Mourning a Conservation champion and an Exceptional Ornithology Guide David Ngala

David Ngala at Sabaki River Estuary,Malindi.

I learned with a lot of sorrow the passing on of my friend, colleague and a mentor  David Ngala on Wednesday Morning 8th June,2022.It was very difficult for me to comprehend as I was with him on Monday morning of 6 June,2022 in my brief visit to Arabuko Sokoke forest,his home ground.

David Doing what he does best

He did his work diligently like he always does and within one hour he had shown my clients two pairs of Sokoke Scops Owl,both grey-brown and rufous  morph,before we were interrupted by some rains .It was like he was saying goodbye to me.

Our group birding Arabuko-sokoke forest with David Ngala just a day before I got the sad news

His knowledge of the forest is incomparable …he literally knew each and every sound emanating  from that forest .He was a great teacher and I was privileged to have attended his classes for over 9 years.  For a person of his stature he was a very humbled man and a great human being.

Photo Credit:Friends of Arabuko-sokoke forest

The global birding community will indeed miss his intoxicating smile and enthusiasm that David brought in every tour he guided. He was always willing to push further and he never stopped trying for a new species of birds that his clients had in their wish list. David’s patience with birders was extraordinary…..I am sure most birders who have had the opportunity to be guided by him will agree with me on this.

David Ngala treated us to this beautiful creatures on every visit to the forest.Impressive.

I cherish the good time that I shared with David and I will dearly miss him as a great friend and colleague.David Ngala good work for conservation of Arabuko Sokoke forest and disseminating knowledge to global scientists and nature lovers will forever be remembered.

Sokoke Scops-Owl.I doubt if would have seen them with David help!

Fare thee well David! You have fought a good fight,you have finished the race and kept the faith.Your memory will live on and sure enough we will be joining you soon when our time is up…..I hope that it will be a great reunion God willing.

Kwaheri Mzee David Ngala.Safiri Salama Rafiki.

Little Weaver(Ploceus luteolus)

Photo by Joseph Aengwo

Kenya is known for its rich diversity in weavers species in East Africa with over 60 species already described.Little weaver is one of the smallest weavers and is found in arid and semi-arid areas of North-western park of Kenya.Breeding little weaver plumage has a black forecrowned,face and throat surrounded by bright yellow,with out any of the saffron wash typical of larger weavers.The only species which is very similar to it is the Slender-billed weaver ,but can easily be separated by the longer and slender billed and its habitat is restricted to areas adjacent to Lake Victoria.

The breeding behaviour of Little weaver is pretty unique compared to other weavers who are majorly colonial breeders.Little Weaver is monogamous and solitary nester and often prefers reusing its nesting site over and over again.

Best birding sites to see them in Kenya includes;Samburu,Buffalo spring and Shaba game reserve,Lake Turkana,Kongelai,Kerio Valley,Lake Bogoria and Baringo.

Golden-breasted Bunting,a Stunningly-colored Seed-eater!

Photo by Jan L.F Van Duinen

African Golden-breasted Bunting is a stunningly-colored seed-eater  with a brilliant golden breast, a yellow throat, a boldly black-and-white striped head, a chestnut back, and white wingbars. When flushed, it shows white outer tail feathers. The female is duller. Pairs and small flocks are resident, but make local movements in arid savanna and broadleaf woodland, where they forage on the ground and fly up into trees when flushed or singing.

The similar Brown-rumped and Somali buntings differ from Golden-breasted Bunting by having gray (not chestnut) shoulders and back of the neck. This species is found in a variety of open woodlands. Flavigaster favours acacia steppe and savanna, with the other subspecies occurring in a wider range of lightly wooded country including gardens.It feeds on the ground on seeds and insects.

You are likely to see Golden-breasted Bunting if you are birding areas like; Nairobi national park,Karura Forest,Lake Nakuru national park,Lake Naivasha and generally  in any Central highlands birding area.

Birding in Kenya is fun and fantastic but it’s always better with an experienced local guide. Whether taking a birding tour in Kenya or birding on your own, an experienced local guide may have knowledge of roosting owls, sites for various rare birds, local logistics, and other useful information that an active local birder is much more likely to know.

Green-winged Pytilia, A Semi-arid Savanna Striking Waxbill.

Whenever you out birding in any arid and semi-arid habitat in Kenya,there is one species that will take your breath away on sight,a Green-winged Pytilia.Most of the time,it forages on the ground and prefer grassland habitat with plenty supply of seeds. You can hear it, though, if you’re careful: the high-pitched cheeps in the foreground will always betray their presence.

Photo by Joseph Aengwo

The species also known as Melba finch are always seen in pairs or with a feeding party combined with Purple Granadier,Red-billed Firefinch together with several species of weavers.

Photo by Joseph Aengwo

In Kenya, this species is common in Samburu,Buffalo Springs national park,Amboseli national park,Lake Baringo and Tsavos national park.

Welcome to Wattle-eyes World,where Females Decides your Name.

Wattle-eyes are grouped in two distinct genera;Platysteira are medium-sized,flycatcher like and resembles batises,while Dyaphorophyia are much smaller,dumpy and short-tailed.Both genera have broad strong bills and conspicuous fleshy,colorful wattles above their eyes.

Photo By Juhani Vilpo

Now most of this family species are named after the females plumage, like the widespread Brown-throated Wattle-eye appearing above is named for the throat colour of the female.They are found in pairs,family groups or with mixed-species flock,usually in forest.

In Kenya,five species occurs, with three of them restricted to the tropical rain forest remnant of Kakamega.Brown-throated and Black-throated Wattle-eye are frequently encountered at the right habitat,but Jameson’s, Chestnut and Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye are a hard nut to crack in Kakakmega forest.

Watching Wattle-eyes for the first time foraging in the thick undergrowth of Africa tropical rain forest is an extraordinary experience.It will thoroughly blow your mind away.

Exceptional Encounter With Quail-plover in Tsavo West National Park.

In life, sometimes you encounter episodes that are hard to describe, or for others to believe. One such episode, happened to me with a group of Italians ornithologist I was guiding at Tsavo West national park in Kenya in 2018.

The park is 9065 km.sq and is teeming with wildlife. Wildlife of all sorts. Mammals are the main attraction but there is plenty more to see. Birds, reptiles, insects, amphibians, you name it you have it. There is an abundance, of both variety and numbers. It is a haven of natural wonders, for anyone with an interest in wildlife. From biologists to conservationists, from keen enthusiasts to amateur naturalists, all can be entertained. There is plenty for everyone to enjoy.

Quail-plover in Tsavo West.Photo by Michael Sammut

Our main target for this park was Red-naped Bushshrike,Friedmann’s Lark and Quail-plover .We managed to get the first two with minimum effort, the third one proved to be a hard-nut to crack .After one and half day of searching, we gave up, there was no point spending a lot of time looking for one bird while we had more places to go and things to do. As we were leaving Tsavo West for Taita hills the next morning, something happen! our driver was cruising through the vast park when one of my client notice a lark like flight with a unique black-and-white wing pattern which is a clear indicator that it might be our golden-priced target.

Photo by Michael Sammut

Our driver-guide had no choice but to reverse for approximately 800m, I really admire his patience with us. The six of us had our eyes all over the place and suddenly our guy was there, standing still just by the side of the road next to our car. It certainly started running away from us on a long the road and that is how we picked up this photos that I’m sharing with you today.

That was an incredibly rewarding trip for both the guest and myself.Everyone was happy!

Kenya is a True Hotspot for Birding and Biodiversity in Africa.

Kenya habour some of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes and wildlife. Its extraordinary biodiversity is inextricably linked to its diverse and complex landscape.Habitats range from coastal beaches,reefs and creeks,through deserts,arid and semi-arid country ,a great range of bush,grassland and woodland,lowland to montane forest, and extensive freshwater and alkaline lake system.

Nice Birding habitat in Mt.Kenya,Photo by Joe Aengwo

It has a bird list of nearly 1134 species,nearly twice the total for Europe,and well over the total for the whole of North America. This in itself is sufficient incentive for any birdwatcher to come to Kenya.The fact that any birder taking a three weeks birding trip across the country can easily pocket over 700 species is a reminder of the incredible birding possibility in this country. In Kenya, you don’t need to go far to see a lot and many sites with quality habitat which are easily accessible. All you need is to know where to visit,stay focused,and you can see literally see hundred of species.We have the second-largest collection of birds on the planet.

Lesser Flamingos at Lake Bogoria,Photo By Jan F.L Van Duinen

Going by the second edition of Bird of East Africa by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe, Kenya has eleven endemic species .They are William’s Lark,Sharpe’s Longclaw,Aberdare Cisticola,Tana River Cisticola,Kulal White-eye,Taita White-eye,Kikuyu White-eye,Taita Thrush,Taita Apalis,Hinde’s Babbler and lastly Clarke’s Weaver.The East Africa region in general is an extraordinary centre of endemism with over 71 species only found in this part of the world.Among the areas with rich endemic  profile are the Eastern Arc Mountains of South Kenya and Tanzania,the East African Coastal Region and the reknown Albertine Rift region .

Wildebeest migration in Masai Mara,Photo By Jurg Hosang

Lastly, Kenya has over 67 Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) most of them with well developed infrastructure to enable enjoyable birding experience.Network of hotels,lodges and campsites exist, and highly qualified ecotourist guide,many of them skilled birders are available.Specialist bird tour companies offer tours that visit many of these IBA’s,with itineraries designed to find hard to see species,including regional and national endemic.

Dedication to the Global Big Day, 8 May 2021.

The eBird Global Big Day is a bird sighting event where birders all over the world observe birds on the same day and submit their observations on the eBird website. … Kenya took the leading position in Africa and emerged eleventh in the world, after 85 groups or individuals all over the country recorded 613 bird species.This year again,the event is happening on 8 May 2021. Any birder anywhere in the world is welcome to participate through your country technical committees who are leading the event.

Participating is easy—you can even be part of Global Big Day from home. If you can spare 5 or 10 minutes, report your bird observations to eBird online or with thier free eBird Mobile app. If you have more time, submit checklists of birds throughout the day. You never know what you might spot. Your observations help eBird scientist and biologist better understand global bird populations through products like these animated abundance maps brought to you by eBird Science.

Such kind of events encourages citizen science and active lifestyle which is generally a healthy way of spending time. Team Kenya is determined to out perform its previous records and perhaps challenge the South America giants like Colombia,Costa Rica,Ecuador,Brazil and Peru. With the leadership of Pete Steward,Washington Wachira and Doris Schaule ,Kenya is expected to perform exceptionally well during this year eBird Global Big Day.

Last year, Global Big Day brought more birders together virtually than ever before. More than 50,000 people from 175 countries submitted a staggering 120,000 checklists with eBird, setting a new world record for a single day of birding. You might want to help eBird surpass thier last year’s records? However you choose to participate, please continue to put safety first and follow your local guidelines.

How to participate

  • Get an eBird account: eBird is a worldwide bird checklist program used by millions of birders. It’s what allows us to compile everyone’s sightings into a single massive Global Big Day list—while at the same time collecting the data to help scientists better understand birds. Sign up here. It’s 100% free from start to finish.
  • Watch birds on 8 May: It’s that simple. You don’t need to be a bird expert or go out all day long, even 10 minutes of birding from home counts. Global Big Day runs from midnight to midnight in your local time zone. You can report what you find from anywhere in the world.
  • Enter what you see and hear in eBird: You can enter your sightings via our website or download the free eBird Mobile appto make submitting lists even easier. Please enter your checklists before 11 May to be included in our initial results announcement.
  • Watch the sightings roll in: During the day, follow along with sightings from more than 170 countries in real-time on our Global Big Day page.

On 8 May, we hope you’ll be a part of our global birding team. Have fun, enjoy the birds you find, stay safe, and share your sightings on eBird. Because in our world, every bird counts.

Lesser Jacana (Microparra capensis) is a Nice Record for Lake Baringo.

African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus) is the common species on the shores of Lake Baringo,one will therefore understand my excitement with the sighting of Lesser Jacana is this area, a new thing for us.In birding we like that element of surprises!. My thinking is that the current flooding experienced in the Lake as encouraged this species to venture out.

Photo by Joe Aengwo

Lesser Jacanan is the smallest of all Jacanas in the planet.Females are larger than males;infact in some species,they weigh two-third more.Jacanas sometimes described as lilytrotters are colourful,long-legged water birds that resemble rails and are found almost exclusively in tropical regions.Their long,spidery toes enables them to walk easily over lily pads or other floating plants,giving them the appearances of walking on water.

Photo by Joe Aengwo

The species spend long periods foraging in aquatic vegetation.It prefer wetland habitat;also reedbed,swamp,and areas of deeper water with suitable surface cover.Occasionally,the birds are also seen in fields and agricultural areas near wetland.

With the only exception of Lesser Jacana, Jacanas are polyandrous in nature(female mate with more than one male) and they also exhibit sex-role reversal.Males tend the nest and care for chicks while the larger, more aggressive females defend the territory from predators. Researchers have theorized that jacanas may have evolved with this unorthodox system to compensate for a high rate of egg and chick loss, which typically is greater than 50% due to their unstable aquatic habitat and attacks by water snakes, turtles, and larger birds.

Photo by Joe Aengwo

If females can spend less time sitting on the nest and more time mating with multiple partners, scientists argue, they can lay more eggs and contribute to the overall success of the species.

Other than this an expected sighting, Lesser Jacana are found in Kenya highlands wetland lands,ponds and man-made dams.

Incredible Bird Watching sites for Day Trip Visits Around Nairobi.

If you are visiting Nairobi for a business meeting or joining one of those international conference that happen in this city frequently or basically just started a new job in town then this is your best option of getting started with birding and safaris around the country.In this case long overnight trips aren’t absolutely necessary for great birding in Kenya. Oh yes, they can help and, for some places and birds, are necessary and awesome but they aren’t the only options. “Good birding” is where the habitat is, it’s what you want to see and how you feel like doing your birding. Long distance twitches can however arrange special expeditions  to see rare birds in their wish list within this locality by emailing us through  joe.aengwo@gmail.com or residentnaturalist@gmail.com .If you have a personal birding goals,we will be more than willing to arrange a personalized birding itineraries that will suit your goals.

The following are some of the options you have for day trips birding tours if you are stationed in Nairobi. I will always suggest an early start and if possible order a packed lunch if you plan to venture out for the whole day.

1.       Nairobi National Park.

Nairobi national park lies only 7 kilometers from the city centre,and thus provides a useful starting place for any birdwatcher based in Nairobi.Although the park is only about 117 square kilometers in area it offers a wide variety of habitats which attract an excellent selection of birds .These habitats can be divided into natural and man-made dams and ponds,Open grassland plains,bush country and rock gorges,riverine woodland and highland forest.

With a good resident ornithologist (Guide)with a proper strategy you can easily see over 150 species of birds in a day visit to the park. Other than the great birding experience, the park also offer an incredible introduction to Africa big game and wildlife where you can easily see Zebras, Elands, Impalas, Heartbeest  Lions, Buffalos,Giraffes, Rhinos, Leopards and with great luck Cheetahs.

2.       Magadi Road,Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site and Lake Magadi

This is one of the most outstanding routes within a day’s drive of Nairobi both ornithologically and scenically.The 115 kilometers to lake magadi is on a good tarmac throughout.After leaving the Nairobi uplands the road crosses the end of the Ngong Hills before dropping down the side of the Rift Valley.The upland grassland habitat of the Ngong Hills gives way to the semi-arid bush country below. Frequent stops from now on will turn up an excellent selection of birds,particularly at the seasonal waterholes which attract large numbers of weavers,whydahs and finches.

Olorgesailie Archaeological site is well signposted to the left  65km from Nairobi,shortly after Oltepesi.Apart from its archaeological interest the site and immediate area hold good selections of birds.Large flocks  of weavers and finches are attracted to a water bath set next to the rest area,and trail around the perimeter of the site is good for coursers,larks,and Ashy Cisticola .

Lake Magadi is a classic example of a  Rift Valley soda lake,which being so close to Nairobi ,is a recommended place to visit.A certain proportion is worked by the Magadi Soda Company,but most of the lake is totally undisturbed.Large number of water birds congregate around the southern edges of the lake,flamingos being the most obvious,although many passage waders may be present.Lake Magadi is one of the best site to see the tiny Chestnut-banded Plover in Kenya.

3.         Gatamaiyu Forest,Manguo Pond,Limuru  and Kinangop Grassland.

This forest lies north of Nairobi at an altitude of 2200m,just beyond Gatamaiyu village . This forest provide a typical montane habitat and it can be cold and rainy sometimes, so a rain jacket and something warm cloths is a must.Examples birds likely to be seen in this forest includes; White-headed Wood Hoopoe,Abott Starling,Ayre’s Hawk Eagle,Bar-tailed Trogon, African Black Duck,Hartlaub’s Turaco Chestnut-throated  Apalis and Cinnamon Chested Bee-eater among others.

Manguo Swamp (Limuru Pond) is a fairly extensive are of water thickly lined with reeds along one side.Large numbers of duck congregate here between October and February,many being migrants such as Pintail,Garganey and Shoveler.Maccoa Duck are regular breeders, along with Red-billed and Hottentot Teal.The reeds hold a good selection of herons,crakes and warblers,whilst the boggy margins attract migrant waders such as snipe and Green Sandpiper.Large numbers of swallows regularly feed over the pond,and often include more unusual species like Banded Sand and Plain Martin,Mosque and Grey-rumped Swallows.In addition, the scrub around the pond can be good for sunbirds,cisticolas and Finches.

Kinangop grassland is around 2300 meters above the sea level and can be incredibly windy and cold sometimes of the year.The flat,raised plains extend for miles as far as the Southern Aberdare in the east. The original tussock grasses and swamps that are found in this plains have been greatly reduced by extensive farming going on in this very productive agricultural area,but the landscape still supports a variety of bird species not easily seen elsewhere. The most sought-after of these are Long-tailed and Jackson’s Widowbirds and the endemic Sharpes’s Longclaw.

4.       Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Park.

Lake Naivasha is a large freshwater Rift Valley lake situated some 80km north-west of Nairobi.Huge floating masses of papyrus continually changes the appearance of this lake,as do the fluctuations in the water level.The present high level has led to the loss of much of the interesting lakeside vegetation,but in turn has produced temporary muddy margins which can be excellent for wading birds.The lake is also invaded by water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes ,Coypu and Louisiana Red Crayfish which were introduced into the lake way back 1950’s.

Despite these changes, Lake Naivasha is still one of the most exciting bird-watching spots in Kenya.A wealth of water birds are to be found here throughout the year,but more especially during  the winter months when good numbers of palaeactic ducks,waders,and terns can be present. Almost all the land bordering the lake is privately owned,but more than sufficient  access is provided to birders.

Hell’s Gate National Park is the only park in Kenya where walking and cycling is permitted .Its habitat consist of a number of sheer columnar basaltic cliffs overlooking open grassland and thick bush.Augur Buzzard,Peregrine Falcon and Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture all breed here,along with large colonies of mottled and Nyanza Swifts.The Scrub below the cliffs holds several species of Cisticola,and Arrow-marked Babbler,whilst the grassland is good for Pipit and Schalow’s Wheatear. Herbivores are also plenty in this park. So Zebras,Giraffes,Elands,Impalas and both Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelle are present.