Kenya: Birds and Other Wildlife, Custom Trip Report, September 2019

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9 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2019


The stunning Vulturine Guineafowl was one of the many species we found on this trip.


Overview

 

Kenya is one of the most biodiversity rich countries in the world. It has varied ecosystems that support some important, unique, endemic, and endangered flora and fauna. These ecosystems include the saline and freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley, the freshwater Lake Victoria in the west, the marine, coastal ecosystem in the southwest, tropical rainforest in the west, highland montane forests in the central highlands, the massive Mau Forest, which is the largest indigenous montane forest complex in East Africa in the southwest, and coastal dry forests and the vast savannas in the east. Our trip started in Nairobi and covered most of these great ecosystems, offering the chance to experience different wildlife communities as well as the human communities that live alongside.

Nairobi and its neighboring counties have a lot to offer the tourist, especially in terms of birding. Birders visiting the city for meetings and conferences and symposiums have enough to see in if they have some free times on their schedules. The Nairobi National Park, for example, is just seven kilometers away from the city center. A day trip can even take you to Lake Naivasha, some 57 kms away, or to Lake Nakuru National Park.

It’s worth noting that this year the Eurasian migratory species arrived very late, probably even not before late in October. By the end of September, at the end of our tour, we had encountered very few migratory species. On this trip most of the birds were photographed. A total of 475 species were seen, with 88 percent of them photographed. It was a great trip for mammals too, yielding 42 mammal species, some of them including multiple subspecies.

 

Detailed Report

Day 1, 9 September 2019. Karen

Our birding started in Nairobi with a Marabou Stork near the Nairobi Serena Hotel. In the midmorning we made a birding trip to Karen, southwest of Nairobi on the edges of the Ngong Forest Sanctuary. These are private areas that still hold some pockets of pristine montane forest. We found a good collection of both forest specialists and forest generalists. They included Hartlaub’s Turaco, Heuglin’s White-eye, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Chinspot Batis, White-headed Barbet, Spot-flanked Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Collared Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Tropical Boubou, both Cabanis’s and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls, and White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher. Most of the species seen were photographed.

Day 2, 10 September 2019. Gatamaiyu Forest

Today we traveled to Gatamaiyu Forest on the slopes of the Aberdare Range (part of the Kenya Central Highlands), some 80 kilometers (50 feet) from Nairobi. We found a variety of highland forest birds, including Mountain Greenbul, Grey Apalis, Chestnut-throated Apalis, and Hartlaub’s Turaco, among many others. On our way back to Nairobi in some tea plantations we came across a few farmland birds, including African Stonechat, Hunter’s Cisticola, and many weavers among other birds. We returned to Nairobi Serena Hotel for dinner and an overnight.

Day 3, 11 September 2019. Nairobi to Maasai Mara National Reserve

After breakfast we headed to our first safari destination, the famous Masai Mara. It’s a long day of driving. We arrived at the Mara Simba Lodge six hours later at lunch time. After checking in we had lunch and rested till 15:30 p.m., when we left for our afternoon game drive. There were so many birds in the bushes along the way between the main gate and the reception, a distance of less than 500 meters (1640 feet). As soon as we were out of the gate there was a lot of mammals to see. including African Elephants, a pride of Lions, and a Cheetah; a male Cheetah was very active along the tour buses. We also came across birds such as Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Brown Parrot, Silverbird, White-bellied Bustard, Lilac-breasted Roller, Rüppell’s Starling, Hildebrandt’s Starling, Tawny Eagle. and Augur Buzzard, to name just a few.  We were back at Mara Simba Lodge for dinner and the night.

Day 4, 12 September 2019. Maasai Mara

Our second day in the Maasai Mara was a full day of both mammals and birds. It provided a number of surprises, including a Cheetah with three cubs in the field. Patience really paid us big dividends here, because, as other safari vehicles were rushing to get a glimpse of them when they were barely visible behind a croton thicket and then drove away, we stayed put and saw the Cheetahs very well when they came out and were lining up, although some distance away, but good for photos. At a much closer distance along the river bank we saw a group of Common Wildebeests coming to drink. Then out of nowhere came a single Lioness and attacked and killed one of the wildebeests as we watched. Although everything was so exciting that we really wanted to stay long and watch, we had to head back for lunch. In the afternoon we had a guided walk along the Mara River, where there were lots of Hippopotamuses and a few birds, including Common Sandpiper and Egyptian Goose.

Day 5, 13 September 2019. Maasai Mara to Lake Naivasha

The following morning after breakfast we had our final game drive on our way out of the Maasai Mara, heading for Lake Naivasha.

We arrived at Elsamere Lodge at lunchtime and had lunch after checking into our rooms. This property  used to be the home of Joy and George Adamson  of Born Free fame. They had a passion for the conservation in particular of wild cats, including lions and leopards. After lunch we spent the afternoon until the late evening exploring the hotel grounds and the beautiful yellow-barked acacia woodland for terrestrial birds.  Our finds included Hamerkop, African Fish Eagle, Green Wood Hoopoe, African Grey Woodpecker, White-bellied Tit, and African Thrush. Then we had dinner at the lodge and a good night’s sleep.

Day 6, 14 September 2019. Lake Naivasha

In the morning we had a bird walk on the ground of the lodge before breakfast. This was a morning for boat rides and later a walk on Crescent Island on Lake Naivasha watching birds and many mammals including Plains Zebra, Giraffe, Common Wildebeest, and Impala. It was a suny and hot day, but walking in the shade of the yellow-barked acacias provided relief. We returned to the lodge by boat with fishing African Fish Eagles. Back at the lodge a few Eastern Black-and-white Colobuses showed on a tree right in front of the dining room. Unlike baboons and vervet monkeys, these primates will not distub people having meals. After luch we drove farther south to Lake Oloiden to find more birds. Here we spotted the rare Grey-crested Helmetshrike passing toward its roosting site, another wonderful experience.

As we drove back to the lodge a number of beautiful Masai Giraffes, the largest giraffe subspecies, wandered from their feeding sites toward their roosting site, crossing the main highway that leads to the lodge. A great moment with giraffes up-close as the sun was setting!  We had one more restful night at Elsamere.

Day 7, 15 September 2019. Elsamere to Lake Bogoria National Reserve

Early in the morning after breakfast we drove northwest along the Great Rift Valley to Lake Bogoria National Reserve. This is a saline lake in dry savanna ecosystem. We arrive at Lake Bogoria Spa Resort in time for lunch. After luch we drove into the reserve and spent the better part of the afternoon and evening with flamingos.This is the best place in Kenya to encounter the largest population of Lesser Flamingos in the country, with a few Greater Flamingos among them. Close to 300,000 Lesser Flamingos forage here because it is now the only lake with the right water chemistry to produce the correct species of blue green alge (cyanobacteria), the main food source of this species. Today there were about 50 Greater Flamingos in the flocks of thousands of Lesser Flamingos. What a fabulous spectacle!

Lesser and Greater Flamingos at Lake Bogoria

Day 8, 16 September 2019. Lake Bogoria to Lake Baringo

In the morning we headed back to the lake for photographing flamingo in  the great morning light at Lake Bogoria National Reserve. There was a very beatiful pink glow in the simmering rays of the sunrise. We spent two hours here before breakfast. After breakfast we drove to Lake Baringo, the northernmost Rift Valley Lake in Kenya. This is a paradise for both waterbirds and terrestrial species, both resident and migratory. We took a morning boat tour, looking for birds until lunchtime. It would have been wasting time to drive back to our accommodation for lunch, so we decided to have a hot lunch at  the nearby Soi Safari Lodge and afterwards continue birding. Our local guide did a tremendous job right from the boat tour to bush-and-woodland birding and finally to the famous Tugen Hills cliffs. This was the best  birding day of the trip, with four species of owls (African Scops Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, and Pearl-spotted Owlet), weavers (White-headed and White-billed Buffalo Weavers, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Baglafecht Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Northern Masked Weaver, and Little Weaver), Purple Roller, Blue-cheeked and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Woodland and Malachite Kingfishers, African Darter, Reed Cormorant, and a full slate of herons and egrets including Goliath Heron, among many others.


Goliath Heron
, Lake Baringo

Day 9, 17 Setember 2019. Lake Baringo to Kakamega Forest

After breakfast we drove through the Kerio Valley with a brief stop at Cheploch Gorge, where we searched for and found White-crested Turaco. Other birds we saw here were Black-winged Red Bishop, Southern Black Flycatcher, Black-headed Oriole, and Black-headed Gonolek among other common species. We then continued our drive to Kakamega Forest and arrived in the late afternoon. After meeting the local guide we enjoyed some evening birding and then had dinner at the Rondo Retreat Centre, where we stayed overnight.

Day 10, 18 September 2019. Kakamega Forest

Early in the morning we birded on the grounds of the Rondo Retreat Centre and along a number of nature trails along a nearby river.

After breakfast we drove to Ikuywa River and had a fabulous, neck-breaking birding session along the forest trail. There were birds everywhere. We enjoyed rainforest birds like Dark-backed Weaver, Ross’s Turaco, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Yellow-billed, Yellow-spotted, and Grey-throated Barbets, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Lühder’s Bushshrike, Mackinnon’s Shrike, and the rare Turner’s Eremomela among others, before we went back to the lodge for lunch.  In the evening we took another forest walk on the Pump House Trail and along the local tea plantations. We were delighted to encounter some different species like Red-tailed Bristlebill, African Blue Flycatcher, Slender-billed Greenbul, Joyful Greenbul, Chubb’s Cisticola, Black Sparrowhawk, Brown-chested Alethe, Northern Yellow White-eye, Equatorial Akalat, and White-tailed Ant Thrush, among others.


Mackinnon’s Shrike feeding on a frog, Kakamega Forest

Day 11, 19 September 2019. Kakamega Forest to Lake Nakuru

Early in the morning we had our last birding session around the Rondo Retreat Centre before we loaded the vehicle and headed for Lake Nakuru.

When we arrived in Lake Nakuru National Park we went straight to Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge, checked into our rooms, and had lunch. After lunch we had some rest before proceeding on an afternoon game drive. The water chemistry of Lake Nakuru has really changed in recent years due to the water uprising and submerging parts of the terrestrial ecosystem. This has in turn affected the salinity levels, which impacted directly on the presence here of Lesser Flamingos, many of which have left the area and moved to Lake Baringo. Ground nesting birds like plovers have as well been affected.  We were fortunate enough, however, to view both the White and the Black Rhinoceros this afternoon before we headed for the lakeshore to see Greater Flamingos among other waders. We also saw other great birds, including Saddle-billed Stork, Grey Crowned Crane, Great Egret, Little-Egret, African Spoonbill, Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, and Whiskered Tern among other waders and terrestrial birds. Then we returned to Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge for dinner and an overnight.

African Spoonbill, Lake Nakuru National Park

Day 12, 20 September 2019, Lake Nakuru National Park to Mount Kenya

In the morning we had breakfast and later a morning game drive on our way out of Lake Nakuru National Park to Kenya’s Central Highlands and Mount Kenya. We arrived at the Serena Mountain Lodge on the slope of Mount Kenya early enough to have some rest before lunch. After lunch we took an afternoon walk in the forest, led by the area’s resident naturalist. The afternoon was a bit windy, but still we had great views of Mountain Oriole, Cabanis’s and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Hartlaub’s Turaco, and Heuglin’s White-eye among many others.

Day 13, 21 September 2019. Mount Kenya to Samburu National Park

The morning was somewhat cloudy, but slowly it got better with time. By 6:30 a.m. we were on the roof of the lodge, viewing the forest canopy and the mountain.  As the sun rose the mountain got clearer and the birds started feeding, chirping and singing in the canopy. From here we had some better views than we had had before of Black-throated Apalis and saw Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, African Green Pigeon, Dusky Turtle Dove, Yellow-crowned Canary, and Red-bellied Parrot among others. Then we went for breakfast and afterwards started to head north toward Samburu National Park as it got warmer and drier.

We arrived in Samburu around 11:00 a.m. and took a game drive along the Ewaso Ng’iro River before we head to the lodge for lunch. This river originates in the Mau Escarpment, flowing north and ending in the Lorian Swamp. It is the major source of life, together with the smaller Isiolo River, in this dry savanna ecosystem. Samburu is very dry through most of the year, but it has some unique wildlife found nowhere else in the country.  We arrived at the Samburu Simba Lodge in the Buffalo Springs part of Samburu for lunch and then had a rest during the hottest time of the day. In the afternoon we encountered some wonderful, amazing, and totally different wildlife, including Grevy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Somali Ostrich, Somali Fiscal, White-headed Mousebird, a flock of about 12 Scissor-tailed Kites, and many Steppe Eagles.

Grevy’s Zebra, Samburu National Park

Day 14, 22 September 2019, Samburu National Park

In the morning we had a cup of tea and then a morning game drive before breakfast. After breakfast we spent the whole day in the field with a picnic lunch. The list of new wildlife became even longer with Pygmy Falcon, Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow-Weaver, Vulturine Guineafowl, Palm-nut Vulture, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, and a nesting Martial Eagle with a juvenile. A Leopard resting in a tree and later coming down to quench its thirst in a small pool of water was very rewarding.

Day 15. 23 September 2019. Samburu National Park to Nairobi

In the morning we had breakfast, followed by a morning game drive before leaving Samburu National Park for Nairobi. It was a long driving day, but we were looking forward to the next phase of our tour in the southwestern and coastal regions of the country.  We drove back to the Nairobi Serena Hotel, our host in the city, for dinner and an overnight rest.

White-headed Mousebird, Samburu National Park

Day 16, 24 September 2019. Nairobi to Tsavo West National Park

After breakfast we headed south toward the south-western region of Kenya. Our goal was Tsavo West National Park (9,065 square kilometers/3500 square miles). Together Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks are the largest protected area managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service. They two parks are separated by the A109 road Nairobi-Mombasa and a railway line. Tsavo East is lower in elevation than Tsavo West, which is characterized by scenic volcanic hills and volcanic ash and rocks. It is a trip of about six hours. We stopped at Hunters Lodge along the way to have a cup of tea before continuing. Just before proceeding after tea there was a Striated Heron at the end of the pool, and a little later a White-headed Barbet and a flock of Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes came in. We continued to Tsavo West and had a game drive through the park on our way to the lodge through dense acacia scrub and woodland, very different from Samburu, which very dry and open. We arrive at Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge a bit late, but lunch was still being served. After lunch we checked into our rooms and then took another game drive. There was a lot to see. We drove toward the volcanic ash and rocks and saw lots of birds, including Golden-breasted Starling, Buff-crested Bustard, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Bateleur, and both Three-streaked and Black-crowned Tchagra. This was the first time we came across Klipspringer (a pair) on the volcanic rocks. There also were many Lesser Kudus in the thickets and lots of African Elephants. At sunset we start heading back to Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge to have dinner and stay overnight. Here was plenty of wildlife at the waterhole in front of the dining room and guestrooms, including Plains Zebra, African Buffalo, Yellow Baboon, Impala, and Common Waterbuck.


Golden-breasted Starling
, Tsavo West National Park

Day 17, 25 September 2019. Tsavo West National Park to Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

After coffee and tea we took an early-morning game drive before breakfast. It yielded a lot of birds for which we hardly had to move any distance away from our lodge. After breakfast we had a late-morning game drive on our way to the Taita Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, our next destination. En route we took a walk at Mzima Springs, enjoying Hippopotamuses and colorful fish in the clean, transparent spring water.

From Mzima Springs we drove out of Tsavo West National Park to the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, a private sanctuary of some 110 square kilometers/28,000 acres, arriving in time for lunch at the Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge. After lunch we went along a riverine forest stripe to a marsh with a vast African Elephant community. Along the way we found diverse avian communities ranging from weavers (White-headed and Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, White-browed Sparrow- Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, and Speke’s Weaver), White-browed Coucal, and storks (Woolly-necked, Marabou, and Yellow-billed Storks) to multiple vultures (Hooded, White-backed, Rüppell’s, Lappet-faced, and Palm-nut Vultures). A highlight definitely was the striking Red-bellied Parrot.

As we drove back to the lodge we encountered a Cheetah with four cubs on a kill. The grass was too tall for perfect photos, but it was just gorgeous to enjoy the feeding behavior of mother and cubs. Our first Southern Ground Hornbills in a family of four walked in, but our focus was still on the unique cheetah- and cub behavior, which we watched for rest of the afternoon until there was no more light. On our way back to the lodge, when the cameras were locked away and it would have been much too dark for photos anyway, there suddenly appeared a Serval out of nowhere and equally suddenly disappeared before the cameras were out. Quite a few unidentifiable nightjars also flew over.

Day 18, 26 September 2019. Taita Hills Forests IBA and Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

Our second day at Taita Hills was scheduled for a forest bird walk in the morning. After breakfast we drove to the Taita Hills Forests IBA (International Bird and Biodiversity Area as defined by BirdLife International) some two hours away. We were ascending to a higher altitude of about 700 meters/2297 feet elevation. We arrived a bit late at around 8:30 a.m. and met our resident guide, Nathaniel, who was waiting for us. It was slightly chilly here, and the forest was quite dense. These highly fragmented forests patches are of great importance for conservation, because they hold three endemic birds and many other endemic taxa, including plants. We were targeting Taita Thrush, Taita White-eye, Taita Apalis, Taita Fiscal, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Striped Pipit, and White-starred Robin. We saw and photographed most of these apart from the thrush, which we saw but it was very shy, and the apalis, which we did not manage to see.

We had to return to the sanctuary for a late lunch and our last game drive at Taita Hills in the afternoon. We had dinner and the second and last night at the Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge.

Day 19, 27 September 2019. Taita Hills to Watamu via Mida Creek

With a picnic lunch we drove north-west toward the Indian Ocean coast, stopping at Mida Creek for lunch, followed by birding at the creek. We were joined for lunch by our local guide, Mr. Jonathan. Mida Creek is a tidal inlet, a diverse ecosystem, including different species of mangroves and open sand and mud flats. Its life is heavily dependent on tidal movements. The creek covers an area of about 32 square kilometers/12 square miles. We encountered a rich diversity of avian coastal species in this ecosystem. Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Caspian Plover, Grey Plover, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ruff, Terek Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Sooty Gull, and Gull-billed Tern were some of the species recorded. Since we were still birding around 15:30 p.m. the tide was slowly heading up the shore and the shore started flooding, leaving no room for feeding waders. At this time we headed to Sabaki River, where three different rivers, the Tsavo, Galana, and Athi, finally pour their water into the Indian Ocean. However, birding was not to happen, because the tide was rising beyond the mangroves, and this would be the time for hippos to come onto the land. So we unfortunately had to stop, head to our hotel, and look forward for forest birding tomorrow. We had dinner and stayed overnight at the Turtle Bay Beach Club in Watamu.

Day 20, 28 September2019. Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve

We had a very early breakfast and then headed to the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve for birding. This is a large continuous block of coastal dry forest on the Kenyan coastline. It’s unique with large numbers of endemic and/or endangered species of wildlife, including mammals and birds. We didn’t have any luck with the endemic Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew, but the birding was fantastic. Our highlights were Black-bellied Starling, Amani Sunbird, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Fischer’s Turaco, Trumpeter Hornbill, Little Yellow Flycatcher, Black-headed Apalis, and, most importantly, Sokoke Scops Owl. Back at the hotel we found both Holub’s Golden Weavers and Golden Palm Weavers in a nesting colony. We spent our final night again at the Turtle Bay Beach Club.


Sokoke Scops Owl, Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve

Day 21, 29 September 2019.  Departure

We flew back from Watamu to the Nairobi airport to board our flights back home.

 

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

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