The Central Highlands of Kenya holds the country's densest rural population, but despite being heavily cultivated still holds some prime natural habitat. The best are to be found in the national parks of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, and
some of the sites described here (Mount Kenya NP, Naro Moru River Lodge, Kianyaga and Kieni Forest) are to be found inside or just outside these two parks.
The main site in the Highlands is Mount Kenya NP, this is a large national park surrounding the peak of Mt Kenya (at almost 5200 m the second highest peak of Africa). It is possible to do extensive trecking inside the park, including up to the peak (specialized training and equipment needed for the summit), but the best known birding is along the road from Naro Moru gate and up to the Met station. Birding along the road outside the NP boundary can also be excellent. The Naro Moru River Lodge is a handy base for explorations up the mountain, albeit quite expensive. The grounds of the lodge can offer quite nice birding, but other lodges in the area are probably equally rewarding.
Kianyaga and Kieni Forest are included as the two best known sites for Hinde's Pied Babbler, a Kenyan endemic. Another site which might hold this rather difficult species is Mwea National Reserve; see Kianyaga for directions.
Mount Kenya NP
Mount Kenya NP is superb for birdwathcing and is certainly a site that should not be missed. There is a great variety of habitats as well as a nice altitudinal gradient, meaning that the diversity of the birdlife is very high here. Several scarce and localized species that can be hard to find elsewhere in Kenya (or
anywhere in the world!) can be seen here.
There are several entrance points into the national park and up the mountain, but most birders seem to concentrate on the Naro Moru route, thus entering the mountain on the western slope. This description will thus also focus on the Naro Moru route (but info from birders exploring the other options would be most welcome, for later updates of this site).
I will describe the various sites beginning at the lower elevations and proceed up following the road:
Youth hostel area:
It is possible to bird the scrub and forest around the Youth Hostel, the best birds you can find here, with some luck, are Rufous-throated Wryneck and Doherty's Bushshrike. The best area seems to be the vegetation along the stream and it is possible to follow a narrow track along the stream for a few kilometers. This is where the bushshrike might be found. The Wryneck has been seen in the scrub around the Youth Hostel. Other possibilities here are Montane Nightjar, Hartlaub's Turaco, Red-chested Cuckoo, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Moustached Green and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Snowy-capped Robin-chat, Yellow Bishop, Eastern Double-collared and Green-headed Sunbirds and Golden-breasted Bunting.
From the Youth Hostel follow the road a few kms to where a bridge crosses the stream (appr. 12 kms from the start of the road) and explore the tracks that lead into the forest from here. A good variety of forest species can be found here including African Wood Owl, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Brown-chested Alethe, Rüppell's Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Mountain Greenbul, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Mountain Warbler, White-browed Crombec, Cinnamon-bracken Warbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, Abyssinian Crimson-wing and Golden-winged, Tacazze and Variable Sunbirds.
The entrance to the NP is another 3,5 kms from the bridge and the forest around the gate should be explored. The road continues from here for another 10kms to the Met. Station. The road to the Met. Station should be explored as the forest here can be very good. If you have a 4W-drive you can drive all the way to the Met. Station with frequent birdwatching stops (and walking parts of the road). In the dry season you can try driving up with a 2W-drive, some groups have succeeded in this, but if it has been raining recently this is a no-go for a 2W-drive. Some of the best birds you might see around the gate or in the forest leading up to the Met. Station are Kenrick's and Abbott's Starlings, but both can be difficult. Other good birds are Mountain Buzzard, African Hawk Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, African and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons, Red-fronted Parrot, Scarce Swift, Narina Trogon, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Abyssinian Hill-babbler, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Hunter's Cisticola, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Montane Oriole and Black-headed Waxbill.
Once at the Met. Station you can start looking for the two specialities up here, Olive Ibis and Abyssinian Ground-thrush. Some groups report that you have to be here at dawn to stand any chance to find the ground-thrush, but others contradict this (sometimes seen throughout the day). Dawn should, anyway, be the best time for both the ground-thrush and the ibis. Another high altitude speciality is Alpine Chat, which can be seen around the Met. Station, but this is much easier to see if you continue even further up the mountain (to the dwarf forest and beyond)
Immediately above the Met. Station is a dwarf forest, which can hold Jackson's Francolin, Verreaux's Eagle, Dusky Turtle Dove, Alpine, Scarce and Nyanza Swifts and Tacazze and Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds.
Time allowing you could consider hiring a guide and walk up to some moorland above the Met. Station to see some high altitude specialities. These specialities are Slender-billed Starling, Moorland Francolin, Red-tufted Sunbird and Cape Eagle Owl (ssp. mackinderi). Apparently some of the park rangers are knowledgeable about where to find these birds and can be hired as guides; if interested you should inquire at the NP entrance. NB: the walk from the Met. Station and up to the moorlands and back is a full day excursion.
Birds in Mount Kenya NP
Youth hostel area:
Montane Nightjar, Hartlaub's Turaco, Eastern Bronze-naped and African Green Pigeons, Red-chested Cuckoo, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Moustached Green and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, Rufous-necked Wryneck, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Doherty's Bushshrike, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Black Saw-wing, Broad-ringed White-eye, Hunter's Cisticola, Chestnut-throated and Grey Apalis, Spectacled Weaver, Yellow Bishop, Eastern Double-collared and Green-headed Sunbirds and Golden-breasted Bunting.
Hartlaub's Turaco, African Wood-owl, Nyanza Swift, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Brown-chested Alethe, Rüppell's Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Mountain Greenbul, Hunter's Cisticola, Broad-ringed White-eye, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Mountain Warbler, White-browed Crombec, Cinnamon-bracken Warbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, Abyssinian Crimson-wing and Golden-winged, Tacazze and Variable Sunbirds.
NP gate and forest up to Met. Station: Mountain Buzzard, African Hawk Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Jackson's Francolin, Olive Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrot, Hartlaub's Turaco, Emerald Cuckoo, Nyanza and Scarce Swifts, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Black-tailed Oriole, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Waller's, Kenrick's and Abbott's Starlings, Black Saw-wing, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Thick-billed and Streaky Seedeater, Yellow-crowned Canary and African Citril.
Olive Ibis, Verreaux's Eagle, Jackson's Francolin, Hartlaub's Turaco, Dusky Turtle Dove, Alpine, Scarce and Nyanza Swifts, Abyssinian Ground-thrush, Alpine Chat, Broad-ringed White-eye, Hunter's Cisticola, Cinnamon-bracken Warbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, Streaky and Thick-billed Seedeaters and Tacazze and Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds.
Moorland Francolin, Cape Eagle Owl (ssp. mackinderi), Slender-billed Starling, Alpine Chat and Red-tufted Sunbird.
The most common
Food and accommodation:
The above descriptions apply to the western slopes of the mountain which can be reached from the town of Naro Moru. Naro Moru can be reached from Karatina; follow the main A2 some 50 kms to the north. Just north of Naro Moru is a signpost to the NP. From the junction at the A2 it is some 15 kms to the entrance gate of the NP and 25 kms to the Met. Station. The road to the entrance gate is unsurfaced, but generally in a fairly good condition. Inside the park the road deteriorates quickly and a 4W-drive is recommended, certainly if it has recently rained.
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.
Naro Moru River Lodge
The Naro Moru River Lodge is a very convenient place to stay for anyone wanting to explore Mount Kenya. From Naro Moru a good road leads up the mountain towards the Naro Moru Gate, the park HQ and the Met Station. The lodge grounds are furthermore a good place to do some relaxed birding. A small stream flows through the grounds and this is perhaps the safest place in Kenya to find African Black Duck. Other birds that can easily be found here are Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Brimstone Canary, Spectacled and African Golden Weavers as well as several species of sunbird (Tacazze, Scarlet-chested, Variable, Amethyst and Hunter's Sunbird frequently recorded by visiting groups). Narina Trogon has been seen here and Hartlaub's Turaco and Crowned Hornbill are recorded quite regularily, as well as Golden-breasted Bunting. Montane Nightjar appear at dusk and can sometimes be seen around the spotlights in the garden.
Around the lodge is some grassland that can be worth to check out. An afternoon walk here might produce Eleonora's Falcon, Shelley's Francolin, Fawn-coloured Lark, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and Northern Grosbeak Canary.
Birds at Naro Moru River Lodge
The lodge grounds:
African Black Duck, African Goshawk, Hartlaub's Turaco, Narina Trogon, Crowned Hornbill, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, African Black-headed Oriole, Tacazze, Scarlet-chested, Variable, Amethyst and Hunter's Sunbirds African Citril and Golden-breasted Bunting
Surrounding grassland: Pallid Harrier, Eleonora's Falcon, Shelley's Francolin, Fawn-coloured Lark, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and Northern Grosbeak Canary.
If your are staying at the lodge one mammal that you will certainly hear is the Tree Hyrax; they are quite common (and noisy!) here.
Food and accommodation:
Naro Moru can be reached from Karatina; follow the main A2 some 50 kms to the north. Just north of the town is a signpost to the lodge. From the main road it is less than 2 kms to the lodge.
Kieni Forest is an interesting site that can be reached driving between the Kinangop Plateau (covered in Rift Valley section) and the Central Highland sites covered in this section. The main fame of the Kieni Forest is, just like Kinangop Plateau, a scarce and highly localized endemic; the Hinde's Pied Babbler. The babbler is also seen at Kianyaga and possibly also at Mwea National Reserve (see further below), but the Kieni Forest appears to be the most reliable site for this difficult bird. ?? African Wood Owl ??
As the quality of the forest at Kieni is still excellent it is possible to see a number of other forest species here that are difficult at other sites. Although there is substantial overlap with the species you can see at Mount Kenya a visit here can still be recommended to maximize your chances of seeing the more difficult species, like Olive Ibis, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Abbott's and Sharpe's Starling, Doherty's Bushshrike and Orange and Abyssinian Ground-thrush. Other forest species that are more common here include Hartlaub's Turaco, Bar-tailed Trogon, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Brown-chested Alethe, White-starred Robin, Placid and Mountain Greenbuls, Evergreen Forest Warbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, Abyssinian Hill-babbler and Abyssinian Crimson-wing.
Birds at Kieni Forest
Olive Ibis, Hartlaub's Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Emerald Cuckoo, Red-fronted Parrot Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Bar-tailed Trogon, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Tullberg's Woodpecker, Abbott's and Sharpe's Starling, Doherty's and Black-fronted Bushshrike, Brown-chested Alethe, White-starred Robin, Rüppell's and Cape Robin-chat, Placid and Mountain Greenbul, Broad-ringed White-eye, Orange and Abyssinian Ground-thrush, Grey, Chestnut-throated and Black-throated Apalis, Evergreen Forest Warbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, Abyssinian Hill Babbler, Hinde's Babbler, Grey-headed Negro-finch and Abyssinian Crimson-wing.
The most common
Food and accommodation:
Coming from the south on the main A104, take the D396 signposted to Longonot and South Kinangop. This turn-off is some 70 kms north of Nairobi and 30 kms south of Naivasha. Go over the flyover and through the village and follow this road for some 15 kms to Kieni village; the forest is some 5kms past the village (the village at the flyover is the Sharpe's Pipit site, "Kinangop Plateau", see Rift Valley section). You can follow this road for some further 70 kms to get to Thika.
The road is partly in bad condition, but apparently possible to do in a two-wheel drive (but I certainly wouldn't count on this in the rainy season).
At this site there is one target species, Hinde's Pied Babbler, a highly localized Kenyan endemic. Apparently there is not much else of interest here and Kieni Forest might thus be a better bet for the babbler (as there are also other birds of interest at Kieni). Kianyaga might still be relevant though as a fairly
convenient stop for birders exploring other Mt Kenya sites
Other noteworthy birds that might be seen here are Cape and Rüppell's Robin Chat, Northern Pied Babbler and Red-faced Cisticola.
Birds at Kianyaga:
African Paradise Flycatcher, Brown-headed Tchagra, Tropical Boubou, Chinspot Batis, Cape and Rüppell's Robin Chat, Northern and Hinde's Pied Babbler, Red-faced Cisticola and White-bellied Tit.
The most common
Food and accommodation:
Kianyaga can be reached from Kotus, about 140 kms northeast of Nairobi (2 hours). To get to Kotus follow the A2 up to Makutano (via Thika) and at Makutano continue on the B6 to Mururi. Appr. 2 kms before Mururi turn left onto road 73
and follow this for 4 kms. Just before a petrol station turn right onto road signposted to Kianyaga and follow this for under 10 kms (ignore a left turn signposted to Kianyaga about half way). Just before Kianyaga is a left turn with a small sign directing you to the "District Office". Proceed along this road for about 200 m and take a left turn for another 200 m and turn left again. Park in the grounds of the District Office. A footpath from the District Office follows both sides of a valley, this is the site of the Babbler.
You can alternatively reach Kotus from Karatina in the west or from Sagana in the southwest. The route from Karatina would be useful if coming from Naro Moru.
Another site that is reported to be good for the Hinde's Pied Babbler is Mwea National Reserve. This can be reached via the B7 Embu - Kangonde road. After about 40 kms, at Machanga, a signposted road heads off right for 11 kms, and this road should be passable all year round. Would love to hear from anyone that visited Mwea!