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A Birdwatchers Guide to: Kenya

The Coastal Region



A map of the kenyan coast showing the main birding areas link to arabuko-sokoke forest section link to Watamu - Kilifi section link to the Malindi - Karawa section
A map of the Kenyan coast showing the main birding areas.

The coastal zone of Kenya has quite a distinct avifauna as compared to rest of the country and the coastal sites covered here hold a number of species not to be found elsewhere (several species are endemic to the East African Coast, and thus hard to find anywhere).
The site which no doubt holds the largest international importance here is Arabuko-Sokoke Forest; approximately 420 square kilometers of remaining lowland, tropical rainforest. This forest holds an impressive number of birds and animals, and several species of bird are hardly to be found anywhere else. This includes Clarke's Weaver (a Kenya endemic), Sokoke Pipit and Sokoke Scops Owl.
Another interesting forest site is the Shimba Hills NP, easily accesible from Mombasa. This is a forest reserve which holds many good birds, and it is also the only place in Kenya to see the Sable Antelope. Other sites along the coast include the Gongoni saltflats (including Karawa), well worth a visit for the highly localised Malindi Pipit and Kilifi, which is a well known site for Brown-headed Parrot. Two other sites near Arabuko-Sokoke Forest are Mida Creek and the Gedi Ruins, both of which hold interesting birds. The mouth of the Sabaki River is well worth a visit, mainly for shorebirds, terns and gulls.



Arabuko-Sokoke Forest




A map of arabuko-sokoke forest
A map of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest showing the main birding areas.

The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the largest remaining patch of indigenous lowland coastal forest in East Africa and is well worth several days. You should count on three or four days for finding all six of the most important specialities here: Sokoke Scops-owl, Sokoke Pipit, Spotted Ground Thrush, East Coast Akalat, Clarke's Weaver and Amani Sunbird. Fischer's Turaco, Fasciated Snake-eagle and Plain-backed Sunbird are three other much sought-after birds in Arabuko - Sokoke Forest.
Generally speaking the forest consist of three distinct forest types; closest to the main road is a band of dense Afzelia forest, followed by a more open Brachystegia. After a few kms you enter a Cynometra forest, which is again a denser and cooler forest type. Each forest type holds their own set of bird species, but it can be useful to spend the first hours of the morning in the Brachystegia forest; bird activity stops earlier in this forest type as it is more open than the other two. After activity slows down here you can enter Afzelia or the Cynometra where the birds are active longer. There are several trails that start at the main road and lead into the forest and all of these cover all three forest types. In the southern part you can find the two Kararacha trails (which join after a few kms). The Afzelia forest north of this trail is supposed to be good for African Barred Owlet and other good birds are Green Barbet, Sombre Greenbul and Eastern Nicator. Continue for another kilometer or two and you enter the Brachystegia forest. The Brachystegia part of the Kararacha trail is possibly the best spot in Arabuko - Sokoke to look for the Sokoke Pipit; dawn and dusk appear to be the best times for this rather shy species. The Brachystegia of Kararacha trail is also good for Clarke's Weaver, any flocks of weavers here should be this species.
The Upper and Lower Mida trails are also excellent for birding and all forest specialities of Arabuko - Sokoke can be found here. The first forest type when entering from the main road is again Afzelia and among other birds you might encounter the East Coast Akalat and the Plain-backed Sunbird here. For the weaver one of the best places appears to be the Brachystegia around the Lower Mida trail, and other possibilities in this forest type include Green-backed Woodpecker, Retz's and Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrikes and Amani Sunbird.
The Cynometra Forest is the habitat of the Sokoke Scops Owl, probably the most wanted of the Sokoke specialities. Unfortunately this owl is very hard to find without assistance of a guide. The rangers at the Gedi Forest Station are knowledgeable about the whereabouts of the owls and are very good at finding them. The trick is to listen for calling owls (start about one hour after dark) and start a duet with the bird. This way you can get close and finally illuminate it with a flashlight.
Another speciality in the Cynometra Forest is the Four-coloured Bush-shrike; the Lower Mida trail is one spot where it has been seen in the past, but other parts of the Cynometra are probably also good.


Birds in Arabuko - Sokoke
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Kararacha trail: Afzelia: African Barred Owlet, Green Barbet, Sombre Greenbul and Eastern Nicator; Brachystegia: Green Barbet, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, East Coast Batis, Bearded Scrub-robin, Eastern Nicator, Sokoke Pipit and Forest and Clarke's Weavers.
Lower Mida trail: Afzelia: Narina Trogon, East Coast Akalat and Forest Batis; Brachystegia: Lizard Buzzard, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Mottled and Boehm's Spinetails, Madagascar Bee-eater, Crowned Hornbill, African Green Tinkerbird, Mombasa Woodpecker, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, Black-bellied Glossy Starling, Forest and Clarke's Weavers and Amani Sunbird; Cynometra: Sokoke Scops Owl and Sokoke Pipit.
Upper Mida trail: Afzelia: Fiery-necked Nightjar, Forest Batis, Bearded Scrub-robin, Peter's Twinspot; Brachystegia: Boehm's and Mottled Spinetails, Trumpeter Hornbill, Green-backed Woodpecker, Retz's and Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes, Black-bellied Glossy Starling, Pale Batis, Eastern Nicator, Forest Weaver and Amani Sunbird; Cynometra: African Crested Flycatcher, Bearded Scrub-robin, East Coast Akalat, Terrestrial Brownbul and Collared Sunbird.
Gedi Forest Station and trail: Crowned Hornbill, Northern Brownbul, Scaly Babbler and Collared and Olive Sunbirds.


Other Wildlife

A very interesting mammal in Arabuko - Sokoke, which you have a fair chance of seeing is the Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew; this rather bizarre animal, the size of a small cat, looks like a giant mouse with an elongated nose, running on stilts. This animal can sometimes be seen along one of the trails before it dashes off into the forest. Another distinct Elephant-shrew you might see here is the Long-toed Elephant-shrew.
There are Caracal's in the forest, and some groups do see these cats along some of the main trails; you shouldn't count on it though, as you need huge portions of luck to manage to see one. A somewhat commoner animal here, although quite shy, is the Zanzibar Duiker.
-->Frogs, including link to website!!


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There

The Arabuko - Sokoke Forest can be reached from the main coast road (B8). The Gedi Forest Station is signposted from the main road and is some 20 kms south of Malindi. The start of the Mida trails is 6 km to the south of the forest station, and the Kararacha trails a further 16kms to the south.



Local Guides

There are a number of guides working in the Erg Chebbi area, and all should be knowleadgable about sites at Rissani and Erfoud as well.







Watamu - Kilifi


A map of the watamu - kilifi region
A map of the Watamu - Kilifi region along the coast showing the main birding areas.

If visiting the Arabuko - Sokoke Forest there are two smaller sites nearby that are well worth a visit. One is Mida Creek, that can be accessed from the main road almost opposite to the start of the Mida Trail (see Arabuko - Sokoke section for details). The creek is one of the most important sites in Kenya for wintering shorebirds, and Crab Plover is of particular prominence here; if the tide is low several hundred can be seen. Other east African coastal endemics that you might expect here are Mangrove Kingfisher, Chestnut-fronted and Retz's Helmetshrikes and Purple-banded and Mouse-colored Sunbirds.
Some 12kms north of Mida Creek you have the Gedi Ruins (just outside Gedi town); these are 15th century ruins of an Arab trading town now surrounded by dense vegetation and a nice spot to spend a couple of hours of nice birding. It used to be a reliable site for African Pitta, but these have apparently not been recorded the last few years (anyone with contradictionary information?). Some years Palm-nut Vulture breeds here, and Bearded Scrub-robin and Fischer's Turaco are regular. Yellowbill of the subspecies australis, Spotted Ground-thrush and Red-capped Robin-chat are sometimes seen here (but not in the winter months (Dec-May)). Barn Owl sometimes breeds in the walls of some of the deep wells within the compound (be careful when approaching these wells, they are deep!)
Another site included in this section is Kilifi, which is a reliable site for Brown-headed Parrot. Driving south on the main B8, cross the river just south of Kilifi town and follow the road for another 3kms. Turn left opposite Kinzingo Traders and follow this road for about 750 m. Park here and check the Baobab trees to the right. Appart from the parrots there is not much to see in this area.


Birds around Watamu and Kilifi
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Mida Creek: Black Heron, Lesser Sand-plover, Three-banded Plover, Crab Plover, Mangrove Kingfisher, Northern Carmine and Madagascar Bee-eaters, Forest and Black-headed Batis's, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Chestnut-fronted and Retz's Helmetshrikes and Purple-banded and Mouse-colored Sunbirds.
Gedi Ruins: Palm-nut Vulture, African Harrier-hawk, African Goshawk, Black Sparrowhawk, Tambourine Dove, Fischer's Turaco, Yellowbill, Mottled Spinetail, Trumpeter Hornbill, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Green Barbet, African Golden Oriole, Spotted Ground-thrush, Bearded Scrub-robin, Red-capped Robin-chat, Sombre Greenbul and Eastern Nicator.
Kilifi: Brown-headed Parrot, Black-collared Barbet, Trumpeter Hornbill, Plum-colored Starling, Sombre Greenbul and Golden Palm Weaver.


Other Wildlife

The most common


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There




Malindi - Karawa


A map of Malindi - Karawa region
A map of the Malindi - Karawa region showing the main birding areas.

--- Malindi Pier, Sabaki River, Gongoni, Karawa ---


Birds in Malindi - Karawa region
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Malindi Pier:
Sabaki River:
Gongoni:
Karawa:


Other Wildlife

The most common


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There