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Birdquest's Ultimate Kenya birding tour is our classic Kenya birdwatching trip that we have carefully crafted from many years of experience in the country with the richest avifauna in Africa. This is truly one of the world's ultimate birding tours! Ultimate Kenya features a gigantic birdlist, but the main tour has an emphasis on, and enough time in the important locations, finding every Kenyan endemic and numerous regional specialities. A bonus is an extraordinary diversity of mammals, which we just happen to see while going for all those special birds! As a contrast, our optional Lake Victoria & Masai Mara extension is an unashamed indulgence in adding to the trip list and enjoying one of Africa's most famous and most extraordinary wildlife sanctuaries. The perfect ending to our Kenyan journey.
Monday 1st April —
Saturday 20th April 2019
Lake Victoria & Masai Mara Extension: Saturday 20th April — Thursday 25th April (6 days)
Leaders: a Birdquest leader and a local naturalist guide
Group Size Limit: 6
Tour Category: Easy walking and comfortable or very comfortable accommodations
Ultimate Kenya is a truly amazing birding tour through the richest country on the African continent for birdlife. While we are looking for Kenyan endemics and many other regional specialities, plenty of which are seen on no other Birdquest tour, we will also amass an extraordinarily large bird list and see a fabulous selection of mammals!
Kenya! No superlatives are sufficient to do justice to this middle-sized country that straddles the Equator, for Kenya offers not just the best birding in Africa but truly some of the best birding on earth. Kenya is so rich in birds and shows such variation in scenery, habitats and birdlife in a relatively small area, that it surely qualifies as an extraordinary, must-do destination for every world birder.
This splendid tour to Kenya is deliberately positioned at the best time of year for seeing both Kenya’s many avian specialities and numerous Palearctic migrants. Wonderful, easy birding, fantastic wildlife viewing, good food and some really superb accommodations (some of the best we encounter anywhere in the world) all add to the attractions.
Some 1100 species have already been recorded from this small country, far more than from any equivalent area on the African continent. Kenya’s remarkably rich avifauna is a direct consequence of a highly varied topography combined with an extraordinary diversity of climatic conditions and habitats (including virtually everything from dry savannas to verdant forests, from snow-capped volcanoes to rich grasslands, and from deserts to great lakes). Like some of the countries of South America, Kenya exhibits great changes in the composition of its birdlife over very short distances, but, unlike much of South America, birding here is delightfully easy, with many open and well-lit habitats to enjoy and many quite tame and remarkably approachable species.
Whilst seeking the endemics, near-endemics and other regional specialities of this scenically spectacular country, we shall also encounter an extraordinary number of other bird species, including huge ostriches and tiny estrildid finches, a marvellous selection of birds of prey and waterbirds, strange-looking turacos, mousebirds, hornbills and barbets, gaudy starlings and weavers, confusing cisticolas, jewel-like sunbirds and much, much more besides.
Although this is primarily a birding tour, many of the best places for birds and mammals in Kenya overlap and we shall certainly see a fantastic variety of mammals. For the birder, Kenya’s mammalian riches are an additional attraction which turns a visit to this incomparable country from something which would already be one of the world’s greatest birding experiences into something even more amazing.
Our travels start in the Malindi area on the Indian Ocean coast. Part of our time here will be spent in the Arabuko-Sokoke coastal forest tracking down endemic and near-endemic specialities such as Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird, Clarke’s Weaver and the exquisite Sokoke Scops Owl, the rest in coastal wetlands and adjoining habitats where we should find the restricted-range Malindi Pipit and Violet-breasted Sunbird, as well as the handsome Crab-Plover and Sooty Gull.
As we head inland we come first to the wilderness of Tsavo East National Park, where we will be seeking Somali Ostrich, the bizarre Vulturine Guineafowl, Somali Courser, Somali Bee-eater, Scaly Chatterer, the fabulous Golden-breasted Starling, Golden Pipit and even the uncommon Heuglin’s Bustard.
The relict forest of the Taita Hills will be our next port of call and here we will be wanting to see the full suite of Taita endemics, including Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis and Taita White-eye.
Beyond the Taita Hills lies the huge expanse of Tsavo West, where we will be based at the wonderfully-situated lodge at Ngulia. Here we will be seeking out such special birds such as Shelley’s Francolin, Hartlaub’s Bustard, Friedmann’s Lark, Pringle’s Puffback, Pangani Longclaw, Tsavo Purple-banded Sunbird and, by the shores of Lake Jipe, the attractive Taveta Golden Weaver. Not to mention a great variety of more widespread birds and some wonderful mammals.
Moving west to the Isinya area, we will be looking for Northern Pied Babbler, while still further west the leafy haven of a well-forested escarpment provides shelter for Abbott’s Starling at one of its most regular localities, while relict areas of native tussock grassland hold the endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw.
From beautiful Lake Naivasha we ascend slopes that harbour Lynes’s Cisticolas on our way to the high mountain country of Aberdare National Park. Here we shall look for the endemic Jackson’s Francolin and Aberdare Cisticola, and even the high-altitude Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird.
The endemic Hinde’s Babbler will be our prime target as we head north to the marvellous Mountain Lodge to enjoy the stunning views of Mount Kenya and a floodlit waterhole that attracts a superb variety of birds and mammals from out of the surrounding forests.
Descending to the arid thornbush and savanna of Samburu district, we will explore the very ‘birdy’ Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba Game Reserves where specialities include White-headed Mousebird, Grant’s Wood-hoopoe, Williams’s and Masked Larks, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark, Somali Long-billed Crombec, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Somali Fiscal, Black-bellied Sunbird, Golden Palm Weaver and Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-weaver. The reserves also harbour a superb selection of mammals, in particular Grevy’s Zebra, the long-necked Southern Gerenuk, Galla Oryx and the attractive Reticulated Giraffe.
Returning south, we will overnight at Naro Moru at the foot of Mount Kenya. A nearby ranch is well stocked with game and home to Jackson’s Widowbirds, whilst a quarry provides sanctuary for a pair of Mackinder’s Eagle Owls.
Descending into the Great Rift Valley, one cannot fail to be enthralled by the huge numbers of Lesser Flamingos that are usually present at Lake Nakuru. Grey-crested Helmet-shrikes occur in this national park and we have our first opportunity to look for them here, while Hildebrandt’s Francolin is another speciality. Black Rhinoceros still survives at Nakuru alongside introduced White Rhinos.
A little further north, below a beautiful backdrop of imposing basalt cliffs, stretches Lake Baringo. The environs of the lake are home to some exciting specialities including Heuglin’s Courser, Hemprich’s and Jackson’s Hornbills, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Bristle-crowned Starling and Northern Masked Weaver.
Moving still further west, we come to the verdant landscapes of western Kenya where, to round off our truly remarkable journey, we shall visit the bird-rich Kakamega Forest. As well as sharing many exciting species with the forests of Central Africa, these luxuriant forests are also home to Turner’s Eremomela (seen at no other locality during birding tours) and Uganda Woodland Warbler and Blue-headed Bee-eater (both can be difficult to find elsewhere). Grey-chested Babbler (formerly Grey-chested Illadopsis), now placed with two other relatives in their own family, is probably easier to see here than anywhere else.
While the main tour is focussed on finding Kenya‘s endemics and many regional specialities, the optional Lake Victoria & Masai Mara extension is of a different character: an unashamed addition of species to an already enormous trip list and some of the best mammal-watching on the planet! With the exception of Karamoja Apalis, which we sometimes see in Northern Tanzania, these are birds seen easily in Uganda and Tanzania, but there are many great birds to see in this region of the country and after all we are already in southwestern Kenya, so why not continue! The Mara is of course world-famous for its wildlife and we are going to have a wonderful time soaking it all up.
To start with, we will explore some areas of humid grassland and cultivation with scattered trees and groves that hold a considerable number of bird species confined to Kenya’s far west.
Next, an overnight stop at Kisumu by the shores of Lake Victoria starts off the extension should produce the colourful Papyrus Gonolek, Carruthers's Cisticola and other papyrus specialities, hopefully including the uncommon Papyrus Canary. From here we head south into one of Kenya’s last great wilderness areas.
Finally, a visit to the rolling grasslands of the Masai Mara, Kenya’s finest wildlife reserve and a superb birding locality in its own right, is surely going to add the final jewel to our crown of experiences in Africa’s greatest birding destination.
This northern extension of the Serengeti plains is the best place in the country in which to enjoy the magnificent spectacle of African wildlife as it once was over vast swathes of the continent. Here the herds of gnus (or wildebeest), zebras and gazelles still roam unmolested, attended by the Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards that have been so much celebrated in numerous wildlife documentaries.
We must not forget the birdlife of course, which is rich and varied. Amongst many great birds we will encounter here, the most notable are such East African endemics as Usambiro Barbet, Foxy Lark, Swahili and Kenya Rufous Sparrows, and Rufous-tailed Weaver, as well as Karamoja Apalis, a little-known species only fairly recently discovered to occur in Kenya.
By the time we have to return home we will have seen an almost unbelievable variety of birds, including Kenya’s many endemics and other specialities, and an extraordinary diversity of mammals amidst some wonderful scenery.
Birdquest has operated tours to Kenya since 1982.
Important: Our Ultimate Kenya tour is limited to just one safari vehicle, which means our small group will be together all the time, both when on foot and when in the parks where one can only occasionally bird on foot. A much superior experience to birding safaris with two vehicles and a much larger group size when birding in forest habitats.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good or very good standard throughout and are often wonderfully situated and appointed. Some of the very best accommodations used on Birdquest tours in fact. Transport will by 4x4 safari vehicle with opening roof hatch. Road conditions are variable.
Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout.
Climate: Many days at low and moderate altitudes are warm or hot, dry and sunny, although it is sometimes warm or cool and overcast. At the highest altitudes conditions can be fairly cold early in the morning. There will be some rain and it is generally rather humid along the coast.
Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities are outstanding.
Kenya Tour Prices: Prices in Kenya, in common with many of the ‘safari’ countries of eastern and southern Africa, are high by the general standard of tour costs in ‘less developed’ countries. There are two main reasons for this. In the first place ‘safari travel’ appeals to a very well-heeled audience from across the globe, not just to birders and wildlife enthusiasts, and the very high quality of many of the safari lodges (which are truly wonderful places to stay to be sure) is reflected in their very high prices. In most areas there are no mid-range accommodation options available. Secondly, the only comfortable way to go ‘on safari’ is to use specially modified 4x4 vehicles, typically Landrovers or Toyota Landcruisers. Import taxes and running costs for these vehicles in Kenya are very high, and the vehicles take only a small number of people in each, so costs per person are correspondingly steep. The cheaper alternative, still used by some bird and wildlife tour operators, is to put folk into a small minibus (passenger van) that usually has no 4x4 capability and which can struggle to pass muddy or rutted sections of road (conditions regularly present in Kenya). If you see a Kenya tour description and it does not specify 4x4 Landrovers or Landcruisers, check with the tour operator in case they are going to have their clients travel in minibuses.
These are provisional prices
Tour Price: £6390, €7540, $8370 Mombasa/Kisumu. Extension: £1820, €2140, $2380 (ending in Nairobi).
Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: £380, €449, $498. Extension: £125, €148, $164.
Deposit: £800, €960, $1040. Extension: £250, €300, $330.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
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