White-chinned Prinia also kown as White-chinned Warbler (Schistolais leucopogon)

Photo By Juhani Vilpo

White-chinned Prinia is one of the two species found in Kakamega tropical rain forest,the other one frequently recorded there is Banded Prinia.Both species are found in thick understory of forest,overgrown cultivation,and edge habitats.This species has unusual broad-tailed with a white throat,it is also important to note the black cheek and white in the outer rectrices.

Usually the species is found in small very actives groups always continuously moving inside the vegetation cover exposing themselves once in a while.When the birds are singing,they clearly line-up on an exposed horizontally lying branches proving excellent opportunities for photography.

In Kenya the species is only found the remnant patches of tropical rain forest of Kakamega and South Nandi,both in Western Kenya.

Blue-headed Bee-eater(Merops muelleri).

Photo By Mario Liebshner

Bee-eaters are beautiful birds to observe in the field, but the exhilaration among birders on sighting of a Blue-headed bee-eater is remarkable .Really attractive Bee-eater. This species is strictly restricted only to Kakamega and South Nandi Forest in Kenya. However, other isolated populations of this species are found in West Africa as well.

This brilliantly colored Bee-eater can be encountered on any birding walks around Kakamega forest with some efforts, local guides will be of great help, although you can really run into it with some luck.

Usually Bee-eaters are gregarious, but not Blue-headed Bee-eater, I have not recorded more than three individuals at a go. They are arboreal birds that perch on exposed branches.

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.

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.

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.

Beautiful Sunbird (Cinnyris pulchellus)

Photo by Tony Crocetta

Given the array of color presented by the male’s plumage the name seems appropriate: a pair of yellow bands on either side of a red chest, green on head and back, blue on the lower back and black on the belly and tail. The females are plumaged instead to be inconspicuous and safer from predators: yellowish chest and belly with gray-brown back. Beautiful sunbirds take flower nectar and insects as food. It is a very common species in arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya especially Samburu, Tsavo West,Lake Baringo and Amboseli.

They generally frequent flowering plants and therefore provide necessary conditions for photography.

Northern Red Bishop, the scarlet beauty found on the shores of Lake Baringo.

Photo by Tony Crocetta

Baringo, a shallow freshwater Lake, lies 110 km north of Nakuru town.  500 species of birds are one of its biggest draws. Baringo’s bird population rises and falls with the seasons. The dry season is normally the leanest time for birders, but the lakeshore resounds with birdsong at most times of year.

The shoreline is bursting with birds and photography is prime here because the birds quite approachable. Egrets, Herons, Kingfishers and Bee-eaters are the stars here.

If you are in the area at the right time of the year when the male Northern Red Bishop is on its full breeding plumage, you have the privilege to witness its courtship flight. Photographic opportunities are immense as the polygamous male tries to impress the females.  

This species is sexually dimorphic and polygynous, with the males being particularly larger than the females. The genus Euplectes is notorious for sexually selected characteristics, including elaborate displays and elongated tail feathers. The bright orange-to-yellow plumage with a contrasting dark black pigment is for attracting mates.

Northern Red Bishop inhabits tall open or bushed grassland. It closely associated with giant grasses and a tall crop like millet and sorghum, but also occurs in open habitats with ranks weedy vegetation. At night it roost in thicket or tall grass. Enjoy your birding.

African Orange-bellied Parrot in Samburu National Reserve!

Photo by Jan F.L Van Duinen

Samburu national reserve is one of the most impressive site to go birding in Kenya. Its proximity to Buffalo springs and Shaba national reserve makes it a nice base to explore the entire area extensively.

Whats give this country side life is the Ewaso Nyiro river that flows through the park. In the mid-mornings and afternoons, driving along the river on either side of the park will yield remarkable results from the stunning Kirk’s Dik dik, elegant Grevy’s zebra, reserved leopard to the gigantic elephants quenching their thirst.

African Orange-bellied Parrot is a star in this ecosystem that is hard to ignore because its high pitch call betrays its presence. They like to feed on the fruits of Kigelea africana trees that grows a long the river. This species is diamorphic in nature, with the orange belly being restricted to the males only!, females tend to have a uniformly green colour on their bellies.

Other than Samburu game reserve, this species can also be seen in Meru, Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East national park.