2013 Tour Narrative
In Brief: When people ask me which is my favourite country, I always answer “Kenya” without hesitation. And this year’s Sunbird tour - my 30th there and quite a personal landmark - reinforced that view yet again. Whether it be for the diversity of birds, the diversity and abundance of mammals, the magnificent scenery, the superb lodges and tented camps, or the splendid food - Kenya always wins for me. And when you combine all of those factors it’s hard to see how any other destination can compete.
In Detail: Our safari took us from the foothills of Mount Kenya, across the tops of the Aberdares, up the Great Rift Valley to visit the famous lakes of Magadi, Nakuru, Naivasha and Baringo - each fascinating and unique in its own way. Next, we traveled through the dense forests of Kakamega, to the shores of Lake Victoria - the largest freshwater lake in Africa; across the grasslands of the world-famous Masai Mara, down through the savannahs of the vast Tsavo National Parks (both East and West). Then, off to the beaches of the Indian Ocean and wide tidal estuaries covered in waders, along tracks and trails in the very special Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, to Lake Jipe on the border with Tanzania (with fantastic views of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain en route). Finally to the Taita Hills - an island surrounded by the plains of Tsavo with as suitable a range of endemic species as one might expect on any ocean island of similar size.
We encountered very nearly 700 species of birds and 58 mammals (far more than on most ‘game safaris’), not to mention a very lengthy list of butterflies (due to the hard work of Pat and Edwin). Along with some fantastic reptiles and amphibians (how did Edwin spot so many of those while driving 50 mph?), and even a good selection of dragonflies.
Highlights of any trip are always personal, but here are a few of mine which might jog some memories. The female Amur Falcon on the Solio Plains - a species which normally winters in southern Africa and is very rare in Kenya during the winter months. The isolated colony of Rufous-tailed Weavers in the Mara - no longer a Tanzanian endemic. The Collared Palm Thrush with the juvenile at Roka - actually a lifer for me it turns out - could have sworn I’d seen it in Tanzania! The Malindi Pipits in the watermelon field - totally unexpected habitat, (clearly Edwin and I have been looking in the wrong places all these years). The Buff-spotted Flufftail at Mountain Lodge - what a little stunner. The male Ferruginous Duck with those Southern Pochards - a great comparison of a very rare Kenyan bird. The Eurasian Honey-buzzard in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest - great views of a scarce and hard to see species. The Piapiacs feeding young at Mumias - the first breeding record for Kenya - and a lifer for Edwin. The pair of extremely cute Sokoke Scops Owls - how on earth did David Ngala find those so quickly given how far they were from the track? The Black Heron doing it’s umbrella impersonation - I was so pleased you all got to see that iconic sight. Those beautiful Spur-winged Geese. The Bat Hawk flying home to roost over Kakamega Forest - a super view of a species I very seldom see. The African Finfoot at the Hippo Pools - which used to be my Kenya boggy bird - this was only my third sighting in 30 trips. The Hartlaub’s Bustard that decided to do a display flight during that amazing dust and rain storm in Tsavo and dropped down out of the sky right next to our vehicle. The Ross’s Turaco that would have probably landed on the vehicle had we had a suitable branch sticking out of a roof hatch. The lovely Blue-headed Bee-eaters - finally - after a bit of sweating! The Rufous Bush-Chat that uncharacteristically chose to sit out on the top of a bush in full sunlight, rather than skulk under a dense thicket in dark shadow. The display flight of the Desert Cisticola - back and forth whistling and wing-clicking right next to the vehicle. The list goes on forever….
And then the mammals. The female Cheetah and her cubs. The Golden-rumped Elephant-Shrew that paused briefly on the track - in full view. The tree-climbing Lions - ‘Er, how do I get back down?’. The Eastern Tree Hyrax in the flowerbed - just as well the lodge gardener wasn’t present. The Serval Cat - so graceful with its flying pounce. The close-encounter with the Klipspringer - amazing views! The total absence of Wildebeest in the Mara - are we the first people to have ever failed to see one there? The Lesser Kudu at the pool in Tsavo East - a very lucky encounter with a normally shy species. The dancing Olive Baboons - with a little help! And all those wonderful Elephants, especially the ones at Salt Lick Lodge….
The following lists present what we saw in a slightly more scientific way and I hope that looking through these brings back more memories. For me it was a fantastic tour and the enjoyment was much enhanced by sharing it with a great group of people. Thanks to everyone for their spirits of adventure and senses of humour. And thanks to Edwin for all the driving and so much more. I think we shared a great trip. David Fisher
Updated: March 2013