The Gregarious Helmetshrikes!.

Retz’s Helmetshrike.Photo by Frans Buiter

Nothing is more rewarding like encountering a group helmet’s shrikes on any birding trip in Kenya,they are beautiful birds with their unique crest signature mark.In Kenya ,you can find four species of group;White-crested,Grey-crested,Chestnut-fronted and Retz’s Helmetshrike. Most of this species are gregarious and fly around in a group of 6 to around 50 individuals.

Grey-crested Helmetshrike.Photo by Joe Aengwo

White-crested Helmetshrike is widespread and can easily be seen in any habitat in Kenya ranging from the Tsavos,Samburu,Baringo and Kongolai escarpment in West Pokot.Grey-crested  Helmetshrike is and East African endemic and found areas around Crater Lake and Hell’s National park in Naivasha area,Masai Mara and the Serengeti national park.They are strictly restricted to acacia and leleswa bush habitat.

White-crested Helmetshrike.Photo by Joe Aengwo.

Retz’s Helmetshrike  is quite stunning to watch with its bright red bill and eye wattles and yellow eyes contrasting with is darker body appearances , this is common but rarely seen along the Kenyan and Tanzania coastline and extending upcountry to areas around Kibwezi, Makindu and Chyulu Hills.Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike is mostly restricted to coastal areas and easily picked up in Arabuko Sokoke forest.

Papyrus Gonolek,the thunderous fellow in the reeds.

Papyrus Gonolek,photo@Joe Aengwo

A medium-size Bush-shrike that inhabit the papyrus vegetation around Lake Victoria and the extensive Yala swamp in Western Kenya.The sexes are similar; the crown is dull yellow, the head, upper parts, wings and tail are black apart from a broad white bar on the wings.The breast and upper belly are vivid orange-crimson, and the lower belly whitish.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

This species can difficult to observe as prefers lurking among the vegetation and only flying occasionally, usually a short distance over water to another patch of papyrus. Its presence can often be detected by its calls, which consist of brief whistles and grating tearing sounds.

The photo above was taken in June at shores of Kisumu town ,the Kenyan part of Lake Victoria.Gorgeous bird to watch!.

Encountering the Globally-endangered Sokoke Pipit is the highlight of any Birding Trip to Arabuko Sokoke Forest.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

I went back to Arabuko Sokoke forest last week again and it was the first time we explored the forest without the guidance of David Ngala.Like they say good teachers leave good students behind,we were guided by David colleague Willy Gombe who I must admit did exceptionally well in helping us track and photograph the Sokoke pipit and other highly sort after species like the Sokoke Scops Owl,East Coast Akalat,Gorgeous Bush-shrike,Little-yellow Flycatcher,Red-capped Robin-chat, Bat Hawk, Chesnut-fronted Helmet-shrike,Forest Batis, Plain-backed and Amani Sun Sunbird.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest is the largest relic of a formerly larger contiguous East African coastal forest. It forms part of the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal forest ecoregion which is a global biodiversity hotspot with considerable species endemism. Despite such conservation significance, the forest is undergoing rapid modification and habitat loss mainly from anthropogenic pressures, with negative impacts on sensitive species such as the Sokoke Pipit ( Anthus sokokensis ), one of the globally-endangered birds

Photo@Joe Aengwo

The weather at the coast when we were there was not very friendly to birding,it was really cloudy and rainy, though we kept on with our birding taking break here and there to shelter from the rain when it gets heavy. Overall, I think we did well considering the small challenges we faced that was not within our control.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

Photo@Joe Aengwo

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.

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.

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.

“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.