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.
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.
In Kenya, this species is common in Samburu,Buffalo Springs national park,Amboseli national park,Lake Baringo and Tsavos national park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over the weekend, I was requested by a friends of mine David to joined him for a birding day trip to Nairobi national park. At 6:00 am, We meet with David at the base of his apartment in Lavington, Kilimani area of Nairobi and after a quick exchange of pleasantries, we were on the road again and in 20 minutes, we reached the KWS headquarters Lagata gate. Being a Sunday morning, we got lucky with the traffic.
David being an expatriate, we had to prove his residency status by queuing in the line with his passport and after 15 minutes, we were allowed entry. Nairobi national park has four distinct habitats;The park’s predominant environment is open grass plain with scattered Acacia bushes. The western uplands of the park have highland dry forest with stands of Olea Africana, Crotondichogamus, Brachylaenahutchinsii and Calodendrum .The lower slopes of these areas are grassland. Themeda cypress, Dgitaria and croton species are found in these grassland areas. There are also scattered yellow-barked Acacia xanthophloea . There is a riverine forest along the permanent river in the south of the park. There are areas of broken bush and deep rocky valleys and gorges within the park and Swamps.
It is from one of those swamps, that we spotted the African Water Rail, this skulker gave us an incredible 2 minutes show and off it disappear in to the tall reeds along the edge of the swamp. Other than the Water rail, we also recorded Lesser Swamp Warbler, Singing Cisticola, Spectacled and Holub’s Golden Weaver, Long-toed, Blacksmith and Spur-winged Lapwing, Long-tailed Fiscal, Pin-tailed Whydah, Northern-pied Babbler and Martial Eagle among others.
And by the way, Nairobi national park was the first park to be established in Kenya in the year 1946 and Nairobi’s skyscrapers can be seen from the park. It is the same park where tonnes of Ivory were burned since 1989 by President Daniel Arap Moi in 1989, Mwai Kibaki in 2004 and Uhuru Kenyatta in 2016. This events improved Kenya’s conservation and wildlife protection image.
On a recent birding trip I guided, My clients and I were lucky enough to have encountered a rare Dwarf Bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii). This was an Eastern- Coastal Kenya design trip and took us to Taita Hill, Lake Jipe, Kitobo Forest, Tsavo West and East National Park, Ndara Ranch and Arabuko Sokoke forest reserve.
Dwarf Bittern is an Intra-African breeding migrant. It breeds in Southern Africa, but East Africa is its non-breeding ground . So, I guess that the bird we recorded was on its way down south.
This was very exciting for me because this was my second observation of this bird in my entire 8 years of bird guiding experience. I read that the bird is widespread in its distribution region but it really be difficult to spot.
Red-throated Bee-eater is an incredibly beautiful Bee-eater to watch…in any birding trip to Uganda, with your best bet being in Murchison falls national park in northern Uganda. As soon as you approach the river Nile, their presence there cannot be ignored, where they are frequently seen going in and out of their nest holes.
The above photo was taken during my recent bird trip to Uganda, where we were visited Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo forest reserve where we extensively birded the famous Royal Miles Trail, we easily picked up our much sort after kingfishers( African Pygmy, Blue-breasted and and Chocolate-backed Kingfisher).
Kibale forest reserve, Bigodi swamp and Samliki were part of the other areas we visited. Kibale and Bigodi swamp were incredibly productive for us, but the same cannot be said of Samliki forest. I think our timing was not the best as it had rain heavily the previous night, so we literally had to walked on the flooded Kirumia trail. We dearly missed our gumboots which we had ignored to bring, next time we will be more clever. Keep birding.
With around 10,000 bird species to look at, it should come as no surprise that birdwatching (or ‘birding’) has become one of the more popular nature-related hobbies.Bird watchers, ornithologists and wildlife photographers spend millions of dollars every year travelling around the globe searching for this incredible swimming, walking and flying beauties. It is however, important to note that bird watching, or birding is the fastest-growing recreational activity in the United States, and that the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds alone boasts one million members. It’s a specialist outdoor activity that enjoys a huge global following.
Kenya is one of those destination where any self respecting birder must visit at least once in their life time. Well don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way suggesting that we can compare Kenya important bird areas to Manu national park in Peru or Pantanal in the lowland of Brazil!. First, let’s look at the product; there is no doubt about it: when it comes to Landscape, we’re right up there. We have sweeping savannas that makes the heart sing, picture-perfect beaches that cleanse the mind and soaring mountains that pacify the soul on its upward journey. We have hidden universe of creatures in our deep oceans and most importantly, the second-largest collection of bird species on the planet. Now, that is an exceptional fact that put us forward as significant destination to the ornithological community globally.
Which brings me to this question, are birders good for birds? Birding and nature tourism are compatible with environmental preservation. Kenya communities living close to important bird’s habitat must take advantage of natural scenic areas by promoting ecotourism. In Promoting bird watching and those areas natural assets will in turn promote a greater awareness of for species conservation and habitat protection and rehabilitation. However, we need to be careful not to over utilize significant habitat which are home to critically endangered and endangered species. Research shows that, the number of visitors increases when more birds are present, but as the number of visitors increases, the number of birds decreases and their minimum distance from the visitors increases, this clearly demonstrate that we must strike a balance between the two.
Birdwatching and twitching tourism has been particularly significant in opening up more remote places including deserts and wetlands, but particularly offshore islands, where more unusual and rare species are to be found. It has contributed to the economic development and environmental management of rural and remote areas, while also being one of the most ecologically sound and sustainable of versions of wildlife tourism. Birding therefore, creates economic value for conservation, and this has been true for different conservation initiative in various part of Kenya, and of important to note is Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP), Kijabe Environmental Volunteers, Lake Victoria Sunset Birders, Guides of Arabuko Sokoke forest and Lake Baringo Biodiversity Conservation Group.
There is potential of considerable expansion on benefit from avian tourism in Kenya. For example, incomes earned by local workers working in establishment developed to cater for birdwatching interest group and improved fees paid to local bird guides for their priceless services which most of the time contribute notably to client’s satisfaction. By raising local income and developing skills at the destination site, it adds to sustainable local development and community based conservation. At the same time, involvement of the local communities in the avian-tourism, improve the product (birdlife) and enhances popular support for the industry.
Lastly, this extract from an interesting book LIFE LIST, by Olivia Gentile. This is a story about Phoebe Snetsinger, an outstanding birder of our time. ‘ The group drove a van with a pop-up top all over the country, and everywhere there were birds and mammals in plain view, against a backdrop of green-gold grass and occasional lonely acacia tree. Some of the common birds in Kenya –or the ones you see day after day, and after a while, even when you close your eyes-are among the most spectacular. The common Ostrich is eight feet tall and bathes by rolling around furiously in dry dirt.The African Jacana’s back shines like a newly polished copper. TheLittle Bee-eater wears a different shade of green on each feather,or it seem in the four o’clock sun. The Gray Crowned-Crane stands tall and still, with a “crown” that looks like freshly picked wheat.
In a Nature Notes pieces, Phoebe couldn’t say which birds had been her favorites, because pretty much all of them had left her “ecstatic”. “One really has to include the Lilac-breasted Roller, ubiquitous though it is. And how can you compare an Emerald Cuckoo (unbelievable shades of green and yellow) to a group of Madagascar Bee-eater –or a paradise Flycatcher –or a Hoopoe –or an Orange-bellied Parrot (Unlikely combination of bright orange and green –or a majestic Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl –or that jewel of a Kingfisher, the Malachite ?……..I feel like the man in the children’s story ‘Millions of Cats’ who chose them all because they were all the most beautiful.”
Phoebe Snetsinger died in 23rd November 1999 while on birding tour in Madagascar. By the time of her death, she had seen 8398 species! Amazing. Asked of her favorite birding locale in the world, this is what she said “ Kenya, for its “spectacular” and “easily seen” birds.
This species is commonly seen in Kenya especially around Tugen Hills, Kakamega Forest and Cherangani Hills. It is an easy species to identify and birders will have less difficulty spotting this species even in primary forest habitat as its flight betray his presence.These birds are mostly frugivorous, with the fruits of Ficus trees composing more than half of their diet. Overall, they are known to eat the fruits of over 41 plant genera, which they forage by hopping from branch to branch in the rainforest canopy and reaching for fruit with the tip of the bill, which they then swallow whole. They also consume birds, eggs, insects, bats, snails, lizards, molluscs, other small animal prey, mosses, lichens, and fungi. Sexual dimorphism is exhibited by these species, and male tend to be slightly bigger than their female counter parts.
Hemprich’s Hornbill is huge dark brown bird, with a massive dark red bill. The breast is dark, with a white-belly and the outer tailed rectrices is white. In Kenya, this bird is sparsely distributed in rocky hillsides and cliffs in arid and semi-arid country with records from Lake Nakuru around Menegai crater, Lake Baringo, West Lake Turkana, Ortum and Kongolei escarpment.