Discovering birds in Kenya in 2021.

Finding birds in Kenya is pretty easy.Look outside and there they are;Red-eyed Dove calling from a tree outside your balcony; Hadada Ibis powering past,Baglafecht Weaver doing its morning chores,Long-crested Eagle perched on top of electricity poll or Jackson’s Hornbill fighting furiously with  it’s reflection through your car side mirror or Olivaceous Warbler moving constantly above.Look around and there’s a lot more;a screeching flock of Red-fronted Parrot or Hartlaub’s Turaco showing off its magnificent crimson wing.

Ross’s Turaco. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Keep looking and you keep seeing more but isn’t that the case for most places? Birds are out there but what about the birds we want to see the most? No matter how even-minded we are about seeing birds, even the greatest of Zen birders would still be tempted to make a mad dash for a Solitary Eagle, might forget about the common birds to gaze at a rare passing migrant.

We get great enjoyment out of watching birds, making that daily connection with nature, but we also enjoy seeing something new, testing ourselves in the field, seeing what each of us can discover. This is why we study the best times for birding, think about when and where to go, and get out of bed at some ridiculous early hour. It’s also  why so many birders make their way every year to this East Africa birdy place.

Golden-breasted Starling. Photo by Joseph Aengwo

At the moment, few birders are visiting Kenya but that’s the case for most places and we all know the reason. However, hope is there, waiting on a near horizon. It’s like waiting and holding at a starting line, holding in a limbo place for a gate that will eventually open and when it does, the race is for multi-faceted salvation. We each run at our own pace but as long as we are careful not to trip, not to make anyone fall, helping others along the way, we all reach a finish line where everyone wins.

Flamingos at Lake Bogoria.Photo by Jan F.L Van Duinen

One vaccine very soon, let’s hope it all goes smooth and more becomes available. In the meantime, we can also plan birding trips to Kenya because they are going to happen and the birding will be more exciting than you imagined. Here’s some tips for finding more Kenya  birds in 2021:

Learn About Habitats.

One of the keys to knowing where to watch birds in Kenya .To see certain birds, you need to go to their homes, need to know how to recognize their realms. In Kenya, at the macro scale, this means knowing what the major habitats are and where they occur:

  • Montane Forest-Dry evergreen forests that are found in the highlands and mountain ranges of central and western Kenya. These areas are Mt.Kenya forest reserve and Mt.Kenya National Park, Aberdare National Park, Mau forest, Mt.Elgon and Taita Hills.
  • Coastal Forest-Coastal forests are among the most biologically important forests in Africa,owing to their high plant diversity and many endemic  animal diversity. For this particular time of habitat,I highly recommend that you visit Arabuko Sokoke forest in Kilifi or Malindi and some remnant forest patches in Diani and Ukunda area.
  • Semi-Arid Bushland-Most part of Kenya is hot and dry for much time of the year and is covered by vast expanses of open Acacia and commiphora woodland. Examples of sites exhibiting this kind of Habitat includes; Tsavo West and East National park,Samburu national reserve,Lake Baringo,Bogoria and Magadi, Kerio Valley ,Kongolai Escarpment and Meru national park.
  • Tropical Rain Forest-Kakamega forest is the only remnant of tropical rainforest in Kenya.
  • Intertidal  Wetlands-Intertidal wetlands are areas along the coastline that are submerged by the sea at high tide and exposed at low tide. Mida Creek in Watamu and Sabaki estuary in Malindi are examples of birding sites with these kinds of habitats.
  • Alkaline Lakes-The beautiful soda lakes of the Rift Valley in Kenya are highly saline,hostile environments,which are often fed by hot springs and rivers. Lake Bogoria, Magadi,Nakuru  and Elementaita are examples of such habitat.
  • Freshwater Wetlands-These includes soft water lakes of Lake Victoria,Baringo, Jipe and Naivasha and permanent swamps  and ponds.
  • Highland Grassland -This where you find the tussock grass. This type of grass is ideal habitat for the endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw. Kinangop grassland is a classical example of this habitat.
  • Grassland Savanna-Plain grasslands are found at mid-to low elevations and are characterized by grass expanses with scattering trees are riverine woodlands. Masai Mara Game Reserve is a renowned example of this habitat.
  • Semi-desert Drylands-Water is scarce in these rocky drylands,and animals found here are adapted to survive with little water.The drive from Isiolo all the way north Marsabit and North Horr to Loyangalani at east shores of Lake Turkana provides this invaluable habitat.

Learn Which Birds are Common, Which are Rare

Speaking of the Zen birding approach, the path is easier to follow when you have some idea about abundance and how easy or difficult it might be to see so and so species. This will then help you to figure out your target species and design a strategy to find them in a very convenient way.

Sokoke Scops Owl. Photo by Joseph Aengwo

Don’t Expect to See Everything

These  go for birding anywhere. However, it’s still worth mentioning because it’ so easy to want to see a bird so much that you end up kind of expecting to see it during the trip. Remember to keep it easy and enjoy every bird that fits itself into your field of view. Remember that some  bird species in Kenya is naturally rare and/or naturally tough to see. Also remember that the more birding you do in large areas of mature forest, the more likely you will run into the rare ones.

Crowned Eagle.Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Consider Hiring a Local Guide

And that previous bit of information is why it’s so worth it to hire a local guide. Not just any guide either but someone who knows the local birds very well. Even so, not every guide will know where or how to see birds in Kenya or even the secretive Sokoke Scops Owl. Granted, some of those species are naturally difficult to find and require some serious time to locate but as with any place, the more experienced the guide, the more likely your chances are of finding rare target species. I should also mention that as with any place, in Kenya , although many guides are experienced, a few stand out because they stay up to date on the latest in bird identification, where certain birds are found, and know about sites that are off the beaten track. Many guides will work out fine but if you want to have a better chance at  rare birds, those few, highly experienced guides are the ones to hire.

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

Taveta Golden Weaver (Ploceus castaneiceps)

Taveta Golden Weaver,Ploceus castaneicepsZiwani-swamp.
Photo@Jan F. Van Duinen

Over the Weekend we went birding to the western side of Tsavo West national park. it is an huge national park covering over 9000 The park was made famous by mane less man-eaters  Lions of the Tsavo and the lions there as documented in history books had develop a test for human flesh. This is not the case anymore, so during our entire birding game drives inside the park, we had nothing to worry about at all, other than the worry of missing on our target species.

From the sight of fifty million gallons of crystal clear water gushing out of from the under parched lava rock that is the Mzima Springs  to the Shetani  lava flows, Tsavo West is a beautiful, rugged wilderness.

The savannah ecosystem comprises of open grasslands, scrublands, and Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation and rocky ridges including the Poacher’s Lookout where visitors can see the teeming herds in the plains below.

Tsavo West offers some of the most magnificent game viewing in the world and attractions include elephant, rhino, Hippos, lions, cheetah, leopards, Buffalos, diverse plant and bird species including the threatened corncrake and near threatened Basra Reed Warbler.

Our specific target species were Taveta Golden Weaver, which we easily picked from the swamp in front of our lodge, Ziwani Voyage Camp and Quail Plover which we missed despite the huge effort that we put in searching for this species.

The Taveta Golden Weaver, or Taveta Weaver, is found in Kenya and Tanzania. The sexes are dimorphic . The male is a mostly a bright golden yellow, the head has a reddish ring of various width around it, the bill is black and the feet and legs are pinkish. Females are more of an olive color with pale streaks.

Taveta Golden Weavers live in large colonies and the male builds an oval nest over water. The nests are woven from stems of reeds and grasses. Their diet includes seeds, some corn and grasses.

The male Taveta Golden Weaver uses his beak to weave intricate ovoid nests, usually over water. Females pick a mate based on the male’s skill at weaving. Have fun and keep birding!!

Abyssinian scimitarbill ( Rhinopomastus minor)

IMG_7347 - CopyAbyssinian Scimitarbill in our region occurs in two races , R.m. minor is found in north eastern part of Kenya, while the race R.m. cabanisi is found in southern Kenya. This species can easily be mistaken for Woodhoopoe, although woodhoope are gregarious while Scimitarbill is solitary in its movement behavior. Its bill is more curved down almost giving the Sunbirds bill impression, and on flight the bright red curved billed contrast with uniformly dark-blue plumage. They inhabit light woodlands, dry Acacia bush and thorn-scrub especially along dry river bed. Generally, it a widespread species.