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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Kenya in November

Samburu to the Masai Mara

November 2023
Ngulia Extension
with Brian Finch as leader
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Gangs of Vulturine Guineafowl roam the dry bush of Samburu and Tsavo. Photo: Steve Rooke

The vast expanses of East Africa have long been part of every traveler’s dreams, a land of rolling grasslands dotted with acacia trees, snow-capped mountain rising above the limitless horizons, and riverine forests harboring colorful birds and troops of monkeys. Of course the large mammals of the East African plains are readily summoned to mind, and it is a wonderful fact that by visiting Kenya it is still possible to see huge concentrations of them along with, not incidentally, 500 or more species of birds.

November is the time for Palearctic migrants, which pass through in vast numbers on their southbound passage. Our tour is designed to take full advantage of this annual phenomenon. Of course we won’t overlook the showy residents, and we’ll spend most of our time seeking out the area’s many specialties.

Day 1: Our tour begins this evening in Nairobi. Night near Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Day 2: We’ll fly over the slopes of Mt. Kenya directly to Samburu/Buffalo Springs National Reserve, for a three night stay; this gives us an instant immersion into the natural wonders of East Africa. Night in Buffalo Springs National Reserve.

Days 3-4: The combined reserves contain more than 100 square miles of very scenic, rugged and arid terrain, bisected by a ten-mile stretch of intermittently flowing water, the Uaso Nyiro River. Dense vegetation fringes the river and shelters a terrific number of both birds and mammals. Riparian specialties include African Bare-eyed Thrush, Northern Brownbul, Northern Puffback, gem-like sunbirds including Hunter’s, Black-bellied and if we’re fortunate the striking Shining, and Black-necked and Golden Palm Weavers. Away from the river semi-desert conditions prevail, and yet birds are still surprisingly abundant. Typical bush species conspicuous here include immense Somali Ostrich, the cryptic Somali Courser, and shrike-sized Pygmy Falcon, alongside Buff-crested Bustard, Crested Francolin, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Blue-naped and the local specialty White-headed Mousebirds, and Somali Bee-eater. Bizarre and often comical hornbills are well represented with  Red-billed, Eastern Yellow-billed, and Von der Decken’s.  Scarcer species we hope to find include Lichtenstein’s and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Somali Tit, Yellow-vented Eremomela, Magpie, Fischer’s, and one of the world’s most beautiful species, the elegant Golden-breasted Starling, and the startling butterfly-like Golden Pipit. Large raptors are diverse and conspicuous in the bush, including the graceful Bateleur and the massive Martial Eagle. Special mammals of Buffalo Springs/Samburu are the endangered Grevy’s Zebra, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe, Gerenuk, Cheetah, and Leopard. Also, we’ll watch for parties of Dwarf Mongooses foraging among the ground squirrels and the good-sized crocodiles in the river. Nights in Buffalo Springs National Reserve.

Day 5: After an early breakfast and carrying our picnic lunches, we depart Ashnil Safari Lodge and the semi-arid lowlands for the much cooler climes of Mt Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain. The road quickly climbs as we pass Isiolo and it seems no time at all that we are on the slopes at 9,000 feet in altitude. We continue to the large town of Nanyuki and continue to our final destination of Castle Forest in the heart of the montane forest where the avifauna now changes by close to 100% over what we had recently been seeing. We will spend the afternoon birding the forest and clearings and hope to encounter such colourful birds as Red-fronted Parrot, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, as well as the dazzling gems Tacazze, Malachite and Easter Double-collared Sunbirds. In the more open areas we will look for the magnificent Crowned Eagle, Mountain Buzzard and other forest birds of prey, Scarce and Alpine Swifts, Hunter’s Cisticola, elusive Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and the tiny estrildids such as Kandt’s and Yellow-bellied Waxbills and Black-and-White Mannikins. In the evening Montane Nightjars sometimes call from our bungalow rooves, but the star bird here is the almost mythical Olive Ibis, but luck will have to be with us to locate it. Dinner and a cool overnight at Castle Forest Lodge.

Day 6: We will have an early breakfast and taking a picnic lunch with us, will bird our way back downhill through the forest looking for species not encountered so far. These could include the spectacular Bar-tailed Trogon, busy Tullberg’s Woodpecker, the special local starlings of Sharpe’s, the much rarer Abbott’s and Kenrick’s, Slender-billed, Waller’s and Violet-backed, or fluty Black-tailed Oriole, acrobatic White-tailed Crested Flycatcher or tormenting Evergreen Forest Warbler! From here we cross a high valley toward the Aberdare Range.

Our target destination is the high montane grasslands at over 10,000 feet for the specialities not encountered elsewhere. These include the magnificent Long-tailed Widowbird which looks more like a fluttering kite, Wing-snapping and Levaillant’s Cisticolas, but the main target is the Kenyan endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw. From here we descend to Lanet in the Great Rift Valley for our new accommodation at Lake Nakuru Lodge.

Day 7: We’ll spend the whole day birding around the lake, world-famous for its vast flocks of flamingos that can be present if they are not away breeding following good rains, and a wealth of other waterbirds.  The acacia woodland around the lake is a fine example of this habitat, and we’ll look for such species as Narina Trogon, Red-throated Wryneck, Arrow-marked Babbler, and Red-headed Weaver. Hildebrandt’s Francolins wander the shaded tracks, and shy Tambourine Doves scuttle off the road into the undergrowth. There is a good population of White Rhinoceros at Nakuru, and we’ll likely see one or more of these magnificent beasts grazing along the lakeshore. Water levels at the lake vary greatly, but under normal conditions dense flocks of thousands of Lesser and smaller numbers of Greater Flamingos feed in the shallows, while doughnut-shaped rings of White Pelicans are scattered across the lake. This memorable sight is surely one of the natural wonders of the world. Night in Lake Nakuru National Park.

Day 8: We’ll leave Lake Nakuru this morning and drive north up the Great Rift Valley. We’ll look for Dark Chanting-Goshawk and Silverbird along the way and before long we’ll arrive at Lake Baringo. Night at Lake Baringo.

Day 9: Before breakfast we’ll visit cliffs near our lodge where Mocking Cliff Chats nest, and in the scrub along the escarpment’s edge we’ll look for Hemprich’s, and Jackson’s Hornbills, Brown-tailed Rock-Chat, and Bristle-crowned Starling. This is also a regular nesting site for a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles. We’ll spend the rest of the morning and again in the afternoon exploring the various bird-rich habitats around Lake Baringo. Night at Lake Baringo.

Day 10: After a pre-breakfast walk we’ll drive across the Rift looking for local species such as White-crested Turaco flashing crimson wings, diminutive Western Black-headed Batis, attractive Silverbird and rather cryptic Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver. We’ll have our picnic lunch at a suitable birdy location before climbing out of the Rift and continuing westwards. Crossing the high grasslands near Iten, we’ll explore a couple of marshy areas and after passing through the town of Eldoret carry on to Rondo Retreat set inside Kakamega Forest. Night at Rondo Retreat.

Day 11: Nearly eighty species in Kakamega and the nearby Nandi Forests occur nowhere else in Kenya, as this is the extreme western extremity of the great Congo basin rainforest. Breakfast may be interrupted as Rondo has such a wealth of species including Great Blue Turacos which can be breeding in a large tree on the front lawn and White-spotted Flufftails which live by the fishponds. Monkeys of three species live around the garden as well, Guereza Colobus, Red-tailed and Blue. Even with just one full day here, we’ll make a good dent in the list. Skulkers such as White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Equatorial Akalat and four species of Illadopsisrequire extra effort as they hide in the deep and darkest recesses of the scrub. Other species are flamboyant and easily seen, including White-headed Wood-Hoopoe, Dark-backed and Black-billed Weavers and Green, Green-throated and Green-headed Sunbirds, along with a number of more somberly colored but no less interesting species. We’ll probably have a picnic lunch to make the most of our day here. Night at Rondo Retreat.

Day 12: After a final morning in Kakamega continuing our search for trogons to hylias and from bee-eaters to honeyguides, we’ll take our picnic lunch and head for the Busia grasslands along the border with Uganda. Leaving Kakamega, we’ll stop at a bridge that is the only known Kenyan site for Rock Pratincole; we may also find glowing rainbow-colored Red-chested Sunbirds and bright Yellow-backed Weavers here, and perhaps a Yellow-shouldered or Fan-tailed Widowbird. Continuing to the relict scrub and grasslands, we’ll look for such local species as reverberant Senegal Coucal, marsh-loving Blue-breasted Bee-eater, clinking Red-headed Lovebird, sadly scarce Purple Glossy Starling, as well as tail-less Green Crombec, buzzing Compact Weaver and the skulking Locust Finch. Night in Busia.

Day 13: This morning we’ll search the Busia grasslands for species we might not have found yesterday. Hoped-for species include monotonous Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Speckle-breasted Woodpecker, shy Marsh Tchagra, fiery Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Yellow-throated (Greenbul) Leaflove, scintillant Olive-bellied and Copper Sunbirds, while Black-winged and Black Bishops in contrasting black and crimson attire, inhabit crops. Marsh Widowbird, Brown Twinspot, Bar-breasted Firefinch and Fawn-bellied Waxbill favor the bushy clumps in the grassy clearings. After lunch we’ll descend to Kisumu for our first look at the birds of Lake Victoria. Night at Dunga Point, Kisumu.

Day 14: In the morning we’ll search the nearby papyrus swamp and lake edge for bizarre Open-billed Stork, African Hobby, Western Banded Snake-Eagle, giggling Eastern Gray Plantain-eater, with more black and crimson prevailing in Black-billed Barbet, Black-headed and Papyrus Gonoleks. Black-lored Babblers hop over the ground before gathering to display in noisy groups, Carruthers’s Cisticola, White-winged and Greater Swamp Warblers are all denizens of the dense papyrus stands, also favored by Swamp Flycatcher, Slender-billed and Northern Brown-throated Weavers, and Papyrus Canary. After breakfast  we’ll drive to the Mara National Reserve. Night in the western Mara.

Day 15: In some respects, the Mara is the most spectacular part of the trip, with its long views over flat-topped acacias and grassy plains filled with mammals. We’ll spend the days driving in the reserve and should see most of the plains species for which East Africa is famous: Lion, Cheetah, Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Topi, Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelles, among the many others. Birdwatching here will be delightful, and highlights will hopefully include Maasai Ostrich, Temminck’s Courser, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, and, with luck, Black-bellied Bustard. Night in the western Mara.

Day 16: After another morning in the western Mara, we’ll drive across the reserve to Siana Springs Lodge. Here we’ll have a rare opportunity for a nighttime game-and-bird excursion, and we have a chance of meeting some of the more rarely seen nocturnal mammals such as Civet, Porcupine, or White-tailed Mongoose. Birds could include Dusky, Slender-tailed and Square-tailed Nightjars, Spotted Thick-knee, and Heuglin’s Courser. Night at Siana Springs Lodge.

Day 17: This morning before breakfast we’ll visit a nearby valley, home to several species that are on the edge of their ranges in this part of Kenya. The attractive long-tailed Magpie Shrike with its liquid call is here, as well as the diminutive red-capped Tabora Cisticola. Other species include African Scimitarbill, Flappet Lark, Red-throated Tit, and the colorful Green-winged Pytilia. After breakfast and a last look at the lodge grounds, we will return to Nairobi back across the great Rift Valley, having our farewell dinner at a hotel situated near the airport before catching our international flights home. Those staying for the extension will stay the night at our hotel near the Nairobi airport.

NGULIA EXTENSION

Days 18-19: After breakfast on Day 18 we’ll drive to Tsavo National Park, where we’ll spend two nights at Ngulia Lodge, situated on a dramatic escarpment overlooking the vast expanse of Tsavo stretching out below. The lodge has become famous for the huge numbers of European and Asian migrants that pass through on their way south, and in November, given some night mist, we might find the bushes alive with Thrush Nightingales, Marsh Warblers, and Isabelline Shrikes, while careful searching usually reveals splendid male White-throated Robins and Barred, River, Olive-tree, Upcher’s, Olivaceous, and the enigmatic Basra Reed Warblers. Ngulia is also a great place for nightbirds, and during the day European Nightjars roost on the beams in the open-fronted restaurant before joining Plain, Dusky, and Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjars in hawking insects around the lodge. Away from the lodge, large migrating flocks of European Rollers can sometimes be found, often with one sitting on every bush, and the giant baobab trees can hold resting parties of Amur Falcons. Then, of course, there is also a vast assortment of resident species, many of which will be familiar sights from Samburu.  Nights at Ngulia Safari Lodge.

Day 20: After a final morning around Ngulia, we’ll return to Nairobi in time for a final dinner and our flights home.

Updated: 13 September 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2022 Tour Price $8,100)

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 6 with one leader.

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