The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa

ULTIMATE KENYA

Special Birds, Great Scenery & Marvellous Mammals

Thursday 1st April – Wednesday 21st April 2021

Leaders: Nik Borrow and a local naturalist guide

21 Days Group Size Limit 6

ULTIMATE KENYA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Ultimate Kenya birding tours follow a very unusual, speciality-orientated birding itinerary that we have carefully crafted from many years of experience in the country with the richest avifauna in all of Africa. Our Ultimate Kenya birding tour features a large birdlist, inevitably so as Kenya is a country with one of the world’s richest avifaunas, and also a superb selection of mammals. However, this unusual tour (by the standard of Kenya birding tours, where most are pretty general safari affairs) focuses on Kenyan endemics, near-endemics and regional specialities that we do not see on any other Birdquest tour, or at least not on any regular tour.

This splendid Kenya birding adventure is deliberately positioned at the best time of year both for seeing Kenya’s avian specialities (which will mostly be active and calling) and enjoying numerous species in full breeding plumage. As a bonus, it is also a good time for observing Palearctic migrants passing through the country or preparing to leave their wintering grounds in Kenya itself. Many very approachable birds, fantastic mammal viewing, great scenery, good food and some really superb accommodations (some of the best we encounter) 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.

Our Ultimate Kenya birding tour starts in Nairobi, from where we take an internal flight to the ancient trading port of Lamu on the Indian Ocean coast, where, in particular, we will be wanting to see the recently-described, restricted-range Black (or Manda) Boubou.

From Lamu we move south the Malindi area. Part of our time here will be spent in the Arabuko-Sokoke coastal forest, tracking down endemic and near-endemic specialities such as the exquisite Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird and Clarke’s Weaver, and the rest in the coastal wetlands and adjoining habitats, where we should find the restricted-range Malindi Pipit and Violet-breasted Sunbird, as well as the handsome, monotypic Crab-plover and the restricted-range Sooty Gull.

The relict forests of the Taita Hills will be our next major 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.

In the Nairobi area we will be seeking out such special birds such as Shelley’s Francolin and Hartlaub’s Bustard.

The endemic Hinde’s Babbler will be our prime target as we head north and skirt Mount Kenya.

Descending to the arid thornbush and savanna of Samburu district, we will explore the very ‘birdy’ Shaba, Samburu and Buffalo Springs Game Reserves, where specialities include White-headed Mousebird, Somali Bee-eater, Grant’s Wood-hoopoe, Williams’s Lark, 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.

Travelling onwards into the north of Kenya, reaching way beyond the limits of most visiting birders to the country, we will explore the remote Marsabit Massif and the remote Dida Galgalu Desert. Here we will be looking for Heuglin’s Bustard, Somali Courser, Masked Lark, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark, Somali Long-billed Crombec, Somali Fiscal, Bristle-crowned Starling, Somali Crow and Somali Sparrow.

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 at Lake Nakuru, one cannot fail to be enthralled by the huge numbers of Lesser Flamingos that are usually present. The rare and localized Grey-crested Helmet-shrike occurs here, while Hildebrandt’s Francolin is another speciality. Black Rhinoceros still survives at Nakuru alongside introduced White Rhinos.

Moving further west, we come to the verdant landscapes of western Kenya, where 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 both Blue-headed Bee-eater and Uganda Woodland Warbler (which can be difficult to find elsewhere). Grey-chested Babbler (formerly known as Grey-chested Illadopsis, but now placed with two other relatives in their own bird family), is probably easier to see here than anywhere else in its range.

Returning to the Great Rift Valley at 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 also the high-altitude Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird.

Finally, before we return to Nairobi, we will seek out relict areas of native tussock grassland that hold the endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw and visit the leafy haven of a well-forested escarpment that provides shelter for the near-endemic Abbott’s Starling at one of its more regular localities.

By the time our Ultimate Kenya birding tour concludes, we will have seen a huge variety of birds, including the vast majority of Kenya’s endemics and other specialities, and an extraordinary diversity of mammals. As a bonus, many of these living treasures will be sighted amidst some wonderful scenery.

Birdquest has operated Kenya birding tours since 1982.

What makes the Birdquest Ultiumate Kenya birding tour special? Firstly our tour has the very best, unmatched itinerary for seeing Kenya endemic and near-endemic specialities.

Secondly our tour is limited to just one vehicle and up to six participants maximum, 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. This provides a much better experience compared with Kenya birding safaris that have two vehicles in the parks and also have a much larger group size when birding in forest habitats.

Thirdly the high quality way to go on a Kenya birding tour is to use specially modified and extended 4×4 safari vehicles, either Toyota Landcruisers or Landrovers, with large opening roof hatches. These vehicles make the birding safari experience so much more comfortable.

The cheaper alternative, used by some bird tour operators (who can, as a direct result, reduce per person costs by up to US$1200 or more for a three week safari), is to put folk into small minibuses (passenger vans) that will have significantly less space and a much less comfortable ride on bumpy dirt roads (these are a fact of life on any Kenyan safari). Furthermore, the minibuses used either have no 4×4 capability or a more limited capability than proper ‘off road’ vehicles like Landcruisers, so they can struggle to pass muddy or rutted sections of road (conditions regularly present in Kenya).

If you see a Kenya birding tour description and it does not clearly specify that you will be travelling in a Landcruiser or Landrover 4×4, check with the tour operator in case they are going to have you travel in a minibus. In our opinion that temptingly lower tour price comes at a very high cost in terms of client comfort and achievable logistics.

Note: This is a new, greatly changed and more speciality-focussed Kenya itinerary, so our earlier Kenya tour reports are not relevant.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges used are of good or very good standard throughout and are often wonderfully situated. Some of the best accommodations on Birdquest tours in fact. Transport will by comfortable extended Toyota Landcruiser 4×4 vehicle with opening roof hatch. Road conditions are variable.

Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout our Ultimate Kenya birding tours.

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 during our Ultimate Kenya birding tours are very good.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include this flight: Nairobi-Lamu.

Deposit: £740, $960, €830.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2021: provisional £6950, $8690, €7640. Nairobi/Nairobi.

Single Supplement: 2021: £470, $590, €510.

This supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

ULTIMATE KENYA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Ultimate Kenya: Day 1  Our Ultimate Kenya birding tour begins this afternoon with a flight from Nairobi to Lamu on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, where we will stay overnight. Lamu is an old port town, founded many centuries ago by Arab traders, and still has a wonderful selection of old buildings and a unique atmosphere.

Our main purpose in coming here is to see a very special bird, the recently-described Black (or Manda) Boubou, a restricted-range endemic species which occurs only in coastal Kenya and Somalia, and which cannot be seen further south in Kenya.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 2  After some early morning birding at Lamu, we will travel southwards to Malindi and on to nearby Watamu for a four nights stay at a comfortable resort situated right on the Indian Ocean shore. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of the surrounding area.

Ultimate Kenya: Days 3-5  Coastal Kenya is quite different from the interior of the country and many of the birds we will see here are not found inland. During our visit, we shall explore the huge and finally well-protected Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and the Indian Ocean coastline with its mangroves, mudflats, sandy beaches and coral reefs. There are some exciting specialities to be found here and the birding is a mixture of delightfully easy, bird-packed coastal wetlands and more difficult forest birding.

The famous Arabuko-Sokoke Forest can be divided roughly into three main vegetation belts, each with its own attendant specialities. We shall ensure that we sample them all in order to find as many of the specialities as possible.

The forest is thick and dense and it is no easy task to locate the wary and near-endemic Sokoke Pipit as it creeps silently through the leaf litter or display flights overhead, or the attractive East Coast Akalat, a renowned skulker. Mixed feeding flocks can hold the tiny and near-endemic Amani Sunbird, as well as Mombasa Woodpecker, Black-headed Apalis, Little Yellow Flycatcher, Forest and Pale Batises, Retz’s and Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrikes, and Plain-backed Sunbird.

The often thick and impenetrable vegetation provides cover for Yellow-bellied, Fischer’s and Tiny Greenbuls and the secretive Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin. Fischer’s Turaco and the stunning Four-coloured Bush Shrike, despite being colourful, can take time to track down and we will need a modicum of luck if we are to admire a Mangrove Kingfisher. If we are fortunate, there will be flocks of the little-known Forbes-Watson’s Swift hawking low over the forest. There is also a fair chance for Collared Palm Thrush.

Our local guide may well find us the diminutive and near-endemic Sokoke Scops Owl at one of its daytime roosts, but if the birds are not at home we will have to stay until dark when a duet can be built up between our guide and a calling bird. Following the soft hoots in the dark, moving cross-country through the tangled vegetation, is not easy, but the thrilling reward is to finally catch sight of this special little owl caught in the spotlight beam. Other nocturnal species include the range-restricted Scheffler’s Owlet (split from Barred), African Wood Owl and Fiery-necked Nightjar.

Quite recently, a breeding site has been found in Watamu area for the Kenyan-endemic Clarke’s Weaver, and the colony should be active during our visit, giving us a great opportunity to admire this rare and rarely-seen bird.

Amongst the wealth of more widespread species to be found in the forest or in more open habitats are Hadada Ibis, Yellow-billed Kite (split from Black), Great and perhaps Little Sparrowhawks, Lizard Buzzard, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, the distinctive pucherani race of the Crested Guineafowl, Tambourine, Ring-necked and Red-eyed Doves, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Green Yellowbill, Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails, African Palm Swift, Speckled Mousebird, the beautiful Narina Trogon, Green Wood-hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Trumpeter Hornbill, Green Barbet, Eastern Green Tinkerbird, Scaly-throated and Pallid Honeyguides, Green-backed Woodpecker, Grassland Pipit, Lesser Striped Swallow, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Northern and Terrestrial Brownbuls, the restricted-range Dodson’s Bulbul (split from Common), Eastern Nicator, Scaly Babbler, Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Ashy Flycatcher, Grey Apalis, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tchagra, East Coast (split from Tropical) Boubou, Black-backed Puffback, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Common (or Fork-tailed) Drongo, African Black-headed and Eurasian Golden Orioles, Black-bellied and Violet-backed Starlings, Collared and Eastern Olive Sunbirds, Grosbeak-weaver, Dark-backed Weaver, the restricted-range Zanzibar Red Bishop, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and the very shy Peters’s Twinspot.

Mammals include the impressive Golden-rumped and Four-toed Elephant Shrews, Zanj Sun Squirrel and occasionally even Caracal.

While in this rich coastal region we will also want to find the near-endemic Violet-breasted Sunbird and the leggy near-endemic Malindi Pipit, as well as the superb Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Coastal (split from Winding) Cisticola and Purple-banded Sunbird. Ship-borne House Crows from the Indian subcontinent have colonized the coast and are a less welcome addition to the avifauna.

The dunes, pools, estuaries and mangroves also offer some marvellous bird-watching opportunities. The Sabaki River mouth is a terrific place to watch shorebirds, gulls and terns, and in particular we shall be looking for the striking Crab-plover (the sole member of its family), usually present in some numbers, as well as Dimorphic Egret, Sooty Gull and Saunders’s Tern.

Other species we are likely to encounter in the coastal wetlands include Great White Pelican, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Greater Flamingo (and sometimes Lesser Flamingo), Osprey, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Pied Avocet, Collared Pratincole, Grey (or Black-bellied), Common Ringed, White-fronted, Lesser Sand and Greater Sand Plovers, Little Stint, Sanderling, Marsh, Common, Curlew and Terek Sandpipers, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Baltic and Heuglin’s Gulls, Gull-billed, Caspian, Greater Crested, Lesser Crested, Common and Roseate Terns, African Skimmer, Pied Kingfisher and African Pied Wagtail.

This is a great time of year for Palearctic migration through Kenya and we may well see both Sooty and Amur Falcons migrating past, either here at the coast or further inland during the tour.

With plenty of time available for birding in the Watamu area, indeed more time than other bird tours spend in the area, we can expect to do very well indeed. Some of the Sokoke-Arabuko specialities in particular can be hard to find.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 6  After some early morning birding in the coastal zone we will head inland, bound for Voi, where we will overnight. We will pass through Tsavo East National Park en route and will have a first opportunity to see many species characteristic of the arid bushlands of eastern Kenya.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 7  Early this morning we shall head towards the nearby Taita Hills. This isolated massif that rises dramatically from the surrounding flat landscapes holds a number of interesting endemic specialities and this morning we will visit a small patch of remnant forest near the very top in search of some of the rarest birds in Kenya. These are the distinctive endemic Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis and Taita White-eye.

This highly threatened forest is extremely small and it is quite clear that these birds are on the very brink of their existence. However, the forest is now protected and apart from the three endemic specialities we will also be looking for Lemon Dove, Striped Pipit, Stripe-faced (split from Stripe-cheeked) and Placid Greenbuls, Pale Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Evergreen Forest Warbler and Variable Sunbird. Grey-olive Greenbul can sometimes be found in this area and Orange Ground Thrush also occurs here, although we will be very fortunate if we encounter the latter.

After our visit to the Taita Hills we will leave the dry thornbush and grasslands of eastern Kenya behind and ascend until we reach the well-watered uplands of central Kenya. En route, where starkly arid hills punctuate the scene, we shall make a stop at a rocky outcrop where we will look for Red-fronted Barbet, Grey-capped Social Weaver and Southern Grosbeak-Canary, at a colony of African Golden Weavers that should be busy constructing their nests, and at an area of acacia woodland that holds Red-throated Tit. We should also encounter our first Grey Crowned Cranes. Eventually we will reach the Nairobi area, where we will spend the night.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 8  Early this morning we will visit Nairobi National Park, a fine area of wild habitat surprisingly close to the city. Our targets here are Shelley’s Francolin and Hartlaub’s Bustard, but there are many other species of birds and mammals to enjoy.

This afternoon we will head northwards to the town of Thika for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 9  From Thika we will continue towards the base of Mount Kenya. Here we will check out a scrubby little valley for the endangered, Kenyan-endemic Hinde’s Babbler. The species is restricted to a narrow altitudinal belt around the southern and eastern edges of Mount Kenya. The land here is intensively cultivated and the thick vegetation that the birds need for shelter is constantly being cleared for agriculture.

As the fertile upland countryside opens out to short grassland and cultivation, we shall be looking for a variety of open country birds, in particular fantastic Jackson’s Widowbirds that hopefully will be in their spectacular breeding plumage. Cape Rook, Red-winged Starling and Yellow Bishop should also be seen, while Northern Anteater Chats sit up on fence posts. If there are good numbers of flowering Leonotis then we should find the gorgeous Golden-winged Sunbird as well as the less dramatic Bronze Sunbird. As we drop further and enter drier country, we shall make a stop to look for Boran Cisticola and the restricted-range Little Rock Thrush before continuing to Shaba Game Reserve for a three nights stay.

Ultimate Kenya: Days 10-11  Shaba and the adjoining Samburu and Buffalo Springs Game Reserves (all three of which we will be exploring) lie on the edge of the dry zone of northern Kenya and are scenically some of the most attractive reserves in the country. The extensive tracts of grassland, acacia savanna and thorn-bush are broken up by strips of lush riverine woodland, whilst in many areas multiple-trunked dom palms further enhance the scenery. This diversity of habitats makes for a very rich avifauna. Our very comfortable lodge is attractively situated on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro (‘Brown Water’) River that flows through the reserves. Whilst Shaba with its lava flows has a more volcanic feel about it, Samburu and Buffalo Springs Game Reserves are somewhat more lush.

Some of the specialities of the area include Grant’s Wood-hoopoe (split from Violet), the localized Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Somali Fiscal, Magpie Starling and the heavyweight Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-weaver. We have another chance for Freidmann’s Lark here as well and if we are lucky we will find Somali Long-billed Crombec.

We shall also be looking in particular for the somewhat comical White-headed Mousebird, Black-bellied Sunbird and the localized Golden Palm Weaver, all of which are perhaps most easily found in the various lodge gardens that form veritable oases in this dry landscape, with the added bonus of copious food supplies provided by sympathetic guests!

During our exploration of the impressive and far less visited Shaba Game Reserve, we will head out early to a lava plain that is home to the Kenyan-endemic Williams’s Lark and sometimes to the range-restricted Masked Lark (a species we see on no other Birdquest tour). We will take an armed park ranger with us so that we can walk over the open plains made up of loose lava boulders in search of these rarities. (The ranger is insisted on by the game reserve authorities, just in case of potentially dangerous wild mammals, but we have never had any such encounter.)

As the day warms up we will find raptors are particularly common and these are likely to include Black-shouldered Kite, Egyptian, Hooded, Rüppell’s Griffon and Lappet-faced Vultures, African Harrier Hawk, Gabar Goshawk, Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles, the magnificent Verreaux’s and Martial Eagles, African Hawk-Eagle, the delightful Pygmy Falcon and sometimes Palm-nut Vulture. The graceful Scissor-tailed (or African Swallow-tailed) Kite is sometimes present.

Other new bird species that we may well see in the reserves include Dwarf Bittern, the huge Kori Bustard, Northern White-bellied Bustard, Water Thick-knee, Lichtenstein’s and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Great Spotted, Black and Klaas’s Cuckoos, Rufous-crowned Roller, White-throated and Little Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-throated and Red-and-yellow Barbets, Greater Honeyguide, Bearded Woodpecker, Singing Bush Lark, Foxy Lark, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark, Wire-tailed and Ethiopian Swallows, Ashy Cisticola, Pale Prinia, Brown-tailed (split from Yellow-breasted) Apalis, Northern Crombec, Yellow-bellied and Yellow-vented Eremomelas, Banded Parisoma, Northern Grey Tit, Pygmy Batis, Brubru, Three-streaked Tchagra, Fan-tailed Raven, Marico Sunbird, Chestnut Sparrow, Black-capped Social Weaver, Speckle-fronted, Vitelline Masked and Lesser Masked Weavers, Red-billed Quelea, Green-winged Pytilia, Blue-capped Cordon-bleu, Purple Grenadier, Crimson-rumped and Black-cheeked Waxbills, African Silverbill, Straw-tailed Whydah, the restricted-range Steel-blue Whydah (which tends to be uncommon) and White-bellied Canary.

Many Palearctic migrants will be present at the time of our visit, probably including Steppe Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, Common Nightingale, White-throated Robin (or Irania), Rufous-tailed (or Common) Rock Thrush, and Eastern Olivaceous, Olive-tree and Upcher’s Warblers, while Grasshopper Buzzard occurs as an intra-African migrant.

These fine reserves are well known for their superb selection of mammals, in particular Grevy’s Zebra, the long-necked Southern Gerenuk, Galla Oryx (split from Beisa) and the attractive Reticulated Giraffe.

More widespread species include Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Common Jackal, African Savanna Elephant, Desert Warthog, Kirk’s Dikdik, Ellipsen Waterbuck, Bright’s Gazelle and Common Impala. This is also a good place for seeing Lion and, if we are lucky, Leopard. Nile Crocodiles, some of a very large size, may be seen along the rivers.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 12  From Shaba we drive northwards through the Northern Frontier Province to remote Marsabit, a place well off the normal birding circuit, for a two nights stay. At first the thorn-bush landscape is enlivened by views of Lololokwi Mountain and the distant Matthews Range, but after some time the Marsabit Massif looms ever larger on the northern horizon. The Marsabit National Reserve itself protects the interesting relict forest, grassland and beautiful crater lakes on the mountain, whilst to the north lies the destination of greater interest to birders, the bleak Dida Galgalu Desert.

As we get increasingly further north, we will keep a lookout for such specialities as Heuglin’s Bustard, Somali Long-billed Crombec, Bristle-crowned Starling and Somali Crow.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 13  Today we will explore the Dida Galgalu Desert. The far northern desert region of Kenya is an excellent area for birds that holds some little-known specialities. In particular, we will be looking for the pretty little Somali Sparrow and we have our best chances of seeing Heuglin’s Bustard and Masked Lark here. On the northern horizon, the far off Huri Hills stretch away to the Ethiopian frontier and as the vegetation becomes sparser and the barren black lava flows take over the landscape becomes increasingly bleak and inhospitable. Huge flocks of Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Larks flush from the roadside, Somali Fiscals are very common and both Thekla and Crested Larks live side by side here, the latter preferring the sandier habitats where Somali Coursers also occur. We will also look for Short-tailed Lark and Shining Sunbird, and we may come across Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse scratching for food amongst the rocks. Greater Kestrels use the few bushes as lookout posts and if we are lucky we will find a Greyish Eagle Owl at a daytime roost.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 14  After some final birding in the far north we will retrace our steps southwards until we reach Naro Moru River Lodge, situated at the base of Mount Kenya, where we will overnight.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 15  Our pleasant lodge is set in a delightful wooded setting with the river itself winding through the garden below the chalets. The grounds are certainly worth exploring as Tacazze Sunbirds can be found here and we have a good chance for African Black Duck and Montane Nightjar. Other possibilities include African Goshawk, Mountain Wagtail, the interesting vepres race of Black-lored Babbler, White-browed Robin-Chat and Green-headed Sunbird.

Very close to the lodge is the Solio Ranch an area of wide-open plains that has many mammals and once again good habitat for the near-endemic Jackson’s Widowbird. Montagu’s and less often Pallid Harriers quarter these grasslands and sometimes flocks of Lesser Kestrels gather. Common Quail can be heard calling and Black-bellied Bustard, Black-winged Lapwing, Red-capped Lark, Plain-backed Pipit and the dapper Capped Wheatear are all to be found. Our main purpose today is to visit an old quarry where we have a fairly good chance of seeing the localized Cape Eagle Owl (the form mackinderi is sometimes split as Mackinder’s Eagle-Owl). At some small pools and dams, Levaillant’s (or Tinkling) Cisticolas call from the reeds. After we finish exploring the area we will continue to Lake Nakuru for an overnight stay at yet another wonderful safari lodge.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 16  Lake Nakuru is perhaps the most famous of the Rift Valley ‘bird lakes’. Surrounded by attractive mature yellow ‘fever trees’ and arid hills peppered with candelabra euphorbias, the lake often holds spectacular concentrations of Lesser Flamingos and smaller numbers of Greater Flamingos. Our lodge garden can be a good place to look for Hildebrandt’s Francolin and Red-throated Wryneck. Red-headed Weavers build their long tunnel-entrance nests here, Mocking Cliff Chats can often be seen hopping on the roofs of the chalets whilst Arrow-marked and Black-lored Babblers squabble from the bushes.

The trees and scrub surrounding the lake provide a home for the uncommon, restricted-range Little Rock Thrush, while roving flocks of helmet-shrikes can contain both White Helmet-shrike and with a bit of luck the highly localized Grey-crested Helmet-shrike.

Typical species in this habitat include Red-chested Cuckoo, Striped Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, Greater and Scaly-throated Honeyguides, African Grey-headed Woodpecker, Willow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-faced Crombec, Common Wattle-eye, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Northern Puffback, Rüppell’s Long-tailed Starling, Amethyst Sunbird, Speke’s and Baglafecht Weavers, Red-billed and African Firefinches, and Common Waxbill.

In the grasslands and open areas we will look for Coqui Francolin, Long-crested Eagle, African Hoopoe, White-fronted Bee-eater, Plain-backed Pipit, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Whinchat, Schalow’s (split from Abyssinian Black) Wheatear, and Winding, Rattling and Pectoral-patch Cisticolas. In the skies overhead we should keep an eye open for Horus Swift and African Sand (or Brown-throated) Martin.

At various lookout points around the vast shallow soda lake we may well find Yellow-billed Egret, Cape Teal, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Greater Painted Snipe, Kittlitz’s Plover, Ruff, Black-headed and Grey-headed Gulls, White-winged Tern, Blue-headed, Grey-headed, Black-headed and Sykes’s Wagtails, and Red-throated Pipit. Sometimes Black-necked (or Eared) and Great Crested Grebes are present.

Nakuru is one of the best places in Kenya for seeing Leopard, but we will need a lot of luck if we are to come across one during our short visit. There are however, plenty of other large mammals, including a healthy introduced population of White Rhinoceros. We may also find the increasingly rare Black Rhinoceros.

Afterwards we shall drive westwards to Kakamega for a three nights stay at the lovely Rondo Retreat.

Ultimate Kenya: Days 17-18  Kakamega Forest is a unique area of evergreen forest near the western frontier of Kenya. The flora and fauna of the forest is closely akin to that of the Central African rainforests and many of the birds found here are at the easternmost point of their distribution.

Of great significance in these days of taxonomic change is the Grey-chested Babbler (formerly known as Grey-chested Illadopsis), which is now treated as one of only three members of a distinct family. (The other two members are Spot-throat and Dapple-throat.) Kakamega is surely the very best place in the species’ range to get good views of this retiring little critter.

The other two main target species of the forest are the restricted-range Turner’s Eremomela and Uganda Woodland Warbler, the first of which is not seen on bird tours to Uganda (the only other country it occurs in), while the second can be difficult there. We shall be listening for their calls and scanning the canopy in order find these charming little warblers.

The forest day typically begins with an impressive dawn chorus. Huge Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills noisily leave their roosts and ridiculously top-knotted Great Blue Turacos emit their distinctive guttural cries from high inside the canopy. Out on the dead snags, silhouetted against the sky, sit Grey-throated Barbets with their startling pale eyes and strange nasal tufts. They are sometimes joined by Stuhlmann’s Starlings, while attractive White-headed Saw-wings fly overhead. Our attentions will soon turn, however, to the skulking birds of the undergrowth. The persistent squeak of Black-faced Rufous Warblers and the joyful duets of Chubb’s Cisticolas are commonly heard sounds at Kakamega, but we will also be hoping for such secretive species as Brown-chested Alethe and Brown Illadopsis and Scaly-breasted Illadopsis to betray their presence by their whistled calls.

During our stay we will be able to find many additional special birds of Kakamega, which include Scaly Francolin, Crested Guineafowl, White-spotted Flufftail, Black-billed Turaco, Red-chested Owlet, Blue-headed Bee-eater (this must be the easiest location to see this beautiful bird), Cassin’s Honeybird, African Broadbill, Equatorial Akalat, Least Honeyguide, Grey-winged Robin, Blue-shouldered and Snowy-headed Robin Chats, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Green Hylia, Southern Hyliota, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Mountain Illadopsis, Dusky Crested Flycatcher, Jameson’s, Chestnut and Yellow-bellied Wattle-eyes, Bocage’s Bush-shrike, Velvet-mantled Drongo and Oriole Finch. Greenbuls are a feature of the forest and we shall be aiming to locate Red-tailed Bristlebill and Cameroon Sombre, Little Grey, Ansorge’s, Slender-billed, Kakamega (split from Shelley’s), Cabanis’s, Toro Olive, Honeyguide and Joyful Greenbuls. Western Banded Snake Eagle, Ayres’s Hawk Eagle and Grey Parrot occasionally put in an appearance.

Other species we may well find at Kakamega include African Goshawk, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Blue Yellowbill, Yellow-spotted, Streaky-throated (split from Hairy-breasted) and Yellow-billed Barbets, Thick-billed Honeyguide, Yellow-crested, Buff-spotted and Brown-eared Woodpeckers, White-tailed Ant Thrush, African Thrush, Black-faced (split from Banded) and White-chinned Prinias, Olive-green Camaroptera, Buff-throated and Black-collared Apalises, Grey-capped Warbler, Yellow White-eye, Dusky Tit, African Blue Flycatcher, African Shrike Flycatcher, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Lühder’s Bush Shrike, Pink-footed Puffback, Petit’s and Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrikes, Square-tailed Drongo, Western Black-headed Oriole, Green, Western Olive, Green-throated, Green-headed, Scarlet-chested and Bronze Sunbirds, Grey-headed Sparrow, Black-billed, Black-necked, Vieillot’s Black and Dark-backed Weavers, Red-headed Malimbe, White-breasted Negrofinch, Red-headed Bluebill, Black-crowned Waxbill, Black-and-white Mannikin and Southern Citril.

At this time of year, migrant European Honey Buzzard, Grey Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Blackcap and Garden Warbler join the resident species.

Large mammals such as Guereza Colobus, Red-tailed Monkey and the ‘blue’ form of the Gentle Monkey can also be seen in the forest.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 19  After some final birding at Kakamega we will transfer to Lake Naivasha for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 20  The day begins with the sun rising over this attractive lake, but the waterbirds here are all widespread and our attentions must be focussed on higher things. After an early breakfast, we will leave on a road that winds gently up into the Aberdare Mountains. We will stop along the way to look for the restricted-range Lynes’s Cisticola.

Driving higher still, we shall enter the Aberdare National Park. The air up here is clear and the scenery astounding. Along the roadside, we will keep a watchful eye out for the Kenyan-endemic Jackson’s Francolin that is usually quite tolerant of vehicles. We shall be making a special effort to find the Kenyan-endemic Aberdare Cisticola, for although this species is quite common, it can be skulking at times. We should also find the stunning Golden-winged Sunbird, as well as Eastern Double-collared, Tacazze and Malachite Sunbirds, and if we are lucky the high altitude Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird. Alpine Chats are confiding and easy to see in this high altitude environment.

Other species to look for include Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Dusky Turtle Dove, Scarce Swift, Cape Wagtail, Cape Robin Chat, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, the excitable Hunter’s Cisticola, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Slender-billed Starling and Kandt’s (split from Black-headed) Waxbill.
This afternoon we will explore some natural tussock grassland, a habitat that is fast disappearing under cultivation. This is the required habitat of the Kenyan-endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw. We shall stop wherever we find suitable areas and we have an excellent chance of locating this rare bird. The same habitat is shared by Ayres’s Cisticola and Long-tailed Widowbird.

We will overnight in the southern Aberdares, to the northwest of Nairobi.

Ultimate Kenya: Day 21  This morning we will explore a patch of verdant forest on the Kikuyu Escarpment that is a known haunt for Abbott’s Starling, a little-known frugivorus East African endemic that is restricted to highland forest canopy in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Its tiny population is thought to be declining all over its range, but we do stand a chance of being able to locate this very rare bird (which we hardly ever see in Tanzania) at this site.

Even if we are not fortunate with Abbott’s Starling, this is a pleasant place to finish the tour. Sharpe’s Starlings with their wind-chime tinkling calls can be found here, feeding quietly amongst fruiting trees. The delightful but extremely secretive Abyssinian Crimson-wing can sometimes be found here grovelling in the undergrowth along with the much commoner Yellow-bellied Waxbills. The colourful Bar-tailed Trogon, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Montane Oriole and Black-fronted Bush-shrike are veritable jewels of this forest to be sought out and enjoyed. With a flash of brilliant red in its wings, the exotic Hartlaub’s Turaco can be seen bouncing through the canopy. We even have a chance of locating the reclusive Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo if we should hear one calling.

Skulking Cinnamon Bracken Warblers can infuriate with their loud voices whilst playing hard to get, but the pretty White-starred Robin, the diminutive White-browed Crombec, Brown Woodland Warbler and Chestnut-throated Apalis with its ‘trim-phone’ call are all usually easier to see. Yellow-whiskered, Olive-breasted Mountain (split from Eastern Mountain) and Placid Greenbuls are the local representatives of this confusing group.

Widespread species to look for in this refreshingly cool and leafy haven include Steppe (split from Common), Mountain and Augur Buzzards, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Mottled Swift, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Moustached Green and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, Fine-banded Woodpecker, Black Saw-wing, Dark-capped Bulbul, African Hill Babbler, Rüppell’s Robin-chat, Abyssinian (split from Olive) Thrush, African Dusky and White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers, Black-throated Apalis, Montane White-eye, White-bellied Tit, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Chinspot Batis, Common Fiscal, Tropical Boubou, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Spectacled and Brown-capped Weavers, Rufous-backed Mannikin, Streaky and Thick-billed Seedeaters, and Yellow-crowned Canary.

This afternoon we will drive to Nairobi, where our Ultimate Kenya birding tour will end.


Other key-importance Eastern Africa birding tours by Birdquest include: