Monday, 5 November 2012

Kenya - October 2012

This was a 24 day birding and safari trip to Kenya in East Africa for Yvonne and myself. We had previously visited Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, and having lived in South Africa for many years, we knew Southern Africa well. So this was our first trip to East Africa and we hoped to see many new birds and quite a few new mammals.
Grey Crowned Crane
The trip had been arranged with Moses Kandie of BirdingPal Tours ( After looking at quite a few tour options, the short-listed tour companies considered were African Jacana Safaris, Birding and Beyond Safaris, Ontdek Kenya Safaris and Origin Safaris. Most tour operators were not prepared to offer flexible tours and either did not provide us with quotes for our planned itinerary or just offered one of their standard tours. Many of these standard tours were not competitive on price, even for similar accommodation standards to what we selected for our tour, and without being flexible with regards to itinerary, were soon eliminated as viable options.
Originally we had planned to visit both Kenya and Ethiopia but the overall trip would have been over a month, so we decided to concentrate on Kenya only. Another option suggested by some tour operators was Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda but again the trip would have been too long. Many tour operators offer standard tours to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Very few however offer tours to Ethiopia and this country has some wonderful scenery, rare mammals, endemic birds and interesting culture, such as the churches carved out of stone in northern Ethiopia.
We flew with Qatar Airlines, rated as one of the best airlines in the world, as it offered good fares and the most direct route from Melbourne to Nairobi, with minimal transfer times at Doha airport. Again we examined many flight options taking into account the airline ratings and customer feedback. The service on Qatar Airlines was excellent however the check-in arrangements at Nairobi airport were a bit of a shambles. Transferring at Doha airport is also time consuming with buses used to take passengers from the plane to the terminal and then back again for the next flight. Doha airport itself is huge and well spread out resulting in long bus rides to get to your aircraft.

The trip to Kenya was timed to see the Wildebeest migration at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, which is located in south-western Kenya, contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Visiting Africa during spring is always a good time for game viewing, birding and flowers. However what we found was that many parts of Kenya were very dry and dusty in the lead up to the rains which start in October/November.
Regarding birding, Kenya has an extensive bird list with 1,050 regular species of which 550 were potential new birds (lifers) for us. Thanks to the sterling efforts of Moses we managed to see 595 species of birds, of which 292 were lifers.
Overall it was a pretty intensive trip, although we did have some time to relax and enjoy some of the wonderful accommodation on offer.
The original trip was based around the standard BirdingPal 17 day tour as detailed on ( which we modified to include the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and more time along the way. Moses Kandie who was our guide provided a selection of accommodation options from which we could choose from.

Map of Kenya

The actual trip itinerary as it transpired was as follows:

Day 0: 27th September 2012
Depart Melbourne at 22:55 on Qatar Airways arriving into Doha at 06:10 on 28th September

Day 1: 28th September
Fly from Doha to Nairobi departing at 07:35 and arriving at 12:45. After clearing customs, drive though Nairobi and continue onto the Aruba Safaris Camp situated on the border of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve close to the Talek Gate.

Aruba Safaris Camp ( for 3 nights
Day 2: 29th September
Early morning birding around the resort area, followed by game drive and birding in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Birding along the river close to resort in afternoon.

Day 3: 30th September
Full day birding and game viewing in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

Target species: Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Grey Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon, African Hobby, Great Snipe, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Dusky Tit, Singing Bush Lark, White-tailed Lark, Pectoral-patch Cisticola and Anteater Chat.
Day 4: 1st October
After breakfast, drive to Lake Naivasha arriving in time for lunch. After lunch, birding around the gardens of the resort. Late afternoon drive up to Kinangop plateau, which overlooks Lake Naivasha, for the endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw.

Target species: Sharpe’s Longclaw (endemic), Stout Cisticola, Aberdare Cisticola (endemic) and Golden-winged Sunbird. Shoreline birding for Black-lored Babbler, Dusky Turtle Dove and Grey-capped Warbler.
Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort ( for 2 nights
Day 5: 2nd October
After breakfast drive to Lake Oloiden and then onto the Crater Lake Game Sanctuary.

Target species: White-headed Barbet, Red-throated Tit, Grey-crested Helmetshrike and Hildebrandt’s Francolin.
Day 6: 3rdOctober
After early breakfast, drive to Lake Nakuru for a visit to the Lake Nakuru National Park. Lunch at Lake Nakuru Lodge followed by further birding and game viewing, then drive through to Lake Baringo in late afternoon.

Target species: Broad-billed Roller, Scaly Francolin, Mottled Swift, Nyanza Swift, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Spot-flanked Barbet, African Grey Woodpecker, Northern Puff-back, Grey-backed Fiscal, Tiny Cisticola and Angola Swallow.
Soi Safari Lodge ( for2 nights
Day 7: 4th October
Morning boat ride along the shore to Molod River mouth for Long-toed Plover, Senegal Thick-knee, Winding Cisticola. After breakfast, proceed for nocturnal birds search: Slender-tailed Nightjar, Three-banded Courser, up to five species of owls (White-faced and African Scops Owls, Giant, Spotted and Pearl Spotted Owlet).

Evening drive to West Bay area for Three-streaked Tchagra, Black-headed Lapwing, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Lead-coloured Flycatcher, Dimorphic Egret, Red-faced Warbler, Little Bee-eater, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike and Bat Hawk.
Day 8: 5th October
After breakfast, early morning walk at the cliffs close to Lake Baringo for Hemprich’s Hornbill, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Lanner Falcon, Pygmy Falcon and Shikra. Then drive to Kakamega forest stopping on the way for brief birding, looking for White-crested Turaco, Ross’s Turaco, Marico Sunbird, Silverbird and Boran Cisticola. Lunch at Kerio View, then explore Chebonet Dam and the surrounding area for Jackson’s Widow, Lesser Jacana and others.
Evening arrival at the Kakamega forest.
Rondo Retreat ( for 3 nights
Day 9: 6th October
Morning birding in Kakamega forest and late afternoon walk along the trails around Rondo Retreat.

Target species: Greenbuls, Brown-chested Alethe, Equatorial Akalat, Double-toothed Barbet, Chubb’s Cisticola, White-spotted Flufftail, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Grey Parrot (rare), Great Blue Turaco, Ross’s Turaco, Blue Malkoha, Blue-headed Bee-eater, White-headed Wood Hoopoe and Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill.
Apart from the birds, Tree Squirrel plus Red-tailed, Colobus and Blue Monkeys should be seen.
Day 10: 7th October
Morning and late afternoon birding in Kakamega forest.
Target species: Banded Prinia, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, African Broadbill, Brown-capped Weaver and Red-headed Malimbe.
Day 11: 8th October
After breakfast drive to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, with stops along the way for birding. Late afternoon drive and walk along Dunga road in Kisumu.
Target species: Caruthers’s Cisticola, Papyrus Canary, Red-chested Sunbird, Marsh Tchagra, Black-headed Gonolek and Eastern Plantain-eater.
Imperial Hotel ( for 1 night
Day 12: 9th October
After morning breakfast, take a short boat ride from Hippo Point near the village of Dunga.
Target species: Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Swamp Flycatcher, Water Dikkop, Papyrus Gonolek and African Skimmer.
In late morning leave Kisumu for a long drive to Subukia.
Subukia Bandas Lodge, Muringa Farm, Subukia for 1 night
Day 13: 10th October
After breakfast birding around Muringa Farm, drive through to Thompson Falls for a short stop. Drive past Solia Game Lodge on way to Naromoru for lunch. After lunch drive through to Nyeri and then Mukuruweini for Hinde’s Babbler and Singing Cisticola. Overnight in Nyeri.
Target species: Brown Parissoma, Mountain Buzzard, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Moustached Tinkerbird, Slender-billed Cisticola, Sharpe’s Starling, Tacazze Sunbird and Abyssinian Crimsonwing.
Green Hills Hotel ( for 1 night
Day 14: 11th October
Drive through to Castle Forest Lodge after breakfast, followed with birding along access road to Castle Forest. Castle Forest Lodge is located in the thick forest on the slopes of Mount Kenya at just over 2,000m elevation.

Target species: Red-fronted Parrot, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Brown Woodland Warbler, plus Abbott’s, Waller’s and Kenrick’s Starlings, Olive Ibis (early morning/late evening), White-tailed Crested-flycatcher and African Emerald Cuckoo.
Castle Forest Lodge ( for 2 nights
Day 15: 12th October
Morning birding washed out with heavy rains. Birding along the Castle Forest access road after lunch.

Target species: Black-headed, Chestnut-throated and Grey Apalis, Oriole Finch, Mountain Oriole, Eastern Bronze-naped pigeon, Mountain Wagtail, Mountain Greenbul, African Hill Babbler and Mountain Yellow Warbler.
Day 16: 13th October
After breakfast, drive through to Nairobi with short stop at the Mwea rice fields. Arrival at hotel before lunch and afternoon free for relaxing before the long drive to Voi the following day.

Country Lodge ( for 1 night
Day 17: 14th October

Early morning departure to Voi Wildlife Lodge for lunch and afternoon birding around lodge.
Target species: Straw-tailed Whydah, Somali Crombec, Scaly Chatterer, White-headed Mousebird, Black-bellied and Tsavo (Purple-banded) Sunbird.

Voi Wildlife Lodge ( for 1 night
Day 18: 15th October

Early morning departure to Taita Hills for the Taita endemics, then drive to Lumo Conservancy for an overnight stay.
Target species: Taita Thrush, Taita White-eye, Taita Apalis, Striped-faced Greenbul and Evergreen Forest Warbler (hard to see).

Lions Bluff Lodge ( for 2 nights
Day 19: 16th October

After breakfast do a morning game drive in the Lumo Conservancy till lunch, followed by a late afternoon game drive.
Day 20: 17th October

Early morning breakfast and departure to Tsavo West National Park and Lake Jipe.
Target species: Friedman’s Lark, Fischer’s Sparrow-lark, Pink-breasted and Foxy lark, Taveta Golden Weaver, Hartlaub’s Bustard, Vulturine Guineafowl and Golden Pipit.

Voi Wildlife Lodge ( for 1 night
Day 21: 18th October

Early morning breakfast and departure to Malindi via Tsavo East National Park.
Target species: Black-faced Sandgrouse, Somali and Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Somali Courser, Somali Bunting, Somali Ostrich, Somali Bunting, Pale Prinia and Caspian Plover

The Gerenuk, Bat-eared Fox and Oryx should be seen here as well.
Overnight at Eden Roc Hotel ( in Malindi on the North coast.

We only stayed one night at the Eden Roc Hotel due to poor maintenance and security concerns. We spent the next two nights at Temple Point Resort ( which was excellent.
Day 22: 19th October

Birding in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest for morning and then again in late afternoon.
Target species: Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, Forest and Pale Batis, Sokoke Pipit, Sokoke Scops Owl, Amani and Plain-backed Sunbird, Red-tailed Ant-thrush, Fischer’s and Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Fischer’s Turaco, Green Barbet and East Coast Akalat.

Day 23: 20th October
Early breakfast and birding in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest for early morning. Late morning visit to Malindi harbour for Sooty Gull and then Mida Creek for the Crab Plover.

Late afternoon birding in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest for Scaly Babbler, Green Malkoha, Lowland Tiny Greenbul and Fischer’s Greenbul.
Day 24: 21st October

Drive from Malindi to Mombasa airport, which takes about 2.5 hours.
Depart from Mombasa Airport on Kenya Airways for Nairobi at 13:40. Connect with Qatar Airways flight to Doha departing Nairobi at 18:00.

Day 25: 22nd October
Arrive into Melbourne at 22:25 on Qatar flight from Doha.

General Impressions
Moses Kandie provided a well organised and professionally run trip around Kenya. In addition, he was an excellent birder who made a lot of effort to locate the birds. He also had an extensive network of local guides who were able to assist with finding specialist birds, such as the roosting sites for the owls and nightjars around Lake Baringo.

Charles Kiama ( was our driver who was excellent and he spent many hours behind the wheel navigating the traffic and some horrendous roads.
We were very well looked after during the trip by both Moses and Charles, which was much appreciated.

Moses and Charles
It’s essential for any visitor to Kenya to have a good driver in addition to a good guide. We saw quite a few horrific accidents along the way and driving conditions in Kenya should not be underestimated. By the way Charles Kiama can be contacted directly by email or telephone (254- 0725-581-656) should anyone want a good driver.
Any itinerary for Kenya also needs to allow for unforseen delays. On our trip we had a fanbelt bearing failure which took a day to repair and then a brake pad which fell out and took a couple of hours to replace all the front brake pads in a local garage.
Broken down in Masaai Mara and looking for help!
Generally it took a long time to get from place to place with the road conditions and heavy transport trucks making progress slow. The Kenyan solution to speeding vehicles is to build numerous speed humps, some with double and triple humps.
The vehicle we had was a spacious 4WD minivan with a pop-up roof, which was excellent for birding and game viewing in the game reserves. The vehicle was comfortable with lots of space for our luggage, cameras, binoculars etc. for the two of us.

Most of the areas we travelled though had small subsistence farming communities with very little intensive farming seen. The small towns we travelled though were similar to rural towns that we have seen previously in Africa. Outside of the game reserves, Giraffe, Zebra and Thomson’s Gazelle would often be seen in amongst the rural farms.
The Kenyan people that we met were friendly and most spoke English very well. Many took an interest in the birds and wildlife.

Site Information
Visas for Australian passport holders can be purchased on arrival at Nairobi Airport for US$50. The arrivals formalities were completed quickly and we met up with Moses and Charles, organised some local currency and then headed off into Nairobi.

The drive from Nairobi Airport through Nairobi and then onto the Maasai Mara Game Reserve took about six hours with some appalling dirt roads for the latter half of the trip. We had some light rain towards the end of the trip which made the roads very slippery. Somehow Charles managed to navigate the slippery tracks through the bush in the dark and we eventually arrived at about 7:30pm at the Aruba Safaris Camp. On arrival, we were given a warm welcome and shown to our excellent tented accommodation. After dinner we crashed out for some well earned sleep.

Aruba Safaris Camp accommodation

Of interest were the Marabou Stork seen within Nairobi and the Kori Bustard seen along the route.
Kori Bustard

Maasai Mara
The Maasai Mara Game Reserve is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. It is famous for its large population of predators and the annual migration of Zebra, Thomson's Gazelle and Blue Wildebeest to and from the Serengeti every year from July to October.
Family of Elephant on Maasai Mara plains
The Maasai Mara consists mainly of grassy plains with minimal other vegetation, except in the river gulleys where there were trees and scrubs. The area was fairly dry for our visit although there were areas where the grass was quite green. Large number of Wildebeest and Zebra were congregating close to the border with Tanzania presumably in preparation for the return to the Serengeti.
Mixed herd of Blue Wildebeest and Zebra
Other parts of the park had quite a few Thomson’s Gazelle, Topi and Giraffe. There were a few Hartebeest, Grant’s Gazelle and Eland seen as well. The only predator seen during the two day visit was a single lion.

Reputed the fastest antelope in Africa, the Topi (Damaliscus korrigum) is a savannah antelope renowned for their solitary sentinel position and will stand for hours on a termite mound as it surveys the surrounding territory

Thomson's Gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii)
The birding was generally sparse with the most abundant birds being the larks, pipits and cisticolas. Of interest were the Grey Kestrel, Angola Swallow, Black-lored Babbler, Rüppell’s Robin-chat, Sooty Chat, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Grey-capped Social Weaver.
Grey-capped Social Weaver
The birding around the Aruba Safaris Camp was a lot more productive than the Maasai Mara. Birds of interest were the African Pygmy Kingfisher, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, White-headed Barbet, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Red-faced Crombec and Purple Grenadier.
Red-faced Crombec
Lake Naivasha
Lake Naivasha is a beautiful freshwater lake surrounded by yellow fever trees (Acacia xanthophlea). The lake attracts a great range of game to the shores, with Giraffe, Buffalo, Waterbuck and Colobus Monkey, together with Hippo seen in the evenings.
Mantled Guereza or Colobus Monkey (Colobus guereza)
The accommodation at Lake Naivasha was brilliant with Waterbuck, Giraffe, Kirk’s Dikdik, Colobus Monkey and East African Spring Hare seen in the gardens. At night Hippo come up from the lake to graze on the lawns.
Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort gardens and accommodation
The birding around the resort is excellent and highlights were Fischer’s Lovebird, African Grey Woodpecker, Hildebrandt’s Starling, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher and Red-billed Firefinch.
White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher
In the late afternoon we went up the Kinangop Plateau to see the rare and endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw plus Dusky Turtle Dove, Hunter’s Cisticola and Golden-winged Sunbird.
Crater Lakes Sanctuary
Crater Lake Game Sanctuary is a green soda lake at the bottom of an extinct volcano on the western side of Lake Naivasha and north of the village of Kongoni, with many trails including one for hikers along the steep but diminutive crater rim. The nature trails lead through the vegetation around the crater with plenty of wildlife including over 170 species of birds, plus Giraffe, Zebra and Buffalo lurking in the woods.
Crater Lake
The water levels in the lake had risen considerably meaning that we weren’t able to take the walk through the crater. Birding in the area was good with the highlights being Hildebrandt’s Francolin, Nyanza Swift, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, White-fronted Bee-eater, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Grey-crested Helmetshrike and Reichenow’s Seedeater.
Grey-crested Helmetshrike
Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru National Park (188 square kilometers), created in 1961 around Lake Nakuru, is best known for its thousands, sometimes millions of flamingos nesting along the shores. The lake is very shallow and strongly alkaline. The landscape includes areas of marsh and grasslands alternating with rocky cliffs and outcrops, stretches of acacia woodland and rocky hillsides covered with forest on the eastern perimeter.

View over Lake Nakuru with flooded roads in foreground
We arrived at the game reserve in the early morning and then left in the mid afternoon, after lunch at Lake Nakuru Lodge. The lake had filled considerably, flooding some of the roads, and the salinity levels in the lake had also dropped, which had resulted in most of the flamingos moving elsewhere.

Cooling off
Birding alongside the lake was excellent with many water birds and waders seen including several hundred Ruff. The acacia woodlands and cliff areas were also productive with Little Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Grey-crested Helmetshrike and Broad-billed Roller seen.

Mocking Cliff Chat
Rothschild’s Giraffe were seen as were many hundreds of Buffalo. On leaving the park we had an Olive Baboon jump into the vehicle and hijack some food. Not the most pleasant of experiences when getting up and close to a big hairy baboon!

Lake Baringo
Lake Baringo is, after Lake Turkana, the most northern of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, with a surface area of about 130 square kilometres and an elevation of about 970 metres. The lake is fed by several rivers; Molo, Perkerra and Ol Arabel, and has no obvious outlet; the waters are assumed to seep through lake sediments into the faulted volcanic bedrock. It is one of the two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley in Kenya, the other being Lake Naivasha. It lies off the beaten track in a hot and dusty setting and over 470 species of birds have been recorded there, occasionally including migrating flamingos. A Goliath Heronry is located on a rocky islet in the lake known as Gibraltar.
African Fish Eagle

The water levels in the lake had risen dramatically over the past six months which had resulted in a number of the lakeside hotels being flooded. We stayed at the Soi Safari Lodge which was reasonably comfortable and had good views overlooking the lake.

Flooded Lake Baringo Club Accommodation
Birding in the area was excellent with many northern Kenyan species seen, such as the White-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Jackson’s Hornbill and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse.
Senegal Thick-knee
Other birding highlights were Senegal Thick-knee, Three-banded Courser, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Spotted Palm Thrush, Black-headed Lapwing, Blue-naped Mousebird, Brown Babbler and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu.
African Scops Owl (only 17cm)
Kakamega Forest
Kakamega Forest is situated north-west of Nairobi near to the border with Uganda. It is said to be Kenya's last remnant of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once spanned the continent and is now the only place to find many of Kenya’s birds.

Including reserves, the Kakamega Forest has an area of about 230 square kilometres with about half remaining as indigenous forest. There are numerous grassy clearings and glades. Large mammals are rare, although Colobus, Red-tailed and Blue Monkey are easily seen. Parts of the forest also contain unique and rich highland ecosystems. The climate is very wet with over two metres of rain annually, with the rainy seasons from April-to-May and August-to-September.

Rondo Retreat
Rondo Retreat has colonial styled accommodation and is a wonderful place to stay with lovely gardens in the rainforest. The accommodation is excellent and spacious, with lovely verandas overlooking the forest. The meals are also excellent with meals being served as compared with the buffet meals available at the other accommodation.
The birding is excellent with many of the rainforest birds seen, these being quite different to the species seen so far in the trip. Both Ross’s and Great Blue Touraco, plus Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill and the nesting Crowned Eagle are easily seen from the gardens.

Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill
Other birding highlights were African Broadbill, White-spotted Flufftail, Red-chested Owlet, Red-headed Malimbe, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Double-toothed Barbet and Yellow-billed Barbet.

Double-toothed Barbet
The Kakamega Forest was the best birding site that we visited and more time would be required to track down many of the difficult to find speciality birds.
Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake and was named after Queen Victoria by John Hanning Speke, the first European to discover this lake. With a surface area of 68,800 square kilometres, Lake Victoria is the largest tropical lake in the world.
Lake Victoria receives most of its water from direct precipitation or from thousands of small streams. Two rivers leave the lake, the White Nile flows out at Jinja, Uganda on the lake's north shore, and the Katonga River flows out at Lukaya on the western shore to Lake George.

Lake Victoria (Kavirondo Gulf) with Kisumu in background
We unfortunately were only able to see a very small part of the lake, an area of Lake Victoria known as Kavirondo Gulf.
Birding on Lake Victoria was confined to a very small part of Kavirondo Gulf immediately adjacent to Kisumu, with the highlight being the Papyrus Gonolek, which can be difficult to see. Some birding was also done along the dusty roads and lakeside. Some of the target birds such as the Papyrus Canary and Eastern Grey Plantain-eater were not seen.

The Imperial Hotel in Kisumu was very comfortable and also had good internet access.
Subukia is located in the Great Rift Valley close to Nyahururu north east of Nakuru.

Subukia Bandas Lodge
The Subukia Bandas Lodge on Muringa Farm has very rustic accommodation in rondavels and provides excellent meals in the restaurant situated on the lake.

Silvery-cheeked Hornbill
Birding around the Muringa Farm was very productive with highlights being Hartlaub’s Turaco, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Red-throated Wryneck, Black-throated White-eye and Abyssinian Thrush.

Thompson Falls
Thompson Falls is a popular tourist stop and also offers accommodation.

Thompson Falls
A short stop at the falls had a pair of Crowned Eagle plus Mountain Buzzard, Sharpe’s Starling, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and Kikuyu White-eye being seen.

Two brief roadside stops in the Ndaragwa area had African Snipe and Cape Eagle-owl (MacKinder’s subspecies) being seen.

For the Eagle-owl site we stopped alongside the road and met up with Paul who had been monitoring the breeding success of the Eagle-owl in the area over at least the past 10 years. Paul showed us the nesting site which was well hidden in the cliff face in amongst vines and other vegetation. Impossible to see the bird without having its location pointed out.

In the late afternoon we visited the Mukuruweini area which has steep slopes leading down to the valley and has small farms mixed with some indigenous bush. We walked a track down the steep hillside and eventually managed to locate a single Hinde’s Babbler with the help of local expert Lazarus. Singing Cisticola was also seen on the hillside slopes.

The overnight stay was at the Green Hills Hotel in Nyeri which managed to produce the worst dinner for the trip. They then tried to overcharge us for drinks which we never had when we were checking out the next morning. Not a hotel that is recommended and the more expensive Outspan Hotel is probably a better option.

Mount Kenya
Mount Kenya is Kenya’s highest (and Africa’s second highest) mountain and rises to 5,200m. Whereas one can walk up Mount Kilimanjaro, the climb up Mount Kenya is for serious climbers. The Castle Forest Lodge has guides available for the 5 or 7 day climb up to the summit of Mount Kenya.

Mount Kenya as seen from the air
Castle Forest Lodge is situated in the foothills of Mount Kenya at an elevation of 2,080m and is surrounded by tropical rainforest. Unfortunately we were not able to see Mount Kenya as it was covered in heavy cloud during our stay. The lodge provides excellent meals and has very comfortable accommodation. Nice touches are the personal service provided by the staff and lighting of fires in the rondavel room in the evenings.

Guides and staff at Castle Forest Lodge
Walking through the forests requires a guide as the local forest dwelling elephants can be aggressive and two years ago an American woman and her one year old daughter were killed by elephants close to the Castle Forest Lodge. During our stay we had about eight elephant come though the camp in the late afternoon and they stayed around through part of the evening.

Birding was mostly confined to the access road which provides good access to the forest birds. For the first day we had good weather however for the second day, heavy rain and mist set in for the morning, however we managed to get in some birding in the afternoon.
Birding highlights included Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Abbott’s Starling, African Hill Babbler, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon and Mountain Oriole.

Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk
We didn’t see as many birds as we had hoped for and this was probably due to the lack of early morning birding, which was impacted on by the rain. The surrounding rainforest has a lot of potential for good birding and a longer stay would have been preferable.
At nearly 22,000 square kilometres, Tsavo is the largest national park in Kenya and one of the largest in the world. Due to its size the park was split into two, Tsavo West and Tsavo East, for easier administration.

Voi is located on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway and sits between Tsavo West and East. The Voi Wildlife Lodge is located just outside of the town of Voi and sits on the edge of Tsavo East National Park overlooking a waterhole.

Voi Wildlife Lodge
The accommodation was very spacious and comfortable and the resort grounds offered some good birding and game viewing.
Birds of interest included Spotted Eagle-owl, Red-bellied Parrot, Von Der Decken’s Hornbill, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Dodson’s Bulbul (recent split), Pangani Longclaw, Black-bellied Sunbird and African Silverbill.

Pangani Longclaw
Taita Hills
The Taita Hills are a Precambrian mountain range in the south-west of Kenya in Taita-Taveta District. The hills consist of three massifs namely Dabida, Sagalla in the southern side of Voi township and Kasigau in the south near the border of Tanzania. The Dawida massif is the largest and tallest of the three, with an altitude of 2,228 meters above sea level at its highest peak, Vuria. Dabida has three other main peaks: Iyale, Wesu, and Susu.

View over Taiti Hills (1,800m) with Kilimanjaro (5,900m) in background with small patch of snow
The hills are known for their moist forests with a unique fauna and flora. More than 20 endemic species of African violets occur exclusively in that region and known endemic bird species are the Taita Thrush and Taita Apalis. The Taita Falcon and the Taita Fiscal were first discovered at the hills but occur elsewhere too. Also an amphibian genus Boulengerula occurs only at the Taita Hills. The native Taita people are living at the edge of the forests and develop the soil which is very productive. The region was severely logged in the past and the remaining indigenous forest is now part of a nature reserve.

Birds of interest included Stripe-faced Greenbul, Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis, Taita White-eye, Striped Pipit, Common Whitethroat and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler.

Tsavo West
The Tsavo West National Park is covered in volcanic cones, rocky outcrops and lava flows. The northern part of Tsavo West is the most developed in terms of lodges and infrastructure and has spectacular scenery with a rolling volcanic landscape carpeted in long grass and dense bush.

Herds of elephant migrate through the area and the vegetation appeared to be under severe stress with many of the acacia thorn trees damaged by elephants. It would appear to us that some form of game management, such as culling, is required. Hunting of game, in any form, is however prohibited in Kenya.
In addition, herds of cattle were seen within the reserve area, which is placing further pressure on the limited resources. Generally the area was very dry and receives limited rainfall, so any impacts on the vegetation, especially trees, would take a long time to recover.

In the far south western corner on the Kenya and Tanzania border is Lake Jipe, a large fresh water lake which is fed by runoff from Mount Kilimanjaro and the North Pare mountains.

Recent kill with Lake Jipe and the hills of Tanzania in background
The area also has important historical WW1 battle sites where the British and South African forces under General Jan Smuts clashed with the nimble Germans under command of Colonel Paul von Lettow Vorbeck, who avoided capture and defeat. Kenya used to be known as British East Africa, Tanzania was German East Africa and Mozambique was Portuguese East Africa.

Lions Bluff Lodge with views over Tsavo West to the hills in Tanzania
We stayed at the Lions Bluff Lodge which is situated on a large hill overlooking the plains of Tsavo West. The accommodation was outstanding, as were the meals and service provided by the staff and management. The accommodation was in huge tents mounted on wooden platforms with a balcony overlooking the plains and facing towards Mt Kilimanjaro, which unfortunately couldn’t be seen for most of the time due to cloud.

In the evening elephants wandered through the lodge area in search of food and caused quite a bit of damage to the gardens and trees.
We saw a group of five lion at a recent kill, however no cheetah or leopard were seen.

Yellow-necked Spurfowl
Birds of interest for the area around the lodge were Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Rüppell’s Vulture, White-bellied Bustard, Hartlaub’s Bustard, Taita Fiscal, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Rosy-patched Bushshrike and Pink-breasted Lark.

Hartlaub's Bustard
For the trip to Lake Jipe, birds of interest were Palm-nut Vulture, Buff-crested Bustard, Double-banded Courser, Taveta Weaver, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Somali Bunting and Grey-headed Silverbill.
Leucistic Lappet-faced Vulture
Tsavo East
Across the Nairobi-Mombasa highway from Tsavo West is Tsavo East. Famous for its large numbers of elephant and spectacular herds of up to 1,000 buffalo, Tsavo East has more open savannah than its western sibling.
Tsavo East Gate on road to Malindi

The scrub-covered hills of the southern park have a very remote feel and the park, despite its great game, does not attract large numbers of tourists. The best game viewing is along the watercourses and at the Kanderi swamp, which is not far from the main Voi gate. Thirty kilometres from the gate is the Aruba Dam and lion are commonly spotted around here, although for our visit the dam was completely dry.
For a number of years only the southern third of the park was open to the public because of the danger posed by poachers, and visitors were likely to encounter carcasses of tuskless elephants. In the past the park was hard hit by poachers who slaughtered horrifying numbers of rhino, elephant and other species. Long at the epicentre of a poaching war which decimated rhino numbers from approximately 8,000 in 1970 to less than 50 some two decades later, elephant numbers plummeted from 50,000 in the 1960’s to 5,000 twenty years later.

During our drive from Voi to Malindi through Tsavo East, most of the area was very dry, some as dry as the Kalahari Desert with the same red sand, and we didn’t see much in the way of big game. As we got closer to the eastern border of Tsavo East it was noticeably greener as a result of recent rains. Outside of the national park the bush was very dense and lush, which supports the earlier comments on game management.

Golden Pipit
Birds of interest were the Somali Ostrich, Vulturine Guineafowl, Somali Bee-eater, Black-headed Lapwing (different subspecies to the one seen at Lake Baringo and noticeably different), Somali Courser, Pringle’s Puffback, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Tsavo Sunbird, Golden Palm Weaver, Golden Pipit, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-lark and Blue-capped Cordon-bleu.

Somali Ostrich
I had particularly wanted to see the Somali Ostrich and Vulturine Guineafowl, the latter being seen after we had left the national park and a very impressive bird.

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve is a 420 km2 coastal forest in Kenya managed by Kenya Forest Service. It is the largest and most intact coastal forest in East Africa, with 20% of Kenya's bird species, 30% of the butterfly species and at least 24 rare and endemic bird, mammal and butterfly species.

The forest has 40 recorded mammal species including African Elephant, African Buffalo, African Civet, Caracal, Syke’s Monkeys, Yellow Baboons and Lesser Galago (or bushbaby). Some of Kenya’s rarest mammals are found here, including the Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew, Sokoke Bushy-tailed Mongoose and Ader’s Duiker.
There are over 270 species of birds recorded in the forest including several rare and endemic species. The Clarke’s Weaver is only found in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and in another area 30 kms further north of Arabuko-Sokoke. Other globally threatened bird species found in Arabuko-Sokoke include: Amani Sunbird, East Coast Akalat, Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit and Spotted Ground Thrush.

Conditions in the forest are hot and humid, with birds generally difficult to find, especially the skulkers and shy birds such as, Little Greenbul, Fischer’s Greenbul and East Coast Akalat.
With the assistance of local expert William, we managed to see Clarke’s Weaver which can be very difficult, plus other difficult birds such as, East Coast Akalat, Sokoke Scops Owl, Four-colored Bushshrike, Sokoke Batis, Green Tinkerbird, Sokoke Pipit, Amali Sunbird and Scaly Babbler. We also saw a couple of the rare Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew which is a surprisingly large shrew.

William’s ability to find the birds was quite amazing and seeing various owls at their roosting sites was fantastic.
Mida Creek
Mida Creek is located to the east of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and is one of the most productive mangrove ecosystems. Covering 32km2, this tidal inlet forms part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve together with the forest.

Mida Creek is a large creek lined with mangrove forest and renowned for its waders, kingfishers and Crab Plover. The forest and creek are linked by complex natural water flow systems and the health of each habitat is dependent on the other. Beyond the mangroves, beneath the open waters of the creek are submerged seagrass beds and coral reefs.
Mida Creek is a key stop-over and non-breeding site for migrating birds. The birds re-fuel on the variety of invertebrate food items buried in the muddy sand flats at low tide and roost on the exposed sandbanks and on the mangroves at high tide.

We saw about 40 Crab Plover at low tide and then a couple of hundred from the Temple Point Resort which overlooks the estuary, the following morning.

Temple Point Resort

Birding Field Guides
We used the following field guides, all obtained through Amazon Books:

Birds of East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi), by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe
Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania, by Dale Zimmerman, Donald Turner and David Pearson

Birds of Africa (South of the Sahara), by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan
Of the field guides used, the first field guide was by far the best. The illustrations and distribution maps were excellent, although there have been quite a few splits in bird species since this field guide was prepared. We didn’t use the second field guide much at all and the third field guide had relatively poor illustrations but was useful to understand bird distributions and links between birds seen in Southern Africa with those seen in East Africa.

Mount Kilimanjaro seen above the clouds and haze of the African plains
The full list of birds seen, using IOC taxonomy (including subspecies), is available from the author.

Kenya has quite a few mammals not seen in Southern Africa, such as the Beisa Oryx, Lesser Kudu, Topi, Grant’s Gazelle, Gerenuk (Giraffe Neck), Thomson’s Gazelle and Rothschild's Giraffe.

The list of the 45 mammals plus subspecies seen on the trip was as follows:

Elephant-Shrews (Macroscelididae)
Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew (Rhynchocyon chrysopygus)

Hyraxes (Procaviidae)

Rock Hyrax [sp] (Procavia capensis)
Elephants (Elephantidae)

African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Lorises and Galagos (Lorisidae)
Senegal Bushbaby (Galago senegalensis)

Old World Monkeys (Cercopithecidae)
Sykes's Monkey [sp] (Cercopithecus albogularis)

Mt. Kenya Sykes's Monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis kolbi)
Kilimanjaro Sykes's Monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis kibonotensis)

Red-tailed Monkey [sp] (Cercopithecus ascanius)
Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)

Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)
Yellow Baboon [sp] (Papio cynocephalus)
Mantled Guereza (Colobus guereza)

Cats (Felidae)

Lion [sp] (Panthera leo)
Viverrids (Viverridae)
Common Dwarf Mongoose [sp] (Helogale parvula)

Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo)
Hyaenas (Hyaenidae)
Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

Dogs (Canidae)
Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas)

Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis)
Horses (Equidae)

Plains Zebra [sp] (Equus burchelli)
Rhinoceroses (Rhinocerotidae)
White Rhinoceros [sp] (Ceratotherium simum)

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
Pigs (Suidae)
Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)
Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamidae)

Common Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Giraffes (Giraffidae)

Giraffe [sp] (Giraffa camelopardalis)
Rothschild's Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi)
Masai Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi)
Spiral-horned Antelope (Bovidae)

Impala [sp] (Aepyceros melampus)
East African Impala (Aepyceros melampus rendilis)

Coke's Hartebeest [Eastern group] (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokii)
Blue Wildebeest [sp] (Connochaetes taurinus)

Topi [sp] (Damaliscus korrigum)
Thomson's Gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii)

Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri)
Kirk's Dikdik (Madoqua kirkii)

Grant's Gazelle [sp] (Gazella granti)
Suni (Neotragus moschatus)

Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus)
Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris)

African Buffalo [sp] (Synceros caffer)
Savanna Buffalo (Synceros caffer caffer)

Common Eland [sp] (Taurotragus oryx)
East African Eland (Taurotragus oryx pattersonianus)

Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus)
Lesser Kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis)

Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)
Bush Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia)

Beisa Oryx [sp] (Oryx beisa)
Fringe-eared Oryx (Qryx beisa callotis)
Waterbuck [sp] (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)
Defassa Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa)
Common Reedbuck (Redunca redunca)

Squirrels and Marmots (Sciuridae)
Striped Ground Squirrel (Xerus erythropus)

Forest Giant Squirrel (Protoxerus stangeri)
Springhares (Pedetidae)
East African Spring Hare (Pedetes surdaster)

Sunset over Tsavo East


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  2. Hi,

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  3. Wednesday, February 13, 2013

    Hi Bruce,

    In October 2011 I was part of a group that toured Kenya with Moses and Charles. Yesterday Moses shared the link to your October 2012 trip report, which brought back a flood of good memories!

    I would like to share your link on my Facebook page. Of course, I will not do it without your permission.

    Best wishes from NE Ohio!