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.

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.

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.

“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.

The elegant Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis)

Photo@Jan F. Van Duinen

Widespread and locally common in higher rainfall areas up to 3000m, though generally uncommon above 2000m. Long-crested Eagle is an adaptable woodland and forest edge species which is especially common in areas partially cleared for agriculture, even when heavily settled. It takes large numbers of rodents and his generally considered beneficial to man.

Long-crested Eagle adult is dark brown or black. It has long white patches at the joint of the wings, visible when perched, forming white lines on each side of the breast. Underwing coverts are white, with black spots. It has broad dark tail strongly barred of white. Tarsi are whitish. Wings are long and broad.
Hooked bill is yellow with dark tip. Eyes are golden or reddish-brown. Feet are yellow with slender talons.

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.

White-spotted Flufftail at Rondo Retreat Centre, Kakamega forest.

On the first week of December, 2018 we had planned a 8 days photographic trip to kakamega forest. My client opted to stay at Rondo Retreat Centre because of its location right inside the forest. Our target birds were many, but high on the list was the stunning White-spotted Flufftail.

After 3 days of continuous search of this elusive and secretive species, nature rewarded us with great views of both male and female. I guess they were on romantic walk enjoying each other company and failed to notice our presence.

Birding is first class at Kakamega forest, although the forest suffers from increasing fragmentation .

Photo by Juhani Vilpo
Photo by Juhani Vilpo

White-Starred Robin (Pogonocichla stellata)

White-starred Robin

During our brief two days stay at a pristine montane forest located in the southern part of Mt. Kenya, we came across this eye-catching forest robin. Observing it from the back might appear a little bit dull, but wait until it turns its back to you, and you will be amazed by its bright-yellow breast, its views will surely take your breath away .

On our way up there, we had early on passed through Wajee Nature Park located Mukurweini valley, which is arguably the best site in Kenya to see the endemic Hinde’s Babbler, we managed to steal few excellent views of this iconic species, but missed the African Wood Owl which our guide James as earlier on said it roots at the reserve.

Other than the White-starred Robin, we also managed to record species like; Rameron and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrot, Olive Ibis, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Hunter’s Cisticola, Black-throated, Chestnut-throated and Grey Apalis, Abbott’s and Waller’s Starling, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Oriole Finch and several species of Sunbird.

Once again, birding Mt.Kenya forest reserve is always exciting and rewarding, I will never get enough of this forest .