Trip Report – Sept-Oct. 2021
We saw 621 species and 171 life birds on this trip – I will only mention our life birds in the summary below – please see the Bird List for a comprehensive list. We loved Kenya and the Kenyan people were wonderful but we were a bit disappointed with the birding. We had amazing guides so it wasn’t that we missed anything; there just weren’t as many birds as we had hoped. Of course, these days we say that everywhere we go and when you see the habitat destruction and degradation globally it isn’t hard to see why.
In order to cover as much as possible, there was a fair bit of driving but it was manageable.
Still a very worthwhile trip!
We decided to start our trip in a relaxed fashion and so booked into the Ololo Lodge inside Nairobi National Park for 4 nights.
We couldn’t actually go there the first night because our flight didn’t land until 9.00pm (and the park is closed then) so we stopped at the Sarova Panafric the first night and then they took us to meet the driver from Ololo the next morning at the entrance to the park.
So, the first 4 days were about game drives and birding in a relaxed fashion inside the park. Day 1 and 2 we used the people from the lodge but on the 3rd day our 2 guides arrived and we spent the next 25 days with them.
Fischer’s Sparrow-larks and Northern Pied-Babblers were the first 2 lifers for the trip and then in the grounds of the lodge we picked up Red-throated Tit, Mountain Grey Woodpecker and Chestnut Sparrow.
Over the next couple of days, we added Shelley’s Francolin, Dusky Turtle-dove, Pectoral Patch Cisticola, Brown Parisoma, African Citril, White-bellied Tit, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Little Rush-warbler, Foxy Lark, Parsitic Weaver and Buff-crested Bustard.
We also enjoyed great views of lions, giraffe, rhinos and hippo – although sometimes the proximity to the city was a bit worrying – you literally have views of giraffe with a backdrop of the city skyscrapers!
Nights at Ololo Lodge – excellent!
After a relaxing and successful start, we now started our long route around Kenya. We were heading towards Lake Naivasha but first we had 2 stops along the way. The first was just beside the road for Golden-winged Sunbird and Hunter’s Cisticola and the second was Kingakop Plains for Sharpe’s Longclaw. At the second stop we also enjoyed Yellow-crowned Canary and brief views of Quailfinch.
After checking-in and having lunch at our hotel, we headed up to Crater Lakes Sanctuary for great views of Gray-crested Helmetshrike, Scaly Throated Honeyguide and Hildebrandt’s Francolin. The 9th lifer for the day was Abyssinian Wheatear that we tracked down on the way back to the hotel.
Night at Sawela Lodge
Today was really just about the long drive to the Maasai Mara. The roads were fairly good but, with everything being single lane with frequent speed bumps, and the heavy trucks that can’t do the speed limit, really slow things down. One brief stop along the way bagged us Kenyan (Pale) White-eye – but the rest of the day was just about the journey.
Night at Sarova Mara Lodge
The weather was a bit unsettled but we started out early and managed to avoid the rain. We had a spectacular morning of wildlife with herds of wildebeest heading south to Tanzania, lions, hyena, jackals, elephants, giraffes and hundreds of buffalo – it really was everything we had hoped for in the Maasai Mara.
However, the birding wasn’t spectacular because it was very dry. With our 2 guides we did manage Tabora Cisticola, Yellow-spotted Bush-Sparrow, Singing Bushlark and Athi Short-toed Lark along with all the more common grassland species that we had seen before.
Enjoyed a restful afternoon and night at the Sarova Mara Lodge.
Left quite early to start our drive out of the park and onto Kisumu. We enjoyed more wildlife and birds (nothing new) but the highlight was a young leopard up in a tree – in exactly the pose you expect. Brilliant!
It had been a wonderful experience seeing all the wildlife – a definite hit! Having said that the birding was a bit disappointing but it was still worth the trip.
En-route to Kisumu we had Southern Grosbeak Canary and Swahili Sparrow.
After checking in and having lunch in Kisumu on Lake Victoria we went down to a reed bed on the edge of the lake but also on a busy road – it was quite depressing because of the human influence, garbage and habitat destruction and we struggled to get our target species (Papyrus Canary and Papyrus Yellow Warbler). In fact, our only life bird was Golden-backed Weaver.
Night at the Acacia premier Hotel
We started the day by trying to get the birds we missed yesterday – tried a couple of spots, all right beside the road, but never did get the yellow-warbler. We were eventually successful with Papyrus Canary (and great views of Papyrus Gonolek that we had seen in Uganda) so decided to give up and head off to Kakamega where we could get away from people and cars.
As we entered the park we went for a wonderful forest walk – it seemed so peaceful after birding beside the road and we enjoyed many of the forest birds we had seen on previous trips to Africa along with 2 lifers – Orange-tufted Sunbird and Thick-billed Honeyguide. Once again, we checked in to our new lodge and had lunch but our afternoon birding was very short because it rained very heavily for the rest of the day.
Night at Rondo Retreat.
The rain from yesterday had disappeared so we spent the morning walking in the forest. It was beautiful and quite birdy – our only lifers were Turner’s Eremomela, Black-throated Apalis, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye and the stunning Blue-headed Bee-eater, but it was wonderful to be in the forest with no-one else around.
After the usual lunch break and rest during the heat of the afternoon we spent the afternoon searching for Dusky-capped Flycatcher which we never did find. Still the trails are great and the gardens of the lodge are stunning so we were happy to return to our cottage and enjoy a beer on the verandah. (NOTE: you have to bring your own alcohol here!)
Night at Rondo Retreat
A very early start to try and pick up a few owls. It was beautiful in the forest in the dark and we were rewarded with great views of Red-chested Owlet. We returned to the lodge for breakfast and then left Kakamenga to head for Lake Baringo.
On the way we made several stops on the Kiero escarpment and picked up some great birds; Little Rock Thrush, White-crested Turaco, Brown-tailed Apalis, Boran Cisticola, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Pygmy Batis and Jackson’s Hornbill.
Then onto Tumbili Lodge at Lake Baringo – this lodge is now on an island as the lake has risen by about 11’ in the last few years. After we arrived, by boat of course, a huge storm came up so birding didn’t happen in the afternoon – just relaxed and did the bird list.
Night at Tumbili Lodge
After a quick coffee we hopped into a boat to check out the lake. Beautiful morning and some good birds – North Masked Weaver, Parrot-billed Sparrow, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Allen’s Gallinule as well as the usual wetland/lake species. We had hoped for Dwarf Bittern but no luck.
Back for breakfast (got Northern Brownbul at the lodge) and then off to the mainland to meet our local guide – he was incredible and had already located a ton of stuff for us. Northern White-faced Scops Owl, Greyish Eagle Owl, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse (not a life bird but great to see in good light as it is normally only seen after dusk or before dawn), and Three-banded Courser were all lined up for us. While reaching those we also had Black-throated Barbet, Bristle-crowned Starling, Grey Wren-warbler, Mouse-colored Penduline Tit, Magpie Starling and Rufous Chatterer.
It had been a very full morning so we relaxed after lunch and just waited to try for some nightjars – unfortunately we didn’t have any luck although we did get an African Scops Owl!
Night at Tumbili Lodge
Left early with our luggage and went to check out the Tumbili Cliffs – we managed to get all our targets, Red & Yellow Barbet, Acacia Tit, Brown-tailed Rock and Hemprich’s Hornbill. At that point, our local guide from the day before called to say that he had found a roosting Standard-winged Nightjar so we headed over to check that out before departing for Nyahururu.
Did the normal check-in, lunch and a rest before going back out in the afternoon to walk a wooded trail in Marmanet forest. Accompanied by an armed guard (there are forest elephant) we walked a beautiful trail picking up our lifers as we went – Cinnamon-bracken Warbler, Red-fronted Parrot, Moustached Tinkerbird and African Hill-babbler were all new.
Night at Panari Hotel
Off to Samburu today with a stop on the way for McKinder’s Eagle-owl. The local guide had a male and female staked out for us beside the road so we spent some time really enjoying them.
Once we entered Samburu/Buffalo Springs Reserve, we picked up a couple more life birds, Donaldson-smith’s Sparrow-weaver, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark and the spectacular Vulterine Guineafowl. We were also pleased to be back where we could enjoy elephants, zebra etc.
After watching an elephant shaking a tree right outside our tent at the new lodge, we went out for the afternoon drive. As with everywhere else we have been, the birding wasn’t easy because it was so dry but we did manage 3 more lifebirds for the afternoon – Ashy Cisticola, Plain Prinia and Pink-breasted Lark.
Night at Ashnil Lodge
We went to explore the springs (this side is Buffalo Springs reserve) this morning, which were stunning. On the way we found a cheetah and then we got Rosy-patched Bush-shrike, Somali Courser and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. It was quite birdy and very picturesque.
The afternoon drive provided Somali Bee-eater, Three-striped Tchagra, Black-bellied Sunbird, Black-capped Social Weaver and Golden Pipit. It was also a lovely afternoon and we returned to the lodge feeling great.
Night at Ashnil Lodge
Left early with packed breakfast and drove around to the Samburu side of the reserve. There used to be a bridge but it washed away so now you have to drive out of the park and back in further down the road. We had some specific targets and were quite successful – Eastern Yellow-Hornbill, Yellow-vented Eremomela, Somali Bunting, Straw-tailed Whydah and Bare-eyed Thrush, Northern Grosbeak Canary, Golden-breasted Starling and Somali Crombec.
Back to the lodge for lunch where we found another of our targets, Golden Palm-Weavers, nesting in the lodge grounds. The game drive in the afternoon was very quiet and didn’t give us anything new but the colors in the late afternoon were just spectacular.
Night at Ashnil Lodge.
The original plan today had been to go to Shaba Reserve but local unrest made it unwise which was disappointing but it meant we got to lay-in and enjoy a relaxed breakfast!!
Then we drove to Nyeri for the night – what a dump – the hotel was awful and it was rather a low point. At least they had beer!
Night at the White Rhino Hotel (horrible!)
After a night and a breakfast that were best forgotten, we headed to Aberdare Park. This is very high (reached 10,000’) and pretty cold but has some very specific targets. Scaly Francolin, Jackson’s Francolin, Alpine Chat, Aberdare Cisticola, Tacazze Sunbird and Brown Woodland Warbler were all seen in the morning so after our packed lunch we started a very long and circuitous drive to our next hotel.
It was circuitous because we went out of our way to get Hinde’s Babbler and then Yellow-fronted Bishop at the Mweya Irrigation area. We had also hoped for Lesser Moorhen but no luck.
Night at Castle Forest Lodge.
The weather was not cooperating this morning as it was foggy and raining but we did get a fly-over view of Olive Ibis after breakfast. Then after a great deal of hard work birding the road, Moses uncovered Evergreen Forest Warbler, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher and Black Fronted Bush-shrike.
The afternoon wasn’t any easier – just Abbott’s Starling and Abyssinian Crimson-wing. We were rather disappointed with the birding here – we had had high hopes at Mt Kenya but it was very quiet and pretty tough going.
Night at Castle Forest lodge.
Today was really about driving to Nairobi so we started out with a relaxing breakfast and then hit the road. We did the normal stop at the Blue Post Hotel for Grey-olive Greenbul but it didn’t show. I think this is a classic example of the over use of playback. Everyone comes to this location and clearly playback is used all the time – such a shame and another example of the pressure being put on bird species everywhere!
On through the crazy driving and hideous traffic of Nairobi to our 5-star hotel – we arrived at lunch time so that we could relax and rejuvenate for the next leg of the trip.
Night at Emara Ole-Sereni
Feeling ready for our final stretch of the trip, we did the long drive down to Tsavo. Stopped for lunch at Hunter’s Lodge (very picturesque but wrong time of day for any birds) and then on to our next lodge by 5pm – a long day of driving but we were rewarded with a bar overlooking a waterhole where the elephants were within touching distance.
Night at Voi Wildlife Lodge.
We took breakfast with us and drove up to the Taita hills. It started out quite promising with Brown-breasted Barbet on the way up and then a relatively easy time finding Taita White-eye, Taita Apalis, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul and a new race of Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler but the Taita Trush never did show. Striped Pipit was on the way back down and then we drove to Tsavo West for our packed lunch. We ate it at the edge of Lake Jipe, looking across at Tanzania and watching all the birds in the wetland – there was also colony of Taveta Golden Weaver building their nests.
On the way back out of park we had Hartlaub’s Bustard and Tiny Cisticola but then we had to get moving because we needed to enter Tsavo East before the gates closed.
As it happened, we got there with about 15 minutes to spare and while the usual African paperwork had to be handled, we found Scaly Chatterer and Pringles Puffback in the scrub by the gate!
Night at Ashnil Lodge, Tsavo
Not a great morning of birding really, very quiet and nothing new but we did have a magical encounter with a pride of lions that made it worthwhile.
Our only lifebird for the day was actually on the bushes outside our tent and it was Tsavo Sunbird.
The afternoon drive was as quiet as the morning – hope tomorrow is better!
Left at a leisurely pace and drove out of the Sala Park Gate towards the coast. Once again it was very quiet but all was forgiven when we came across the elusive Heuglin’s Bustard which was also a life bird for Moses who has been a Kenyan bird guide for more than 10 years – What a bird!!!
The road towards Malindi gave us a few new things – but only because our guides knew exactly where to stop. First it was Shelley’s Starling and then further along by a scrubby patch of trees we found Zanzibar Bishop, Scaly Babbler and Fischer’s Turaco. These guides are worth their weight in gold – you wouldn’t see anything without their local knowledge!
Onto our last hotel which was fabulous.
Night at Hemingways, Watamu.
Drove over to the Arabuko-Sokoke forest to meet our next local guide, David, and enjoy the east coast specialties. The morning was great with Little Yellow Flycatcher, Pallid Honeyguide, Black-capped Apalis, Fischer’s Greenbul, Forest Batis, Tiny Greenbul, Eastern Crested Flycatcher, Amani Flycatcher, Pale Batis and Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike. A Mottled Spinetail on the way back to the hotel made 11 lifebirds in a morning.
When we resumed later in the day, we started straight away with Mombassa Woodpecker and then drove to an area for Sokoke Scops-Owl. On the way we stopped for Malindi Pipit and then, while David was checking for the owls, we found East Coast Akalat and East Coast Boubou. But the pinnacle of the day was when David returned and led us to a pair of roosting Sokoke Scops-owls – both rufous and grey-brown morphs . It was really an amazing sight and a great way to end a great day!
Night at Hemingways, Watmu
Our last day and it was back to meet David in the forest. We were down to just a few species so it was harder work but we managed Eastern Green Tinkerbird, Eastern Black-headed Batis and Plain-backed Sunbird before the heat had us retreat for lunch.
A quick stop after lunch at Mida Creek provided Coastal Cisticola but there was no sign of the terns we needed so it was back into the forest, bagging Clarke’s Weaver in a flock of helmet-shrikes. Then David led us to an area for Sokoke Pipit – it took a fair bit of searching but we finally found a pair of these amazing forest dwelling pipits creeping through the leaf litter like mice! What a great way to end our trip!
Night at Hemingways, Watamu
I have added a few comments on these hotels – just remember that we are fussy!!
Sarova Panafric – Nairobi – just fine
Ololo Lodge, Nairobi National Park – excellent
Sewela lodge, Lake Naivasha, – very average, badly maintained.
Sarova Mara, Maasai Mara – club tents are very nice – try to avoid the weekend as it gets very busy in the restaurant area.
Acacia Hotel, Kisumu – typical badly maintained city hotel with rude service
Rondo Retreat, Kakamega – quite old but well maintained and lovely staff (bring you own alcohol!)
Tumbili Lodge, Lake Baringo – a bit like you are in a Flintstones movie and not overly convenient because you have to arrive by boat, but not a great deal of choices and it grows on you!
Panari Resort, Nyahururu, – Surprisingly pleasant, fairly well maintained.
Ashnil Samburu Lodge, Samburu – Ashnil promotes itself as luxury which it isn’t but it is quite nice and the staff were great.
White Rhino, Nyeri – absolutely awful – nothing works, staff weren’t great and the food was awful – not sure that there are any other choices.
Castle Forest Lodge, Mt Kenya – very basic but we got to love it – the staff were soooo amazing.
Emara Ole-sereni, Mombassa – this is a new 5-star hotel and has all the things you expect – the challenge is that the staff are rude and it is really a party hotel for the rich & beautiful from Nairobi.
Voi Wildlife Lodge, Tsavo East – stay in the Manyatta as it is lovely and quiet – pretty basic tents but lovely people.
Ashnil Lodge, Tsavo East – comments the same as above – but an enjoyable stay
Hemingways, Watamu – fantastic, luxurious hotel – could not fault it!
Guides & Resources
We used Crammy Uganda Wanyama from Avian Safaris who is wonderful. We had used him in Uganda and he both arranged this and joined us for the trip along with his Kenyan guide Moses Kandie and his team of local guides on the ground.
We used the East Africa Birds app, which isn’t great but is handy in the field. Our main source though was the 2nd edition of ‘Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi’ by Terry Stevenson.