The banks of the Mara River offer ideal habitat for the forest birds of Maasai Mara – and for bird-watchers. What better way to spend those hot afternoons when the plains are sweltering, than under shaded leaf canopies. These trees act as a refuge for a variety of mammals who move amongst the towering trunks, keeping cool as they wait for the temperatures to drop out on the open plains.
You may even encounter families of elephants wandering past, en-route to drink from the river, or warthog piglets trotting around in search of fresh grass, while troops of both banded and dwarf mongooses busy themselves looking for beetles and grubs in the detritus layer on the forest floor.
But these riverine forests also offer habitat for a diverse number of forest-dwelling bird species, and some of these species are incredibly rare to see in other parts of the Maasai Mara, and even in other parts of Africa. As with all forest species they tend to be very shy and one must really be patient if you hope to catch a glimpse of them, and even more patient if you would like to photograph them.
Such was the case when I wanted to photograph the two turaco species that are usually seen hopping high above in the tree tops in search of ripening berries.
Ordinarily this would be a somewhat doomed-to-fail mission, as both species are incredibly wary of human onlookers. But, if you find a secluded puddle of water, hang around because this willk be a magnet for thirsty birds, especially in the dry season. I found one such puddle, and I positioned myself and watched quietly as the birds gradually came down through the tangled vines to sip from the cool pool of water. First common bulbuls, then various species of weavers and a few mouse birds gained the confidence to drink in my presence.
I watched the turacos up high through my binoculars and could see that they were panting and knew that they too would eventually come down. And sure enough they did after quite some time. They didn’t waste a second drinking the water before quickly hopping back up to their sanctuary of the tree canopy.
Other forest birds of Maasai Mara that can be seen flitting through the camps include violet-backed starlings that come to feast on ripening figs and other berries. Both African paradise flycatchers and African blue-flycatchers are beautiful residents of these riverine forests.
Another real gem to spot are the extremely secretive Narina trogons which blend invisibly into the foliage once they’ve turned their emerald green back to you.