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Africa Geographic Travel

Birding in Kenya with Sammy Mugo.

Introduction

Kenya has one of the largest biodiversities in the world – an immense variety of plants and animals, including +/- 1 100 bird species. 10% of Kenya’s 580 000km² is dedicated to national parks or protected areas. From the coast to the highest peak on Mount Kenya (5 199m) you find almost all possible biotopes: ocean, savannah, mountain, coast and rain forest, desert, fresh water and soda lakes, escarpments, volcanoes and glaciers. Making birding in Kenya akin to birding in paradise!

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Nairobi

Your bird guide Sammy Mugo will meet you at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to assist with formalities (currency exchange, SIM card purchase, or any other last minute requirements) and to transfer you to a quaint hotel in the outskirts of Nairobi.

Overnight in the outskirts of Nairobi.

Day 2: Nairobi to Shaba National Reserve

After an early breakfast you set off to Wajee Nature Park, a bird conservancy and great area to kick off your bird list and see the endemic Hinde’s babbler.  After that we proceed towards Shaba National Reserve, enjoying great views of the impressive Mount Kenya and crossing the extensive Laikipia Plateau before we start descending into the Shaba and Samburu region. Our lodgings are next to the Ewaso Ngiro River inside Shaba National Reserve.

Golden-breasted Starling © Kevin Bartlett
Golden-breasted starling © Kevin Bartlett

Soon after settling in you will start your birding Kenya experience, hoping to connect with the endemic William’s lark as well as elegant pink-breasted larks, musical rosy-patched bushshrikes, near-endemic Donaldson-Smith’s sparrow-weavers, handsome Egyptian vultures, oddly vegetarian palm-nut vultures, sassy Somali bee-eaters, dapper Somali golden-breasted buntings and dazzling golden-breasted starlings, to mention a few.

Overnight at Shaba National Reserve, on the banks of Ewaso Ngiro River

Day 3: Shaba National Reserve

Shaba National Park and the neighbouring Samburu National Reserve and Buffalo Springs Game Reserves offer grassland, acacia savannah and thorny acacia bushlands, criss-crossed by a network of lush riverine forests, and iconic doum-palm groves fringing many of the river banks. It is this idyllic meeting of varied habitats that generates one of Kenya’s birding hotspots.

Amazing termite mounts are present in this area too, some looking like eerie abandoned castles. Scrutinising these may produce the odd dwarf mongoose, a cobra or two, rock monitors or a red and yellow barbet.

Pigmy Falcon © Sammy Mugo
Pigmy falcon © Sammy Mugo

During your morning and afternoon game drives we will target a number of selected areas in search of Shaba National Park’s specialties such as kori and buff-crested bustards, eastern chanting goshawk and the diminutive African pigmy falcon, black-faced sandgrouse, loquacious red-bellied parrot, white-bellied go-away-bird, dainty Abyssinian scimitarbill, odd looking Pringle’s puffback, sassy Hildebrandt’s starling, golden palm weaver, black-capped sociable weaver, brown-tailed apalis, a likely future split from yellow-breasted apalis, and a number of northern arid country specialties such as Somali ostrich, bristle-crowned starling, shining sunbird, and red-rumped (black-cheeked) waxbill.

Red and Yellow Barbet © Christian Boix
Red and yellow barbet © Christian Boix

A star-studded mammal cast awaits us as well including elephant, gerenuk, lesser kudu, Grevy’s zebra, desert warthog, and the magnificent reticulated giraffe.

Overnight on full board at Shaba National Reserve, on the banks of Ewaso Ngiro River

Reticulated Giraffes © Ana Zinger
Reticulated giraffes © Ana Zinger

Day 4, 5 and 6: Samburu National Reserve

Today we travel a short distance to the neighbouring Samburu National Reserve, birding along the way before enjoying lunch at our tented lodge in Samburu.

Some of the specialties and more common quarry that await you in Samburu National Reserve include white-headed buffalo weaver, Somali bunting, grey wren-warbler, Nubian nightjar, Somali courser, superb starling, pygmy batis, magpie starling, Fischer’s starlingtiny cisticola, vulturine and helmeted guineafowl, golden pipit, Von der Deckens hornbill, Jacksons hornbill, D’Arnauds barbet, Ayre’s hawk eagle, pygmy falcon, Namaqua dove, emerald-spotted dove, great-spotted cuckoo, Verreaux’s eagle-owl, white-headed mousebird, grey-headed kingfisher, white-throated bee-eater, little rock thrush, golden pipit, straw-tailed whydah, cut-throat finch and grey-headed silverbill amongst many others of the 400 recorded bird species.

Von der Decken’s Hornbill © Sammy Mugo
Von der Decken’s hornbill © Sammy Mugo
Vulturine Guineafowl © Sammy Mugo
Vulturine guineafowl © Sammy Mugo

In Samburu National Reserve you stand a good chance of meeting up with leopard, lion, cheetah and with some luck a striped hyena. This region of Kenya is also home to gerenuks, Kirk’s dik-dik, the rare Grevy’s zebra, plains zebra, reticulated giraffes, Beisa (Galla) oryx (restricted to the Northern sectors of the reserve), elephant herds, Cape buffalo, and a plethora of antelope species.

You will also have the option to cross over the river and explore Buffalo Springs Reserve, on the western bank of the Ewaso Ngiro River.

Africa Geographic CEO Simon Espley wrote about his recent trip to Samburu National Reserve with your bird guide Sammy Mugo.

Full board at our tented lodge in the heart of Samburu National Reserve.

Day 7: Samburu National Reserve to Mount Kenya

Today we leave the dusty dry lands of Samburu National Reserve and head for the lush slopes of Mount Kenya. We will reach the lodge and birding destination by noon, and shortly after lunch start walking the trails and forest paths in search of a few montane bird species such as grey-headed negrofinch, thick-billed seedeater, brown woodland warbler, grey apalis, chestnut-throated apalis, black-throated apalis, Abbott’s starling, narina trogon, northern double-collared sunbird, silvery-cheeked hornbill, montane oriole, mountain greenbul, slender-billed greenbul, brown-capped weaver, Hunters cisticola, eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Hartlaub’s turaco and many others.

Dinner and overnight at our cozy mountain lodge on Mount Kenya

Hartlaub’s Turaco © Sammy Mugo
Hartlaub’s turaco © Sammy Mugo

Day 8: Mount Kenya to Lake Baringo

After a brief morning birding session chasing after any stragglers, we hit the road once more and head towards the Aberdares Range, crossing the equator several times before reaching the Great Rift Valley, Menengai Crater and Nakuru town, where we stop for lunch.

After lunch we proceed towards Lake Baringo arriving in time to take a late afternoon walk in search of more of Kenya’s bird species such as pearl spotted owlet, African scops owl, Hemprich’s hornbill, red-billed hornbill, Eastern yellow-billed hornbill, pale prinia, dark chanting goshawk, mouse coloured penduline tit, brubru, scaly-throated honeyguide, yellow-bellied eremomela, white-crested helmet-shrike, sulphur-breasted bush-shrike, Northern black flycatcher, Northern black tit, brown tailed rock chat, cliff chat, Heuglin’s courser, black-headed lapwing, African paradise flycatcher (dark and pale morphs!), Nubian wood-pecker, pin-tailed whydah, steel-blue whydah, chestnut weaver, rufous chatterer, slender-tailed nightjar, beautiful sunbird, red and yellow barbet, blue-cheeked bee-eater, silverbill, northern brownbul, Pringle’s puffback, familiar chat, northern grey tit, eastern violet-backed sunbird, red-billed buffalo weaver and paradise whydah among others.

Overnight on full board at an amazing cliff camp overlooking Lake Baringo.

White-crested Helmet-shrike © Sammy Mugo
White-crested helmet-shrike © Sammy Mugo

Day 9: Lake Baringo 

Over and above birding Lake Baringo shoreline, today we enjoy a 2-hour boat ride in search of northern masked weaver, little weaver, northern red bishop, Senegal thick knee, little bittern, African darter, Allen’s gallinule, lesser jacana, African fish eagle, goliath heron, purple heron, common squacco heron, long-tailed reed cormorant, great cormorant, little and great egret, whiskered tern, lesser flamingo, sacred ibis, and spur-winged plover – to mention a few.

Overnight on full board at our amazing cliff camp overlooking Lake Baringo

Northern masked weaver © Sammy Mugo
Northern masked weaver © Sammy Mugo

Day 10: Lake Baringo to Kakamega Forest

Today is a long drive to the number one Kenyan birding hotspot, to “turbo boost” your African bird list if this is your first time in a central African tropical rainforest.

The landscape along the way is breathtaking, for want of a better word. From Marigat onwards we climb and wind along hairpin bends that offer spectacular views over the rift valley, its lakes and a vast landscape. From Kabarnet the road drops steeply into the Kerio valley, and before you know it we are birding the steep cliff faces, gorges and ravines before we summit the Elgeyo Escarpment.

We will reach the forest and Rondo Retreat for lunch, and after this, start our exploration of this lush and diverse forest.

Whilst birding the edge of the forest we will also keep a keen eye open for several iconic mammals such as red-legged sun squirrels, Matschie’s colobus, black-cheeked white-nosed monkeys and blue monkeys. 

Overnight and stay at Rondo Retreat Centre on full board.

Blue-headed bee-eater © Sammy Mugo
Blue-headed bee-eater © Sammy Mugo

Day 11 and 12: Kakamega Forest

We spend two full days exploring the rich bird diversity on offer in this forest, with the best birding trails a 90 minute drive away. In addition to bird guide Sammy Mugo we make use of a local Kenya birding guide, and you will have packed lunches each day.

Double-toothed barbet © Sammy Mugo
Double-toothed barbet © Sammy Mugo

Birdlife in this ancient forest includes specialties and widespread species such as great blue turaco, Ross’ turaco, double toothed barbet, yellow-spotted barbet, grey-throated barbet, yellow billed barbet, Chapin’s flycatcher, Turner’s eremomela, snowy headed robin chat, blue shouldered robin chat, equatorial akalat, Bocage’s bush-shrike, Ludher’s bush-shrike, Cabanis’s greenbul, Cameroon sombre greenbul, joyful greenbul, toro olive greenbul, Ansorge’s greenbul, honeyguide greenbul, Uganda woodland warbler, blue flycatcher, blue-headed bee-eater, Mackinnon’s wattle-eye, grey-headed negrofinch, oriole finch, red-headed bluebill, crowned eagle, great sparrowhawk, long-crested eagle, bar-tailed trogon, white-spotted flufftail, yellow-throated leaf-love, yellow-bellied wattle-eye, Jameson’s wattle-eye, black cuckoo-shrike, square-tailed drongo, Stuhlmann’s starling, dusky-crested flycatcher, grey-chested illadopsis, brown-chested alethe, green hylia, Chubb’s cisticola, grey apalis, black-collared apalis, banded prinia, black-faced rufous warbler, olive sunbird, green-headed sunbird, olive-bellied sunbird, black-crowned waxbill, black-headed waxbill, white-breasted negrofinch, brown-eared woodpecker, buff-spotted woodpecker, Cassin’s honeybird, white-headed saw-wing, red-tailed bristlebill to mention some.

Overnights at Rondo Retreat Centre on full board

Emerald Cuckoo © Sammy Mugo
Emerald cuckoo © Sammy Mugo

Day 13: Kakamega to Lake Elementaita

Today we return to the Great Rift Valley, a long drive as we slowly make our way towards Nairobi. Lake Elementaita has been declared a Ramsar site and is an important area for migratory birds. You will reach the lake in time for a late lunch and enjoy an evening walk along the lakeshore.

Overnight on full board at Sentrim Elementaita Lodge

Sharpe’s longclaw © Sammy Mugo
Sharpe’s longclaw © Sammy Mugo

Day 14: Return to Nairobi via the Aberdares

Today we leave Elementaita and head for the lower slopes of the Aberdares Mountain range to search for the endemic Sharpe’s longclaw, as well as Jackson’s francolin and endemic Aberdare cisticola. Having rounded up the last of your African bird list, you shall leave the area by around 15h00 and head back to Nairobi, expecting to arrive by 18h00 so those who have their flights in the evening can be at the airport on time.

About the Guide

Sammy-Mugo-picture

Bird guide Sammy Mugo was born in central Kenya near the Aberdare Mountain ranges and spent his youth visiting the beautiful Aberdare Mountain Park, and it was here, whilst watching guests birding, that his interest was triggered.

Sammy Mugo’s elder brother worked as a game ranger and he would visit him as often as he could. When his brother gave him a book on the birds of Africa, and a small pair of binoculars, he knew he wanted to see all the birds in Kenya. His real love of ornithology and photography was launched.

Sammy Mugo will often use sound recordings to bring a variety of bird species into your view.

Some of his favourites while birding in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve are the Nubian nightjar, black-cheeked waxbill, pygmy batis, Donaldson Smith’s sparrow weaver, and orange bellied parrots amongst many others.

“The most appealing thing about Samburu is the very friendly community, the scenery and the wild animals you will find. The most rewarding which I find while introducing foreigners to the wild is the excitement in their eyes when they first see the different animal and bird species all in their natural habitats.”Sammy Mugo

Additional Information

Climate: Despite being on the equator, temperatures can fluctuate from 30 degrees celcius by day to 12 degrees at night. We therefore advise that you dress in layers and peel these off as daytime temperatures rise. Rains are highly unpredictable and fall mainly from end of March until June and from November to December – mainly as sporadic afternoon thunderstorms. Kakamega has its own climate due to its proximity to Lake Victoria, and it can rain at any time – so be prepared for rain.

Difficulty: The birding walks we will engage on are not strenuous but we do advise that you wear good walking shoes to cater for varied terrain.

Accommodation: The hotels and lodges chosen throughout this itinerary are tried and tested options, always chosen for being sympathetic to the needs and idiosyncrasies of a birding group, and their proximity to the best birding areas.

Transport: Transport will be done using 4WD safari vehicles with opening roof hatches. Please note that all public service vehicles in Kenya have had to comply with the fitting of a speed governor that is set at 80 km/hour. This has been done to ensure everyone’s safety in the road, but also implies that transfers can take longer than expected.

Price includes: All accommodation and meals as per program, mineral water in the car and at meals, all park and reserve entry fees, transportation in a 4×4 vehicle with pop-up roof, airport transfers, boat cruise in Lake Baringo, fuel, driver and both professional bird guide and local bird guide fees, all government taxes, 24/7 office support.

Price excludes: : International flights, visas, items of personal nature, telephone calls, laundry, alcoholic and other drinks other than water, travel and medical insurance, tips, excess baggage charges, any activities not specified in the itinerary.

Booking and payment details: Once you have decided to join one this safari, you will need to contact us for a booking form, which will include details relating to deposit and final payments etc. As our groups are small they fill up quickly.

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