Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, one of ten species of owl that we normally see, mostly at day-time roosts. Photo: David Fisher
It’s little wonder that over the last 28 years we’ve run more trips to Kenya than anywhere else. Simply put, it’s a fabulous experience for anyone interested in birds and natural history. Our tours here normally record around 600 species of birds, usually 700 with the extension, but simple bird lists can’t begin to capture Kenya. First, it’s a remarkably diverse and beautiful place: rolling grasslands dotted with flat-topped acacias, mountains like Mt. Kenya rising above 17,000 feet, riverine forests, arid plains, the eastern edges of the vast Congo rainforest, Great Rift Valley lakes, coastal forests and productive estuaries. Second, much of our birdwatching is done in national parks and reserves where we’re surrounded by East Africa’s extraordinary array of mammals. To be looking at some wonderful bird and then turn around to see a Leopard, a herd of African Elephants or some other arresting creature seems like the stuff of dreams but in Kenya it happens several times every day!
Our well-honed itinerary includes Nairobi National Park, Mt. Kenya, the Aberdare Mountains, Lakes Nakuru, Naivasha and Baringo, Kakamega Forest, Lake Victoria and the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Our extension includes Tsavo National Park, the coastal forests and shore near Watamu and Taita Hills and Lake Jipe on the Tanzanian border.
Day 1: The tour begins with the departure of the Sunbird group from London. WINGS participants traveling directly to Nairobi should arrive no later than this evening (see Note **, below).
Day 2: We’ll begin this morning at our Nairobi hotel with the arrival of the group from London. The hotel itself will produce our first African birds, perhaps including Olive Thrush and Speckled Mousebird. We’ll spend the balance of the day in the rolling grassland and scattered acacias of Nairobi National Park, where we’ll find gazelles, giraffes, and we hope Black Rhinoceros, as well as a heady array of birds including Ostrich, Gray Crowned-Crane, Secretary-bird, Verreaux’s Eagle, Long-tailed Fiscal, and Red-billed Oxpecker among many others. At the famous Hippo pools, we’ll take a walk among the yellow-barked acacias in search of local specialties such as Red-throated Tit, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, and African Moustached Warbler. Night in Nairobi.
Day 3: On our first full day we’ll drive southwest over the Ngong Hills and stop to look for Lynes’s Cisticola before descending through whistling-thorn acacia scrub into the Great Rift Valley. Birds are everywhere numerous and should include spectacular species such as Pale Chanting-Goshawk, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, and Red-and-yellow Barbet, as well as local specialties including Short-tailed Lark and Black-necked Weaver. In the afternoon we’ll continue to alkaline Lake Magadi on the floor of the Rift Valley. Here we’ll see our first flamingos, usually both Lesser and Greater, but our main target will be the very local Chestnut-banded Plover, which we’ll need to pick out from large flocks of wintering Palearctic shorebirds that include many Ruffs and Little Stints. Night in Nairobi.
Day 4: We’ll drive north toward Mt. Kenya, stopping en route to look for Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Trumpeter Hornbill. We’ll continue to Mountain Lodge on the forested slopes of Mt. Kenya, arriving in time for a late lunch. Although we are restricted to the lodge and nearby parking area, birdwatching from the open roof is excellent, as the forest presses in on three sides; we’ll see many species, including Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Olive and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, Mountain Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-crowned Canary. The waterhole in front of the lodge attracts a variety of mammals, among them African Buffalo, Bushbuck, and the occasional Bushpig or Giant Forest Hog. At night, Large Spotted Genet visits a floodlit feeding station, and if we’re lucky a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl will be in residence. Night at Mountain Lodge.
Day 5: We’ll spend the early morning at Mountain Lodge, where a short walk may reveal White-starred Robin and Suni. After breakfast we’ll leave the lodge, driving slowly down through a forest rich in birds, among them perhaps Crowned Eagle, African Emerald Cuckoo, and Moustached Green Tinkerbird. We’ll arrive at Naro Moru River Lodge in time for lunch. The lodge is located in remnant forest on the lower slopes of Mt. Kenya, and we’ll walk a shaded riverside trail in search of African Black Duck, Crowned Hornbill, Mountain Wagtail, and up to eight species of sunbird including the stunning Tacazze. Night at Naro Moru River Lodge.
Day 6: In the early morning we’ll drive across the Solio Plains, stopping as we go to study an array of small passerines perched on the roadside wires: African larks, wheatears, and cisticolas. Lesser Kestrels are often numerous here, and we have a good chance of finding a Greater Kestrel, too. Turning south, we’ll head into the Aberdare Mountains, where a good road will take us above treeline into moorland habitat. As we ascend through mixed woodland, we’ll see Jackson’s Francolins along the road, and the songs of Brown Woodland Warbler should give away their presence. We’ll stop at the end of the road in moorland habitat above 10,000 feet. Alpine Chats will be common here and easily seen, and we’ll search patches of giant lobelias for the main specialty, Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird. In the late afternoon we’ll drive back down to Nyeri. Night in Nyeri.
Day 7: After some early morning birding on the grounds of our hotel, we’ll drive north to the spectacular Thomson’s Falls, stopping en route to search an old quarry for Cape Eagle-Owl and at a small marsh to look for African Snipe and Levaillant’s Cisticola. After a picnic lunch at the falls and a short walk to look for Slender-billed Starling, we’ll climb high into the mountains, where flowering roadside Leonotis bushes attract brilliant Golden-winged and the occasional Malachite Sunbirds. We’ll stop at a lake where several species of Palearctic ducks winter; local waterfowl may include Southern Pochard and Maccoa Duck. As the day ends we’ll drop down the eastern edge of the Rift Valley to Lake Nakuru. We may arrive in time to visit one of the “hippo” viewing points to look at the thousands of waterbirds that ring the lake. Night at Lake Nakuru.
Day 8: We’ll spend the morning at Lake Nakuru, world famous for its vast flock of flamingos, pelicans, and a wealth of other waterbirds. In the acacia woodland around the lake, we’ll look for such species as Narina Trogon, Red-throated Wryneck, Greater and Scaly-throated Honeyguides, Arrow-marked Babbler, and African Firefinch. This is also a good area for Leopards; they often spend the day asleep in the yellow-barked acacia trees. After lunch we’ll drive to Hell’s Gate National Park, well known for its colonies of Rüppell’s Vultures and hordes of Mottled and Nyanza Swifts. Lanners hunt the swifts along the cliffs, and with luck we may see Spotted Eagle-Owl. Night at Lake Naivasha.
Day 9: We’ll spend the early morning on the shore of Lake Naivasha, looking for Goliath Heron and Giant Kingfisher among the masses of other waterbirds. After breakfast we’ll drive north to Lake Baringo, stopping for Black-headed Lapwing, Dark Chanting-Goshawk, and Silverbird on the way. We’ll spend part of the afternoon in the garden and along the lakeshore, both rich in birds, including many that will be new for us, such as Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and White-billed Buffalo-Weaver. We’ll also venture out into the nearby scrub, where incredibly sharp-eyed local guides will help us find Spotted Thick-knee, Heuglin’s Courser, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, and Northern White-faced Scops-Owl. At dusk Slender-tailed Nightjars come gliding along the lakeshore, and at night Hippopotamuses often graze on the lawn in front of our rooms! Night at Baringo.
Day 10: We’ll visit the nearby cliffs at sunrise to scan for Fan-tailed Raven, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Cliff Chat, Brown-tailed Rock-Chat, and Bristle-crowned Starling. After breakfast we’ll travel up the west side of the Rift to Kabarnet and descend into the spectacular Kerio Valley. On rocky hillsides among large scattered trees, we’ll search for Green-backed Eremomela and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver before stopping for lunch in the wooded valley bottom, where Brown Parrot, White-crested Turaco, Pearl-spotted Owlet, and Black-headed Gonolek may well liven up our picnic. A spectacular viewpoint halfway up the valley’s western escarpment may offer the very local Boran Cisticola. Late in the day, we’ll reach our lodging deep in Kakamega Forest. Night in Kakamega Forest.
Day 11: Kakamega Forest may be only a remnant of a once extensive woodland, but it is still full of birds, many of them found nowhere else in Kenya. As always, forest birding can be hard work, but with persistence we should find Great Blue Turaco, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill, White-chinned and Banded Prinias, Jameson’s and Chestnut Wattle-eyes, Bocage’s and Lühder’s Bush-Shrikes, Black-billed and Vieillot’s Black Weavers, Gray-headed Negro-finch, Red-headed Malimbe, and Red-headed Bluebill. Red-tailed Monkey and Giant Forest Squirrel are two of the mammalian specialties here. Night in Kakamega Forest.
Day 12: We’ll spend the morning in Kakamega Forest and after lunch drive to Lake Victoria. Night in Kisumu.
Day 13: We’ll leave early and explore the shores of Lake Victoria looking for Blue-headed Coucal, Greater Swamp Warbler, Swamp Flycatcher, Papyrus Gonolek, Slender-billed Weaver, Papyrus Canary, and other papyrus specialties. A visit to an extensive area of rice cultivation should produce Open-billed Stork, Southern Red Bishop, and Zebra Waxbill. In the afternoon we’ll drive south to the Masai Mara National Reserve, where we’ll spend two nights at Kichwa Tembo Camp.
Day 14: The Mara is in many respects the most spectacular part of the trip, offering long views over flat-topped acacias and grassy plains with an abundance of animals. We’ll spend the day in the western part of the reserve, and should see most of the plains species for which East Africa is famous: Lion, Cheetah, Elephant, Wildebeest, Coke’s Hartebeest, Topi, Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelles, and many others. Birdwatching here will be delightful, and highlights should include Rufous-bellied Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Temminck’s Courser, Sooty Chat, and, with luck, Ross’s and Schalow’s Turacos. Night at Kichwa Tembo Camp.
Day 15: Today we’ll drive right through the center of the Masai Mara and gain a clearer appreciation of this extensive reserve with its multitudes of mammals and birds. We’ll end up at Siana Springs, a luxurious tented camp at the eastern end of the Mara. After dinner there will an optional night drive, during which we should see bizarre Spring Hares, one or more species of mongoose, perhaps Bat-eared Fox, and several species of nightjar. Night at Siana Springs.
Day 16: Before breakfast we’ll explore a valley adjacent to the camp, where Kenya’s only population of Magpie Shrikes can be found and where we’ll also search for African Penduline Tit. Later we’ll drive back to Nairobi, stopping en route to look for one of Kenya’s few endemics, the endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw. The tour concludes after dinner in Nairobi.
Those going on the extension will spend the night in Nairobi.
Day 17: Participants continuing on the extension will spend this morning driving southeast to Tsavo National Park. We’ll stop at Hunter’s Lodge for lunch and a visit with a bustling colony of African Golden Weavers, and we may encounter the resident Giant Kingfisher. In the afternoon we’ll enter the park and look for species typical of dry acacia country, such as Crested Francolin, Black-headed Plover, Black-faced Sandgrouse, and Golden-breasted Starling. We’ll spend the night at Tsavo Safari Camp, where the resident pair of African Scops Owls are sure to delight us.
Day 18: We’ll spend the early morning birdwatching around the camp looking for Little Sparrowhawk, Violet Wood-hoopoe, and Northern Brownbul. After breakfast we’ll drive south initially through Tsavo East and then through the vastness of Tsavo West. On the journey we’ll be watching out for such birds as Kori Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Madagascar and Carmine Bee-eaters, Orange-bellied Parrots, spectacular Paradise Wydahs, and variety of wintering Palearctic migrants such as Barred and Upcher’s Warblers, Rufous Bush Robin and if we are lucky, White-throated Robin. Night in Ziwani Camp with dinner under the stars.
Day 19: We’ll bird the marsh at the edge of camp, which is always a hive of activity in the early morning. In particular we’ll look for the local Taveta Golden Weaver, and the local race of Little Rush Warbler, which is almost certainly a different species from the bird we’ll have seen in the highlands earlier. After breakfast we’ll drive south to Lake Jipe, a bird-rich lake which holds a number of species difficult to see elsewhere in Kenya such as Spur-winged Goose, Black Heron, Water Thick-knee, Two-banded Courser and Zanzibar Red Bishop. We’ll enjoy our picnic lunch on the lakeshore followed by a drive north through a different part of Tsavo West where we’ll hope to see Fringe-eared Oryx and Hartlaub’s Bustard. After leaving the park we’ll watch for White-headed Mousebird and Scaly Chatterer in the roadside bushes and in the late afternoon we’ll arrive at Taita Hills Saltlick Lodge, famous for the large number of elephants that visit it’s floodlit waterhole each night.
Day 20: After an early breakfast we’ll drive up into the spectacular Taita Hills and spend the morning in a remnant patch of forest on the top looking for a number of species that occur nowhere else in Kenya such as Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Taita Thrush, Evergreen Forest Warbler, Taita Apalis, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, and Taita White-eye. We’ll eat our picnic lunch here and then descend to the plains of Tsavo East for ‘red’ Elephants, Red-winged Larks and variety of open-country birds. We’ll spend the night at a nice lodge overlooking Aruba Dam.
Day 21: We’ll leave after breakfast and spend the morning driving through the northeastern part of the park, where we’ll look for Crested Bustard, and Chestnut-backed and Chestnut-headed Sparrow Larks, and have a chance of seeing Somali Ostrich, Somali Courser and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. We’ll eat our picnic lunch at Sala Gate and then drive on to the coast down a quiet back road which eventually leads to Arabuku-Sokoke Forest. Night on the Indian Ocean in Watamu.
Day 22: We’ll make an early start and spend the day in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, the northernmost Brachystegia forest. Sokoke has three near-endemics; an owl, a pipit and a weaver, and while we have a good chance of seeing the first two, but the last is rather nomadic and can be hard to find. However, we should also see such birds as Green Barbet, Fischer’s Turaco, Black-headed Apalis, Retz’s and Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrikes, and Amani and Plain-backed Sunbirds. We’ll also visit nearby Mida Creek to see the spectacular Crab Plover and other wintering waders including Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, and Terek Sandpiper. Night in Watamu.
Day 23: We’ll spend a second morning in the forest searching for any species that we missed the previous day. In the late morning we’ll visit the beach at Malindi which holds roosting flocks of gulls and terns including Sooty Gull, and Crested, Lesser Crested, and Saunders’s Terns. After a late lunch at our hotel we’ll transfer to nearby Malindi airport and catch a late afternoon flight to Nairobi. Here we’ll be met by a representative from our ground agent who will take us to dinner at a nearby restaurant and then we’ll transfer to the airport in time for our international flights home.
Updated: 11 September 2015
This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
**Accommodation the night of Day 1 and transfers from and to the airport as needed are included in the tour cost for WINGS participants. Meals are not included until you join the Sunbird group arriving on Day 2.
Maximum group size six with one leader.