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 Northern Masked Weaver (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 Pipit, a Kenyan endemic. From Kinangop the road continues up to Kieni Forest and other sites covered in detail in The Highlands section.
To Rift Valley sites that strictly speaking belong in this section, Lake Magadi and Olorgaisailie, are covered in "the South" section.
Lake Naivasha is one of two freshwater lakes in the Kenyan Rift (Lake Baringo being the other), the other lakes are all saline. The selection of waterbirds seen here is conversely quite different from most other lakes described in
this section. Birding at Lake Naivasha can be quite relaxed; it involves strolling through the grounds of various hotels, lodges or campsites and trying to find an entry point down to the lake shore (for some of the grounds you will have to pay an entry fee). Sites that are popular and have been explored by birders in the past include the grounds of Lake Naivasha Hotel, Safariland Lodge, YMCA and Fisherman's Camp. Birds that can be seen here (grounds and lakeshore) are ducks, egrets and herons, gulls and other waterbirds (see below). The stands of papyrus at the lakeshore can be good for warblers, resident and palaearctic (winter) species alike. Reed warblers regularily seen here include Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, African Reed Warbler and Lesser Swamp Warbler, as well as Little Rush Warbler. The gardens can also hold Grey-capped, Olivaceous and Wood Warblers. Other good birds include Yellow-collared Lovebird, Black Cuckoo,
Verreaux's Eagle Owl, Giant Kingfisher, White-fronted Bee-eater, Sharpe's Pied Babbler, Cape Wagtail, Fire-crowned Bishop and Kenya Grosbeak Canary. The White-fronted Bee-eater can easily be found in the Naivasha area, but can be more difficult elsewhere.
It is also possible to hire a boat and venture out on the lake. Many of the hotels and lodges here arrange boat excursions and the main focus of such a trip is to get close to Hippos and Crocodiles. Many birds are probably easier to see out on the lake and species recorded include African Darter, Southern Pochard and Maccoa and White-backed Ducks, among others.
The Crater Lake Game Sanctuary lies on the western edge of Lake Naivasha and is a short drive from the other sites described here. It is possible to do some great night safari's here, but for the global birder the star attraction is the Grey-crested Helmet-shrike. This is a species with a very limited distribution in Kenya and Tanzania only, and Crater Lake is a very good spot for this bird. The sanctuary is quite small and the helmet-shrikes can be seen anywhere here, but the main parking lot just outside the tented camp can be as good as any place here. In the dry season there are some drinking pools attracting good numbers of birds, and in the evening there can be some rather big flocks of Dusky Turtle Doves. Other good birds you might find at Crater Lake are White-headed Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker and Brown-crowned Tchagra.
Birds at Lake Naivasha
Yellow-billed Duck, Hottentot Teal, Black Egret, Goliath Heron, Red-crested Coot, Black Crake, Long-toed Lapwing, Grey-headed Gull, Yellow-collared Lovebird, Black Cuckoo, Verreaux's Eagle Owl, Giant Kingfisher, White-fronted Bee-eater, Grey-capped Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, African Reed Warbler, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler, Wood Warbler, Sharpe's Pied Babbler, Cape Wagtail, Fire-crowned Bishop and Kenya Grosbeak Canary.
Hippo is a fairly common sight at Lake Naivasha. If you are camping here their presence can actually sometimes be felt, although they are mostly kept outside the camping grounds with purpose build fences or ditches. A safer way to watch the hippos is with an organized boattrip. Giraffe can occasionally be seen near the lake, but a much safer bet is Hell's Gate NP. Waterbuck are said to congregate on Crescent Island, near the eastern shore of the lake.
It is possible to go on night game drives in the sanctuary, and this can be very rewarding: animals you might see here include Cape Hare, Bat-eared Fox, Defassa Waterbuck, Kirk's Long-snouted Dik-dik and Lesser Galago. Entrance fee and arrangements can be made at the tented camp (it is probably a good idea to make arrangements before arriving at the sanctuary)
Food and accommodation:
There is an abundance of accommodation around the lake, but it is also possible to stay at the Crater Lake Camp inside the sanctuary. This is a luxury tented camp, so very expensive.
Lake Naivasha is easily reached from Nairobi on the A104 (appr. 100 kms, 1,5 hours). The A104 continues north with Lake Nakuru some 70 kms to the northwest. Coming from the south there is a road to the left a few kms before Naivasha town; this road is signposted to Hell's Gate NP. All the sites mentioned here are along the southern shore of the lake. The gate to Hell's Gate NP is some 15 kms down this road, and it is some 20 kms further to the entrance of Crater Lake Game Sanctuary.
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.
Hell's Gate NP
Hell's Gate National Park is a wonderful place to spend a full day birding. Easily accesible from Lake Naivasha and a place with beautiful scenery that you can explore by car, on bike or by foot. Several interesting birds can be found here and, depending on season, lots of the plains game can easily be seen here. As mentioned you can get around inside the park on bike or by foot; it is questionable, however, if it is a good idea to venture into the bush on the minor tracks (Buffaloes being the main concern). You should always check with the KWS personel at the entrance gates as to what they advise.
The main feature of the national park is the Njorowa gorge, going roughly east to west. The cliffs of the gorge are worth scanning for breeding Verreaux's Eagle as well as Nyanza and Mottled Swifts. The plains next to the track can be good for Kori Bustard, White-fronted Bee-eater, Abyssinian Black Wheatear, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Red-throated Tit and Red-tailed Shrike.
At the western end of the gorge, about 12 kms from Elsa Gate, is a viewpoint and a car park/picnic area. From here you have a good view of the Ol Basta Rock Tower, and here you can also find the start of a trail that goes down a small ravine and you can follow this to the Rock Tower (and further). The trail can be rather steep at places and the descent can also be slippery, so care must be taken getting down to the ravine floor safely (and with the rains there is a chance of flash floods, inquire with the KWS personnel for advice). Once down on the ravine floor however it is mostly an easy walk and you can expect some interesting birds here: Common and Abyssinian Scimitarbills, Greater Honeyguide, Mountain Wagtail, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting.
Birds in Hell's Gate NP
The most common
Food and accommodation:
Lake Nakuru is one of the best known alkaline lakes in Kenya; it has beautiful scenery, it is easily accessible and interesting birds and animals are easy to see here. The most notable feature is the flamingo's (hundreds of thousands of them in a good year); even from far away they can be seen as a pink brim to the lake edge. Going down to the lake shore and seeing these birds close by can be a most impressive experience, even for the seasoned global birder. The vast majority of these flamingo's are Lesser Flamingo, but Greater Flamingo's are
also present. Other birds at the lake shore include Great White Pelican, Kittlitz's Plover and Grey-headed Gull.
It is easy to get around the lake if you have a vehicle; there is an unsurfaced road around the perimeter of the lake and several drivable tracks that you can explore. At the main entrance gate to the park, near Nakuru town on the northern part of the lake is a small woodland. Birds recorded here include Golden-tailed and Green-backed Woodpeckers, African Black-headed Oriole, Northern Puffback, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Arrow-marked Babbler and Rüppell's Glossy Starling.
Birds that can be seen driving around the lake are Lappet-faced Vulture, Rüppel's Griffon and White-backed Vultures, Steppe and Tawny Eagles, Crowned Hawk-eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Gabar Goshawk, Secretary Bird, Lilac-breasted Roller, White-fronted Bee-eater, Red-capped Lark, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Red-billed Oxpecker and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. In the more open parts Helmeted Guineafowl, Hildebrandt's Francolin and Scaly Francolin are often seen.
It is also worthwile to stop at some of the lodges and do some birding around the grounds. Lion Hill Lodge and Lake Nakuru Lodge are most frequently visited by birders and birds you might expect here are Little Rock-thrush, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, White-browed Robin-chat, Common Cliff-chat, Speke's Weaver, Yellow Bishop and Red-chested Sunbird.
On the western side of the lake is a look-out from some cliffs, known as Baboon Cliffs. This is the best place to see Common Cliff-chat and other possibilities are Lanner, Mottled Swift, White-headed Barbet, Rock Martin, Schalow's Wheatear and Wailing Cisticola.
One much sought-after bird that is fairly easy to find at Lake Nakuru is the Rufous-necked Wryneck. There are many sightings of the Wryneck in the park and it is apparently most frequently seen around Lion Hill Lodge, but the woodland around the main gate and Baboon Cliffs are also good.
Birds in Lake Nakuru NP
Great White Pelican, Lesser Flamingo, Lappet-faced Vulture, Gabar Goshawk, Kittlitz's Plover, Grey-headed Gull, Red-billed Oxpecker, Rufous-naped Lark and Yellow-throated Longclaw.
Main gate woodland:
Golden-tailed and Green-backed Woodpecker, Rufous-necked Wryneck, African Black-headed Oriole, Northern Puffback, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Rüppell's Glossy Starling and Arrow-marked Babbler.
Lake perimeter road:
Lappet-faced Vulture, Rüppel's Griffon and White-backed Vultures, Steppe and Tawny Eagles, Crowned Hawk-eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Gabar Goshawk, Secretary Bird, Helmeted Guineafowl, Hildebrandt's and Scaly Francolin, Lilac-breasted Roller, White-fronted Bee-eater, Red-capped Lark, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Red-billed Oxpecker and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.
Lion Hill Lodge and Lake Nakuru Lodge:
Rufous-necked Wryneck, Little Rock Thrush, White-browed Robin-chat, Common Cliff-chat, Speke's Weaver, Yellow Bishop and Red-chested Sunbird.
Lanner, Mottled Swift, Rufous-necked Wryneck, White-headed Barbet, Rock Martin, Common Cliff-chat, Schalow's Wheatear and Wailing Cisticola.
There are ample opportunities for animal watching in the national park. The most important might be the rhinos; a number of black rhinos were relocated here from Solio Game Ranch in the early 1990's and the national park now holds a healthy
population. In 1994 the white rhino was also introduced here, the first ten were a gift from South Africa, and others were relocated, again from Solio Game Ranch.
Waterbuck and Impala are both very common, as well as buffalo and warthog. Other animals you might see here are Zebra, Dik-dik, jackals, Eland and Thomson's and Grant's Gazelles. Olive baboons are also common. Other animals present here, but less often seen are Striped Hyena, Reedbuck and Bushbuck.
Food and accommodation:
Lake Nakuru is some 70 kms northwest of Naivasha and easy to reach via the main A104. Coming from the north Lake Baringo is some 100 kms further and the road is mainly in good condition.
The main entrance (with park HQ) is at the northern end of the lake, just on the outskirts of Nakuru town.
Lake Bogoria is another alkaline lake situated roughly halfway between lakes Nakuru and Baringo; Bogoria is like the two other lakes easily accesible from the main A104 road. This lake does not really hold any specialities as such, but it does hold good numbers of birds and spectacular scenery in the form of hot springs. And, oh yeah, flamingos. It does happen that the flamingos, for some unknown reason, leave Lake Nakuru. In that case they can often be found at Lake Elmenteita or at Lake Bogoria.
Some species that are typical for Rift Valley soda lakes, but are absent from Lake Nakuru include Black-necked Grebe, Cape Teal and Three-banded Plover. The plover is often found around the hot springs at the western shore of the lake, while the Grebe and the Teal are common in the northern parts of the lake (at least in the winter).
Good birds seen at Lake Bogoria include Brown Parrot, Rufous-crowned Roller, Rufous Bush Chat, Silverbird, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Black-cheeked Waxbill and Green-winged Pytilia.
Birds in Lake Nakuru NP
The lakeshore is apparently one of the few places where the Greater Kudu can be seen. Apart from this there is not much to see at Lake Bogoria with regard to mammals. Olive baboons are a common sight around the picnic area near the hot springs.
Food and accommodation:
Lake Bogoria is some 60 kms north of Nakuru and 30 kms south of Lake Baringo. Bogoria is easy to reach via the main road going north to Lake Baringo (B4). A few kms before Marigat (driving north) the road forks off towards the southeast and the Loboi Gate (the lake is signposted). From the road junction it is some 20 kms to the gate and maybe a further 10 kms to the hot springs.
Lake Baringo is the most northerly of the Rift Valley sites covered here and is a place you shouldn't miss. Several species that are hard to see in Kenya without venturing further north can be found with relative ease here. There are several places to stay near the lake and all the birding sites can be reached by foot. Just west of the lake are some tall cliffs running north-south paralell with the lake. A trail goes paralell with the cliffs and this can be reached opposite the roadjunction (where the main road branches off down to the lake, about 2 kms from Lake Baringo Club). Some of the good birds that are to be found here are Jackson's Hornbill, Hemprich's Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Red-fronted Barbet, Fan-tailed Raven, Brown-tailed Rock-chat, Cliff Chat, Bristle-crowned Starling and Kenya Violet-backed Sunbird. There is also a dayroost of Northern White-faced Scops Owl here, but can be rather hard to find without a local guide. Fortunately there are several guides in Baringo village, that are just too happy to show visiting birdwatchers the owls, as well as other specialities in this area. The best is to bird the cliffs early morning or in the evening, as bird activity is very low in the middle of the day.
Another very productive area is the scrub between the village and the main road ("Kampi ya Samaki Scrub"). The main attraction here is the Three-banded Courser as well as roosting Slender-tailed Nightjars. These are again birds that can be difficult to find without assistance of a local guide. The Courser is nocturnal and during the day can be surprisingly hard to find due to its secretive habits and the bird beeing well camouflaged; the young guides in the village however, keep track of these birds and are able to show you one. This is also true for the nightjars, which sometimes can be found in good numbers.
On one occasion, November 2003, I was guiding a group of birders here and we had no less than 15 Slender-tailed Nightjars, one Plain Nightjar and one female Long-tailed Nightjar; all in an area the size of a small football field! Other birds in this scrub are Spotted Thick-knee, Blue-naped Mousebird, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Buff-bellied Warbler, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit and White-bellied Canary. Just north of Kampi ya Samaki is an area good for Lichtenstein' Sandgrouse; these birds can sometimes be seen here at dusk.
Just south of Lake Baringo Club is another area with a taller scrub ("Baringo Club Scrub") which holds many of the same species as the larger scrub described above. This is also a good area for Lesser Honeyguide (Greater Honeyguide has also been seen here), Grey-headed Bush-shrike and Pygmy Batis. Between this scrub and the lake is a marshy area worth checking. Goliath Heron can be seen here as well as White-faced and Fulvous Whistling-ducks. Saddle-billed Stork and Bat Hawk have been reported.
If you are visiting Lake Baringo chances are you are staying at either Lake Baringo Club or the neighboring Roberts' Campsite. Both have superb birdwatching in the grounds: birds frequently seen include Red-and-yellow Barbet, Rüppell's Glossy Starling, Spotted Morning Thrush, White-billed Buffalo Weaver and Hunter's Sunbird. Near the entrance of Lake Baringo Club is a colony of Northern Masked Weaver (the only known site in Kenya), and there is a breeding pair of Verreaux' Eagle Owl on the grounds of the campsite.
It is possible to hire a boat and get out to the island in the middle of the lake (Ol Kokwe Island); it would be very interesting to hear from birders that did this boattrip and learn what birds you can see on the island!
Birds at Lake Baringo
The Baringo cliffs:
Shikra, Pygmy Falcon, Blue-naped Mousebird, White-faced Scops Owl, Jackson's and Hemprich's Hornbills, Black-throated and Red-fronted Barbets, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Pygmy Batis, Brown-tailed Chat, White-winged Cliff Chat, White-browed Scrub Robin, Swainson's Sparrow, Red-billed Quelea, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Vitelline Masked and Lesser Masked Weavers and Beautiful Sunbird.
Kampi ya Samaki Scrub:
Three-banded Courser, Spotted Thick-knee, Kenya Violet-backed Sunbird, Blue-naped Mousebird, White-browed Scrub Robin, Grey Wren Warbler and White-bellied Canary.
Baringo Club Scrub:
Shikra, Blue-naped Mousebird, African Pygmy Kingfisher, White-browed Coucal, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Pygmy Batis, Little Rock Thrush and Golden-backed Weaver.
Campsite and Lodge:
Jackson's Hornbill, Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide, African Black-headed Oriole, Rufous Chatterer, Rüppell's Glossy Starling, Spotted Morning Thrush, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Golden-backed Weaver, Northern Masked Weaver and Hunter's Sunbird.
Lakeside and marshy areas:
White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Goliath Heron, Three-banded Plover, Malachite Kingfisher and Lesser Swamp Warbler.
An interesting side excursion when visiting the cliffs is a bat cave around a kilometer to the south of the entry point to the cliffs. A path leads to the top of the cliffs and the cave can be reached after an easy walk. The cave itself is open to the top and a roost of hundreds of a species of flying fox, as well as a smaller species of bat, can easily be seen here, even at daytime.
Food and accommodation:
Lake Baringo is easily accesible on the main B4 coming from the south or from Eldoret if you are approaching from the west (the roads join at Marigat, some 20 skm south of Kampi ya Samaki). The road is in good condition and you can reach Baringo from Naivasha in ?? hours (?? kms) and from Nakuru in ?? hours (??kms).
The Limuru pond is a small body of freshwater just outside the town of Limuru. The pond is handily situated next to the main A104 going north into the Rift Valley (towards Naivasha and Nakuru) and is well worth a short stop en route to the main Rift Valley sites. The main reason for stopping here is that this is a regular breeding site for Maccoa Duck, but it can also be good for other waterbirds. Mostly some other interesting birds are discovered here as well.
Birds at Limuru Pond
White-backed, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Ducks, Maccoa Duck, Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, Purple Swamphen, Red-faced Cisticola, African Reed Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Yellow-crowned Bishop and Golden-winged Sunbird.
Food and accommodation:
This site is an area with grassland near the main A104, and it is known as the best site to see the rare and endemic Sharpe's Pipit. This site can be visited as a stop driving north or south along the A104, or you can continue on this road to Kieni Forest and other sites described in the Central Highlands section.
The pipit is most often seen in an area of grass pasture fields after the left fork towards Maguma (road C69). Not everybody visiting this site sees the pipit, but normally speaking they can be found close to the road and without too much trouble. Other birds you might encounter here are African Snipe and Red-capped Lark.
Birds at Kinangop
African Snipe, Red-capped Lark and Sharpe's Pipit.
Food and accommodation: