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A Report from

Kenya North Coast Oct 18 - 31,

Steve Baines


After a very successful birding/family holiday to The Gambia last year I knew I had to come up with something a bit special for this years trip. Again sun, sea and sand was the requisite for my non birding family and lots of lovely lifers for me.
We were smitten by Africa last year so having done the West coast I thought it would be ideal to do the East coast. Kenya stood out as being outstanding for birds and the Indian Ocean beaches certainly appealed to the rest of the family so it was decided that Kenya it would be, with a short Safari thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately there seems to be a dearth of trip reports for coastal Kenya. Most trip reports seem to concentrate on 'all out' birding adventures in the interior, more especially the big game reserves.

Help was at hand though through contacting Steve Whitehouse. He has an excellent library of trip reports which can be found and ordered on www.FBRIS.CO.UK.


Using recommendations in these reports and various birding magazines I decided to stay at The Turtle Bay Beach Club ( in Watamu on the North Kenya coast. What an excellent decision this was. Ideally situated for all the North Kenya coastal hot spots such as the famous Sokoke Forest (Sokoke Scops-Owl, Sokoke Pipit, Clarke's Weaver), Mida Creek (Crab-Plover, Terek Sandpiper) and Sabaki estuary (Terns,Gulls,Broad-billed Sandpiper).

An all inclusive hotel the Turtle Beach is fantastic for families. The accommodation was first class, the food brilliant and the staff were superb. I can't recommend this hotel too highly. They are also heavily into conservation of the surrounding environs and cater especially well for visiting birders.

Jacqui Kaye is the hotel conservation/birding/environmental liaison supervisor. A keen birder herself, she has instigated the production of various birding packages using local guides (Spinetails Safaris) details of which are mentioned below. These packages are ideal for any keen birder who wants to connect with as many species as possible but still enjoy a fabulous holiday. I can't thank Jacqui enough for the effort, attention to detail, organisation and the perfect itinerary of the packages I undertook. Jacqui also gave me useful information regarding 'local patches' to walk early mornings whilst my family were still in bed!! Once again, many thanks Jacqui, I wouldn't have seen half the amount of birds without your organisational skills.

The Turtle Bay Beach hotel is also holding the first ever Kenya Coast Bird Festival 9 - 24 Jan 2005. They also had a stall at this years Birdwatching Fair at Rutland.


Six months prior to the holiday I contacted David Ngala, again recommended from the trip reports as the foremost bird guide of the area. I initially contacted him by letter (David Ngala, Gede Forest Station, PO Box 201, Malindi, Kenya) If writing to David don't forget to enclose an international reply voucher. David works for the forestry but is due to retire. He has, however, set up a bird guiding service with three other established bird guides from the area called Spinetails Safaris ( I suggest this is the first point of contact for any birder visiting the area.

As mentioned earlier Spinetails Safaris also guide in conjunction with the Turtle Bay birding packages. I was fortunate to use David as my guide for all my organised birding. The man is a birding genius. He's the best 'pisher'! I've ever encountered and just whistled the birds out of the trees!!


We booked through Hayes and Jarvis. We flew with Kenya Airways from Heathrow, via Nairobi, to Mombasa. Kenya Airways were great. They looked after us with free drinks and meals throughout the long 8 hrs trip to Nairobi. The entertainment was first class with individual TV monitors on each seat. Even during the one hour flight to Mombasa from Nairobi they provided free food and drink.

Kenya shilling (KS) is the currency. At the time we got 143KS to £1. As we were using an all inclusive hotel, outgoings, apart from guides and safari, were minimal.


I must mention that prior to this trip I had heard many scare stories, mainly from trip reports, of no go areas were mugging was a constant worry and that it wasn't safe to go birding alone. I can categorically say that whatever might happen in Nairobi or Mombasa, I found the Watamu area completely safe. Everyone I met on my own 'in the field' was extremely friendly, courteous and polite. A simple greeting of Jambo (hello) and everyone got on with their own thing and I was left in peace. (Unlike the hassle merchants of The Gambia!)
Jacqui was aghast when I mentioned what some people were alleging to in some reports. Please be assured that Watamu is both unspoilt and completely safe. The beach is beautiful and is indeed one of the top 5 in the world, and with Tereks and Greater and Lesser Sand-Plovers feeding as you stroll you couldn't possibly ask for more!. Go there, you won't be disappointed.


After an overnight red-eye from Heathrow we arrived at Nairobi International Airport at about 6.30am. First lifer of the trip, from the aircraft steps, was Red-winged Starling perched on the terminal roof. One good reason to travel to Mombasa via Nairobi was that hopefully I could pick up extra birds, like the Starlings, that are not found at the coast.
Other lifers during my one hours wait for flight connection was Superb Starling, African Pied Wagtail and various Swifts.

From Mombasa a bum numbing two hour journey was taken to Watamu up the north coast. Birds picked up along the way included House Crow, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Black-headed Heron and White-browed Coucal.

On arrival at the Turtle Bay we were met with cold flannels, fresh fruit juice, a free room upgrade and nesting Golden Palm Weavers outside reception!

I met Jacqui and arranged my trips out. Jacqui also gave me a map of her 'local patch'. I did a recce that afternoon. It was baking hot and I didn't see much but it certainly had potential for an early morning bash. The route was off the beaten track and passed through a few villages. I had a little difficulty, at one point, following the map and was ably assisted by Ben, a very genuine nice local guy who walked me round the route. The point is, again, that he didn't do it for any kind of remuneration, he was just being friendly, was proud of his village and the environment and was very pleasant company.


First light (5.30) and out of the hotel and round the local patch. Ben came out of his hut to say Jambo and wish me well with my birding, as did other villagers I passed. As I thought, the whole route was teeming with birds. Bird highlights included Ring-necked Dove, Speckled Mousebird, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Red-billed Quelea, Black-bellied Glossy Starling, Olive Sunbird, Pin-tailed Whydah and Mangrove Kingfisher just to mention a few. A local goatsman also told me of a Rock Python that they wanted to catch 'cos it kept coming out and eating his goats!! I wish he'd kept it to himself!


LAKE CHEM CHEM AND JILORE 21st Oct 6.00am - 1.00pm
Habitat: lakes with coastal scrub. Left with Jacqui and David. David was exceptional. He knew all the calls, where to look and how to find them. Bird highlights included Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Lilac-breasted Roller, Carmine Bee-eater, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Spotted Morning Thrush, Tropical Boubou and Fan-tailed Widowbird. In fact the list seemed endless The only minor disappointment was the lack of water fowl, we don't know why because both lakes were full of water, but with so many fantastic birds on offer it seemed a bit churlish to rue a few missed ducks!!

I had booked the Safari through the hotel. It was primarily going to be a family adventure with me trying to identify as many birds as I could in between mammal watching. However Jacqui asked if David could come along as Spinetails were looking to extend to guided birding safaris and it would enable him to familiarise himself more with the birds to be seen. How could I refuse! not only did we have our own driver/mammal finder I would now have my own personal bird guide for the duration!! My family had already met David and found him to be the most charming, friendly man and were only too happy to have him aboard.
From the minute we drove through Voi gate into the National Park birds (and mammals) came thick and fast. Golden Pipit, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Pygmy Falcon, Secretary bird, in fact so many stunning lifers that to mention just a few doesn't seem right. Suffice to say that, with David on board, all my expectations of the trip were being exceeded tenfold.

MIDA CREEK 24th Oct 1.00pm - 4.00pm
Habitat: Tidal inlet fringed with Mangrove. This is the place to get Crab-Plover and Terek Sandpiper. This was the only hiccup of the whole birding holiday. We got the tide wrong and arrived just after high tide!! Most of the birds had moved on including the Plovers but I still managed to get Terek Sandpiper, Woolly-necked and Yellow-billed Storks, White-throated Bee-eaters and a few other goodies. We decided that on our return from our forest trip tomorrow we would drop in again for the Crab-Plovers.

SOKOKE FOREST 25th Oct 06.00 - 12.00 noon & 3.00pm - 8.00pm
This is where the must see birds are found. The forest comprises three different habitats: Afzelia, dense tangled evergreen forest. Brachystegia, more open with large trees and white sand and Cynometra, small tangled saplings with scattered large trees with red soil.

The first two types we covered in the morning, going back in the afternoon and evening for the final type which hold the sought after Sokoke Scops-Owl.

The Afzelia forest was hard work but David the miracle man did the business and we got all our target species including Sokoke Pipit, Tiny Greenbul, Armani Sunbird, East Coast Akalet, Narina Trogan, Red-tailed Ant-Thrush and the endemic Clarke's Weaver. At noon we dropped by Mida Creek and duly ticked hundreds of Crab-Plover on the rising tide.

In the afternoon we picked up goodies in the Cynometra thicket such as Fischers Turaco, Purple-banded Sunbird, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills, a stunning African Crowned Eagle and culminating with Sokoke Scops-Owl. The Scops is a very hard bird to find and David Ngala is one of only a few who know the regular roosts and even then he's not always successful. On the way home through the forest tracks Fiery-necked Nightjars performed for us, landing on the tracks in front of our vehicle and refusing to budge, affording cracking views in the headlights. Also caught in the headlights was an African Wood Owl.

SABAKI ESTUARY 27th Oct 08.00 - 1.00pm
Habitat: Riverine and estuarine. After all the birding previously done I had a modest target of about half a dozen lifers for this trip including both Crested Terns, and White-fronted Plover. As with the rest of the holiday things turned out better than I could have ever imagined.

On arrival we scoped distant Tern and Gull flocks, picking out Saunders, Lesser and Greater crested Terns. Around 30 Lesser Flamingos were also present. This is the only place Lessers are found outside of the Rift Valley and took up residence on the estuary in the late 1990's.
Whilst scoping, the whole gull and tern flock was flushed by a local walking along the mud flats. Initially cursing, it soon became apparent that the birds were being flushed in our direction and incredibly they all landed directly in front of us giving crippling views.

A scan of all the birds produced a single African Skimmer, a single Sooty Tern and incredibly, found by David, a single Brown Noddy!! Birding just doesn't get any better.
A walk through the dunes also produced a Malindi Pipit, another crippler to add to all the others!


I eventually ended up with a species list of 254 with a total of 179 being lifers. With all but one days birding being done during the morning period (it was far too hot in the afternoon anyway) my family didn't miss me too much and a great family holiday at The Turtle Bay Beach Club was had by all.
I can't recommend the Hotel or Watamu highly enough. I hope by producing this report it brings awareness to the North coast of Kenya as a birding hot spot in it's own right and not to be over shadowed by the 'full on' game reserve birding of the interior.

Please feel free to contact me for any further gen. that I can assist in if you decide to visit. My e-mail address


1. Masai Ostrich
2. Somali Ostrich
3. Pink-backed Pelican
4. Greater Flamingo
5. Lesser Flamingo
6. Black-headed Heron
7. Goliath Heron
8. Dimorphic Heron
9. Cattle Egret
10. Black-crowned Night-Heron
11. Great White Egret
12. Intermediate Egret
13. Grey Heron
14. Dwarf Bittern
15. Yellow-billed Stork
16. Woolly-necked Stork
17. Marabou Stork
18. Sacred Ibis
19. Hadaba Ibis
20. Egyption Goose
21. Spur-winged Goose
22. White-headed Vulture
23. African Fish-Eagle
24. Bateleur (Eagle)
25. Martial Eagle
26. Long-crested Eagle
27. Steppe Eagle
28. Tawny Eagle
29. Brown Snake-Eagle
30. African Crowned Eagle
31. Lesser Spotted Eagle
32. Wharlbergs Eagle
33. Black-shouldered Kite
34. Yellow-billed Black Kite
35. African Marsh Harrier
36. Lizard Buzzard
37. Auger Buzzard
38. Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk
39. African Goshawk
40. Little Sparrowhawk
41. Secretary Bird
42. Pygmy Falcon
43. Yellow-necked Spurfowl
44. Crested Francolin
45. Helmeted Guineafowl
46. Vulturine Guineafowl
47. Black-breasted Bustard
48. Hartlaub's Bustard
49. Crab-Plover
50. Black-winged Stilt
51. Avocet
52. Spur-winged Plover
53. Grey Plover
54. Ringed Plover
55. Three-banded Plover
56. White-fronted Plover
57. Lesser Sandplover
58. Greater Sandplover
59. Crowned Plover
60. Kentish Plover
61. Black-headed Lapwing
62. Terek Sandpiper
63. Turnstone
64. Whimbrel
65. Common Sandpiper
66. Green Sandpiper
67. Broad-billed Sandpiper
68. Greenshank
69. Wood Sandpiper
70. Marsh Sandpiper
71. Curlew Sandpiper
72. Little Stint
73. Sanderling
74. Sooty Gull
75. Heuglin's Gull
76. Greater Crested Tern
77. Lesser Crested Tern
78. White-cheeked Tern
79. Saunders' Tern
80. Gull-billed Tern
81. Sooty Tern
82. Caspian Tern
83. Brown Noddy
84. African Skimmer
85. Black-faced Sandgrouse
86. Red-eyed Dove
87. Ring-necked Dove
88. Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
89. Tambourine Dove
90. Namaqua Dove
91. African Green Pigeon
92. Laughing Dove
93. Speckled Pigeon
94. White-bellied Go-away Bird
95. Fischers' Turaco
96. Thick-billed Cuckoo
97. Jacobin Cuckoo
98. White-browed Coucal
99. Sokoke Scops-Owl
100. Pearl-spotted Owlet
101. African Wood Owl
102. African Black Swift
103. African White-rumped Swift
104. African Palm-Swift
105. Little Swift
106. Mottled Spinetail
107. Mottled Swift
108. Speckled Mousebird
109. Blue-naped Mousebird
110. Narina Trogon
111. Grey-headed Kingfisher
112. Mangrove Kingfisher
113. Striped Kingfisher
114. Malachite Kingfisher
115. Pied Kingfisher
116. European Bee-eater
117. Little Bee-eater
118. White-throated Bee-eater
119. Carmine Bee-eater
120. Lilac-breasted Roller
121. African Hoopoe
122. Green Woodhoopoe
123. Crowned Hornbill
124. Von Der Deckens Hornbill
125. Trumpeter Hornbill
126 African Grey Hornbill
127. Red-billed Hornbill
128. Green Barbet
129. Eastern Green Tinkerbird
130. Red-fronted Tinkerbird
131. D'Arnaud's Barbet
132. Lesser Honeyguide
133. Mombasa Woodpecker
134. Cardinal Woodpecker
135. African Grey Flycatcher
136. Spotted Flycatcher
137. Pale Flycatcher
138. Ashy Flycatcher
139. Little Yellow Flycatcher
140. African Paradise Flycatcher
141. Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher
142. Black-headed Batis
143. Forest Batis
144. Pale Batis
145. Red winged Lark
146. Flappet Lark
147. Singing Bush-Lark
148. Pink-breasted Lark
149. Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark
150. Rock Martin
151. Ethiopian Swallow
152. Lesser Striped Swallow
153. Mosque Swallow
154. Wire-tailed Swallow
155. Barn Swallow
156. Sand Martin
157. Red-rumped Swallow
158. Yellow-headed Wagtail
159. Sykes' Wagtail
160. African Pied Wagtail
161. Golden Pipit
162. Grassland Pipit
163. Sokoke Pipit
164. Malindi Pipit
165. Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul
166. Tiny Greenbul
167. Yellow-bellied Greenbul
168. Northern Brownbul
169. Fischer's Greenbul
170. Black-capped Bulbul
171. African Cuckoo-Shrike
172. Fork-tailed Drongo
173. Common Fiscal
174. Long-tailed Fiscal
175. Tiata Fiscal
176. Black-crowned Puffback
177. Tropical Boubou
178. Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike
179. Grey-headed Bush-Shrike
180. Black-crowned Tchagra
181. Sulpher-breasted Bush-Shrike
182. Northern White-crowned Shrike
183. Retzs' Helmet-Shrike
184. Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrike
185. Red-tailed Ant-Thrush
186. African Bare-eyed Thrush
187. Spotted Morning Thrush
188. East Coast Akelat
189. White-browed Robin-Chat
190. Red-capped Robin-Chat
191. White-browed Scrub-Robin
192. Pied Wheatear
193. Isabelline Wheatear
194. Scaly Babbler
195. Rattling Cisticola
196. Winding Cisticola
197. Siffling Cisticola
198. Zitting Cisticola
199. Tawny-flanked Prinia
200. Black-headed Apalis
201. Red-faced Crombec
202. Grey-backed Camaroptera
203. Plain-backed Sunbird
204. Olive Sunbird
205. Mouse-coloured Sunbird
206. Amethyst Sunbird
207. Hunter's Sunbird
208. Purple-banded Sunbird
209. Collared Sunbird
210. Amani Sunbird
211. Pied Crow
212. House Crow
213. African Golden Oriole
214. African Black-headed Oriole
215. European Golden Oriole
216. Black-bellied Glossy Starling
217. Golden-breasted Starling
218. Waller's Starling
219. Superb Starling
220. Fischer's Starling
221. Wattled Starling
222. Red-winged Starling
223. Red-billed Oxpecker
224. Yellow-fronted Canary
225. Peter's Twinspot
226. Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu
227. Blue-capped Cordon-Bleu
228. Bronze Mannikin
229. Black and White Mannikin
230. Common Waxbill
231. Crimson-rumped Waxbill
232. African Firefinch
233. Red-billed Firefinch
234. White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
235. White-browed Buffalo-Weaver
236. Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver
237. Black-capped Social-Weaver
238. African Golden Weaver
239. Golden Palm Weaver
240. Dark-backed Weaver
241. Black-headed Weaver
242. Grosbeak Weaver
243. Chestnut Weaver
244. Clarke's Weaver
245. Red-billed Quelea
246. Zanzibar Red Bishop
247. Fan-tailed Widowbird
248. Pin-tailed Whydah
249. Paradise Whydah
250. Black-winged Bishop
251. Grey-headed Sparrow
252. Parrot-billed Sparrow
253. House Sparrow
254. Long-tailed Cormorant

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