Kenya’s bird watching is probably the best worldwide now with 0.13% of the world’s birds thanks to its unique weather and diverse habitats that include open grasslands, rift valley escarpments, crater lakes, forests and woodlands and others that make Kenya, a birder’s paradise. On a short one day or two day birding trip, you are certain to see around 500 to 600 different birds from a few sites that you’ll visit. Visit Kenya at the time of the annual birding watching week organized by Nature Kenya and you’ll have splendid morning stroll through a variety of sites. More than 50% of Euro-Asia migrants flock Kenya every year as they seek refuge from harsh winter conditions.
Birding sites in Kenya
In central Kenya, there are a number of places to visit on your birding safari which will not disappoint. Nairobi the capital has more than 500 resident and migrant birds that live in Nairobi National park, in the National Museum gardens and in Ol Donyo National Park. Regular sights include secretary birds, long tailed moose birds, sunbirds, yellow weavers and the marabou stork in the acacia trees in the streets and garbage centers. The variety of birds seen all year long is actually continuous, however includes Rollers, Guinea fowls, Barbets, Hinde’s Babbler, Friedman’s Lark and the like, most noticed from the parks grasslands of Tsavo national park and Mt. Kenya National park.
The most renowned habitat for birds in Kenya is the rift valley escarpment that stretches from north to western Kenya. The crater lakes of Lake Nakuru, Lake Baringo, Lake Elementaita and Lake Naivasha are some of the birding sites that any naturalist or birding fan can never miss on a bird watching safari in Kenya. A total of more than 450 birds will been here on any day and these include the pink flamingoes of Lake Nakuru that camouflage the soda lake, black herons, pelicans, Fish Eagles, Pied Kingfishers, Long-tailed and Great Cormorants, Grey-backed fiscal, Yellow-Collared Lovebird among other notable species
From the Masai Mara grasslands, you will also encounter a long bird list of more than 500 species such as the Egyptian vulture, hooded vulture, Griffon vulture, golden woodpeckers, Nubian vulture, White-backed and White-headed vulture, Ostrich, Cardinal Quelea and the little spotted woodpeckers among others. The Mara River regularly collects mixed flocks of vultures and Marabou feeding on the animals that failed to cross the river during the annual migration of wildebeest.
It is recommended that any birding enthusiast needs to check out forests of Arabuko forest reserve and Kakamenga for some woodland and forest endemics. In Arabuko-Sokoke Forest reserve near the coastal town of Malindi, you’ll find a few remaining species of Clarke’s weaver, Scops Owl, Amani Sunbird, Sokoke Pipit, Spotted Ground Thrush as well as coastal Akalat. The Abedare ranges host the endemic Sharpe’s long claw and Cisticola. Similar sites including the Taita Hill woodlands, close to Voi, nest the extinct Taita Thrush, the small White-eyes not to mention Taita Apalis.
Kakamega rain forest around the shores of Lake Victoria is an endemic host to the endangered Turner’s Eremomela, the Turacos, the Hornbills, yellow warbler, gonolek, white winged warbler, papyrus Canary and other incredible forest and papyrus endemic varieties.
When to visit
The dry season of November to April brings in some 100 migrants from the north such as Forbes Watson’s swift, sooty falcons and others. This season’s rewards are in Tsavo National park and at the coast near Mida Creek and Sabaki Estuary that host several water birds. During July to August, it is the annual wildebeest migration that draws in several species of preying vultures that feed on the carcass left by predators. The Mara River hosts thousands of these besides its spectacular wildlife.
The migration of birds from Europe, neighboring islands like Madagascar and Asia correlates with the rainy seasons of April up to November every year bringing in around 12 species of migrants. The rains are an important breeding time for many birds, for the forest and papyrus endemic species for example the warblers. Its is a colorful season of birds tossing here and there if you take a boat ride on one of the soda lakes from the rift valley region.
The heavy rains of March to June leave many roads muddy and impassable thus you’ll need a robust 4WD to get you to the desired destination. There will be guided tours to any site arranged by tours and travel operators. Local guides are also available any time of the year whose efforts are geared towards bird site conservation, besides getting supplementary incomes from birders and tourists.