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.

African Plains Beauties: Rosy-breasted Longclaw

Photo by Joe Aengwo

Longclaws are birds of African plains. They are easy to pick up when you are at the right location and habitat. Rosy-breasted (shown above) and Yellow-throated Longclaw are found in mid-altitude elevations. They are easily seen in Masai Mara game reserve and central Kenya grassland .

Pangani Longlaw is found in low altitude elevations and you have a great chance of seeing them in Nairobi, Amboseli and the Tsavos national park. However, it is important to note that I have seen on several occasion the Rosy-breasted, Yellow-throated and Pangani Longclaw in Amboseli national park.

Lastly the endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw is restricted to the high altitudes grassland of Kinangop.

The Fishing Flotillas of Lake Nakuru National Park

Great White Pelicans Pelecanus onocrotalus are floating fishnets.The sack of membrane slug between the rims of the lower jaw inflates to an enormous ten-litre capacity when dragged under water.How the bird can even swim with it distended and full of water is a mystery.But clearly the system works.Odd bills seem to run in the family:DNA affinity testing reveals that the pelican’s cousin is the Shoebill Stork.

Photo by Hans Aeschlimann

They fish in flotillas of up to 20 birds swim along in a oblique formation.That is the reason why you always see white pelicans in groups swimming at Lake Nakuru.

Photo by Hans Aeschlimann

Great Views of White-fronted Bee-eater at Hell’s Gate National Park.

Bee-eaters are known chiefly for their graceful aerial pursuit of large insect. They birds that inhabit warm,sunny lowland grassland, dry woodland or forest edges. Bee-eaters are closely related to kingfishers and motmot.

Hans Aeschlimann

Kenya’s impressive bird life offers plenty to interest both ornithologists and people who simply want to enjoy the diversity and colours, and for this alone, White-fronted Bee-eater is up there! The colored plumage is just a sight to behold!. These birds are also photogenic and very active and engaging mostly in the early hours of the morning or late afternoon.

Bee-eaters are social birds, occurring in pairs, small groups, or large foraging and breeding colonies.They forage from high vintage points including tree-tops,roadside wire, and telegraph poles,where they intently watch the area around and above them and dash out on swooping,gliding flights to grab passing insects.

In savannas where there are few high perches,several species, especially Carmine Bee-eater, sit on the backs of Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) and occasionally antelopes or larger animals, which also undoubtedly assist with flushing insects.

“The Crimson Winged”

The tall, pink flamingos are an instantly recognizable group of birds, which have been known from earliest times and often celebrated in popular stories. They belong to one of the bird families, dating back at least 30 millions years, when their range extended to North America and Australia.

Photo By Jan F.L Van Duinen

All species have a long, slender neck and tall, spindy legs, a fairly small body, and large, specially adopted, drooping bill. Their plumage varies between pale and deep rose-pink, with crimson and black wings.

Flamingos are extremely sociable and usually occur in large flocks. At times, they form the biggest concentration of non-passerine birds: on occasions, more than a million gather at feeding sites. The birds forage by wading knee-deep at the edges of alkaline or saline lakes and lagoons.

They turn their head upside down and sweep the bill through the water, sucking in mouthfuls. As they squeeze out excess water with their tongue, comb like structures called lamellae trap tiny particles of food.

Flamingos breed in large colonies at the edge of lakes or on island. In East Africa, the only reliable breeding site is Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. The nest is circular mound of mud baked hard by the sun, into which the female lays on white egg. The chicks look like fluffy duck-lings on hatching, and are fed on a milky mash regurgitated by their parents.

After a few days, they join a large group of youngsters within the colony, but continue to be fed by their parents for about 10 weeks longer, until they can fly and become fully independent.

Red-headed Weaver(Anaplectes rubriceps) breeding at the base of Tugen Hills.

Photo@joe.aengwo

The photo appearing above is an adult male red-headed weaver, Anaplectes rubriceps, also known as the red-headed Anaplectes or the red-winged weaver, photographed at the  bases of Tugen Hills, 14 kilometers from Lake Baringo.

The Red-headed Weaver Anaplectes rubriceps, a striking weaver bird with bright red head in the breeding plumage of males. In East Africa the male has a black mask (leuconotus); one race in East Africa has a red plumage (jubaensis). The female is yellowish or brownish. Both sexes have a distinctive thin pinkish orange bill. 

In Kenya it is easily seen in Amboseli national park, Tsavo west and East, Samburu national reserve, Lake Baringo and kerio Valley.

Verreaux’s Eagle, also known as Black Eagle (Aquila verreaux’s).

Photo@Joe Aengwo

Verreaux’s Eagle is a large bird of prey that is highly specialised, with its life history and distribution revolving around its main prey of rock hyraxes and preferred habitat of hilly and mountainous terrain. It is wide spread throughout Kenya, especially around Samburu game reserve, Lake Baringo, Lake Magadi and Tsavo West national park. It feeds primarily on rock hyraxes but it also preys on other animals such as small mammals, birds and reptiles. Its populations are stable and have been less impacted by human encroachment due to the isolation and the inaccessible terrain of its habitat.

When perched or at rest adult Verreaux’s Eagles are entirely black in appearance, except for a white ‘V’ above the wings on the back and yellow feet (talons) and cere. In flight, the unfolded wings expose a white rump and whitish panels on the outer wings. The wings have a distinctive shape that is broad in the middle and tapering at the tips. Sexes are similar, but females are slightly larger than males. Juveniles have a yellow-brown plumage and the head and back of the neck have a distinctive reddish-brown colour. The face and throat are black. Juveniles achieve adult plumage in 4 years. The photos appearing here were all taken in western cliffs of Lake Baringo.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

The Cryptic Slender-tailed Nightjar at the Rocky Cliffs of Lake Baringo!

Nightjars are largely nocturnal family. They look like owls, with large heads and eyes and a cryptic plumage. The family name caprimulgidae was given to them after some superstitious belief that because of their wide mouths, the birds suckled goats.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

In Kenya we have 13 different species of Nightjars, wide spread in different habitats across the country. The photo appearing above was taken at a rocky countryside of Lake Baringo. Most species are nocturnal or active at dusk, and are solitary and retiring . They concentrate their foraging bouts during twilight hours.

Photo@ Joe Aengwo

By day, they roots on exposed grounds or rocks, in leaf litter, or on branches. When roosting , they adopt a horizontal posture, in contrast to owls.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

Nightjars have very large eyes, adopted to low light condition. They eye have a tapetum, a reflective membrane that increases the amount of light entering the eyeball. Its presence causes reflective “eye-shine” when the eye are illuminated by artificial light.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

Top 5 Tips when you are bird watching in Kenya

With around 1089 different species of birds, Kenya is a bird watchers paradise. The diversity in habitats, good climatic conditions along with beautiful geographic features attracts a variety of birds to migrate to Kenya. Nairobi, the capital city itself boasts of 600 plus species of birds that are resident as well as migrants. 

Kenya is home to a variety of endangered species. A bird watcher or enthusiasts should consider camping in the forest or even highland grasslands to watch some of the rarest species. Near Malindi is the Arabuko-Sokoke forest, where you will find the endemic species like Clarke’s Weaver, East Coast Akalat (Gunning’s Robin), and Sokoke Pipit. At the Papyrus Swamps near Lake Victoria, you will find the endemic species of the Papyrus like the Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, and Papyrus Yellow Warbler. Kenya is a place that you can visit all around the year for bird watching.

Common Ostrich roaming the extensive savanna of the Masai Mara . Photo by Tony Crocetta

Here are a few tips if you’re planning your next bird watching trip to Kenya.

A Bird Book Guide

A bird watcher should look up online or in a bird guide to know about the different species of birds you can find in Kenya. Kenya has a large variety of bird species. Do extensive researches to learn about the different species found in different areas of Kenya, and you will have a wonderful birding experience. If you’re new to birding, it is imperative to study on how to differentiate between bird families. You can pick up a local bird book, and it will give you valuable information about the birds in the region.

Hire a Local Guide

There are birds everywhere in Kenya. You will be mesmerized to see the variety of species you will see when you take a walk around your hotel or even the garden. However, a local guide can take you to numerous sites and help you in identifying various species of birds that you may have never seen. They can take you on a safari, and you will never forget the birding experience in Kenya.

Don’t Forget Your Binoculars

Binoculars are essential for a rich and fruitful bird watching experience. It is not possible to get a good view of a bird flying high in the sky or in the highland grasslands if you don’t have a binocular. Always have your set of binoculars to watch the birds in the distance. Never miss an opportunity to watch the rarest or endemic species with a binocular in your hand. You can check the reviews and prices of the best binoculars under $200 here.

Camera

Capture your memories of birding experience in your camera. There are a variety of digital cameras that will give you clarity, and zoom-in and Zoom-out feature. You can refer to the pictures later in the comfort of your home and study the different species of birds.

Plan your Visit

There are a variety of locations you can visit in Kenya. Make a list of where you want to go and what kind of birds you want to see. The bird watcher should include these places on their list, Aberdares, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Baringo, Chyulu Hills, Kakamega Forest, Lake Victoria, Magadi, Sabaki esaturary,  Watamu, Meru, Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, Nakuru, Nairobi City, Ruma National Park, Shimba Hills, South Coast, Samburu, Tsavo, Tana River Delta, Samburu National Reserve and Taita Hills.

Plan your next visit to the best bird watching destination and enjoy a wonderful birding experience in Kenya.

“The Leopard of the Sky”Crowned Hawk-eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus)

African Crowned-Eagle gliding the African Skies. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Although not the biggest eagle in Africa, the Crowned Eagle is considered the most powerful and ferocious eagle based on the size of its prey. Weighing in at 2.5 – 4.5 kg, it regularly kills prey heavier than itself. Forest mammals like Vervet monkeys and duiker (25kg) are never safe when this eagle is near. Africa’s biggest eagle is the Martial Eagle which can weigh over 6kg but prefers to prey on animals like Guineafowl and reptiles.

Also known as the Leopard of the Sky for its hunting abilities, the Crowned Eagle is well camouflaged with bars and blotches on the chest and a slate grey upper side. This colouring makes it disappear in a forest environment, especially because it tends to sit inside the tree canopy instead of on top like most other eagles.

A breeding pair of African Crowned Eagle at Kakamega forest. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

To adapt to the forest environment, the Crowned Eagle has a long tail and broad, rounded wings. The combination of these two makes it extremely agile and fast which is one of the main reasons why it is the only eagle that preys on monkeys actively. Monkeys are very alert and quick, making them difficult to hunt, especially in a group. The male and female Crowned Eagle often hunt as a pair, while one eagle distracts the monkeys, the other makes the kill. With powerful feet and massive talons it can kill a monkey in one blow. This is essential because monkeys have strong hands and can easily damage an eye or a wing of the eagle.

During breeding time crowned eagles become much more visible and vocal as they make undulating areal displays at heights of up to 1km. They can be noisy during these times with a loud ‘kewee kewee kewee’ call from the male. This ritual is normally associated with breeding, but could also be an act of territorial domination.

The nest of a Crowned Eagle is a huge structure of sticks which is repaired and enlarged every breeding season, making the nests grow bigger and bigger. Some nests grow to be about 2.3 metres across making them the biggest nests of all the eagle species.

You have a chance of seeing this species in Kenya if you are touring Mt.Kenya Forest Reser, Nairobi National Park, Aberdare National Park, Kakamega tropical rain forest and Mau Forest.