Kenya: Birds and Other Wildlife, Custom Trip Report, August 2014

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02 – 14 AUGUST 2014

Kenya lies across equator, ranging in altitude from 5199 m to sea level. The county’s topography and climate are highly varied, hence it exhibits many different habitats and vegetation types. Huge populations of wildlife are concentrated in protected areas, mainly national parks, national reserves, and conservancies. However, there are also opportunities to find a wealth of biodiversity in non-protected areas, as for example in Important Bird Areas (IBAs), some of which are found in non-protected areas, while others are located in protected areas. The IBAs provide a good chance to see some of the national or regional endemic species of both flora and fauna. They also provide opportunities for visitors to interact with local populations, which might be sharing their knowledge of indigenous life and traditional lifestyles.

Our 15-day safari took us through unique and pristine habitats, ranging from the coastal strip of the Indian Ocean and its dry forest to the expansive savanna bushland of Tsavo East National Park, the semiarid steppes of Samburu National Park in northern Kenya, the mountain range of the Taita Hills, tropical rainforests, and Rift Valley lakes, before ending in the Masai Mara in southwestern Kenya.  The variance of these habitats provided unique and rich wildlife diversity.

Nairobi

The city of Nairobi has much to offer its visitors. The Nairobi National Park is just seven kilometers away from the city and offers lots of wildlife. With open plains, savanna grasslands and bush land, and numerous wetlands the park provides a fascinating introduction to Kenya’s birds and mammals. The Nairobi Arboretum offers a great diversity of montane avifauna. The Kikuyu Escarpment Forest on the slopes of the Aberdare Range is a great habitat for highland forest birds. An afternoon at the Manguo Ponds and its surrounding area provides good opportunities to see Hunter’s Cisticola, Golden-winged Sunbird, Augur Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Yellow-billed Duck, African Spoonbill, Little Egret, Great Egret, Common Sandpiper, and Red-billed Firefinch, among others.

On August 1st Jaynee, one of our clients, arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport late in the evening, and we had introductions and a briefing before she was transferred to the Boulevard Hotel.

On August 2nd after breakfast we visited the the Elephant Orphanage and after lunch drove to the Giraffe Center, where we interacted with Rothschild’s giraffes by feeding them pellets. In the late afternoon we went birding and watched Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Red-billed Firefinch, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, and Cabanis’s Greenbul, among others. In the evening we traveled to the airport to meet our safari guide and the driver and to pick up Lu, who was coming in from Namibia.

The next morning after breakfast we had a bird walk on the hotel grounds before driving to Manguo Ponds in Limuru. This wetland was teeming with African Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Yellow-billed Stork, Black Crake, Red-knobbed Coot, and Yellow-billed Duck. We then moved to a hill past Limuru and enjoyed Little Egret, Augur Buzzard, Rock Martin, Hunter’s Cisticola, Cape Robin-Chat, and Golden-winged Sunbird.

Coastal Trip

We started our trip to the coast by flying from Nairobi to Malindi, where we met Willy, our local guide. After lunch at A Rocha Kenya we drove to Mida Creek in the Malindi Marine National Park. This is a complex of marine tidal habitats on the southern coast of Kenya, composed of coral gardens, mangrove forests, reefs, islets, and sandy beaches. This area is an important feeding ground for coastal avian migrants. Here we enjoyed, among others, African Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Curlew and Common Sandpipers, Kittlitz’s, Three-banded, and Grey Plovers, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, and, as a special bonus, the enigmatic Crab-plover.

Arabuko Sokoke Forest

Our bird list suddenly increased substantially with a full day in the Arabuko Sokoke coastal dry forest. This is a biodiversity hotspot, which forms part of the East Africa Coastal Forests, one of the Endemic Bird Areas of the World.

In the bush thickets just behind the forest office we found the endemic golden-rumped sengi, a beautiful little elephant shrew, restricted to the coastal forests of northern Kenya and one of our mammalian highlights. Five meters from the shrew a Red-caped Robin-Chat was hopping around. Without having to move far we spent the better part of the morning birding around the office, where both Silvery-cheeked and Trumpeter Hornbills provided great views, calling from the trees in front of the forest office.

We proceeded into the woods during light showers of rain, while we admired Crested Guineafowls crisscrossing the trails. After the rain had ceased it was a shiny morning again, with lots of forest bird symphonies and choruses. We found Forest Batis, Mombasa Woodpecker, Green Tinkerbird, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Amani Sunbird, and Malindi Pipit, among others, before our lunch break.

After lunch we entered some Brachystegia woodland, looking for Sokoke Scops Owl. A pair of little brown morphs five meters away was spotted by Willy. Later a flock of Clarke’s Weavers was passing by on their way to their roosting site. Heading back to the road, we spotted Narina Trogon in trees along the road.

We had another morning on the forest trails on the following day, and there was no rain. The forest was alive with bird choruses. In the forest canopy we enjoyed a flock of 10 Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes. We also patiently searched for Four-colored Bushshrike, sometimes wandering off the trails. East Coast Akalat crisscrossed the trails, but was very quiet. In the canopy we found Pale Batis and Plain-backed and Amani Sunbirds.

Sabaki River Mouth

Five kilometers north of Malindi town we birded the Sabaki River Mouth. On the mud banks and in the freshwater pools we saw Lesser Flamingo and Great Egret, while in the vegetation thickets were male Zanzibar Red Bishop in breeding plumage and White-browed Coucal.

Tsavo East National Park and Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

On the way to Tsavo we visited the Gede Ruins National Monument. These are excavated ruins of an old Arab-African town, abandoned in the 17th century. This monument is managed by The National Museums of Kenya as a historic site. The Arabs settled along the East Coast of Africa, where they transacted trade along the coast.

We then proceeded to Tsavo East National Park, birding en route. On the power lines at intervals of a few kilometers we saw multiple Lizard Buzzards. Thickets of bushes lined the road, with lots of birds. Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Grey Wren-Warbler, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, and Bateleur were observed along the roadside.

We arrived at the Sala Gate of Tsavo East National Park at 12:30 p.m. and had some lunch at the gate. After lunch we proceeded into the park, where we spent the afternoon birding, but it was rather quiet, and Somali Ostrich was one of the few new birds added to our list. In the evening we proceeded to Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, where we spent the night at the Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge.

The Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary has greater habitat diversity than Tsavo East, ranging from savanna woodland, riverine woodland, and open shrub to savanna grassland and rivers and marshes. It is therefore also much richer in avian diversity. Grey-headed and Striped Kingfishers were spotted in huge acacia trees. Also seen were Black-headed Oriole, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Jameson’s Firefinch, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Knob-billed Duck, Yellow-billed Stork, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, and African Hawk- Eagle.

We returned back to the lodge for lunch and in the afternoon drove to the Taita Hills Afromontane Forest in search of the Taita endemics, Taita Thrush, Taita White-eye, and Taita Apalis. In addition, this was a great opportunity to see White-starred Robin.

Samburu

From Taita Hills we flew back to Nairobi and from there to the semi-arid north of Kenya, arriving at the Samburu Simba Lodge at lunch time. Samburu National Reserve is a magnificent park with a unique species diversity of both mammals and birds found mainly north of the equator.  This is one of the few places to see gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, and Günther’s dik-dik, among others. Some of the great birds we saw here were White-headed Mousebird, Vulturine Guineafowl, Martial Eagle, the northern subspecies of Crested Francolin, Bateleur, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-Weaver, Somali Bee-eater, and Somali Ostrich, among others.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park was the first bird sanctuary in Kenya due to its spectacular iconic view of pink Lesser Flamingos and huge flocks of both Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans among thousands of other flocks of birds. This is one of the Rift Valley saline lakes that host close to two to four million breeding Lesser Flamingos every year.

In the past two years the water level of the lake had tremendously increased beyond its normal level, flooding even the adjacent terrestrial habitat. This has caused a sudden change in the ecosystem. Lesser Flamingos, which depend on algae, have been affected, since the algae supply has been diluted by the increased water quantities. So we observed only lesser numbers of both Lesser and Greater Flamingos, but enjoyed good numbers of Great Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Cape Teal, and Red-billed Teal. In the terrestrial habitat, mostly acacia woodland, we found African Grey Woodpecker, Nubian Woodpecker, Mocking Cliff Chat, and African Fish Eagle, among many others.   The park is also a rhino sanctuary, hence we had the opportunity to see both black and white rhinos. Other mammals seen were Rothschild’s giraffe, spotted hyena, and African buffalo, among others.

Lake Victoria, Kisumu

Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake and the second-largest freshwater lake in the world.   It is also the world’s largest tropical lake.  We arrived at the famous Kiboko Bay Resort in Kisumu in the evening. The next morning we had a boat ride, exploring the shores of Lake Victoria with the help of a local guide. Right at the edge of the camp we found Swamp Flycatcher and later African Pygmy Kingfisher, Orange-tufted Sunbird, Blue-headed Coucal, Black-headed Weaver, Little Weaver, Slender-billed Weaver, and Orange Weaver.

Kakamega Forest National Reserve

Kakamega Forest, a magnificent area of rainforest north of Lake Victoria, is about a 45-minutes drive from Kisumu city, during which we had our second experience with rain, after Arabuko Sokoke at the coast. We arrived in the evening at the luxurious Rondo Retreat at Kakamega.

Early the next morning before breakfast we took a walk in the lodge compound and its surroundings. After breakfast we went for a long walk in the forest along the trails. This forest is pristine rainforest with very different bird species, most of which are only found in this western area within Kenya. We enjoyed numerous species of greenbuls, among them Joyful Greenbul, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, and Cabanis’s Greenbul. Other nice birds were Black-headed Oriole, Brown-chested Alethe, Yellow-billed Barbet, Equatorial Akalat, and the majestic Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill.

In the evening we drove to the Ikuywa River, where we found Red-headed Malimbe, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, African Blue Flycatcher, African Yellow White-eye, Chubb’s Cisticola, and plenty of others.

The following day was spent hiking on forest trails. We started with the fish pond area, where we saw White-spotted Flufftail and Grey-winged Robin-Chat. A few meters south of the lodge along the main road we came across a flock of both Great Blue Turacos and Ross’s Turacos feeding together in the same trees.

Lake Naivasha, the Kieni forest, and the Kinangop grasslands

Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake, part of the chain of the Great Rift Valley lakes. We arrived here late in the evening, showered, and settled for dinner. In the morning we went birding around the lodge, and immediately after breakfast we headed to the Kieni forest (part of the Kikuyu escarpment forest IBA) on the slope of the Aberdare Mountains, where we found Mountain Greenbul, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, and Hartlaub’s Turaco. Along the road we saw African Stonechat, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, and Augur Buzzard, among others.

On our way back we stopped at the Kinangop grasslands, montane grasslands being the habitat of the endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw. We were lucky enough here to spot three pairs of the longclaw. Also seen were African Pipit and Crowned and Black-headed Lapwings.

Masai Mara

After many stops along the roadside for birding as well looking at wildlife and people, we finally arrived at the Masai Mara. We checked in at the Sarova Mara Game Camp in time for lunch, the meal of the trip. After lunch we had a break until 3:30 p.m., when we went on a game drive. The patch of tropical forest on the lodge grounds provided us with African Green Pigeon and Rüppell’s Robin-Chat. As we left we saw Little Bee-eater and Long-tailed Glossy Starling at the gate. A Tawny Eagle was found nesting on a tree next to the lodge.

We proceeded with our game drive and particularly appreciated a panoramic view of the park in the evening, packed with a huge biomass of African buffalo, African elephant, common eland, topi, and Coke’s hartebeest. This was also our vulture day: we observed lots of White-backed Vultures, White-headed Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Rüppell’s Vulture, and Lappet-faced Vulture. We came back to the lodge a bit tired after seeing too much of everything.

On our final day in the park we had a full day out with a picnic lunch. We drove to the Mara River, where we enjoyed hundreds of hippos in the water. There were also Nile crocodiles along the banks of the river. Climbing out of the vehicle at the river bridge and looking down toward the river, we saw hundreds of vultures and Marabou Storks feeding on a dead wildebeest. We crossed the bridge and encountered Blue-spotted Wood Dove, and on the ground Red-necked Spurfowl were scurrying about.

Summary

During our 15-day safari we recorded a total of 472 species of birds. We also saw 45 species and subspecies of mammals. Considering the fact that this trip took place outside of the palearctic migration season, this was a very acceptable number of species encountered, which was the result of close collaboration between our clients, the driver, the local guides, and our full-time guide. We were lucky enough to have had unlimited game drives and sufficient time to pay attention to details.

 

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.