to completely mess their passengers around without any comeback never ceases to amaze me.


Travelling around

The whole trip was arranged through a Nairobi-based ground agent called Africa Point (e-mail - info@africapoint.com, web-site - http://www.africapoint.com). They provided us with a safari-style minivan complete with driver, and also booked most of our accommodation, arranged airport transfers etc.

The minivan provided by Africa Point was charged purely on a mileage basis (no daily charge) and cost us a flat rate of USD 0.40 (GBP 0.25) per kilometre, inclusive of fuel, tax, insurance etc. A further USD 150 (GBP 94) was required for cross-border insurance in order to take the Kenyan van into Tanzania. We drove a total of 3,050 kilometres, which meant that the entire rental, including driver, cost us a very reasonable USD 1,370 (GBP 856) for the whole trip, which was c. 50% of what we were quoted by other agencies in Nairobi.

It would have been a little cheaper for us to have made our own way to Arusha in Tanzania, meeting our vehicle there for the Tanzanian part of the trip, then being taken back to Namanga to meet a Kenyan vehicle for thee remainder of the trip. This would have saved us having to pay the cross-border insurance, and it would also have been cheaper to take a Tanzanian vehicle into Tanzanian parks compared with a Kenyan vehicle. However, we would have had to pay for a shuttle from Nairobi to Arusha (Africa Point can arrange this - USD 25 (GBP 16) per person each way), as well as the mileage charge for the Kenyan vehicle coming to meet us.

The savings would have been minimal between the four of us, and more importantly, it would have removed our ability to make stops en route at our leisure (e.g. at Oldonyo Sambu), as well as increasing the hassle factor on the first day.

Africa Point were highly professional and efficient before and throughout, although their driver Charles, having looked after us very well throughout the trip, unfortunately let us down on our last morning, turning up 40 minutes late to take us to the airport - by then we had decided not to wait any longer and hired some taxis, and passed him going the other way.

We are particularly indebted to their reservations officer, Shadrack Masinde and his colleague Joshua who dealt efficiently and promptly with several changes of itinerary, considerable indecision and interminable requests for information from me..

The decision between hiring a 2WD minivan with driver, or doing it self-drive with 4WD was one of the most important that we had to make throughout the trip. We eventually decided on the minivan option on the combined grounds of cost and convenience. Africa Point had small Suzuki 4WD's for hire at a reasonable rate but we would have needed something bigger for 4 of us, and this would have been more expensive than the minivan.

We also liked the idea of having a local driver given the often poor roads, not least because it removed from us any risk or responsibility for the safety and well-being of the vehicle, and also left us all free to concentrate on the birds and mammals.

The main disadvantage was that it wasn't a 4WD vehicle, which meant that we couldn't visit Mount Kenya or the Aberdares (very bad roads), nor could we take it down into the Ngorongoro crater (although the descent we took seemed no worse than roads in other national parks), the latter requiring us to pay an extra US$175 for a 4WD for 4 hours!!!

We also had some difficulties with getting our driver to spend more time in the field - the safari companies are used to doing one early morning and one late afternoon game drive, leaving their clients to lounge around the lodge from about 08:30 to 16:00 - no good at all for keen birders. 

Getting him to stay out longer, start earlier or do trips in between these times was a constant battle, which we never really succeeded in winning - we'd get him to do another post-breakfast trip one day, then have to go through the same discussion the next day!  He'd never refuse, just look very unhappy, explain that no animals would be seen during the day, how good the birding is around the lodge etc etc. 

If I was doing the trip again, I'd be a lot more insistent prior to booking about what we expected, and make it clear that we wanted to spend the large majority of our day in the field, and that we weren't bothered about returning to the lodge every couple of hours to eat yet more food!!

In order to minimise driving time, we also took one internal flight, one-way from Nairobi to Samburu on 7 July 2003, at a cost of USD 131 (GBP 82) per person. The flight was with Air Kenya, another very efficient outfit (e-mail - resvns@airkenya.com, web-site www.airkenya.com), and flew out of Wilson Airport rather than Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The flight departed Nairobi at 09:15, and arrived at Samburu at 10:30, where Africa Point had arranged for Charles and the van to meet us.

While Charles was making his way by road to Samburu, we hired another van from Africa Point for the afternoon to take us to the Ngong Hills and Langata, for which we paid USD 75 (GBP 47) - quite expensive really.

Finally, on our last morning we needed to book a taxi to the airport at short notice , and found an extremely efficient, safe and helpful outfit via our hotel. They are called Jatco Taxis & Tours, and can be contacted by e-mail on jatco@alphanet.co.ke, or by phone on Nairobi 4444714 or 4440180.

The tarred roads were generally of reasonable quality, except for a few stretches e.g. that north of Isiolo. The dirt roads were, however, pretty rough in places, although passable without too much trouble in our 2WD minivan. Travelling times were, however, generally longer than might be expected from looking at maps, both because of road conditions and weight of traffic.

Car hire companies will apparently not allow their self-drive 2WD cars to be driven on any dirt roads, including inside national parks - you could of course take a chance, but you will be liable for all damage. The same restriction did not seem to apply to minivans, presumably because we also had a driver, and as a result we were also not liable for damage or breakdowns. 


Costs & Money

The local currencies are the Kenyan (KES) and Tanzanian (TZS) Shillings, although most businesses seem to prefer to quote in US Dollars (USD). The approximate exchange rate against sterling (GBP) at the time of my visit (which I have used in translating costs throughout this report) was as follows:

GBP 1 = KES 122
GBP 1 = TZS 1,700
GBP 1 = USD 1.60

The majority of our expenses were paid in advance of the trip. Credit cards were accepted in all the lodges, and in some other places, but in other places we needed cash. For example, our Kenyan and Tanzanian visas needed to be paid in USD cash, as did all national park entry fees (travellers' cheques accepted in Tanzania but not in Kenya). One really irritating fact was that while it was OK to pay for our entry to Kenyan parks with USD cash, it was necessary to pay for Charles and the vehicle with KES - why?!

We largely managed without needing local currency, other than for incidentals, although the lodge at Wajee and the hotel at Nakuru needed payment in KES cash. We changed some money in a bank in Arusha, and also used ATM's in Nairobi and Nakuru.

The total cost of the trip is estimated at GBP 7,000 for 4 people (GBP 1,750 each), made up as follows:

International flights - GBP 928
Domestic flights -             GBP 164
Car hire - GBP 500
Hotels & meals - GBP  1,060
National park entry fees -               GBP 556
Visas -GBP 125
Fuel & incidentals (est.) - GBP 185

Accommodation and food

We stayed at the following places:

28.06.03

Tarangire Sopa Lodge, Tarangire National Park. Cost - USD 140 (GBP 88) per double room full board.
A stunning place, one of our favourites, although I am personally far from convinced that any hotel room can ever be worth GBP 88 per night!

29.06.03

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, Ngorongoro. Cost USD 133 (GBP 83) per double room full board
Even more impressive than the Tarangire Sopa, being perched right on the rim of the crater - stunning views down to the crater bottom first thing in the morning.

30.06.03

Seronera Lodge, Serengeti National Park. Cost USD 114 (GBP 71) per double room full board
Quite nice, but not in the same league as the Sopa lodges

01.07.03

Seronera Lodge, Serengeti National Park. Cost had risen to USD 180 (GBP 113) per double room full board, however, as it was now July not June!
An extortionate price really, didn't even have a pool.

02.07.03

Impala Motel, Arusha. Cost USD 90 (GBP 56) per double room bed & breakfast
A lovely hotel, right in the middle of Arusha, and a real bargain compared with the park lodges - highly recommended

03.07.03

Amboseli Lodge, Amboseli NP (contact details). Cost USD 138 (GBP 86) per double room full board
OK, but again not as good as the Sopa lodges - should have ended the trip at those lodges, as they spoiled us rather for the rest of the trip! Due to the tourist crisis, we were the only guests here!

04.07.03

Amboseli Lodge

05.07.03

Amboseli Lodge

06.07.03

Kwality Hotel, Nairobi (Tel 2710801). Cost USD 31 (GBP 19) per double room bed & breakfast.
Basic, but secure, clean and comfortable and perfectly acceptable - a handy base in the middle of Nairobi, just 15 minutes from the airport and from Nairobi National Park.

07.07.03

Samburu Serena Lodge, Samburu NP. Cost USD 180 (GBP 113) per double room full board.
A stunning place, almost worth the money! Definitely the best place we stayed.

08.07.03

Samburu Serena Lodge

09.07.03

Wajee Bungalow, Wajee Reserve, near Nyeri. Cost USD 50 (GBP 31) for double room full board, including guiding fees.
If the Samburu Serena was the accommodation highlight, this place brought us back down to earth with a bump! Pretty basic, although actually reasonably comfortable and seemed clean, although no hot water.
Very expensive for what it was, although I do not begrudge this place anything given the importance of the reserve for the continued survival of Hinde's Pied-Babblers, and the fact that they are totally funded by tourists such as ourselves. Any birders visiting Kenya should ensure they stay at least one night here, or at least make a generous donation.

10.07.03

Hotel Kunste, Nakuru. (e-mail info@kunstehotel.com, tel 051 212140, fax 051 45612). Cost USD 61 (GBP 38) for double room bed & breakfast
Comfortable, and handily located near the entrance to Nakuru National Park. It would have been better to stay in the park itself, but that would have cost an additional USD 120 per room

11.07.03

Lake Naivasha Lodge, Naivasha. Cost USD 90 (GBP 56) for double room full board, after Shadrack got us a good discount on the usual price of USD 125.
Very nice place, although not in the same league as the posh lodges

12.07.03

Kwality Hotel, Nairobi

Accommodation is therefore very expensive in the national parks. However, choice is basically limited to paying these prices, staying in towns and villages outside the parks and commuting in, which is not practical in many of the areas we visited, or camping, which we didn't fancy. The standard of the lodges was generally superb, with excellent facilities, comfortable rooms and very good food. Above all, they also provided security, against both animals and humans.


Red tape

Visas need to be purchased for both countries, at least by UK nationals. The Kenyan visa was bought on arrival at Nairobi International Airport, on the left before passport control. The Tanzanian visa was bought at the Namanga border crossing. Each cost USD 50 (GBP 31) per person, and had to be paid for in cash. Keep the receipt in case you are required to prove you have paid.

The border crossing from Kenya to Tanzania at Namanga took forever - at least 1.5 hours- taking a Kenyan vehicle into the country seemed to require a mound of paperwork to be filled in. Crossing back into Kenya took a fraction of this time. If you do the trip self-drive you will also need special insurance and documentation to be prepared in advance by the car rental company - this cost us USD 150 (UK 93).

Be careful at these border crossings - you will need to get out of the car several times to visit immigration, customs etc, during which time you will be mobbed by hawkers - watch your valuables, and ensure your vehicle is locked and luggage etc kept out of sight. We came across a few police checkpoints along the way, but they left us alone.

Permits need to be purchased before entry to any national parks. In Tanzania, they are bought on entry, and the process is straightforward, although you can allow anything up to half an hour each time for this. You are required to report to the office on the way out as well as on the way in. Permits are valid for a strict 24 hour period - stay any longer than this and you will be charged an extra day on departure. Payment must be in cash or by traveller's cheque.

Entry to Kenyan national parks is by smart card, which needs to be charged beforehand - you can't just turn up at the entry gate and pay for entrance, which makes this much more complicated than it needs to be, especially as entry credits can only be purchased at certain sites. We fortunately never had to go through this process as Africa Point made these arrangements. If you go self-drive, make sure you know what you need to do in advance, that your vehicle has a smart card, and it might be worth trying to get the rental company to top these up for you in advance.


Weather

July is a dry season in Kenya and Tanzania, at the end of the rainy season that normally lasts from March to May. The parks are therefore pretty green, dispersing wildlife away from waterholes, and bird activity is quite high, although identification is complicated by the presence of many young birds, some showing partly downy plumage. Some untarred roads may be in poor condition, having been churned up during three months of rain - the road from Tarangire to Serengeti was especially rough.

This is also the coldest time of year, and it was surprisingly cool at times, even for Welsh and Scottish birders used to a temperate climate. It got very cold at nights at Arusha and Ngorongoro, and we often found ourselves reaching for our jackets on early morning game drives. It never really got too hot for us to want to continue birding, although it warmed up significantly by early afternoon in places, especially at Serengeti and Samburu.


Health, safety & annoyances

As usual, we ensured that we were up to date with the usual jabs before visiting- tetanus, polio, typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis, meningitis and diphtheria. Malaria is widespread in the area, and we took the new Malarone tablets during our trip. These have the advantage of only needing to be taken one day before departure, and for one week after returning, and had no apparent side-effects. However, they needed to be taken daily during the trip, and at c. GBP 55 per person for the three week course they were hardly cheap.

Most of us suffered from minor stomach bugs at some time or other during the trip, although Eleanor suffered quite badly on two days (one at Serengeti and one at Nairobi) and I lost an afternoon at Amboseli with nausea.

Mosquitoes were present at a few sites, most notably at Wajee, although these were far fewer than we had feared. Beware of Tsetse Flies at some sites, including Tarangire and Serengeti, although we didn't see of these.

There is a very serious risk from game at most of the sites visited, which can be easily avoided by staying in your vehicle at all times. Do not under any circumstances be tempted to leave your vehicle and wander around outside designated areas - we saw more than enough lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, hippos etc to convince us that this would be very unwise. Furthermore, if you are caught out of your vehicle by a park ranger, you will face a very significant fine, and may also be ejected from the park.

One consequence of this, however, which had been totally overlooked by us prior to the trip, was that this made toilet stops very difficult - this was brought home to us with a bump on the drive into Serengeti when we realised that we were c. 100 km from the nearest toilet! We thereafter strictly rationed our fluid intake at breakfast and just prior to going out in the afternoons, and drank like fish in the evenings, when we had the luxury of toilets available any time we wanted them!! You may laugh at this now, but I promise you that you won't when you suffer stomach cramps 30 km from the nearest toilet!

Much had been made prior to the trip of the security situation out in both countries, both from the threat from terrorists, and the general risk of muggings, carjackings, robbery etc. We encountered no problems of this nature, and we were very careful not to put ourselves in this position by being very watchful while at areas such as Namanga where there are a lot of hawkers etc, and by avoiding spending time out of our hotel in places like Nairobi and Nakuru.

Our driver Charles was invaluable in advising us where it was safe to walk and where we should exercise caution. There have, for example, been attacks on tourists in the Ngong Hills, and so while we walked in this area, Charles drove slowly behind us looking for trouble Limuru Pond was another area frequently visited by birders, but at which Charles refused to let us out of the van and kept the engine running throughout.

When we visited ATM's in Nairobi and Nakuru, we went in pairs, to watch each other's backs. While this is undoubtedly a serious concern, it should be repeated that the vast majority of people that we met were extremely friendly and hospitable, and this should not be allowed to detract from the enjoyment of a really unique and fascinating experience.


References:

Books:

Kenya and Tanzania are very fortunate in having 2 excellent field guides available, namely:

Field Guide to the birds of East Africa - Stevenson & Fanshawe (Published by T & AD Poyser, ISBN 0-85661-079-8)

Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania - Zimmerman, Turner & Pearson (Published by Helm, ISBN 0-7136-5079-6)

Both were excellent, although we normally found ourselves using the former as it was the one with which we were most familiar. Other books taken along included:

Where to watch birds in Africa - Nigel Wheatley. (Published by Helm, ISBN 0-7136-4013-8). Good background info, which formed the basis of planning the trip.

National Parks of East Africa - Williams, Arlott and Fennessy (Published by Collins, ISBN 0-00-219215-2). Probably a little dated by now, but has useful bird checklists for the main reserves, as well as maps of many of them - very useful in the planning stages. While the bird plates are pretty useless as they only illustrate a small fraction of possible species, the mammal plates were very useful

Kenya - Bindloss, Parkinson & Fletcher. (Lonely Planet, ISBN 1-86450-303-3)

Given the phenomenal birding potential of both countries, a comprehensive site guide is surely long overdue. The lack of such a book was all the more frustrating given the existence of a superb book of this nature for Uganda (Rossouw & Sacchi). Some of the areas, e.g. Samburu, Serengeti and Tarangire are huge, and some guidance on precisely which parts of these parks to concentrate on would have been extremely useful.

Sound recordings

Unlike Western and Southern Africa, there is not yet a commercially available comprehensive set of sound recordings for Eastern Africa. We did not bother taking any recordings with us on this trip. This was because:

  most of our birding would be done from the vehicle, where we did not think that recordings would be especially useful;

  we felt that the vegetation would not generally be thick enough to make viewing difficult - this proved to be the case, with very few birds heard but not seen; and

  most of the species for which I had recordings were those which were widespread in other parts of Africa, and therefore not worth the trouble of taping in. I would also have been unwilling to use tapes to look for endangered and localised species such as Hinde's Pied-Babbler.

Trip reports:

  Birding in Kenya - 1981 & 1983 - Steve Whitehouse. Somewhat dated now, but still extremely useful, and has great maps of the main sites

  Kenya - 17.02.95 - 17.03.95 - Mike Hunter. Also excellent, with good maps.

  Tanzania Northern Parks - 23.08.87 - 05.09.87 - Stuart Malcolm

  Tanzania & Eastern Kenya - 18.08.01 - 15.09.01 - Jon Hornbuckle. Outstanding, although mostly covered sites in eastern Kenya and Tanzania not visited by me (yet!)

  Kenya & Northern Tanzania - 17.06.02 - 11.07.02 - Jan Bisschop

  Tanzania - 02.01.98 - 04.02.98 - Goncalo Elias

  Tanzania - 14.12.00 - 09.01.01 - David Collinge

  Kenya - June 2001 - Steve Arlow

  Kenya - 24.06.02 - 09.07.02 - Steve Bird

  Kenya - November 2001 - Mark Sutton

  Kenya & Zanzibar - 07.10.99 - 27.10.99 - David Kelly

  Kenya - 05.12.01 - 19.01-02 - Duan Biggs

These were primarily obtained from the usual sources:

  Urs Geiser - http://matrix.crosswinds.net/~birdtrips/TripReports.html

  John Girdley's Birdtours site - http://www.birdtours.co.uk/

  Surfbirds - http://www.surfbirds.com/Trip Reports/trindex.html

  Steve Whitehouse's FBRIS service.

Maps:

  Nelles Map - Kenya - 1:1,100,000. Also covered all areas visited in Northern Tanzania


Itinerary

Sites visited were as follows:

28.6.03

Arrive Nairobi, meet Africa Point minivan, drive via Athi Plains, Namanga, Arusha to Tarangire

29.06.03

a.m. Tarangire
p.m. drive to Ngorongoro, trip to crater bottom

30.06.03

Early a.m. Ngorongoro crater rim
Drive to Serengeti via Naabi Hills. Evening game drive

01.07.03

All day Serengeti

02.07.03

Drive to Arusha

03.07.03

a.m. Ol Donyo Plains
p.m. drive to Amboseli. Evening game drive

04.07.03

Amboseli

05.07.03

Amboseli

06.07.03

a.m. drive to Nairobi
p.m. Ngong Hills, Langata

07.07.03

Early a.m. fly to Samburu, meet up again with Africa Point minivan.
Rest of day Samburu and Buffalo Springs

08.07.03

Samburu and Buffalo Springs

09.07.03

Drive to Wajee via Subuiga Junction and Naro Moru. Evening birding at Wajee

10.07.03

Early a.m. at Wajee, drive to Nakuru via Thomson's Falls

11.07.03

a.m. Nakuru, p.m. Naivasha

12.07.03

a.m. Kinangop Plateau, Limuru Ponds
p.m. Nairobi National Park

Details of these sites are given in the Daily Account section.

With the benefit of hindsight, there are several changes I would have made to this itinerary:

  The afternoon of 6.7 at Ngong Hills and Langata was pretty much a waste of time - all species seen were seen elsewhere, and there is no comparison with Mount Kenya. We were dropped off in Nairobi while Charles started his way north to Samburu, and decided on the Ngong Hills and Langata rather than Nairobi NP based on cost and on the advice of Africa Point - we should instead have spent the cash and gone to Hippo Pools for the afternoon.

  The whole day of 10.7, after leaving Wajee at c. 10:00 was a complete waste of time, and extremely frustrating. We had no gen for Thomson's Falls, and consequently saw virtually nothing, and by the time got to Nakuru, Charles announced that we wouldn't have time to go anywhere to bird other than Nakuru NP, which would have cost us USD 125 between us for maybe 2 hours birding. We had originally wanted to go to Nakuru via Kieni Forest, the Kinangop Plateau and Naivasha, but were talked out of it by Charles on the basis that that road was terrible - we should have stuck to our guns!

  We probably spent one day too long at Amboseli, adding virtually nothing extra on our last full day. Conversely, we would have liked more time at both Tarangire and Samburu.

  Finally, and perhaps most controversially, I would probably not make the trip down into the Ngorongoro crater on a repeat visit. We racked up a good list of birds and mammals here, but saw nothing significant that we didn't see elsewhere. The views from the top were absolutely spectacular and a "must-see", but the bottom of the crater was basically just a grassy plain, and the walls of the crater were far less impressive from below than above. It also cost us an exorbitant USD 175 for the 4 hour trip - with hindsight, I would have preferred to spend the time birding the crater rim forests, or at Tarangire, and the money on a vehicle to explore Mount Kenya or the Aberdares.

If I were planning the trip again, I would organise it as follows:

Day 1

Arrive Nairobi, meet minivan, drive via Athi Plains, Namanga, Arusha to Tarangire

Day 2

Tarangire until 12:00 (rather than 09:00). Drive to Ngorongoro, bird forest around crater rim, rather than descending into crater

Day 3

Early a.m. Ngorongoro crater rim
Drive to Serengeti via Naabi Hills. Evening game drive

Day 4

All day Serengeti

Day 5

Drive to Arusha

Day 6

a.m. Ol Donyo Plains
p.m. drive to Amboseli. Evening game drive

Day 7

Amboseli

Day 8

Drive to Nakuru via Kinangop Plateau and Limuru Pond

Day 9

Bird Nakuru, drive to Wajee by evening

Day 10

Early a.m. bird Wajee. c. 10:00 drive to Naro Moru, hire 4WD (with money saved from not doing Ngorongoro crater), bird Mount Kenya. Stay overnight Naro Moru Lodge

Day 11

Early a.m. bird Naro Moru Lodge. Drive to Samburu via Subuiga Junction. Evening game drive at Samburu / Buffalo Springs

Day 12

Samburu and Buffalo Springs

Day 13

Samburu and Buffalo Springs

Day 14

Samburu and Buffalo Springs. Evening flight to Nairobi.

Day 15

All day birding Nairobi National Park


Daily account

Saturday 28 June 2003

On arrival at Nairobi we made our way through immigration, customs and the visa desk, and were quickly met by Africa Point's Shadrack and taken to our van to meet Charles. We were soon on the road and on our way down to Namanga and the border with Tanzania. However, we couldn't stand the thought of being in Kenya and not doing some birding at the first available opportunity, so on reaching the Athi Plains south of Athi River, we pulled over at the side of the road, and wandered into the grasslands.

Our main target here were some lark species, and in particular the localised athensis race of Somali Short-toed Lark, but while we saw many larks, most were in flight and distant, it proved difficult to get any positive identifications. We eventually managed to pin down a couple of African Short-toed Larks, but couldn't confirm anything more exciting, although there were certainly other species involved, and one bird seen distantly perched on a post may well have been a Flappet Lark.

The most interesting bird seen here was our first Long-tailed Fiscal of the trip, but we returned to the bus feeling more frustrated than satisfied. Further down the road, in the town of Isinya, we pulled over to check a flock of feeding small birds, which proved to be Grey-headed Social-Weavers, and White-browed Sparrow-Weavers were also present here, while Marabou and Sacred Ibis were perched in some nearby trees. Back in the bus and on southwards, stopping briefly near Ngatataik for our first White-bellied Go-away-birds, and we eventually reached Namanga at lunchtime.

We decided to grab a cold drink and make a toilet stop before braving the border crossing, and so pulled in at a roadside restaurant a couple of miles short of the border, seeing some common birds in the process - Speckled Mousebird, Variable Sunbird, Grey-headed Kingfisher and Grey-headed Sparrows, although Yellow-fronted Canary and especially a singing Spotted Morning-Thrush were much more interesting.

On to the border and after a tedious couple of hours dealing with paperwork and bureaucracy we were on our way again by the early afternoon. White-necked Raven and Wattled Starling were seen around Oldonyo Sambu, but we decided not to spend time here looking for more larks, as we were running short of time - that would have to wait until we passed by travelling back to Kenya.

Stopped for a late lunch at a very nice Ethiopian restaurant in Arusha, where the garden produced some new species including Black-and-white Munia, Baglafecht Weaver and an overhead Yellow-billed Stork. Leaving Arusha westwards towards Tarangire, we were obliged to stop at a police checkpoint, and we promptly rewarded by views of a colony of Chestnut Weavers, the only ones seen on the whole trip.

Eventually, by about 16:00, and after a long hard day on the road, we arrived at the entrance gates to Tarangire National Park. While Charles went off to sort out the permits, we did some birding around the car park, finding Northern Pied-Babbler, Red-billed Hornbill, Lesser Striped Swallow and Hildebrandt's Starling.

From here, we spent the last hour or two of daylight birding our way slowly down to the lodge. We added Magpie Shrike to the list, and saw our first game of the trip - a herd of Burchell's Zebra, some Waterbuck and good numbers of Impala. Wattled Starlings and White-crowned Shrikes were numerous, and an African Tawny-Eagle was perched in a trackside tree, followed by our first Yellow-necked Spurfowl, firstly one perched on a stump, then several along the track.

At that point we came round a corner and found ourselves face to face with a herd of Elephants - far too close for comfort. We turned the engine off and sat there slowly for a time while they made their way off through the trees. We drove off again, around the next corner, and found a bull elephant in the middle of the path on the other side of a junction. He flared his ears, trumpeted and started towards us - a very nasty moment, but luckily we were able to drive off down a side road and away from him.

White-browed Coucal, Red-necked Spurfowl, Lilac-breasted Roller and Blacksmith Plover followed, as well as numerous Helmeted Guineafowl and Vervet Monkeys, and finally great close views of a Black-backed Jackal shortly before arriving at the lodge.

Birds recorded

Athi Plains & Isinya - Cape Turtle-Dove, Crowned Lapwing, Common Cattle-Egret, Sacred Ibis, Marabou Stork, Long-tailed Fiscal, African Short-toed Lark, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Grey-headed Social-Weaver

Ngatataik - African Ostrich, White-bellied Go-away-bird

Namanga - Grey-headed Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Variable Sunbird, Grey-headed Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary

Ol Donyo Sambu - White-necked Raven, Wattled Starling

Arusha - Yellow-billed Kite, Yellow-billed Stork, Variable Sunbird, Grey-headed Sparrow, Chestnut Weaver, Black-and-white Munia

Tarangire game drive - African Ostrich, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Red-necked Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller, White-browed Coucal, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Blacksmith Lapwing, African Tawny-Eagle, Magpie Shrike, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Hildebrandt's Starling, Wattled Starling, Lesser Striped Swallow, Northern Pied-Babbler

Sunday 29 June 2003

We had two main targets at Tarangire, both Tanzanian endemics, namely Ashy Starling and Yellow-collared Lovebird. Given the short amount of time we had here, I decided to skip breakfast and set off for a dawn walk around the hotel grounds. Ashy Starling proved to be no problem at all - a flock on the path right outside my front door was the first sight to greet me as I went outside, followed by a couple of Speckled Pigeons and an African Grey Hornbill. Next up was a pair of Yellow-collared Lovebirds which flew into the top of a nearby acacia. Not bad - ten minutes down and both target birds in the bag!

Another hornbill flew in, this time a Von der Decken's, and it was joined by a Grey Woodpecker and a Red-winged Starling. Wandering slowly down the path to my right, away from the restaurant, I continued to add new birds to the list. Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Yellow-breasted Apalis were all seen close-up in bushes alongside the path, and Fork-tailed Drongo and Striped Kingfisher, the only one of the trip, in trees a little further away. An Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove landed on a nearby bare branch, and a White-headed Barbet in the very top of a large acacia was another bird on the "hoped-for" list.

By now the others had finished breakfast and it was time to move on. We were heading over to Ngorongoro this morning, but would have a couple of hours to bird our way slowly out of the park. We started off with a Bare-faced Go-away-bird, the first of several, to go with yesterday's White-bellied, then spent a few minutes grilling a lark on the path ahead of the van, before finally deciding that it was a Fawn-coloured Lark.

Lilac-breasted Rollers seemed to be everywhere, and while watching one of these we found several Magpie Shrikes in some bushes surrounded by long grass. As we were watching these, I caught a glimpse of something green and yellow dropping down into the grass - it looked like a Yellow-collared Lovebird, but I didn't get a good enough view. A Nubian Woodpecker was seen climbing a tree trunk, and several White-headed Buffalo-Weavers were flying around, before eventually the lovebird flew up out of the grass into a tree, giving the whole group great views.

Crossing a bridge over a small creek, we paused to enjoy Lesser Striped and Red-rumped Swallows hawking over the water, while a Three-banded Plover ran around on some exposed mud and a Black-crowned Tchagra skulked in streamside vegetation. A little further along we found a colony of Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers and a hyperactive Grey-backed Camaroptera, then a bird scoped in the top of a distant tree was identified as a Red-bellied Parrot. A flock of Yellow-collared Lovebirds flew nosily over, the first of several flocks seen between here and the entrance gate.

Driving on a little further, we came to a quick halt when we spotted a small group of Maasai Giraffe wandering slowly through the trees. A Bateleur flew over, and a Namaqua Dove landed ``on the road ahead. We carried on a little way, only to come to a very abrupt stop when Charles pointed out a Lioness sleeping nearby in the grass - outstanding! While enjoying this wonderful spectacle, some large reddish-brown birds flew past and landed on a large horizontal snag - a group of Rufous-tailed Weavers. Another serious target bird and one which I hadn't expected to see at Tarangire!

A vulture sitting on a nest in a roadside tree gave us a few difficulties, but was eventually identified as a White-backed Vulture, and after further stops to look at Olive Baboons and Cape Buffaloes, we were back at the entrance. A toilet break here allowed us to stretch our legs, and add Slate-coloured Boubou, African Grey Flycatcher and Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, as well as another Spotted Morning-Thrush.

From here it was a 2.5 hour drive to the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, with just a brief roadside stop outside the village of Karatu on the way, where we added Common Fiscal, Rufous Sparrow and African Citril to the list. On arrival at Ngorongoro, Charles went to sort out the paperwork, while we watched an African Pied Wagtail in the car park. We had been aware that we would need to hire a 4WD to go down into the crater, as our minivan would not be allowed down, however we were rather shocked to hear that it would cost us USD 150 for just 4 hours, as well as the USD180 entrance fee to the conservation area and a further USD 25 for a special permit to descend to the bottom - we felt we'd been well and truly milked here!

Nevertheless, it seemed inconceivable to come all this way without making the descent so off we went. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that we would have been better advised to spend more time at Tarangire, or birding the forest around the crater rim, as although we saw a lot of birds in the crater itself, we saw very little that we didn't subsequently see elsewhere, and the views were much more spectacular from the top than from the bottom.

We drove straight to the hotel (0.5 hrs from the entrance) to drop off our bags, then started on the descent down to the crater, stopping briefly at the start of the descent for a cracking Golden-winged Sunbird. Given the need for 4WD I'd expected the track down to be pretty rough, but it was actually no worse than those in most of the parks we visited. The habitat in this area was open grassland with very few bushes, and the first birds we saw were typical of this kind of landscape - Black-winged Kite, Kori Bustard, Common Fiscal and lots of Northern Anteater-Chats.

Game was also much in evidence, with close views allowing us to separate the Grant's from the smaller Thomson's Gazelles, while a male Lion sleeping in the grass was a good sighting. A small flock of Fischer's Sparrow-Larks landed in the road, and several Grey Crowned-Cranes fed in the longer grass, while several each of Capped Wheatears and African Short-toed Larks were also seen.

As the road levelled out, a Warthog ran across the road, and a wetter area held Sacred Ibis and Cattle Egrets. Another smaller bustard near the roadside was a Black-bellied Bustard, a very nicely marked bird. Rounding a corner, we braked hard on seeing a solitary Yellow-throated Sandgrouse in the road, but it wasn't interested in moving, and we eventually had to negotiate our way around it.

Ngorongoro carried on producing good mammals, with our first Spotted Hyena of the trip as we reached the bottom of the crater, and made our way over the dry salt flat to the edge of the saline lake. Several Kittlitz's Plovers, Cape Crows and Egyptian Geese foraged along the water's edge, while the lake itself held good numbers of both Greater and Lesser Flamingos and Grey-headed Gulls.

A dark shape lying on the ground in front of us got up as we approached, and turned out to be a Golden Jackal, a very nice mammal, and the only one seen throughout the trip. We continued along the shore to where a small freshwater stream entered the saline lake, where we found Three-banded Plovers, Hottentot and Cape Teal and Black-necked Heron, while a Chestnut-banded Plover further along the lake shore was a good find for this part of the world.

Following the road along we came to a freshwater pond surrounded by thick vegetation. We parked up here for a while to watch the resident herd of Hippos, and build up our trip bird list, adding African Jacana, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-billed Stork, Collared Pratincole, Black Crake, African Spoonbill and Grey Heron, while an Augur Buzzard flew over.

By now it was getting late, and we were anxious to be out of the park before the gates close, as we would otherwise have been subjected to a severe dressing down from park staff, and quite possibly a large fine. Arriving back at the lodge, it was still light, and some late afternoon birding around the gardens produced the desired Broad-ringed race of Montane White-eye and a couple of Tacazze Sunbirds.

Birds recorded

Tarangire Sopa Lodge -Grey Woodpecker, White-headed Barbet, Von der Decken's Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-collared Lovebird, Speckled Pigeon, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Fork-tailed Drongo, Ashy Starling, Red-winged Starling, Lesser Striped Swallow, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Tarangire game drive - Nubian Woodpecker, Lilac-breasted Roller, Grey-headed Kingfisher, White-browed Coucal, Red-bellied Parrot, Yellow-collared Lovebird, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Namaqua Dove, Three-banded Plover, White-backed Vulture, Bateleur, Long-tailed Fiscal, Magpie Shrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, African Grey Flycatcher, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Slate-coloured Boubou, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Fawn-coloured Lark, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu

Karatu - Common Fiscal, Rufous Sparrow, African Citril

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge -Montane White-eye, Tacazze Sunbird, Golden-winged Sunbird

Ngorongoro crater bottom - African Ostrich, Egyptian Goose, Cape Teal, Hottentot Teal, Kori Bustard, Black-bellied Bustard, Grey Crowned-Crane, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, African Jacana, Kittlitz's Plover, Three-banded Plover, Chestnut-banded Plover, Crowned Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, Grey-headed Gull, Black-winged Kite, Augur Buzzard, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Common Cattle-Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Common Fiscal, Cape Crow, Capped Wheatear, Northern Anteater-Chat, Fischer's Sparrow-Lark, African Short-toed Lark, African Pied Wagtail

Monday 30 June 2003

Sadly, our time at Ngorongoro was to be all too short, as we would be making our way to Serengeti quite early this morning, so I decided to sacrifice breakfast and was up and birding the lodge grounds at first light. It was very cold and quite foggy this early in the morning. A Tropical Boubou was calling from a bush right outside our bedroom door, and a number of Red-rumped Swallows and Streaky Seedeaters were perched on the steps by the swimming pool, with the abundant Baglafecht Weaver.

Wandering around to the vehicle turning areas around the front door, I saw a Yellow-billed Kite perched on a nearby tree waiting for the fog to clear. A small unobtrusive bird perched low in a small bush was identified as a Dusky Flycatcher. An Eastern Double-collared Sunbird flew in and fed in a flowering bush, where it was joined by a couple of Tacazze Sunbirds, while an Olive Thrush fed out on the grass.

Clive had by now joined me and we were enjoying these species, when Eleanor called out that she had found a strange bee-eater back in the garden. We went over, and sure enough there was a Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater perched out on a low branch. African Stonechat, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher and Cape Robin-Chat were seen nearby, and both White-necked Raven and White-rumped Swift flew past.

By now it was time to board our van, but not before we had enjoyed stunning views of the crater bottom as the mist cleared. The drive from Ngorongoro to the Serengeti was long, bumpy and dusty, with few birding stops. A small white bird perched in the top of an acacia near Olduvai turned out to be a Pygmy Falcon, and Purple Grenadier, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Capped Wheatear and Eastern Chanting-Goshawk were also seen here.

The terrain soon levelled off as we approached the entrance gate to the Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hills, producing a couple of Kori Bustards and several Elands, and the Naabi Hills gate area itself produced great close-up views of Hildebrandt's Starlings, Black-faced Waxbills, Yellow-fronted Canaries, Speckle-fronted Weavers and Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers, mostly feeding in the grassy area, just beyond the office. It took over half an hour just organising our permits, so we had plenty of time to enjoy these birds!. Best of all, however, were several tame and approachable Rufous-tailed Weavers, especially around the parking area. An African Grey Flycatcher was seen on the way back to the van.

By the way, take advantage of the toilet facilities at Naabi Hills - they're the only ones for about 2 hours in any direction! From the Naabi Hills gate we proceeded directly to our lodge, seeing Bateleur and Secretarybird en route. Nearing the lodge we added Hartebeest and Topi to our mammal list, and stopped briefly to enjoy another herd of Hippos at a roadside pond quite near the lodge.

Having settled into our rooms, we set off to do some birding around the lodge gardens, seeing Banded Mongoose on the way. The grounds were generally very dry and open, and birding opportunities were rather limited, but we found a decent spot on top of the kopje next to the restaurant, with some trees and bushes. Birds seen here during the middle of the day included Purple Grenadier, Meyer's Parrot, Lesser Striped Swallow and Grey Woodpecker.

Rock Hyraxes were everywhere, as well as a few Bush Hyraxes and a family of Dwarf Mongooses. Marico Sunbird, Rueppell's Glossy-Starling, Kenrick's and Hildebrandt's Starling, Red-fronted Tinkerbird were also seen around the terrace behind the restaurant, and small pools of standing water in this area attracted Purple Grenadier and Blue-capped Cordonbleu. Rock Martins were breeding in the rocks below the summit, and a Rueppell's Griffon drifted by, but the best bird seen here was a cracking Usambiro Barbet which Clive found in the trees just by the side of the restaurant - a high-priority bird for this site.

Despite some reasonable birding, we were getting a little frustrated by the limited opportunities around the lodge, so we were glad when the time came for our late afternoon game drive. Driving out of the lodge grounds, we immediately started finding birds - Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-winged Kite, Speckle-fronted Weaver and African Grey Hornbill. Best of all though was a cracking Verreaux's Eagle-Owl roosting in a roadside tree.

Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Arrow-marked Babbler were seen in acacia scrub and African Jacana and Black Crake in a wetter area, while vultures proved trickier to identify - most of the birds seen seemed to be Rueppell's Griffons, but there may also have been White-backed Vultures present - we didn't put too much effort into identifying them.

Entering an area of slightly more open vegetation we found African Hoopoe and the first of several Silverbirds, before connecting with one of our main Serengeti target birds, Fischer's Lovebird. Banded Parisoma, Grey-backed Fiscal, Speckled Mousebird, Usambiro Barbet and Brubru were also seen here. Returning to the lodge as night fell, we had fabulous views of a Serval hunting right next to the road, and Chestnut Sparrow proved to be our last bird of the day.

Birds recorded

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge - Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, White-rumped Swift, Yellow-billed Kite, Common Fiscal, Tropical Boubou, Olive Thrush, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Red-rumped Swallow, Cape Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Tacazze Sunbird, White-necked Raven, Streaky Seedeater

Olduvai - Von der Decken's Hornbill, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Pygmy Falcon, Yellow-billed Stork, Capped Wheatear, Purple Grenadier

Naabi Hills - African Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Common Kestrel, African Grey Flycatcher, Capped Wheatear, Hildebrandt's Starling, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Black-faced Waxbill, Yellow-fronted Canary

Serengeti game drive - Usambiro Barbet, African Grey Hornbill, African Hoopoe, Speckled Mousebird, Fischer's Lovebird, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Black Crake, African Jacana, Crowned Lapwing, Black-winged Kite, Rueppell's Griffon, Bateleur, Secretarybird, Grey-backed Fiscal, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Brubru, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Silverbird, Wattled Starling, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Arrow-marked Babbler, Banded Parisoma, Chestnut Sparrow, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu

Serengeti Seronera lodge - Grey Woodpecker, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Usambiro Barbet, Meyer's Parrot, Rueppell's Griffon, Marabou Stork, Slate-coloured Boubou, Rueppell's Glossy-Starling, Hildebrandt's Starling, African Rock Martin, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Marico Sunbird, Grey-headed Social-Weaver, Blue-capped Cordonbleu, Purple Grenadier

Tuesday 1 July 2003

Woke up early this morning to the unwelcome news that Eleanor had been struck down with a bug, had a rough night, and wouldn't be joining us today - very unfortunate for her. Sara had also decided on a lie-in, so Clive and I set off with Charles on an early morning game drive. Rueppell's Glossy-Starling, Green Woodhoopoe, Olive Thrush and Red-faced Crombec were seen on the drive out, which took us along a narrow track skirting a wet area on our left where a stream ran through some lush vegetation.

Several Lilac-breasted Rollers were seen here, as well as Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starling, Black Coucal, Bateleur and Bare-faced Go-away-bird. Further along we added Slate-coloured Boubou, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia, Silverbird and Speckle-fronted Weaver. A woodpecker had us puzzled for a while before we eventually managed decent views and identified it as Bearded Woodpecker.

Returning to the lodge we added Little Bee-eater, Fork-tailed Drongo and Swahili Sparrow, as well as a couple of Kirk's Dik-Dik, before I spotted a couple of spurfowl alongside the road. We reversed for a better look, and sure enough they were a pair of Grey-breasted Spurfowl, a Tanzanian endemic virtually restricted to the Serengeti and surrounding grasslands, and our main priority bird here.

A few hundred meters short of the turning to the lodge, Charles hit the brakes as a Cheetah strolled across the road in front of us. It walked slowly right past the van, and off down the road, giving opportunities for several close-range photos - our satisfaction at this great sighting was marred only by disappointment that Sara and Eleanor were not with us to see it.

Back at the lodge we had some lunch, interrupted by a flock of Green Woodhoopoes flying past. Some more time on the kopje added pretty much the same birds as yesterday, although Chinspot Batis, Swahili Sparrow, Banded Parisoma, Malachite and Golden-winged Sunbird were new. After relaxing for a couple of hours here, Clive and I wandered around the front of the lodge, but staying just within the lodge boundaries, birding the acacia scrub. We soon added some new species - the only White-bellied Canaries of the trip, Grey-headed Social-Weaver, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Brubru, a small flock of Buff-bellied Warblers and another Chinspot Batis.

Back in the van for an afternoon game drive, we decided to put in some effort to try to sort out some of the cisticolas we were seeing, and eventually convinced ourselves that we were looking at Desert Cisticolas. We later learned that this is the common species in this area, although identification of this and other cisticola species during our trip was complicated by the presence of many immature birds with a confusing range of plumage, and our lack of tapes.

Driving further, we added Usambiro Barbet, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Rufous-crowned Roller, Fawn-coloured Lark and Fischer's Sparrow-Lark. Our scrutiny of perched vultures finally paid off when we finally found a Lappet-faced Vulture perched in the top of a tall tree - great face pattern and huge bill.

Returning back towards the lodge we came across a group of safari vehicles clustered in front of an acacia tree - surely this had to be something good? It certainly was - not just one but two Leopards sleeping on the bare branches, sheltered from the sun. One in particular showed especially well, draped along the branch with all four limbs and its head hanging down beneath it. If Sara and Eleanor had been upset lunchtime, they would be absolutely gutted tonight!

Meyer's Parrot, Black-crowned Tchagra and more Desert Cisticolas were added, before Clive found another pair of Grey-breasted Spurfowl near the road. Having read various trip reports, I'd been a bit worried about missing this bird, and indeed it proved far less common than, for example, the Yellow-necked Spurfowls at Tarangire, with just two pairs seen during our stay here.

Back at the hippo pool we came across some Yellow-throated Sandgrouse drinking at the water's edge, and Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed Storks and Black-necked Herons were also here. Finally, as we approached the lodge, we found a bird perched in a distant small acacia bush which stumped us completely, especially as it was into the sun and it was therefore difficult to see any colour on it. We couldn't even work out which family it was. Eventually, I got out the scope, through which we could see some green in the upperparts, and it all fell into place - a Dideric Cuckoo.

Birds recorded

Serengeti game drive (a.m.) - Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, Bearded Woodpecker, Green Woodhoopoe, Lilac-breasted Roller, Little Bee-eater, Speckled Mousebird, Black Coucal, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Mourning Collared-Dove, African Jacana, Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Bateleur, Fork-tailed Drongo, Olive Thrush, Silverbird, Slate-coloured Boubou, Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starling, Rueppell's Glossy-Starling, Red-faced Crombec, Swahili Sparrow, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia

Serengeti Seronera lodge - Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Green Woodhoopoe, Brubru, Chinspot Batis, Slate-coloured Boubou, Hildebrandt's Starling, African Rock Martin, Buff-bellied Warbler, Banded Parisoma, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Golden-winged Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Swahili Sparrow, Grey-headed Social-Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Blue-capped Cordonbleu, Purple Grenadier, Black-faced Waxbill, White-bellied Canary

Serengeti game drive (p.m.) - Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Egyptian Goose, Usambiro Barbet, Rufous-crowned Roller, Dideric Cuckoo, Meyer's Parrot, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Lappet-faced Vulture, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Yellow-billed Stork, Black-crowned Tchagra, Wattled Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Desert Cisticola, Fawn-coloured Lark, Fischer's Sparrow-Lark, Speckle-fronted Weaver

Wednesday 2 July 2003

Unfortunately we had to leave the Serengeti early today as we had a long drive back to Arusha ahead of us which would take most of the day. Sacrificing breakfast in favour of some birding on the kopje produced much the same birds as yesterday, although a close fly-past Lappet-faced Vulture was a nice bonus. We'd asked the lodge to prepare some box lunches for us, and got ripped off to the tune of USD 12 each for a pretty basic box as a result!

A refuelling stop at the filling station on our way out allowed us to add Tawny Eagle and Red-billed Quelea to our park list, while the hippo pool again held sandgrouse, but this time there were Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse among the Yellow-throated. Working our way out of the park, we enjoyed views of Spotted Hyena and Secretarybird, before Charles spotted a Lioness off along a side track. Nice though this was, it didn't seem enough to justify the attention it was receiving from another safari van, so we drove over to take a look. Good decision - she was accompanied by two delightful cubs, which posed superbly for photos at point blank range - definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Naabi Hills added the same bird as the first time we drove through, as well as Chestnut Sparrow and Pale Flycatcher, and a lovely group of Maasai Giraffes just past the gate. From here, it was a non-stop drive to the eastern exit of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where the usual documentation stop allowed us to add Mountain Greenbul to our list.

By now it was nearing lunchtime, and we needed a break from the rough roads, so we took our lunchbox break in the village of Karatu. There was a sheltered picnic area here, overlooking a couple of artificial ponds, and these pulled in a whole range of birds while we had our food including a few species that we only saw here. Highlights included Jameson's Firefinch, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Red Bishop, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Cut-throat, Village Indigobird and Straw-tailed Whydah

That was to be the end of our birding for the day, as most of the afternoon was to be spent on the long drive on to Arusha, and by the time we got there around 16:00, we were too tired to think about any birding. The total driving distance today was only c. 320 km, but most of this was on rough, rutted and bumpy dirt roads, and pretty tiring stuff. The Tanzanian government are gradually tarring the whole road, and have so far got as far as Mto-wa-Mbu, but there is a way still to go, and the construction work from there westwards just slowed the drive down even further.

Birds recorded

Serengeti Seronera lodge - Lappet-faced Vulture, Slate-coloured Boubou, African Rock Martin, Marico Sunbird, Swahili Sparrow, Speckle-fronted Weaver

Serengeti game drive (a.m.) - African Ostrich, African Hoopoe, Speckled Mousebird, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, African Tawny-Eagle, Secretarybird, Desert Cisticola, Red-billed Quelea

Naabi Hills - Pale Flycatcher, Hildebrandt's Starling, Chestnut Sparrow, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Rufous-tailed Weaver

Ngorongoro crater rim - Mountain Greenbul

Karatu - Laughing Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, African Pied Wagtail, Red Bishop, Jameson's Firefinch, Blue-capped Cordonbleu, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Cut-throat, Village Indigobird, Straw-tailed Whydah

Thursday 3 July 2003

We started today on a driveable track across the famous lark plains north of the village of Oldonyo Sambu, and armed with directions kindly sent to me by Neil Baker set about trying to find some of the rarer species. It was hot out on the plains, but the haze wasn't too bad in the early morning, and our elevated position looking through the raised roof of our safari van was ideal for scanning the grasslands.

There were birds everywhere, but initially all we could see were African Short-toed Larks and Capped Wheatears. Eventually we found a more promising-looking bird skulking around among the tussocks, and got out to have a better look through the scope. Getting good prolonged views of the bird wasn't easy but we had eventually seen enough to convince ourselves that it was a Somali Short-toed Lark of the race athensis, previously split as Athi Short-toed Lark, and a possible candidate for a future re-split.

Driving further along the track, we found a perched Eastern Chanting Goshawk and a few Grassland Pipits, before finding our main target bird for this site, a Spike-heeled Lark. We were able to get great scope views of this bird and two others without leaving the van, and there was certainly no need to leave the track to drive onto the plains. The birds here are of the isolated Tanzanian race beesleyi, believed by many, including Neil Baker, to be a good candidate for a split from the more widely distributed Southern African birds. They are horribly rare and restricted, with a total known world range of just these plains north of Oldonyo Sambu, and therefore any disturbance whatsoever of these birds away from the track is of course totally intolerable.

Having got lucky with both target birds within about 1.5 hours, we pressed on to the Kenyan border at Namanga, which took much less time and hassle going northwards than it had coming south, although the hawkers here were very persistent and intense - be careful. From here we swung eastwards along the rough dirt road to Amboseli National Park, our base for the next few days.

Despite the wet season having ended only a month or so earlier, the park was very dry, and there was no water in the seasonal Lake Amboseli, and indeed bird life of any type was quite sparse on the drive to the lodge. A small wet area alongside one track produced some of the commoner wetland birds, including an African Fish-Eagle perched close by, and a Hippopotamus grazing out of the water was a first.

Arriving at the lodge, we found that we had the place to ourselves - the travel warning issued by the UK and US governments had obviously bitten hard. We settled into our chalets, making our first acquaintance with the resident troupe of Vervet Monkeys - these guys were a serious pain - totally fearless, they would think nothing of trying to snatch a bag out of your hand or breaking into your room to steal things while you were there. Keep your room locked at all times, and the door shut even while you are inside.

We went for lunch, enjoying good views of an Amethyst Sunbird feeding on some flowers right outside the restaurant window, then went for a stroll around the lodge gardens. There were plenty of birds around, with African Hoopoe, Hildebrandt's Starling, Nubian Woodpecker, African Pied Wagtail and Pale Flycatcher around the chalets. Walking along the perimeter fence produced Little Bee-eater, Brubru and Jameson's Firefinch, with African Paradise-Flycatcher and Grey Woodpecker around the swimming pool. There were a few weavers around, mostly in non-breeding plumage, and these were eventually identified as Speke's Weavers.

It was time to go on safari again, and we all eagerly boarded the van in the hope of seeing more good mammals and birds. The drive out from the lodge initially passed through scrub for a few hundred meters, producing Crimson-rumped Waxbills and Winding Cisticolas, before entering onto barren flat grasslands. Birds were not numerous here, but we didn't mind too much as one of the first species we found were some superb Double-banded Coursers - beautifully marked and a real pleasure to see. Also present were the commoner Kittlitz's Plovers and Crowned Lapwings.

We headed first to the Olokenya Swamp area, east of the lodge, and north of the main track that leads eastwards to the Kimana Gate. This area was still wet and much greener than the surrounding grassland. An African Marsh-Harrier was seen quartering the swamp, Long-billed Pipits were numerous along the track and Long-tailed Fiscals equally so in the small bushes.

We eventually reached an area of open water, and added more wetland birds to our list - Grey Crowned-Crane, Great White Pelican and African Fish-Eagle. Best of all was a superb Serval stalking its prey through the long grass, which showed extremely well for about half an hour. Goliath Heron, Sacred Ibis, Black Heron, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed and Cattle Egrets were seen well here, and there were several Long-toed Lapwings around as well - a welcome change from the Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings we'd been seeing up to now.

Backtracking a little we worked our way back along the edge of the swamp, and came across an enormous herd of Elephants, of all imaginable sizes, browsing along the edge of the track. Stunning views, although a little nerve-wracking, as we were effectively right in the middle of the herd. Also in the area were more Grey Crowned-Crane, White-browed Coucal and Grey-backed Fiscal. Time to head back to the lodge, stopping briefly en route to check out a couple of Yellow-necked Spurfowl, to be greeted by a pair of Hadada Ibises outside our cabin door.

Birds recorded

Ol Donyo Plains - Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Capped Wheatear, Spike-heeled Lark, Somali Short-toed Lark, African Short-toed Lark, African Pipit

Amboseli game drive (a.m.) - Egyptian Goose, African Jacana, Blacksmith Lapwing, African Fish-Eagle, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Sacred Ibis, African Pipit, Grey-headed Social-Weaver

Amboseli Lodge - Nubian Woodpecker, Grey Woodpecker, African Hoopoe, Little Bee-eater, Hadada Ibis, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Brubru, Pale Flycatcher, Hildebrandt's Starling, Amethyst Sunbird, African Pied Wagtail, Speke's Weaver, Jameson's Firefinch

Amboseli game drive (p.m.) - Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Egyptian Goose, White-browed Coucal, Grey Crowned-Crane, Kittlitz's Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Long-toed Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Double-banded Courser, African Fish-Eagle, African Marsh-Harrier, Black Heron, Goliath Heron, Yellow-billed Egret, Common Cattle-Egret, Sacred Ibis, Great White Pelican, Grey-backed Fiscal, Long-tailed Fiscal, Wattled Starling, Winding Cisticola, Long-billed Pipit, Crimson-rumped Waxbill

Friday, 4 July 2003

Today we decided to try the Amboseli Swamp area, as we felt that the permanent water in this area would make it more productive than the drier grasslands. This is an interesting area of wetland, with permanent water created by underground springs fed by meltwater from the Kilimanjaro snows.

We drove east and south from the lodge, turned right towards the Serena Lodge, and right again skirting the Ol Tukai Orok acacia stand on our right, and open plain on our left. Driving slowly around this area produced Long-billed Pipit, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Grey Crowned-Crane, Red-billed Oxpecker and Namaqua Dove, as well as a pair of Spotted Hyenas.

A little further along we came across a perched Tawny Eagle, which showed well, as well as Teita Fiscal and a group of Fischer's Sparrow-Lark. The track reached a T-junction at the edge of Amboseli Swamp, where we turned right. This track skirts the edge of the swamp for several miles, but viewing the really wet areas was quite difficult due to relatively low water levels. Nevertheless, the damp margins were quite productive - common species added here included African Jacana and Squacco Heron.

There were a lot of small birds feeding in the long grass, most of which seemed to be Common Waxbills, and Little Bee-eaters were also numerous in this area. Speckled Pigeons fed on the drier areas, with several Great White Pelicans and Black Crakes in the wetter areas.

We eventually reached the Sinet Causeway, where it is possible to cross the stream, and for the first time we could view an area of open water. This was probably the most productive spot in the whole park, and parking here for an hour or so produced a good list of birds. Moorhen, Pied Kingfisher, Hadada Ibis and Hottentot Teal frequented the open area on the right, while a large flock of Cardinal Queleas fed in the long grass and reeds on the left hand side.

We had a obtained a few glimpses both here and on the drive along the swamp edge, of small brown birds with rounded tails, and we eventually managed to get decent close views of one of these and confirm that they were Little Rush Warblers. A Malachite Kingfisher flew in and gave good views, quickly followed by the day's highlight, a pair of superb Taveta Golden Weavers, a bird restricted to this part of Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania, and our main Amboseli target bird. The Sinet Causeway proved to be the only place we saw this species, although at least one bird was seen each time we visited here.

Long-toed Lapwing was seen creeping around in the long grass, and a Wire-tailed Swallow hawked repeatedly over the open water, giving good prolonged views. The numerous widowbirds were, however, not showing anywhere near as well, and were giving us problems. We managed to get decent views of both Fan-tailed and White-winged Widowbirds, but kept getting glimpses of birds with shoulder patches which seemed more tawny in colour than the Fan-taileds, and which we thought might be Jackson's Widowbirds. This bird was however out of range here, and none showed the long tail distinctive of Jackson's. We have eventually concluded that they must have been young Fan-taileds not yet having developed their full adult plumage.

We eventually decided it was time to move on, crossed the causeway, and turned left, again flanking the swamp. We added a couple of species, Collared Pratincole and White-browed Coucal, before arriving at Observation Hill. For some reason it's deemed safe to go on foot up this hill, (although not before 9:30, presumably because leopards or baboons use this hill overnight), so we decided to stretch our legs. The walk up the hill produced Parrot-billed Sparrow and Malachite Sunbird, and the view from the top gave good views over the wetland, where we could see Hippos and Elephants enjoying the water.

Descending back to the bus produced a flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse near the bottom, together with Fischer's Sparrow-Larks. As we were about to get back on the bus, a strange sound coming from a nearby bush gave us to cause to investigate, and this proved to be a D'Arnaud's Barbet. An Amethyst Sunbird was also seen here, before we headed back to the lodge for a late breakfast.

After breakfast, we decided to take a walk along the road outside the lodge, down to the nearby Ol Tukai Lodge. We had been warned against doing this, but the local people seemed to walk up and down at will, and there was a fence around the entire area of lodges, so we thought we'd give it a go. The roadside produced some of the common species - Grey-headed Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird, Speke's Weaver and Grey-backed Camaroptera, while an African Paradise Flycatcher was a nice bonus.

The staff at Ol Tukai were very friendly and were more than happy to allow us to wander around, but we added little extra over and above the birds we had seen at our lodge. Main species seen here in the heat of the day were African Pied Wagtail, Marico and Malachite Sunbirds and African Hoopoe.

Returning to our lodge for a rest we once again had a Cardinal Woodpecker on a tree outside our cabin door. It was eventually time for out afternoon game drive, and this time we turned left out of the lodge, and then right towards the Lemeiboti Gate, working some seasonally flooded grasslands along the side of the road. Birds seen here included Cattle Egret, Sacred Ibis and Long-toed Plover, before a fabulous adult Martial Eagle drifted overhead - great views!

More wetland birds were quickly racked up - Yellow-billed Egret, Collared Pratincole, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Egyptian Goose, African Jacana, Grey and Black-necked Heron, Grey Crowned-Crane, Kittlitz's Plover and a couple of African Fish-Eagles. As the terrain started to dry out, we started seeing African Ostrich and Winding Cisticola, with a Squacco Heron in a roadside ditch, before a longclaw flushed from the side of the road. It soon reappeared out of the long grass, and proved to be Pangani Longclaw, another hoped-for species. It must have been an immature bird, as the throat was more yellow than orange.

The habitat here was a patchwork of dry and wet grassland, and the bird list reflected that - Wattled Starling, Three-banded Plover, Red-billed Oxpecker, Hadada Ibis and Black-bellied Bustard. As we started to enter areas of acacia scrub, we added Lilac-breasted Roller, Fork-tailed Drongo, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver and Pygmy Falcon, with both Yellow-necked Spurfowl and Helmeted Guineafowl common along the road.

The best was yet to come, however, as on our way back to the lodge we came across a Cheetah along the side of the road, which pleased Eleanor no end as she had missed the one at Serengeti through illness - Sara would again regret not coming out with us, though! We also saw Lion and a lovely group of Maasai Giraffe before arriving back at the lodge.

Birds recorded

Amboseli game drive (a.m.) - Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Hottentot Teal, D'Arnaud's Barbet, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, White-browed Coucal, Speckled Pigeon, Namaqua Dove, Grey Crowned-Crane, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, African Jacana, Long-toed Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, African Tawny-Eagle, Squacco Heron, Hadada Ibis, Great White Pelican, Teita Fiscal, Wattled Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Wire-tailed Swallow, Little Rush Warbler, Fischer's Sparrow-Lark, Amethyst Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Parrot-billed Sparrow, Long-billed Pipit, Taveta Golden Weaver, Cardinal Quelea, Fan-tailed Widowbird, White-winged Widowbird, Common Waxbill

Amboseli Ol Tukai Lodge - African Hoopoe, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Turtle-Dove, Red-eyed Dove, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Malachite Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, African Pied Wagtail, Speke's Weaver

Amboseli Lodge - Cardinal Woodpecker

Amboseli game drive (p.m.) - African Ostrich, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Lilac-breasted Roller, Black-bellied Bustard, Grey Crowned-Crane, African Jacana, Kittlitz's Plover, Three-banded Plover, Long-tailed Plover, Collared Pratincole, African Fish-Eagle, Martial Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Yellow-billed Egret, Common Cattle-Egret, Squacco Heron, Hadada Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Fork-tailed Drongo, Wattled Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Winding Cisticola, Pangani Longclaw, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Fan-tailed Widowbird

Saturday 5 July 2003

We had by now seen all our main targets birds at Amboseli, and in hindsight it would probably have been better for us to have moved on this morning, and spend an additional day at, for example, Samburu. However, our travel plans, accommodation etc had all been pre-booked, so we had to stick to our itinerary. We therefore headed out at dawn back to the Amboseli Swamp area to see if we could add anything new.

This time we drove much more quickly to the causeway area, adding just Cattle Egret, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Black-necked Heron and Eastern Chanting Goshawk on the way. African Jacana, Long-toed Plover and Hadada Ibis were seen on the swamp edges, and the flock of Cardinal Queleas was again present at the bridge itself, this time with Red-billed Queleas also identified with them.

A Long-tailed Cormorant flew over, but otherwise, the birds here were much as yesterday - Fan-tailed Widowbird, Little Rush Warbler, Sacred Ibis, Winding Cisticola, Taveta Golden Weaver, Malachite Kingfisher, Common Waxbill, Wire-tailed Swallow and Black Crake.

At the end of the causeway we turned right, but saw little along here, adding only Yellow-billed Kite and African Fish-Eagle. We returned back to the causeway and continued past it, down towards Observation Hill. Not much here either this morning, so we returned back to the causeway, seeing D'Arnaud's Barbet on the way, then came to an abrupt stop when we found a lovely pair of Spotted Thick-knees right alongside the road. They trusted their camouflage completely, and gave fabulous views.

White-browed Coucal and Long-tailed Fiscal were also seen here, as well as our first Little Egret of the trip. Another brief stop at the causeway added Glossy Ibis and Squacco Heron, and we also found a flock of Spur-winged Goose on the way back to the lodge.

Back at the lodge, we decided to crash out for a while as it had got pretty hot, so it was back to the cabin. Unfortunately, the resident Vervet Monkeys were pretty bothersome today, culminating in one climbing on top of the split door to our room, and making a beeline for our gear. I chased him out, went outside to make sure they'd cleared off from the cabin, and promptly stood straight onto an acacia thorn branch, leaving a couple of thorns embedded in my heel. Very painful! One came out pretty easily as it had not gone all the way in, but I eventually had to dig the other one out with my penknife - it had gone straight in, to a depth of about a centimetre, and took a lot of getting out. My main worry was that it would become infected, so I doused it with antiseptic and covered it up.

A little later Clive showed up so we decided to take a walk along the road outside the lodge, while Sara and Eleanor lounged around the pool. This time we turned left, away from the Ol Tukai Lodge, immediately bumping into a Grey-headed Kingfisher and a flock of Black Sawwings in a dead tree. Having fetched Eleanor for a look at this lifer, we continued walking down the road, finding African Hoopoe, and then an African Pygmy-Kingfisher, only my second and much better views than the first one I'd seen, in The Gambia.

A little further along, we came across a flock of Buff-bellied Warblers, but other than African Pied Wagtail, and several Marabous overhead, little else was seen. Yesterday, we had met William, a Maasai who worked for Amboseli Lodge and who had offered to take us on a guided bird walk. He had come out with us in the van last night, but had not found much, partly because he didn't use binoculars, but he was adamant that he knew a good place to find nightjars. So, we decided to take a walk with him before going out on our evening game drive - at around UKP 2 per person, it was worth a go!

He met us at the restaurant, and set out purposefully towards the spot in question, stopping on the way for a Red-faced Crombec. After about 5 minutes we arrived at a clearing where the nightjars were supposed to roost, and suddenly they were everywhere, flushing from right under our feet, flicking away and landing again out of sight. It took a few minutes to get a decent view of one, but we soon managed to see several on the ground, and confirmed that they were Dusky Nightjars. They allowed very close approach, only flushing when very close to you, but even so, frustratingly, they almost always went before we saw them.

After about 20 minutes, we decided we'd disturbed them enough, and made our way back to the lodge. An amazing experience - there must have been at least 30 birds present in an area maybe 50 metres square, and probably many more than that.

Back at the lodge main gate we met Charles and set off again in our van. Sara had decided to come with us this evening, which was just as well for her, because we hadn't travelled far from the lodge before we came across a group of 3 Cheetahs sleeping in the shade right by the side of the track - magnificent! We also added Crested Francolin to the more common Helmeted Guineafowl and Yellow-throated Spurfowl, but by this time I was starting to feel really lousy. After another 20 minutes or so, I was feeling worse rather than better, so I reluctantly asked Charles to turn around and take me back to the lodge, barely reaching it in time!

Having seen Cheetah, Sara decided against going out again so Clive and Eleanor went out again for a short drive with Charles, while I recuperated in bed. Fortunately for me, they didn't see much that was new, although Banded Martin would have been a lifer for me, and was especially annoying as I'd been looking for one for the last three days! They also found a nice adult Pangani Longclaw, this one with a bright orange throat.

Birds recorded

Amboseli game drive (a.m.) - Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Spur-winged Goose, D'Arnaud's Barbet, Malachite Kingfisher, White-browed Coucal, Black Crake, African Jacana, Spotted Thick-knee, Long-toed Lapwing, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish-Eagle, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Long-tailed Cormorant, Little Egret, Black-headed Heron, Common Cattle-Egret, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Long-tailed Fiscal, Wattled Starling, Wire-tailed Swallow, Winding Cisticola, Little Rush Warbler, Taveta Golden Weaver, Cardinal Quelea, Red-billed Quelea, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Common Waxbill

Amboseli Lodge - African Hoopoe, African Pygmy-Kingfisher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Sombre Nightjar, Marabou Stork, Long-tailed Fiscal, Black Sawwing, Buff-bellied Warbler, Red-faced Crombec, African Pied Wagtail

Amboseli game drive (p.m.) - Crested Francolin, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl

Sunday 6 July 2003

Fortunately, I was feeling much better this morning, as we would today be leaving Amboseli for Nairobi. We made an early start, leaving the park at the Namanga Gate, and made a brief toilet stop at Namanga, where we saw Fork-tailed Drongo and Northern Pied-Babbler. From here, we proceeded straight to out hotel in Nairobi where we bid farewell to Charles as he started his long drive to meet us at Samburu the next day.

We had arranged with Africa Point for us to be provided with another minibus for the day, and this duly turned up with our new driver, Peter. We had originally planned to spend the afternoon at Nairobi National Park, but Charles had suggested that we spend the afternoon at Ngong and Langata, rather than paying the park entrance fees. With hindsight, we should have stuck to our original plan - Ngong and Langata were both interesting spots, but we saw nothing here that we did not also see elsewhere. While expensive, we would certainly have had enough time here to have made a visit to Nairobi NP worthwhile.

Nevertheless, having checked into the hotel, we set off for the Ngong Forest Hills, following signs for the new nature reserve established there. The rough muddy, sometimes almost impossibly steep road led right up to the top of a high hill, with an aerial mast, where we were greeted with fog and very cold temperatures. This didn't seem to put off the large number of Kenyans who had walked to the top of the hill to enjoy a picnic, a regular feature of Sundays, apparently. While the crowds were a little annoying, the area has a reputation for attacks on tourists, so we were quite glad not to be there alone.

We found some decent birds at the top, by just walking off the road down the grassy slope to an area of bushes. First up was the first of several Stripe-breasted Seedeaters and several Rock Martins, followed by a Montane White-eye of the kikuyensis sub-species found only in Central Kenya. A sunbird eventually gave good enough views for it to be identified as Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, and White-necked Raven and Plain-backed Pipit were also seen here. Be aware also of the vicious ants found in these grassy areas - they got right into out clothing resulting in painful bites for a while afterwards. We all thought it was hilarious when Eleanor was afflicted, until we started getting bitten as well!

From here, Clive and I starting walking down the hill, followed closely by the van. It was foggy and visibility was poor, but we nevertheless added Yellow-crowned Canary and Augur Buzzard, before deciding to ride down in the van for a way. Arriving at a cultivated area, we got out again, and started scanning the bushes and hedgerows. This was a nice spot, quickly producing Yellow Bishop, Village Indigobird, Cape Robin-Chat, Rufous Sparrow, Bronze Sunbird and the inevitable Baglafecht Weaver.

Time was getting on, so we decided to press on to Langata Giraffe Sanctuary. This has been set up as a breeding programme for the attractive and endangered rothschildii race of Giraffe, and while Sara went off for a tour of this reserve the rest of us went for a guided walk along the nature trail with the resident bird guide. This cost a fairly steep UKP 10 per person, but you can't get in without a guide.

The guide proved to be a pretty decent birder, and with his help we picked out Variable Sunbird, Village Indigobird, Bronze Munia, and Red-billed Firefinch. Main target here, however, was Hartlaub's Turaco, and we soon heard one calling. Seeing it was another matter, however, so we pressed on. A feeding area produced many more finches, including Jameson's Firefinch as well as Grey-throated Sparrow, before we came across another Hartlaub's Turaco, and this time we were able to get good views of this handsome bird as it clambered around in the branches of a tree.

On balance, today was not a great success, despite seeing some nice birds. Langata was expensive, as was the hire of the van, and for not a lot more, we could have hired a small Suzuki jeep on a self-drive basis and visited Nairobi National Park. Alternatively, we could have done it even cheaper by spending the afternoon birding the Kinangop Plateau, Limuru Ponds, the Longonot Road and maybe even Lake Naivasha, which would surely have produced a bigger bird list.

Birds recorded

Amboseli game drive - Fork-tailed Drongo, Northern Pied-Babbler

Ngong Hills - Augur Buzzard, White-necked Raven, Cape Robin-Chat, African Rock Martin, Montane White-eye, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird, Rufous Sparrow, Plain-backed Pipit, Yellow Bishop, Village Indigobird, Yellow-crowned Canary, Stripe-breasted Seedeater

Langata - Hartlaub's Turaco, Variable Sunbird, Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-billed Firefinch, Jameson's Firefinch, Bronze Munia, Village Indigobird

Monday 7 July 2003

This morning saw us taking a 09:15 flight from Nairobi Wilson airport to Samburu, in a tiny 12-seater plane - great fun! Charles was there to meet us on arrival, and we headed straight for the lodge to check in. The Samburu Serena Lodge is sited on the banks of Ewaso Ng'iro River, and is actually in the Buffalo Springs National Park. It has some nice gardens, although these are rather small and don't allow for much independent exploration.

However, the big trees around the cabins were good for birds, and we saw our first species as we were settling into our rooms - Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, Red-billed Hornbill, and a Spur-winged Lapwing on the river bank. I met up with Clive for a little pre-lunch birding, finding Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Von der Decken's Hornbill, African Palm Swift, Crested Francolin, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Grey Woodpecker and Lesser Honeyguide.

After lunch we relaxed around the pool for a while, before setting out on an afternoon game drive - this turned out to be one of the best periods of birding we had on the entire trip. We had no sooner left the lodge than the lifers started, with a flock of Blue-naped Mousebirds, followed by a White-bellied Go-away-bird, before we stumbled across a large flock of Vulturine Guineafowls by the roadside. We enjoyed great views of these birds, perhaps 50 in total, and assumed we'd be seeing them regularly during our stay here, but this turned out to be virtually our only sighting of this bird.

Continuing on our way we added Parrot-billed Sparrow and White-headed Buffalo-Weaver on the ground, and Red-bellied Parrot and African Harrier-Hawk in nearby trees, before coming across a superb perched Martial Eagle - magnificent! We were following a rough track through the trees along the riverbank, and this relatively lush vegetation produced a good selection of new species, including many which were new for the trip including Bare-eyed Thrush.

After a while we swung away from the river and entered drier acacia scrub, but the birding remained excellent. A Long-crested Eagle was perched in a dead tree, a Secretarybird strode through an area of long grass and several Teita Fiscals were seen before we finally found our main target bird for this site, a beautiful Somali Bee-eater, which was watched for a while flycatching from a nearby acacia. We'd no sooner moved off before finding another of our target birds, a breeding colony of Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weavers, which made a nice change from the widespread White-broweds, which were also common here.

The next treat was a mammal rather than a bird - a small group of Gerenuks, feeding on their hind legs in textbook style. Dik-diks were also seen on this area, as well as large groups of Black-capped Social-Weavers, before we came around a corner and found an unfamiliar looking Sandgrouse in the middle of the track. We originally thought it was a Black-faced, but on returning to the lodge later and studying the books we realised that it had actually been a Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse. As we were admiring this bird, Clive spotted another bird creeping quietly away through the long grass - a Buff-crested Bustard.

Brubru and several Green Woodhoopoes were seen as we turned back towards the lodge, before a strange call was tracked down and proved to be a Rosy-patched Bushshrike, the first of several seen at this reserve, and a bird of particular significance for me as it was my 3,000th life bird! Driving slowly back towards the lodge we added African Grey Hornbill, Eastern Chanting Goshawk and Pink-breasted Lark to our list, and finally a Spotted Thick-knee in the dry river bed just before the lodge.

As I made my way back to my room, I found a group of Rufous Chatterers in the bushes along the path - Clive and Eleanor would catch up with these birds the next morning. Tonight had been scheduled by the lodge staff as a Leopard-baiting evening, which involved putting out meat on a floodlit platform directly across the river from the lodge. We settled down to wait, enjoying a beer to celebrate today's excellent birding, and found a Water Thick-knee on the bank where the Spur-winged Lapwing had been this morning.

It wasn't long before the Leopard put in an appearance and gave fabulous views through the scope, although I am still a little uneasy about the principle of attracting them in this way. Eleanor and Sara were very happy, however, having missed the ones Clive and I saw at Serengeti.

Birds recorded

Samburu Serena Lodge - Crested Francolin, Egyptian Goose, Lesser Honeyguide, Nubian Woodpecker, Red-billed Hornbill, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Green Woodhoopoe, African Palm-Swift, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Water Thick-knee, Spur-winged Lapwing, Hooded Vulture, Hadada Ibis, Marabou Stork, African Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, Rufous Chatterer, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird

Buffalo Springs game drive - Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Vulturine Guineafowl, Grey Woodpecker, African Grey Hornbill, African Hoopoe, Green Woodhoopoe, Violet Woodhoopoe, Somali Bee-eater, Blue-naped Mousebird, Red-bellied Parrot, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Buff-crested Bustard, Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Spotted Thick-knee, African Harrier-Hawk, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Secretarybird, Teita Fiscal, Brubru, Slate-coloured Boubou, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Bare-eyed Thrush, Pink-breasted Lark, Parrot-billed Sparrow, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver, Black-capped Social-Weaver

Tuesday 8 July 2003

This morning we decided to start the day on the north side of the river, in the Samburu National Reserve. The day started well with another Martial Eagle, followed by great views of the local dodsoni form of Common Bulbul with its distinctive white ear patches. The birds along the river were largely the same as those seen on the other bank yesterday afternoon - Slate-coloured Boubou, Crested Francolin, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Yellow-necked Spurfowl and Parrot-billed Sparrow, although Common Sandpiper was new for the trip.

Swinging away from the river, we found Red-billed Oxpecker, D'Arnaud's Barbet, Lesser Honeyguide, Blue-naped Mousebird, Red-bellied Parrot, Red-billed Hornbill, Brubru, Black-headed Social-Weavers, Cut-throat, Pale Flycatcher and Green Woodhoopoe before adding our first new trip bird of the day. It was a good one though, Fischer's Starling, another bird which had been high on my target list, and which Nigel had advised me was often seen here.

As seems to be the way with birding, this was swiftly followed by another new bird, a small colourful group of White-throated Bee-eaters, followed by more Rosy-patched Bushshrikes, Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weavers and Black-shouldered Kite before Charles spotted another quality mammal species - a group of beautiful Oryx.

Having taken the obligatory photographs we moved on, finding Eastern Chanting Goshawk, before all the scrutiny of hornbills finally paid off with a pair of Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbills, with an African Grey Hornbill also in attendance. A pair of Pygmy Falcons followed, as well as a group of Ashy Cisticolas, Teita Fiscal and a Namaqua Dove. Finally, as we approached the lodge we found a group of Grevy's Zebras under an acacia tree.

A quick breakfast, accompanied by a flock of Green Woodhoopoes, and we were off out again for another brief game drive - we only had one full day here and the birding was far too good to waste any of it sitting around the lodge. It was back out to the Buffalo Springs Reserve area, where we started with more White-fronted Bee-eaters and a group of Reticulated Giraffe followed by more Grevy's Zebra.

The birding was quieter as it got hotter, and most of the birds were the same as seen previously here, but we still managed some new birds. Red-fronted Warbler was a nice bird, seen well low in a bush, followed by more Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weavers and a Pink-breasted Lark, before we found another Sandgrouse sitting on the track. No mistake this time, however - this was definitely a Black-faced Sandgrouse, our fourth sandgrouse species of the trip.

As we wandered slowly back to the lodge, we found more Rosy-patched Bushshrikes, another Somali Bee-eater, Cardinal Woodpecker, Blue-naped Mousebird, D'Arnaud's Barbet and Lilac-breasted Roller.

A leisurely lunch in the shade of the restaurant was followed by some relaxation around the pool as the midday heat reached its peak - the weather here was noticeably hotter than it was anywhere else on this trip. Eventually it became time for our afternoon game drive, so I wandered off to the van to meet the others. Clive showed up after a few minutes, beckoning me urgently - I ran over to join him, to be told that he and Eleanor had just found a group of Bristle-crowned Starlings near the restaurant. We ran over, and sure enough, there they were - very nice birds!

We still hadn't seen Somali Ostrich, so decided to try to see some of these birds this afternoon, venturing further south into Buffalo Springs than we had been previously. A group of Helmeted Guineafowl contained just one Vulturine Guineafowl, while other birds seen included Banded Parisoma, Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weavers and more Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, as well as a very nice group of Reticulated Giraffe, including one very dark, almost black individual.

A drive through some long grass with low shrubs produced two new species, Three-streaked Tchagra and Red-winged Lark, as well as Teita Fiscal and African Hoopoe, but bird activity was much quieter than last night, and there were no sign of any ostriches anywhere.

It was eventually time to head back to the lodge, where a drink by the pool in the fading light produced Palm-nut Vulture, Lesser Honeyguide and Grey-headed Kingfisher, as well as frustrating views of hawking nightjars as the light failed - unfortunately the views were just not good enough to tell which of the several possible species these were, although we suspect that they were Dusky Nightjars.

Birds recorded

Samburu game drive - Crested Francolin, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Lesser Honeyguide, D'Arnaud's Barbet, Red-billed Hornbill, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Green Woodhoopoe, White-throated Bee-eater, Blue-naped Mousebird, Red-bellied Parrot, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Namaqua Dove, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Kite, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, Teita Fiscal, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Brubru, Slate-coloured Boubou, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Pale Flycatcher, Fischer's Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Ashy Cisticola, Parrot-billed Sparrow, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver, Black-capped Social-Weaver, Cut-throat

Samburu Serena Lodge - Lesser Honeyguide, Green Woodhoopoe, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Palm-nut Vulture, Bristle-crowned Starling

Buffalo Springs game drive (a.m.) - Helmeted Guineafowl, Cardinal Woodpecker, D'Arnaud's Barbet, Lilac-breasted Roller, Somali Bee-eater, White-throated Bee-eater, Blue-naped Mousebird, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Red-billed Oxpecker, Red-fronted Warbler, Pink-breasted Lark, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver

Buffalo Springs game drive (p.m.) - Helmeted Guineafowl, Vulturine Guineafowl, African Hoopoe, Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Teita Fiscal, Three-streaked Tchagra, Banded Parisoma, Red-winged Lark, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-Weaver

Wednesday 9 July 2003

Sadly, we were due to leave Buffalo Springs and Samburu today - this is a fabulous place, probably my favourite single site visited on this trip, and I would have liked more time here to look for some of the arid country specialities we had not managed to see yet. I will certainly visit this area again on a future trip, perhaps combining it with Marsabit, Mount Kenya and the Aberdares.

We had a long drive ahead of us, down to Nyeri along some pretty rough roads, so no time for an early morning game drive today, as we headed out of the park straight after breakfast. Just as we were leaving the park, however, Eleanor spotted a small flock of Somali Ostriches back from the road - at last! The road from here to the town of Isiolo was rough dirt and pretty slow going - the thought of putting up with that all the way up to Marsabit on a future trip is not appealing, and so a flight from Nairobi would probably make sense. From Isiolo southwards the road is tarred, and while rough and potholed at first, it soon improved and we made better time.

We eventually arrived at the area known locally as Subuiga Junction, where the A2 Isiolo to Nyeri road meets the B6 from Embu and Meru. This is supposedly a reliable spot for the localised Boran Cisticola, so we took an hour or so to bird this area. We pulled over to the side of the road about 300 metres before reaching the junction coming from Isiolo, where a dirt track wound off to the left, and wandered off into the bush to the left, spreading out to search for the Cisticola and keeping an eye open for snakes the whole time.

One of the first birds found by Clive was a cracking Hunter's Sunbird, the only one seen on the whole trip, followed by a small flock of Blue-capped Cordonbleus and a Red-faced Crombec. After searching for about half an hour we heard the distinctive song of a Boran Cisticola, and by spreading out around the bird and triangulating each other in, we managed to spot it singing on top of a small bush, and enjoyed very good views.

As with many Cisticolas, voice was the most useful identification tool - the bird's song is described in Stevenson & Fanshawe as "commencing with chik-chik-chik followed by a liquid descending chewewewewewewe" which summarised it very well. We certainly heard nothing that sounded like their description of Rattling Cisticola's song - "3 - 5 squeaky downslurs followed by a lower scolding rattle wiu-wiu-wiu-chuchuchuchuch"

Having scored with our target bird, and mindful of the time, we decided to return to the van, seeing Pale Prinia en route, and stopping twice just before the van for some lark identification. We were happy that the first was a Fawn-coloured Lark, which we had already seen a few times, but the second bird didn't look quite right. It didn't look so reddish above, lacked any buff on its underparts, had more white in front of the eye, forming more complete spectacles, and the breast streaking was also more pronounced. We eventually decided it must be a Singing Lark, as nothing else in range seems to fit.

A little south of this junction, near the town of Nanyuki, the road crosses the equator several times, each time marked by a roadside sign, and an obligatory photo-stop next to one of these signs also produced a Lesser Masked Weaver. From here we continued southwards to the Naro Moru area, where we planned to have lunch at the Naro Moru Lodge. There was obviously no way, however, that we could think about eating while there were new birds to find, so we took a pre-lunch walk along the stream within the lodge's grounds, which proved to be very productive.

A small tree near the start of the path held a number of sunbirds, and while Bronze Sunbird was an easy identification, the double-collared sunbirds were a lot of trickier. We eventually got good views of the violet breast band, confirming them as Northern Double-collared Sunbirds. We walked further to an area where the stream bends near a lawned area, and spent some time birding here, paying special attention to the streamside trees and bushes.

Naro Moru is apparently a reliable site for Hartlaub's Turacos, and we got great views of a pair of these birds here, at much closer range than at Langata. A small yellowish bird with scalloped plumage confused us for a while, until we realised that it was a juvenile White-starred Robin. I always think that seeing a bird which I'd missed on previous trips is particularly satisfying, and having dipped on this species in Zimbabwe through looking the wrong way at the wrong time, this was very pleasing!

Several Purple Grenadiers fed on the lawn, and Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, African Pied Wagtail and Dusky Flycatcher were seen in the stream-side bushes. Moving away from the stream a short way produced several Heuglin's Robin-Chats, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, African Paradise-Flycatcher and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater.

The path eventually branched away from the river to the left, following a drainage ditch. We followed this path, seeing Scaly-throated Honeyguide along here, before it opened out at a large pond, which we walked around. Nothing very rare here, just Bronze Munia, Village Indigobird, Black Sawwing and Grey-backed Camaroptera to add to our day lists, before we returned back along the way we had come.

The lawns and streamside were again productive on the return journey, producing several new species, namely African Golden-breasted Bunting, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Chestnut Sparrow, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu and Tropical Boubou, before we eventually met up again with a very hungry Sara who had been enjoying the sun while we birded. While we had a very enjoyable late lunch in the lodge restaurant, a Mountain Wagtail fed on the lawn outside the window.

From here it was time to head for our final destination today, the Wajee Nature Reserve near the town of Nyeri, in the hope of finding the localised and increasingly endangered Hinde's Pied-Babbler. To reach this reserve, head south from Nyeri for a few miles to the village of Mukurwe-ini, and look for a well-maintained dirt road heading off to the right around some roadside stalls. I think there was a sign, but if in doubt, ask someone. The reserve is a at the end of this track after a few kilometres.

The accommodation here is a little basic (no hot water), but is was clean enough and reasonably comfortable - just a bit of a shock after the over-the-top luxury of Samburu! It is also very expensive, costing the four of us a total of USD100 for accommodation, food and guiding. However, this reserve is critical for the survival of Hinde's Pied-Babbler, a very localised species whose habitat is declining at an alarming rate. The excellent resident guide Nick Mwangi (e-mail - nixpm@yahoo.com, telephone +254 721 656714) told me that the total world population of this species is now estimated at no more than c. 400 individuals. Of these, c. 70% are found in the Mukurwe-ini valley, all of which is inhabited and subject to continued habitat destruction with the exception of the Wajee Reserve. The future therefore seems pretty bleak for this species so the guys at Wajee, who receive no other funding other than from visiting birders, need all the help they can get. If you visit but don't fancy spending the night, make a decent donation to allow them to continue to protect the habitat here.

Having checked into our room, and with an hour of daylight left, we set out for our first attempt for these birds. Nick told us that early morning was by far the best time for these birds - there is a resident flock which they monitor, but they apparently follow a set daily routine, starting the day near the cabins, before descending down the valley as the morning progresses, returning up as dusk approaches, although they are harder to see at this time of day. Seeing them is not easy, however, as the vegetation is extremely thick and the terrain steeply sloping. Fortunately, the staff at Wajee have cut a network of paths into this scrub, and the best bet is to locate the flock by the harsh chattering calls and position yourself to see them cross over one of these paths.

That was the theory, anyway, but despite locating the flock, and hearing them calling very nearby, we just couldn't get a view of them in the fading light, despite peering intently into the undergrowth. We'd have to try again in the morning, and were therefore glad that we'd decided to stay the night. Other birds seen during this walk included Montane White-eye and a flock of Spectacled Weavers.

Birds recorded

Buffalo Springs game drive - Somali Ostrich

Subuiga Junction - Speckled Mousebird, Boran Cisticola, Pale Prinia, Red-faced Crombec, Singing Lark, Fawn-coloured Lark, Hunter's Sunbird, Lesser Masked Weaver, Blue-capped Cordonbleu

Naro Moru Lodge - Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Speckled Mousebird, Hartlaub's Turaco, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Tropical Boubou, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, White-starred Robin, Heuglin's Robin-Chat, Black Sawwing, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird, Chestnut Sparrow, African Pied Wagtail, Mountain Wagtail, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Purple Grenadier, Bronze Munia, Village Indigobird, African Golden-breasted Bunting

Wajee - Montane White-eye, h Hinde's Pied-Babbler, Spectacled Weaver

Thursday 10 July 2003

We'd originally planned on starting our morning walk an hour or so after first light, but both Clive and I were up and out at dawn, and as we soon bumped into Nick, we decided to make a preliminary attempt for the babblers. It didn't take long before we again heard the resident flock, and after an anxious five minutes or so, started getting our first glimpses of these birds. They generally fed anywhere between ground level and about 2 metres up, and brief glimpses eventually turned into good views with persistence, allowing us to note the bizarre plumage (each bird's plumage is different with varying patterns of light and dark scaling) orange vent and red eye. There appeared to be five birds in total.

At this point, however, Nick started getting anxious- the flock were not following their usual route, and would soon have passed out of the reserve and into the surrounding bush, where they would be gone for the day. It would be much harder to see this species subsequently, and Eleanor was still asleep. Clive ran back to the lodge to fetch her, while Nick and I stayed with the flock. While Clive was away, one bird proved to be particularly obliging, perching in the open on a dead snag and preening for several minutes. Clive soon returned with a hassled-looking Eleanor in tow, just in time, and she managed to get views of the birds minutes before they disappeared off into the bush - phew!

Having got our main target, we relaxed a lot, and proceeded to take a leisurely walk around the reserve in Nick's company. We didn't see a lot of birds in truth - the light was poor and most sightings were in silhouette only, which made it difficult. We had good views of Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds, which was pleasing so soon after seeing Northerns yesterday, and the locations were consistent with Easterns favouring higher elevations than Northerns. Variable Sunbirds were very common here, and Dusky Flycatcher, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Chinspot Batis and White-starred Robin (an adult this time) were seen

We also got our only view of Green-headed Sunbird of the whole trip, with a pair of adults visiting and feeding an immature bird, and an African Harrier-Hawk clambered around in a nearby tree, presumably looking for eggs.

By the time we had finished our walk, Charles had arrived to take us to our next destination, but not before we had been given a tour of the typical Kenyan huts that the Wajee team have built for educational purposes. Fascinating stuff, and pretty eye-opening. Nick also found for us a really bizarre small plant, whose leaves close instantly on being tapped by a finger, as a defence mechanism. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of this plant - if anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you.

From here, unfortunately, the day went rapidly downhill. We would be staying tonight at Nakuru, but to cut costs we would stay in a hotel in the town rather than in the national park itself. Given the extremely high entrance fees to the park, birding this for a couple of hours at the end of the day would not be cost-effective, so we would need to find alternative birding sites for the day. The Aberdares were also a possibility, but it would have meant hiring an expensive 4WD vehicle for the day, and our budgets had already been well and truly stretched by this stage.

We'd originally therefore planned to go to Nakuru via Kieni Forest, the Kinangop Plateau and the Longonot Road, but Charles talked us out of it saying that the road was very bad and the route long, and that we would be better advised going via Thomson's Falls and visiting Lake Elmenteita. A lunch stop at the Thomson's Falls lodge was very unproductive, and by the time we got to Nakuru Charles announced that there was not enough time left to visit Lake Elmenteita before dusk, so we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon sitting around the hotel. This was pleasant and relaxing, but given the cost of the trip, it was very frustrating that we effectively wasted almost a whole day's birding, and based on the amount of time it took us to get to Elmenteita the next day, I remain far from convinced that we could not have made a visit there today.

Birds recorded

Wajee - Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, African Harrier-Hawk, Hadada Ibis, Chinspot Batis, Dusky Flycatcher, White-starred Robin, Hinde's Pied-Babbler, Green-headed Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird

Thomson's Falls - Cape Crow, Olive Thrush, Dusky Flycatcher

Friday 11 July 2003

After yesterday's disappointment, we were eager for an early start, and we were soon on our way into Nakuru National Park. This proved to be an excellent site, with both good birding and many mammals to enjoy. We entered the park by the eastern entrance, watching Capped Wheatear, Bronze Munia, Northern Anteater-Chat and Rufous Sparrow while Charles sorted out the permits. From the gate, the track led downhill to the lakeshore through lush grassland, which were full of birds. Yellow Bishops were everywhere, with many Red-collared Widowbirds among them, as well as Yellow-throated Longclaw and a small flock of Pectoral-patch Cisticolas.

Reaching the wooded lakeshore we flushed a Hamerkop from the road. We turned right, slowly birding the woods from the van, adding Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starlings, Helmeted Guineafowl, Spectacled Weaver and African Black-headed Oriole, before a small antelope flushed from the scrub next to the track - a Bushbuck, a new mammal species for the trip.

After a while we took a left turn, and drove out onto the dried mud of the lakeshore to enjoy the waterbird spectacle facing us. The flamingo show was as spectacular as we had been given to expect - thousands of both Greater and Lesser Flamingos, looking from a distance like a pink algal bloom in the lake. A White-backed Duck was seen by Eleanor and I but proved elusive and disappeared before Clive could get onto it.

Also present in good numbers were Great White Pelicans, Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed Storks, Blacksmith Lapwing, Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns, Marabou Storks and Grey-headed Gulls, with a smattering of Grey Herons. A little further along where the shore was barer, we found several Black-tailed Godwits, Kittlitz's Plovers and a group of Curlew Sandpipers, while Great Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes floated offshore. Many swifts were flying overhead, and we picked out both Nyanza and Horus Swifts among the lower-flying individuals. Mammals were also well represented here, with Zebras, Wildebeest and gazelles on the salt flats and Waterbuck in the damper areas.

It was eventually time to move on and returning to the main track, we climbed up to the Baboon Rocks lookout and picnic area. Some good birds were seen on the ascent - Rattling Cisticola, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Red-headed Weaver and Yellow-fronted Canary - although stopping was hazardous on this steep, twisting road. This spot was, however, overrun with tourists, including many school parties, so we didn't stay long, adding just a soaring African Fish-Eagle to our day list.

Returning to the lakeshore, we continued our anti-clockwise circuit of the lake. The road climbed up from the lakeside entering drier woodland, which produced African Golden-breasted Bunting, Broad-billed Roller, Long-crested Eagle and Dideric Cuckoo, before dropping back down to the shore at the southern end of the lake. We added White-bellied Tit and Black-winged Kite in the scattered trees on the descent, before entering open grassland.

Here we had one of the best moments of the trip, when Charles spotted a small scattered group of White Rhinos feeding near the tree line. A rush for bins and scopes produced memorable views of these wonderful animals, which were soon joined by a couple of the localised Rothschild's Giraffes. Having eventually got our fill of these wonderful animals we proceeded to the wet area at the end of the lake - the road previously ended here, but a causeway has now been built allowing the lake to be fully circum-navigated, and this was a really nice spot.

We started scanning the wet grassland, and unbelievably we immediately picked up another rhino, but this time a Black Rhino feeding in the open grass. We turned off our engine and watched as it slowly worked its way closer and closer to us, eventually coming as close as c. 100 metres - fabulous views and great photo opportunities.

Eventually, we started noticing birds again - Little Grebes were not the most exciting birds of the trip, but represented a trip tick, as did a fly-by Gull-billed Tern. Other waterbirds seen here included Red-billed and Yellow-billed Duck, Hottentot Teal, Yellow-billed and Little Egret, African Spoonbill and Sacred Ibis, while a Lesser Moorhen was a nice find. Also obvious were the bizarre Long-tailed Widowbirds and several Pin-tailed Whydahs were also seen. Regrettably, our time here had now run out, and it was time to head for our next destination, Naivasha, where we would stay tonight.

We checked in to our room at the Lake Naivasha Lodge, leaving Sara to enjoy the grounds, and the rest of us drove round to nearby Fisherman's Camp for some birding. This was a nice area, although the birding late afternoon was unspectacular, and it has apparently got rougher here in recent years, and it was probably the only birding site of the whole trip where I felt uneasy.

Most of the birds seen here were fairly common species, although Black-lored Babbler, one of the first birds we saw was a good find. The water level was high, and it was difficult getting views of the lakeshore because of the thick stands of papyrus. A jetty allowed access out a short way into the lake, producing Wire-tailed Swallows and Brown-throated Sand Martin, and a few feeding Yellow-billed Duck. Giant Kingfisher and Black Crake were seen by the shore and a Cape Reed-Warbler showed well, including its distinctive creamy-yellow vent as it fed in the edge of the papyrus stand. Other good birds here included Slate-coloured Boubou, Nubian and Grey Woodpecker.

We decided to return to the Lake Naivasha Hotel to explore the grounds and lakeshore in the last hour of daylight, but didn't add much to the list. A Yellow-breasted Apalis fed in bushes right outside our room, and Winding Cisticola, White-browed Coucal and African Stonechat were seen on a walk to the lakeshore, while a small group of Mottled Swifts flew by on our walk past, heading in the direction of Hell's Gate National Park, presumably to roost.

With hindsight, I think we got the last couple of days wrong. We avoided paying to stay in an expensive lodge at Nakuru, instead electing to stay in an up-market place at Naivasha, but in our experience Nakuru seemed the better birding spot, while our stay at the Lake Naivasha Lodge added little by way of birds. We would probably have done better to have stretched our budget a little so as to stay within Nakuru National Park at one of the expensive lodges, which would have allowed us to make better use of our time on the 10th, and spent the night of the 11th in a Naivasha town hotel.

Birds recorded

Nakuru - Helmeted Guineafowl, White-backed Duck, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Duck, Hottentot Teal, Broad-billed Roller, Dideric Cuckoo, Nyanza Swift. Horus Swift, Lesser Moorhen, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, Kittlitz's Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Tern, Black-winged Kite, African Fish-Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Egret, Hamerkop, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Great White Pelican, Yellow-billed Stork, Marabou Stork, African Black-headed Oriole, Brown-crowned Tchagra, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Capped Wheatear, Northern Anteater-Chat, Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starling, White-bellied Tit, Rattling Cisticola, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Rufous Sparrow, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Spectacled Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Yellow Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Bronze Munia, Pin-tailed Whydah, Yellow-fronted Canary, African Golden-breasted Bunting

Naivasha (Fisherman's Camp) - Yellow-billed Duck, Nubian Woodpecker, Grey Woodpecker, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Speckled Pigeon, Black Crake, African Fish-Eagle, Little Grebe, Great Cormorant, Little Egret, Goliath Heron, Grey-backed Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Tropical Boubou, Slate-coloured Boubou, Brown-throated Sand Martin, Wire-tailed Swallow, Cape Reed-Warbler, Black-lored Babbler, Variable Sunbird, African Pied Wagtail, Spectacled Weaver

Naivasha (Lake Naivasha Lodge) - Speckled Mousebird, White-browed Coucal, Mottled Swift, , African Stonechat, Winding Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey-backed Camaroptera

Saturday 12 July 2003

Today was our last full day in Kenya, and we still had a few key species to look for. We made an early start, and headed first for the Kinangop plateau area around Kinari to look for the endemic Sharpe's Pipit. For some reason I had expected this bird to be pretty easy, but this proved to be completely wrong. Following the directions in Mike Hunter's report, we found the village of Kinari, and drove slowly with the roof open along the road beyond the village scanning the grassland on either side of the road We found several Rufous Sparrows, African Short-toed Lark and African Pipit in this way, but nothing that looked remotely like a Sharpe's Pipit.

Turning around, Clive and I got out and walked both sides of the road, scanning all the while, while the others followed in the van, but still nothing. At this point we came across a farmer mending his fence, and asked if we could enter his field to search for the bird. He agreed, and we set off scanning the ground ahead of us. Nothing for about 20 minutes, and then suddenly a bird flushed in front of us, flew a short distance and disappeared into some thick tussocks. It looked right - small in size, yellowish underparts, with rufous feather edgings on the back, and white right up the sides of the tail. Stalking it again, Clive got enough of a view of it on the ground to confirm that it was indeed a Sharpe's Pipit, before it skulked off into the grass.

Back to the van, noting Horus Swifts on the way, and back to the main road where we turned left again in the direction of Nairobi. Our next stop was at the roadside Limuru Pond where we hoped to add some new duck species, but Charles was very nervous at this site, as it is apparently quite a dangerous area. He refused to let us get out, or even open the windows, and kept the doors locked and the engine running throughout.

Nevertheless, this was an excellent spot, and well worth a half hour stop. Crested Coots were present in good numbers, with Yellow-billed Storks, Sacred Ibis and Grey Heron, and we soon picked out several Maccoa Ducks out on the lake. A group of 3 Southern Pochards showed well, and after a little more searching and driving a little further around the edge of the pond we got excellent views of a pair of White-backed Ducks near the shore.

Mission accomplished, it was time to continue to Nairobi and our final birding destination, the Nairobi National Park. We entered via the main gate in the north-west of the park, seeing White-headed Mousebird and African Paradise-Flycatchers in the car park while the paperwork was organised. The track started out through some woodland but soon entered open grassland and a small roadside pond, which produced African Darter, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Black-headed Heron.

Driving slowly across the grassland and stopping frequently produced some good birds - Common Waxbills and White-winged Widowbirds were numerous, a few Pin-tailed Whydahs were seen, and a number of Brimstone Canaries and Streaky and Yellow-rumped Seedeaters were found in the scattered bushes. Further along we added Little Bee-eater, African Ostrich, Martial Eagle and good numbers of Red-billed Queleas, while Hartebeest added some mammal interest.

Unfortunately, by this time Eleanor was feeling quite ill, not helped by the rough tracks, so we decided to head straight for the Hippo Pools area where there were toilet facilities, and an opportunity to get out of the van and get some fresh air. Eleanor didn't feel up to taking a walk, so Clive and I wandered slowly along the track along the series of damned pools, the only area in the park where it is permitted to go on foot.

This was a good area, although we struck out on our two main target species, African Finfoot, and Red-throated Tit. Several Rueppell's Glossy-Starlings and a White-browed Scrub-Robin were seen around the picnic area, and Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike and Southern Black-Flycatcher on the start of the trail. Further along we found a perched Long-crested Eagle and several Winding Cisticolas, together with several lovebirds, presumably hybrid Fischer's x Yellow-collared which have colonised the Nairobi area in recent years.

Despite scanning carefully all the way along, there was no sign of the Finfoot, which have apparently become scarcer here in recent years, so we returned slowly back to the car park, finding White-headed Barbet, Hamerkop, White-bellied Tit, Purple Grenadier and Grey-headed Sparrow on the way. Eleanor was feeling a little better by now, and with time getting on, we decided to make our way slowly out of the park and to our hotel.

A short distance from Hippo Pools we found a Secretarybird with a group of Northern Pied-Babblers and a White-browed Coucal nearby, but otherwise it was desperately quiet all the way back, with hardly any birds seen - puzzling and very disappointing. We came across a couple of other park visitors on this return trip, all of whom confirmed that they had never seen it so quiet on previous trips.

An odd lark which was eventually identified as a Rufous-naped Lark brightened up the proceedings a little, and just when we'd given up all hope of some decent birds a pair of Shelley's Francolins crossed the road in front of us. Sadly no sign of the hoped-for Hartlaub's Bustards or Jackson's Widowbirds, so another visit to this park will be necessary next time we visit Kenya to try again for the 4 main target species. Maybe early morning would be better than the afternoon.

In any case, that was to be the end of our birding for this trip, and with just one last wonderful close-up look at a pair of Maasai Giraffe, we left the park and returned to our Nairobi hotel to prepare for our flight home the next morning.

Birds recorded

Kinangop Plateau (Kinari) - Horus Swift, African Stonechat, African Short-toed Lark, Rufous Sparrow, Sharpe's Pipit, African Pipit

Limuru Pond - White-backed Duck. Maccoa Duck, Southern Pochard, Crested Coot, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Hadada Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Stork, African Pied Wagtail

Nairobi National Park - African Ostrich, Shelley's Francolin, White-headed Barbet, Little Bee-eater, White-headed Mousebird, White-browed Coucal, Blacksmith Lapwing, Black-winged Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Secretarybird, African Darter, Great Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Hamerkop, Hadada Ibis, Sacred Ibis, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Southern Black-Flycatcher, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Rueppell's Glossy-Starling, White-bellied Tit, Winding Cisticola, Northern Pied-Babbler, Rufous-naped Lark, Variable Sunbird, Grey-headed Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, White-winged Widowbird, Purple Grenadier, Common Waxbill, Pin-tailed Whydah, Brimstone Canary, Streaky Seedeater, Yellow-rumped Seedeater.

Full Species List: Birds and Mammals

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