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Kenya November-December 2003,
The following report describes a 19-day trip to Kenya in November-December 2003. The trip consisted mainly of two parts:
Part 1 - one week spent wholly at Tsavo National Park,
mainly for ringing purposes
Part 2 - 9 days travelling around western Kenya
Between the two parts, a day visit was made to Nairobi National Park (NNP).
Gonçalo Elias and Rui Brito (Portugal)
27 Nov - departure Lisbon airport to London and then overnight British Airways flight to Nairobi
28 Nov - arrival in Nairobi; taxi to city centre and then 4-hour trip by public bus to Mtito Andei (about 300km southeastwards), where we arrived at about 3 pm. A minibus from the Tsavo NP was expecting us and took us to Ngulia Lodge (about 50km away).
29 Nov to 4 Dec - time spent at Ngulia Lodge, where a ringing campaign was taking place.
5 Dec - after some morning ringing, we left the Lodge at about 11 am on the Tsavo NP minibus and were dropped at Mtito Andei. Here we took the bus to Nairobi. Unfortunately the journey took about 7 hours because of a bad accident that caused a long traffic jam, so we only arrived in Nairobi at about 8 pm. Stayed at Hotel Boulevard. Evening meeting with Chege to plan our 9-day trip into western Kenya
6 Dec - whole day spent with Itai Shanni birding in Nairobi National Park. A very good day, with over 130 species of birds seen.
7 Dec - Departure Nairobi early in the morning with Bernard Chege as a driver and bird guide. Whole day was spent travelling, doing the road Nairobi-Kitale, with some birding stops on the way, namely on the Limuru Ponds, Kinangop Plateau (a good spot for the endemic Sharpe's Longclaw) and Molo. Overnight at Kisumu (Milimani Resort).
8 Dec - Lake Victoria. Day started with a two-hour boat tour (hired at Dunga Beach) over the lake, where we had good view of several water birds and of the papyrus swamps. Then mid-morning walk along the papyrus. By late morning we made a visit to Impala Reserve. In early afternoon we went on the road again and drove to Kakamega forest. Overnight at a small campsite on the southern part of Kakamega (this actually lies outside the National Park).
9 Dec - Kakamega forest (southern half) in the morning. Then we drove past Kakamega town and went into Kakamega National Park (northern part), where we stayed at the campsite.
10 Dec - whole day birding Kakamega Forest (within Park)
11 Dec - Morning birding in Kakamega, then on the road towards Saiwa Swamp NP, where we did a short afternoon walk and stayed at the campsite.
12 Dec - Today was devoted to the Kongelai escarpment, an arid area in western Kenya, not far from the Ugandan border. Very good birding here. In the afternoon we returned to Saiwa Swamp, in order to collect our luggage, and started the journey to Baringo. Overnight at Eldoret.
13 Dec - Left Eldoret early in the morning and proceeded into the rift valley. Arrived Lake Baringo campsite by midmorning. Afternoon birding at Baringo around the campsite and also near the cliffs.
14 Dec - A very tough but good day: from Baringo we took a very rough road northwards towards the small town of Kapedo (70km away). We had a number of good birds. Returned to Baringo in the afternoon. (Note: there is no fuel at Kapedo or anywhere on the way, so anyone intending to try this road is strongly advised to fill the tank before departure; as there is no petrol station at Baringo either, it is advisable to fill up at Marigat)
15 Dec - Left Baringo in the morning towards Nairobi. At midday we did an excellent 2-hour stop at Gatamayo forest (montane area with some excellent birds, notably Bar-tailed Trogon).
16 Dec - arrival London before dawn and then morning flight to Lisbon.
(a map of Kenya can be found on the Internet at the following address: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/africa/kenya_pol88.jpg)
General aspects about Kenya
Due to repeated warnings and threats about terrorism, the number of passengers on the airplane to Nairobi (a large 747) was very low: about 100 people for over 400 places. However, we did not feel threatened in any way during our stay in Kenya. We had no major problems with people either (although hassling occurs around major towns) and generally speaking, people are peaceful and friendly. Furthermore, everybody speaks English (except in remote areas, such as Kongelai), so one doesn't have much trouble asking for directions or when buying something.
Western Kenya is generally a highly populated region. Agricultural areas dominate the landscape and there are few wooded areas, except in the highlands and in certain National Parks. As one moves northwards, into semidesert areas beyond Kapenguria and Baringo, the human occupation drops sharply.
Visa and money
A visa is required for entering Kenya, at least for Portuguese citizens. However, visa is issued upon arrival at the airport.
The local currency (Shilling) can be exchanged at the airport.
From Nairobi to Mtito Andei and back we took a bus. Long-distance buses run regularly but are often crowded. Quality varies a great deal between companies and travellers are advised to avoid the cheapest ones, as they can be quite bad.
On 5th December we took the bus back to Nairobi.
On 6th December we were droven into NNP by Itai Shanni.
From 7th December onwards, we travelled on a rented Suzuki that had capacity for 4 people. The car proved to be a source of problems, the engine frequently stopped running and on several occasions we thought we would get stuck.
27 November - overnight flight to Nairobi.
Nights of 28 November to 4 December we stayed at the Ngulia Lodge in Tsavo NP.
5 and 6 December were spent in Hotel Boulevard, Nairobi.
7 December - Hotel in Kisumu, not expensive, small room and rather noisy but otherwise ok.
8 December - hut-like accommodation at Kakamega (south) - very basic
9 and 10 December - hut-like accommodation at Kakamega Nature Reserve (north) - ok but no proper toilet (just a hole outside) and a very basic shower
11 December we camped at Saiwa Swamp - not bad, although again toilets were not more than a hole
12 December - Eldoret Wagen Hotel, Eldoret - quite ok
13 and 14 December - camping at Lake Baringo Camp Site - a good camp site, with toilet and showers (and swarms of mosquitoes).
15 December - overnight flight to London.
In Tsavo, we had mixed weather; fog often fell during the night (good for ringing) and we had rain on one or two occasions, but otherwise it was rather dry (either sunny or overcast).
In Kakamega we had some rain (which actually is the rule here).
Otherwise we had mostly sunny weather. In Lakes Victoria and Baringo, it was quite hot because of lower altitudes, but in the highlands it was cooler, especially in the mornings.
Bird Guides used
Dale Zimmerman's "Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania"
Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan's "Birds of Africa South of the Sahara"
Ber van Perlo's "Birds of Eastern Africa - Illustrated Checklist"
It should be noted that the various guides do not always match concerning the taxonomy of the individual species, because a number of species have been renamed or split into two or more.
Sites visited and highlights for each day
In this section the most interesting species are described (a complete species list is presented hereafter).
Ngulia lodge is famous because of the large numbers of migrant passerines that move through in autumn. A ringing campaign has been taking place here for about 30 years with incredible results. The joint effect of mist, light, tapes and absolute darkness within a radius of nearly 50km allow for a strong "lighthouse effect", that make it possible to catch more than ten thousand birds in just two weeks. As we were two qualified ringers, we joined the campaign and spent the first seven days here.
The number of birds varied strongly from day to day, but on the day before our arrival a total of 3000 birds had been caught and two days later we caught nearly 1700. On average, most days had 1000 birds or more.
The three most numerous species were: Marsh Warbler, Thrush Nightingale and Whitethroat, while other species that were well represented included White-throated Robin (Irania), River Warbler,
On our visit to Ngulia we were not seeking a long species list, but were rather looking to improve our ringing experience, particularly concerning eastern Palearctic birds and from this perspective it was a very fruitful week.
Nairobi National Park - NNP (6th)
I had been to NNP twice in 1996; nevertheless it is always interesting to spend a day birding here. 100 species in a day is a relatively easy task and we did over 130 - of course, the expertise of Itai Shanni, whom we thank again, made it possible to find a number of good birds. Highlights for this day included: Secretary Bird, Eurasian Griffon (1 among White-backed and Rüppell's Vultures), Imperial Eagle, Sooty Falcon, Narina Trogon, White-tailed Bushlark, Somali Short-toed Lark, Rosy-throated Longclaw, 8 species of Cisticola (including Desert and Pectoral Patch), a flock of Pied Babblers, many Jackson's Widowbirds and a number of Quailfinches.
The following is a description of our 9-day trip to Western Kenya. All spots where we birded are mentioned.
Manguo Ponds (7th)
This is a roadside pool near the main Nairobi-Nakuru road about 30km (?) west of Nairobi (close to Limuru), along the road to Naivasha. It holded quite a number of ducks (including Maccoa and White-backed Ducks and Southern Pochard), several species of waders and Whiskered Terns.
Kinangop Plateau (7th)
This area lies east of Naivasha, not far from the main Nairobi-Nakuru road, and is a good spot for Sharpe's Longclaw. We also got Red-throated Pipit here.
Molo area (7th)
An interesting area 50 km west of Nakuru along a secondary road (not along the main road to Kisumu). We made two stops in this area. The first was on a roadside swamp not far from St Andrews school - here we had Levaillant's Cisticola, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Malachite Sunbird. The nearby hills had Aberdare Cisticola and Sharpe's Longclaw.
Back on the road to Kisumu, we saw a Ross's Turaco.
Lake Victoria (8th)
This was our first big destination in western Kenya. We hired a boat at Dunga beach (a few km from Kisumu) and were birding over the lake itself and along the shores. There is a small islet about 1km from the shore and on this islet there were about 30 African Skimmers, many Gull-billed Terns, a Caspian Tern (unusual record for this area), two Openbilled Storks, several Pink-backed Pelicans and a few waders. White-winged Black-terns were all over the place. The shores are mainly covered with Papyrus Swamps and here we found Papyrus Gonolek, Jackson's, Northern Brown-throated and Slender-billed Weavers. Walking around the papyrus Swamp is good for Swamp Flycatcher (numerous) and Red-chested Sunbird.
Kakamega Forest (9th to 11th)
Kakamega holds the last patch of true rainforest in Kenya and so it comprises about 80 species that cannot be found elsewhere in the country. Therefore, we decided to devote two full birding days (plus an early morning walk on the third day). On the southern part we had Great Blue and Ross's Turacos, Yellow-billed, Grey-throated and Yellow-spotted Barbets, White-headed Saw-wing, Joyful Greenbul, White-tailed Ant-thrush, White-chinned Prinia, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Stuhlmann's Starling and Red-headed Bluebill.
On the northern part, the campsite proved one of the best spots - here we had Great Blue Turaco, Double-toothed Barbet, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Semi-collared and Lead-coloured Flycatchers, Luehder's and Grey-green Bush-shrikes and Red-headed Bluebill.
By walking in the nearby forests we were able to find Blue-headed Bee-eater, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Brown Illadopsis, Olive-green Camaroptera, Turner's Eremomela, Dusky Crested Monarch, Chestnut and Jameson's Wattle-eyes, among many other specialities.
Globally speaking, Kakamega certainly is worth three full days of birding!
Saiwa Swamp (11th)
A small but interesting swamp lying between Kitale and Kapenguria.
Unfortunately we only had a couple of hours in the afternoon, but we still managed to find Tullberg's Woodpecker, White-headed Saw-wing (plentiful), Angola Swallow and Black-crowned Waxbill.
Kongelai Escarpment (12th)
A dry area lying about 50km north of Kitale, close to the border with Uganda. Acacias dominate the landscape, with a few euphorbia trees. We drove all the way to Kongelai village and back, but good birding can be done along the road starting at Kapenguria onwards down the escarpment and then along the plains to Kongelai, preferably doing frequent stops as the birds are scattered all over the area. We had a number of specialities and a full morning of birding provided 67 species here. Along the road down the escarpment we had White-crested Turaco, Double-toothed Barbet, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver and Golden-breasted Bunting, while in the plains there were Eastern Grey Plaintain Eater (on some big trees near a dry riverbed), Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Yellow-billed Shrike, White Helmetshrike, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling and Black-cheeked Waxbill.
On the road to Baringo (13th)
We left Eldoret before sunrise and went almost non-stop on the road to Baringo. There were not many birds along the first part of the route, but when we started driving down the Great Rift Valley we were rewarded by the sighting of a few Hemprich's Hornbills flying over the road and perching on trees on the slopes. The cliffs also held large numbers of Nyanza Swifts and further down along the road we had great views of a Purple Roller - the only one we had on the entire trip.
Around Lake Baringo (13th-14th)
Lake Baringo is one of the most famous birding sites in Kenya. I had been here in 1996, but on that occasion I was among a group of tourists that were really more concerned about finding big game than birds. So I decided to return to this place and it proved fruitful.
There are basically two areas worth exploring: the campsite itself (where we spent most of our rest time) and the base of the cliffs, where we made two visits on the 13th. At the former site we had Green-backed and Goliath Herons, Rufous Chatterer and Brown Babblers, while at the latter we had great views of Jackson's Hornbill and Bristle-crowned Starlings.
We also took an afternoon walk in the nearby fields and woodlands and had 5 White-faced Owls at a Roost, a Spotted Eagle Owl, several Slender-tailed Nightjars, as well as Three-banded Courser, Water Dikkop and Somali (Northern Grey) Tit.
Baringo northwards to Kapedo and back (14th)
The journey from Baring to Kapedo is done along a very rough road. The landscape changes gradually from dry woodland into semi-desert and this is reflected in the bird life. Expect to find Dark-chanting Goshawks along this route, often sitting on the top of large trees. Two Jackson's Hornbills were also seen on the way.
On the only village that can be found along the way to Kapedo, we had a party of Ethiopian Swallows on the wires. We also stopped frequently to inspect the bush and were rewarded by good views of Yellow-vented Eremomela, Red-fronted Warbler, Pygmy Batis and a few Chestnut-headed Sparrowlarks.
At Kapedo we failed to find the much sought-after Somali Sparrow, probably because it was mid-day and it was very hot. We were told by locals that sparrows were plentiful in the morning and evening, but that they hide during midday. Behind the hospital there was a Yellow-billed Hornbill, while the river below the town had plenty of water and there were some waders there, such as Black-winged Stilt and Spur-winged Lapwing.
This place is a nice stretch of montane forest not very far from Nairobi. Although we left Lake Baringo early in the morning, the journey here took about 4 hours, so when we arrived it was around midday, and hence we were not particularly optimistic about the birds we would find. Yet this last stop of our Kenyan tour proved excellent, with Hartlaub's Turaco, Bar-tailed Trogon, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Brown Woodland Warbler, Black-throated and Chestnut-throated Apalis, White-tailed Crested Monarch, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike and Eastern Double-collared Sunbird.
Full Species List
See attached PDF file for a complete list of the species seen on this trip (412 in total).
Many thanks are due to Colin Jackson for helping organising our visit to Ngulia; to Dave Pearson for all we learned about Palearctic migrants; to Itai Shanni for a superb visit to NNP; and last but not least to Chege for a wonderful 9-day trip into Western Kenya.
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