Posted on the 14th June 2013

Mike and Margaret visit 4 National Parks in Kenya

This was our first trip to Kenya, other than changing planes in Nairobi on 2 occasions, so a whole new adventure. I normally do a “trip list” of total species but this time I decided that I would compare numbers of one park with another as well as putting together a total, especially as each park was different by altitude and habitat.

After an uneventful trip from Cape Town to Nairobi with an overnight stay in Joburg we arrived at Nairobi National Park late afternoon on 21st May.

Nairobi National Park – The Emakoko Lodge

We were to spend 3 nights here with the Owner, Anthony Childs doing the guiding for me as he is a keen birder himself.

Nairobi National Park is a unique ecosystem by being the only protected area in the world close to a capital city. The park is located only 7 km from Nairobi city centre. It covers 117km2. The savannah ecosystem comprises of different vegetation types. Open grass plains with scattered acacia bush are predominant with the western side having a highland dry forest and a permanent river with a riverine forest. To the south are the Athi-Kapiti Plains and Kitengela migration corridor which are important wildlife dispersal areas during the rainy season. Man-made dams within the park have added a further habitat, favourable to certain species of birds and other aquatic biome. We saw 2 lions on our way in and the reserve has a high number of Black and White Rhino which breed well and which are used to increase numbers in other parks.

The park is home to many of the bird species we are used to seeing in SA but there are many specials here.

The camp hosts Blue-naped Mousebird, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Hybrid Lovebirds, Baglafecht and Golden Weaver, several species of Cuckoo, Finfoot in the river, Dark-capped Yellow-Warbler, Slate-coloured Boubou, White-headed Barbet, Pied Wagtail and Hartlaub’s Francolin.

Red-cheecked Cordon-Bleu


Hartlaub's Turaco












An early start each morning is always essential. Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu, Stout and Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-rumped Seedeater, Northern Pied Babbler and Speke’s Weaver, Jackson’s Widowbird, Hartlaub’s Bustard. First real special is Pangani Longclaw, very similar to our own Yellow-throated. Montagu’s Harrier was a nice sighting along with Long-crested Eagle and Bateleur. Rufous-naped Larks are on just about every bush. I have never seen so many. The river valley attracts Palm, White-rumped and Little Swift, Rock Martin and Lesser Striped Swallows.

Surprisingly the dams are quiet. Some Yellow Bishop and Kingfishers. Birds which I would expect – like Storks, Coots and Moorhens just not around. Did get Purple Swamphen, Greater Swamp Warbler and Spur-winged Lapwing.

One needs to be very vigilant here when birding as hosts of LBJ’s can easily be missed as the grass is quite long after the summer rain – like Fischer’s Sparrowlark, Quailfinch, Bronze Mannikin, Pectoral-patch, Rattling and Winding Cisticola, Harlequin and Common Quail to name but a few. We saw 5 species of Cuckoo the first morning alone. Secretarybirds do well here and Bustard too. Kenya Wildlife Services have strict rules regarding night drives and generally we must be back at base by just after dark, not before as we would miss “Sundowners” on the road with Rhino and Montane Nightjars.

The accommodation at The Emakoko is luxurious and very comfortable and dining is excellent. It is the only accommodation within the park.

Malagasy Pond Heron


Dwarf Bittern










Our second morning began very well when whilst nearing a small dam we disturbed a Madagascar Squacco Heron (Malagasy Pond Heron). This is a migrant immature bird, adults are almost never seen. This was a lifer for our guide as well. We stopped at the Black Crowned Night Heron “crèche” where there were many chicks at nests. We needed to go to the KWS Offices and our short diversion proved worthwhile with Spot-flanked Barbet, Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Bunting and Hartlaub’s Turaco. Black Kites live permanently at the office area.

We set off from here towards the forest where we hoped to see Narina Trogon but no luck. Thanks to Margaret’s eagle-eyes we did see Brown-backed Woodpecker, another lifer for Anthony.

Our “Sundowners” trip late afternoon gave up Bronze Sunbird, Mountain Wagtail, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Singing Cisticola, Streaky Seedeater, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Hildebrandt’s Starling and a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl.

Two good days here with many nice antelope like Grant’s Gazelle and Coke’s Hartebeest. The park is too small for elephant but seeing 20+ rhino made up for that.

Our total count for Nairobi NP was 162 species and 21 Lifers.

Meru National Park – Elsa’s Kopjie

Before we boarded our flight we managed to see an Osprey at the airport!!! We flew up to Meru from Nairobi in an Air Kenya Twin Otter making 1 stop at Nanyuki, a small airstrip just north of the Equator in the shadow of MT. Kenya. Our guide, Phillip picked us up at Meru Airstrip for a 30 minute journey to our camp, which like all good plans becomes an hour as we bird watch on the way.

Elsa’s Kopjie is named after Elsa the Lioness, made famous by Joy and George Adamson many years ago. Renowned as one of the best camps in Africa it is set into the Kopjie and the rooms have huge rocks sticking out of the walls making it very natural. Excellent managers, staff, cuisine and with wonderful views over the National Park.

Phillip our guide had 20+ years experience and was about to take his gold badge exams. Terrific bird knowledge.

Our supposed 30 minute journey to the camp revealed White-bellied Go-Away Bird, Northern White-crowned Shrike, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, the compulsory Lilac-breasted Roller (every safari must have one), Long-tailed Fiscal, Taita Fiscal and Somali Ostrich (lifers) and Wahlberg’s Eagle. After a dip in the pool, a nice lunch and relax we headed out at 4.00pm for the “Sundowners” safari. This is a really good park for birds, flat plains, rocky outcrops and scattered acacia bush and trees. 14 rivers keep the park “lubricated” all year and so there is good riverine forest. There is a huge rhino sanctuary here, 78 of them carefully protected.

Long-tailed Fiscal


Red and Yellow Barbet











Raptors are plentiful with Pygmy Falcon, Brown Snake-Eagle, Long-crested, Booted and Tawny Eagle and BSK’s everywhere. There was Red and Yellow and D’Arnaud’s Barbet, Orange-bellied Parrot, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Red-winged Lark, Ashy Cisticola and African Hawk-Eagle. The usual Hornbills, Doves and Kingfishers as well. Complete the day with a nice G and T, a Nubian Woodpecker and Spotted Hyena.

Dawn chorus begins early with the Crested and Yellow-necked Francolins up and running by 5.00am. Leopard was heard close to the camp that night but no sign when we headed out at 6.30am.

First up – Northern Brownbul and Ruffous Chatterer, Brown-crowned Tchagra and White-browed Scrub-Robin. The resident Bush-babies and Dik-Diks see us off.

It is difficult to make progress when feeding parties are everywhere. Red-headed Weaver, Green-winged Pytillia, Grey Wren-Warbler, Red-billed Quelea and Common Bulbul. The Eastern Pale-Chanting Goshawk is different here with its yellow bill. On the road we meet up with a big flock of Vulturine Guineafowl. I have never seen these before and their colour is stunning. Much prettier than the Helmeted Guineafowl.

Vulturine Guineafowls


Black-crowned Night-Heron with chicks










Which way to look next is the difficult part, so much is happening. Margaret is a good spotter and we can rely on her to find something different like Cut-throat Finch, White-headed Barbet, African Goshawk, Chestnut Weaver and Amethyst Sunbird. Cuckoos are plentiful with Diderik’s, Klaas’s, Jacobin and Greater Spotted. For the afternoon we change direction and head towards the Rhino Sanctuary where there are bare earth areas for Temminck’s and Somali Courser, a Crowned Plover at a nest, Fischer’s Starling and Martial Eagle. Pearl-spotted Owlet and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl complete the day – 102 species already!!!!!

A run out to some water the next morning saw some Black-crowned Night-Heron, Purple and Striated Heron and a Water Thick-knee but Phillip wanted to concentrate on the very dry acacia areas where he was expecting good things and we weren’t disappointed. Ruppell’s Vulture, Bearded Woodpecker, Desert Cisticola, Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike, Pink-breasted Lark, Golden-breasted Starling, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Golden Pipit, Madagascar Bee-eater, Pale Prinia and Pringle’s Puffback (only 2nd time Phillip has seen this bird in 20 years). After lunch and a relax we set off at 4.00pm and tried the same area again – dead, so still within the dry acacia but on different tracks we found Northern Crombec, Buff-crested Bustard, Olive Thrush, Spot-flanked Barbet and Harlequin Quail. Coming back in the dark Montane, Plain and Dusky Nightjar plus a rare striped Hyena.

Our total count for Meru NP was 140 species and 20 lifers.

Shaba National Park – Joy’s Camp

Shifting locations involved a journey by road. It takes 90 minutes to clear the park, passage interrupted by a Sand Boa eating its breakfast right on our track, and then 2 hours through “rural” Kenya before turning into the approach road for Shaba NP. I always like driving through the small villages, checking out the odd names of all the little stores, seeing what they are selling. It’s a whole different world. We had been woken up to the sound of Spotted Eagle-Owl and our trip to the exit gate offered up White-winged Widowbird, Grosbeak Weaver and Crimson-rumped Waxbill. On the road – Cattle Egret, Common Fiscal, Pied Crow and Black Kite.

Golden-Breasted Bunting


White-headed Mousebird










The entrance road into Shaba runs through the volcanic rock Basalt and white Granite and is a very dry area before you reach the smoother land and acacia trees and scrub. I couldn’t believe how many species we clocked up in 2 hours – almost 60.

White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Fischer’s Sparrowlark, Cinnamon-chested Bunting, Mountain Buzzard, Somali Bee-eater, African Grey Flycatcher, Speckle-fronted Weaver to name but a few.

The camp is built on the site of Joy Adamson’s Camp, our luxury tent was almost on the spot. There is a memorial stone nearby where she died after being murdered. The tents are luxurious and spacious.

Outside of the dining room a bird-bath attracts birds in numbers – Yellow-spotted Petronia, Chestnut Weaver, White-bellied Go-away Bird, Fan-tailed Raven, Shikra, Grey-headed Sparrow, Hunter’s Sunbird, Red-faced Crombec and Blue-naped Mousebird. The swimming pool is a favourite haunt of Senegal Lapwing and looking out to the lush spring-water fed grass there are Crowned Crane, Oryx and Cape Buffalo.

This park is very dry, you would not think it had recently been the wet season. Still Peter our guide knows we will do well for specials here. Pink-breasted Lark and Abyssinian Scimitarbill are good starters for the “Sundowners” run followed by Somali Golden-breasted Bunting, Fawn-coloured Lark, Black-capped Social-Weaver and Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-Weaver. The park has a number of underground springs which rise and make the grass lush and leave small wetland areas. We take our “Sundowners” at one. Spur-winged Lapwing, Mottled Swift, Ethiopian Swallow, Spotted Morning-Thrush and Lanner Falcon. Returning in the twilight Dusky and Plain Nightjar and Somali Courser.

Wake-up call with coffee at 6.00am and off out to the Lava Plains. Scops Owl has been calling all night. The Lava Plains do not disappoint with William’s Lark (lives only in 2 very small areas of Kenya), Dusky Turtle-Dove and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. Venturing through the acacia forest – Magpie Starling, Gabar Goshawk, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Cardinal Woodpecker and Palm-Nut Vulture. Singing Bush Lark is also common here.

We were treated to seeing Gerenuk (looks like a long-necked Impala with a small head) standing on their back legs only eating the lower leaves of an acacia tree. Gravy’s Zebra (pin-striped with white belly) also here.

Palmnut Vulture


Black-Faced Sandgrouse










Best lifer of the day was a Dwarf Bittern, just a few metres from our vehicle and completely at ease in the swamp. I have been searching for this bird for years.

The varied habitat allows for birding to be different each day as you change from Lava Plains to acacia scrub and acacia plains plus the mountains and of course the underground stream areas.

We thought we had seen a pair of Juvenile Ovambo Sparrowhawks (no recent records in Kenya) but after careful consideration of the photos we decided that they were Juvenile Gabar Goshawks. The Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike we had seen at Meru NP has an “alternative” version in Shaba NP that lives only North of the Equator. It was interesting to compare the slightly different markings.

One bird that did excite us was a Senegal Coucal. Not seen in this area before. It was skulking on the edge of a thick-stemmed reed bed, not unlike its known habitat up here of Sugar Cane. Yet another “out of position” bird.

Winding Cisticola, Grey-headed Silverbill, Black Flycatcher and Bristle-crowned Starling finished off the day.

Our last morning gave us a few hours before a 40 minute flight to the Laikipia Plateau. Barn Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Blue-capped Cordon-Bleu, Black-headed Waxbill and our first Yellow-billed Oxpecker.

But the morning ended on a sad note. Close to the airstrip a pair of Secretarybirds had a nest with young which we had seen the previous afternoon. When we arrived in the morning a juvenile Martial Eagle had devoured one and carried the second away just after we arrived. That’s nature I guess.

Our total count for Shaba NP was 129 species and 22 lifers.

Holub's Golden Weaver


Montane Nightjar






Laikipia Plateau – Loisaba Lodge

The 40-minute flight to the Plateau was really interesting – flying at 100 metres along the river course before climbing the escarpment to reach the plateau and observing all the Masai farms with their cattle and goats along the way. Some big herds of elephants as well.

Lucas our guide met us at the airstrip for a 15 minute journey to the Lodge. Loisaba is built on the side of an escarpment which overlooks the plateau. Great views from each and every room. Great staff here again with excellent food and some really good gardens between our cottage and the reception area.

After a nice buffet lunch I spent time in the garden. Von Der Decken’s Hornbill nesting behind our bathroom window, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Scarlet-chested and Marico Sunbirds, Rufous Chatterer, Spotted Morning Thrush, Nubian Woodpecker, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Black-headed Oriole and working the thermals of the escarpment were Augur Buzzard, Little and White-rumped Swift, Fan-tailed Raven, Rock Martin and Mottled Swift. A nice start to the afternoon.

We headed off at 4.00pm with our “Sundowners” basket. We were not far out of the property and we came across Red-faced Crombec, Straw-tailed Whydah, Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu, 3-streaked Tchagra, Banded Parisoma and Chin-spot Batis. I hate snakes and the sight of a 2 metre long Black-headed Spitting Cobra crossing the track sends me into hiding but only after I get a photo.

The plateau has open plains and plains with acacia scrub. It is very undulating in areas and quite rocky too. Very varied habitat.

I wasn’t expecting so many “lifers” up here, we had done so well at the other 3 parks but there were still some birds missing. “Sundowners” on the river turned up the usual birds like Kingfishers, Fish Eagle and Egyptian Goose but a lone Saw-wing was unexpected and the first the guide had seen up at the plateau. Several nightjars on the way back but all Montane.

Breakfast the next morning was taken “Bush-style” down by the river. Nice eggs and bacon and Sand Martin, Mosque Swallows, more Saw-wings, Grey Woodpecker and Brown Parrot to join us. We are now seeing many of the birds that we have seen over the last 10 days but we still pick up on the occasional different one like Eurasian Roller (Palearctic Migrant that stayed over), White-bellied, Black-bellied and Kori Bustard, Long-tailed Widowbirds in full mating plumage and Common Buttonquail.

Streaky Seedeater


Straw-tailed Whydah








Whilst we failed miserably to see leopard in any of the camps we were treated to a close-up encounter with 7 x 5-week old lion cubs with their 3 mums and dad.

Lucas took us across to the grass plains and a dam on our last full day at Laikipia. This was to be a bit special when we came across a Blue-breasted Bee-eater flying with Little Bee-eaters. We only really noticed it because it is quite a bit larger and using my 840mm lens I was able to get good photos to ensure that we did have a correct identification. This lone bird was some 400km from its nearest home, the swamps of Lake Victoria. It has been confirmed by several local guides so a real bonus to finish on. We saw a pair of Dark Chanting Goshawks on the dam wall along with Black-crowned Tchagra, Streaky Seed-eater, Great Cormorant, Yellow-throated Longclaw, African Silverbill and Red-throated Barbet. There was even an immature Osprey there, also a Palearctic Migrant left on its own. Shame !!!

Final lifer was a White-headed Mousebird and final bird for the area, and dare I say it, was a Speckled Pigeon.

Our total count for Laikipia was 153 species and 8 lifers.

Apart from when I first began birding here 7 years ago and went to Botswana and got 108 lifers, this has been my highest total for a single trip. 321 species and 71 lifers is a pretty good effort helped by tremendously good guides. I must say Kenya is a worthy place for birding but you really need to do as many locations as possible to benefit.

Next up in October – Malawi with 7 days in Nyika GR and 7 days in Liwonde GR.

I am hoping to see the African Pitta in November at a secret location in Zimbabwe. Watch this space.

Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk


African Orange-bellied Parrot











PETER HOCHFELDEN (posted: 2013-06-17)
What an incredible report!
FELIX KOIMBURI (posted: 2013-06-15)
Great read Mike! Congratulation on the lifers!
I am from Kenya, but picked up most of my birding during my 10-year stay in Cape Town. But for the past couple of years, every time I go home (usually once a year for Christmas) I make an effort to visit as many habitats as I can. My parents live next to the Nairobi National Park, and I am thus privileged to be be able to visit it on a regular basis.
I recently received a trip report from someone who led a three-week birding trip in Kenya in May, and they managed a total of over 600 species during that period! Pretty astonishing!
Good luck with the Pitta in Zimbabwe.
MALCOLM GEMMELL (posted: 2013-06-15)
321 Species and 71 Lifers.!!!!Very well done but please slow down.You might hurt yourself at this pace.
Delightful names:-Spotted Morning Thrush,Nubian Woodpecker.
The Vulturine colors are stunning---is it the male with red eye.?
Other than upper plumage, interesting how the Black-faced Sand-grouse compares with our Double-banded.
My parrot-minded personal favorite---your Orange-Bellied.
It's about time you bought Margaret a pair of binoculars before you get had for gender abuse.
ANTON ODENDAL (posted: 2013-06-15)
Great read Mike! Looking forward to hearing you doing a trip report at a BLO meeting so that we can see many more images.