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A Birdwatchers Guide to: Kenya

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A map of Kenya showing the main birding areas link to the Kenyan highlands section link to the Kenyan Rift Valley section link to western Kenya section link to southern Kenya section link to the Kenya coast section
A map of Kenya showing the different sections covered (from top to bottom: ***.

Few countries on the planet can show as much, and varied, natural beauty as this East African nation. From the vast savanna`s in the south to the scorched deserts in the north, and from the damp rainforest around Kakamega in the west, the glacier covered peaks of Mt. Kenya to the tranquility of the Indian Ocean coastline in the east, everywhere breathtaking scenery abound. This great diversity in natural habitats is also the main reason for a diversity of birdlife that is only paralelled by a few other places on the planet. A total of 1116 species of bird has been recorded to date, of which roughly %%% are resident breeders and %% are palaearctic or austral migrants. Of these 1116 species 8 are Kenyan endemics and a further %%% species are Kenyan specialities, i.e. easier to see here than anywehere else in the world.
What also makes Kenya such a fun place for the keen global birder is the relative ease with which so many birds can be found here; most habitats are open country wich make birding here a true feast. It is not unusual to see around ## species of bird here on a two week trip, and to score a full ## species in three weeks. Neither should we forgot the great opportunities to animal watching of which all of East Africa is justifiably famous. In the right season breathtaking numbers of large game can be seen and the big five can all be seen without too much effort.

The Rift Valley

A map of the Rift valley of kenya showing the main birding areas link to ?region? section
A map of the Rift Valley showing the main birding areas.

The East African Rift, stretching through Kenya from north to south is well known to birdwatchers. This is for a large part due to the Rift Valley lakes, some saline, some fresh, all teeming with birdlife and easily accesible from Nairobi. The most important lakes in the Kenyan Rift are Naivasha, Nakuru, Bogoria and Baringo, all covered in detail here. Other sites here well worth a visit are Crater lake and Hell`s Gate NP, both easily accesible from Naivasha. Visiting these sites a large number of common and widespread species can be seen, but also a number of restricted range species, like White-crested Helmet-shrike and Brown-tailed Rock-chat (just to mention two). At Lake Baringo several species with a more northerly distribution can been found, and several of these can only otherwise be seen by visiting sites further north that are considered unsafe and should presently be avoided.
Another site close to Lake Naivasha is Kinangop Plateau, this is the best known site for Sharpe's Longclaw, a Kenyan endemic. From Kinangop the road continues up to Kieni Forest and other sites covered in detail in The Highlands section. (Elgeyo Escarpment??)

The Highlands

A map of the Kenyan highlands showing the main birding areas link to oued souss section
A map of the Kenyan highlands showing the main birding areas.

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 5200m 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.
Kianyaga and Kieni Forest are included as the two best known sites for Hinde's Pied Babbler, a Kenyan endemic. 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.

Western Kenya

A map of western Kenya showing the main birding areas link to Oukaimden section
A map of western Kenya showing the main birding areas.

The Western part of Kenya is neglected by most tourists, as there are no large game parks here and the region is lacking in some other attractions. For the global birder however, this part of Kenya has a lot to offer. The star attraction is Kakamega Forest, a remnant patch of equatorial rainforest. This forest, and the Nandi Forest nearby, are the main remnants in Kenya today of the Guineo-Congolean rainforest. Conversely a large number of birds and animals can be found here that are absent in the rest of the country.
Another interesting site here is Saiwa Swamp NP; a reserve most known for the sitatunga, a rare antelope, but is (maybe needles to say) also good for birds. This rather smallish reserve is easily accesible and can be birded on foot, mainly on a wooden causeway.
Down at Lake Victoria, the town of Kisumu is a good base for anyone wanting to look for some of the papyrus specialities to be found here. Added in this section are also three other, smaller sites; Mumias and Madende Creek, Kongelai Escarpment and Kapenguria (Thomson Falls??)

Southern Kenya

A map of southern Kenya showing the main birding areas link to Erg Chebbi section
A map of southern Kenya showing the main birding areas.

This section covers most of the large game reserves from Masai Mara in the west to Tsavo West NP and Tsavo East NP in the east (Amboseli??). These reserves should be visited in their own right, with the large game of course the main attraction, but with prime birding possible on these safari's (dedicated to birdwatching or not). Longonot road and Loita plains are also described as they are on the main gateway to Masai Mara, coming from Nairobi. Nairobi, by the way, boasts its own national park just outside the city (next to the airport) and should not be missed!
Another sites covered here are Lake Magadi (an alkaline lake; the only site for Chestnut-banded Plover in Kenya), the Athi Plains (good for grassland birds like bustards and larks) and Olorgaisailie, a historic site well worth a visit, also for pools with water that attracts good numbers of passerines in the morning.

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The Coast

A map of the Kenyan coast showing the main birding areas link to Guelmim 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.