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A Birdwatchers Guide to: Kenya

Southern Kenya



A map of South showing the main birding areas link to nairobi national park section link to athi plains and southern rift section link to masai mara game reserve section link to Longonot road and loita plains section link to Amboseli national park section link to Tsavo West national park section link to Tsavo East national park section link to Taita Hills 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. 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!
A very interesting site that doesn't attract nearly as much attention as it probably deserves is the Taita Hills, here you have the possibility of finding the endemic Taita Thrush, as well as endemic subspecies of Bar-throated Apalis ('Taita Apalis') and Broad-ringed White-eye ('Taita White-eye').
Another sites covered here are the Athi Plains (good for grassland birds like bustards and larks), Lake Magadi (an alkaline lake; the only site for Chestnut-banded Plover in Kenya), and Olorgesailie, a historic site with waterpools that attracts passerines in the morning. See Athi Plains section for information about these sites.



Nairobi National Park




A map of nairobi national park
A map of Nairobi national park showing the main birding areas.

Nairobi NP is situated just south of Nairobi and to the west of Jomo Kenyatta Int. Airport. This national park, which has some lovely birdwatching to offer, is thus very easy to reach. In fact, many birders make this park their first stop after arrival in Kenya. The birdlife here is so varied that even if you choose to go here on the last day of your trip, just before departure from the airport, chanches are you might still see some new birds. Large game are also numerous here and the national park is the best place in Kenya to see Black Rhino. The main birds here are probably African Finfoot, Hartlaub's Bustard, Red-throated Tit and Jackson's Widowbird. A good place to look for the Finfoot is at Hippo Pools at the southeastern part of the park. The Hippo Pools are at the confluence of the Athi and Mbagathi Rivers and can easily be birded from a nature trail. The Finfoot can be seen in the pools, together with other aquatic birds, but the nature trail also go through a good riparian forest and birding can be excellent here. Red-throated Tit has also been seen here.
For the Hartlaub's Bustard (as well as other Bustards) you should naturally concentrate on the more open grasslands. Birding the plains from a car you have a good chance to see bustards as well as other specialities as Jackson's Widowbird. Other grassland birds include Ostrich, Secretary Bird, Yellow-necked Francolin, several species of Cisticola, Rufous-naped Lark and Rosy-throated, Yellow-throated and Pangani Longclaws.


Birds in Nairobi NP
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

The grasslands:
Ostrich, Saddle-billed Stork, Ayre's Hawk Eagle, Bateleur, Secretary Bird, Yellow-necked Francolin, Hartlaub's and White-bellied Bustards, Spotted Thick-knee, Giant Kingfisher, Singing, Winding, Stout, Rattling, Pectoral-patch and Red-faced Cisticolas, Red-faced Crombec, Rufous-naped Lark, Rosy-throated, Yellow-throated and Pangani Longclaws and Jackson's Widowbird.

Hippo Pools:
Black Crake, African Finfoot, Grey Hornbill, Green-backed Woodpecker, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Brubru, Moustached Grass-warbler, White-bellied and Red-throated Tits, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.


Other Wildlife

The most interesting animal in the park might be the Black Rhino, which is mostly fairly easy to find, particularily in the forest glades in the west of the park. Both Lion and Cheetah occur in the park and for the most recent information about these simply check with the KWS personel at the entrance gates. Other common game include Giraffe, Zebra, Buffalo and various antelope, all which are rather hard to miss. Hippos can usually be seen at, well, Hippo Pools; Nile Crocodiles occur here as well.


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There

Nairobi NP is just to the south of Nairobi, in fact the park borders to Nairobi suburbs to the north and the west. Several entrance gates to the park (including the main gate) can be reached from the Magadi Road (C58) driving south out of Nairobi; the national park is signposted.
The national park borders to the main Mombasa road (A104) to the east, and the East Gate and Cheetah Gate can both be reached from Mombasa Road.



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.






Athi Plains and Southern Rift sites


A map of Athi Plains and Southern Rift sites
A map of Athi Plains and Southern Rift sites showing the main birding areas.

The following sites can be done in one day and are therefore lumped together in this section. The Athi Plains is a very open grassland just to the south/southeast of Nairobi NP. The main targets here are Bustards and, above all, Larks. White-tailed and Short-tailed Larks can both be found here, and another interesting lark here is the Somali Short-toed Lark. The Somali's here belong to the subspecies athensis (Athi Short-toed Lark) with a very restricted range in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, this form is sometimes treated as a distinct species.
If birding the Athi plains there is another site a further 25 kms to the south of Athi River, which is known for Purple-crested Turaco. Alternatively it is possible to head south down to Lake Magadi, a large soda lake which is the only place to see Chestnut-banded Plover in Kenya. This can also be combined with a side trip to Olorgesailie, a historical site with some pools that attract passerines, particularily in the morning.
As said, these sites can probably be covered in one day, but unless you really want to see the Plover, or want to visit the historical site anyway, these two southern sites can probably be skipped from your itinerary.


Birds in Athi plains and southern Rift sites
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Athi Plains:
Ostrich, Black-winged Lapwing, Kori and Hartlaub's Bustards, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Rufous-naped, Short-tailed, Somali Short-toed and White-tailed Larks, Fischer's Sparrow-lark, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Cut-throat and African Quail-finch.

Purple-crested Turaco site:
Purple-crested Turaco, Red-fronted Barbet, White-browed Robin-chat, Purple Grenadier, Yellow Bishop and Red-collared Widowbird.

Lake Magadi:
Cape Teal, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Chestnut-banded Plover and Grey-headed Gull

Olorgesailie:
Red-and-yellow and Black-throated Barbets, White-browed Scrub-robin, Ashy Cisticola, Yellow-spotted Petronia and Hunter's Sunbird.



Other Wildlife

The most common


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There

To get to Athi Plains follow the main Mombasa Road south out of Nairobi and follow this for about 27 kms to the town of Athi River. At Athi River, leave the A109 and drive south through the town and onto Athi Plains. Alternatively, if you want to bird Nairobi NP first and then onto Athi Plains, you can leave the national park via Cheetah Gate, just outside Athi River.
If you want to check the Purple-crested Turaco site, continue on A109 for a further 18 kms after Athi River (counted from the junction A109 and road leading south to the Athi Plains) and take a left turn that is not signposted. Ignore an immediate left turn off this road and follow the road for another 9 kms. Park near an 'ABC Kataya' sign and bird a valley that can be seen to the right (valley should be visible from the 'ABC Katay' sign).
To get to Lake Magadi and Olorgesailie head south from Nairobi on the C58. You get to Olorgesailie after 62 kms (the site is well signposted) and Magadi after 105 kms (end of the road).




Masai Mara Game Reserve


A map of Masai Mara Game Reserve
A map of Masai Mara Game Reserve showing the main birding areas.

The Masai Mara National Reserve is the best known (or simply the best) animal reserve in the country. The reserve consists of vast, undulating grasslands in the southwest of Kenya, and continues over the border with Tanzania as the much larger Serengeti National Park. This enormous ecosystem is probably the animal-richest on the planet and the sight of tens of thousands of wildebeest, zebras and antelope, with lions and hyenas waiting for a chance, is an unforgettable experience.
The reserve is crisscrossed with dirt tracks and birdwatching can be very rewarding along these, whether or not you are on a dedicated birdwatching safari or a more general safari with other (non-birding) tourists. Some of the tracks in the eastern section are driveable with a 2WD car, in dry weather that is, but there are good chances you will get stuck and thus a 4WD is strongly recommended. Your reach within the reserve is much greater with 4WD, but even with 4WD it can be difficult, even in the dry season (some sources advice against driving within the reserve at all in the wet season). If you want to explore Masai Mara with your own vehicle it is always a good idea to inform with the KWS personel at the gates about the current condition of the roads within the reserve.
Birdwatching from the car can thus be very good, and birds frequently seen here are Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Martial Eagle, Coqui, Red-throated and Yellow-throated Francolins, Kori, White-bellied and Black-bellied Bustards, Temminck's Courser, Crowned Lapwing, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Rufous-chested Swallow, Sooty Chat, Stout, Ashy and Desert Cisticolas, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Magpie Shrike, Taita Fiscal and White-necked Raven.
Visitors to Masai Mara mostly get here via Longonot Road and by driving through the Loita Plains, see Loita Plains section for more information about the possibilities at these two sites.


Birds in Masai Mara Game Reserve
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Lappet-faced, White-headed and Hooded Vultures, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Martial Eagle, Dark-chanting Goshawk, Secretary Bird, Coqui, Red-throated and Yellow-throated Francolins, Black-bellied, White-bellied and Kori Bustards, Temminck's Courser, Crowned Lapwing, Brown Parrot, African Scops Owl, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Rufous-naped Lark, Rosy-breasted Longclaw, Sooty Chat, Stout, Ashy and Desert Cisticolas, Silverbird, Magpie Shrike, Taita Fiscal, White-necked Raven, Vitelline Masked Weaver and Yellow-fronted Canary.


Other Wildlife

In Masai Mara you see animals virtually anywhere, but availability of many species is strongly dependent on season. The Wildebeest migration is the best example of this; the masses of Wildebeest start to appear in July and the numbers peak in August and September when one and a half million might be present. In October they turn south again and outside this period they are far less numerous. Common species here also include Grant's Gazelle, Thompson's Gazelle and Impala. Other species you can expect are Buffalo, Zebras, Hartebeest, Topi, Warthog, Giraffe and Elephant. Hippos are common in the Mara River. Finding the Black Rhino is more difficult, although the KWS rangers should know where to find them.
Lions are fairly easy to see in Masai Mara as they are quite numerous and are not easily disturbed by tourist vehicles. Also Spotted Hyenas and Black-backed Jackals are common, the Cheetah on the other hand is much harder to find, but checking with KWS personel or staff at the lodges will give you the latest news about their whereabouts.


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There

To get to Masai Mara from Nairobi follow the main A104 to Limuru and from Limuru take the old Naivasha road northwards. After 20 kms you reach Mai Mahu, turn left here onto the B3 towards Narok (about 87 kms). About 6 kms after Narok turn left onto the C12 and follow this road for a further 80 kms to the Sekenani Gate of the Reserve. The B3 is in good condition, the C12, however, is unsurfaced and might become unpassable for 2WD after rains.
Parts of the B3 ('Longonot Road') and the plains along the C12 ('Loita Plains') are described in the following section.



Longonot Road and Loita Plains


A map of Longonot Road and Loita Plains
A map of Longonot Road and Loita Plains showing the main birding areas.

To get to Masai Mara it is a fairly long ride on partly bad roads; some 180 kms from the B3/A104 junction. Fortunately you can have some wonderful birding along this road. Two sites described here are the Longonot Road and the Loita Plains.
The Longonot Road is basically some 87 kms of the B3 between Mai Mahu and Narok, and this is one of the best sites in Kenya for both Scissor-tailed Kite and Greater Kestrel. The best area for the Kite appears to be some 10-20 kms west of Mai Mahu, after some huge satellite discs visible from a far. The satellite discs are about 10 kms from the B3/A104 junction. Although a reliable site for the Kite it is easy to miss it, apparently they are most often seen flying over the road at dusk. The Greater Kestrel is often seen along this road, and should not pose a problem. Other birds seen here are Ostrich, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Secretary Bird, Kori and White-bellied Bustards, Rufous-crowned Roller, Schalow's Wheatear, Red-throated Tit, Fischer's Sparrow-lark, Hunter's Sunbird and Brimstone Canary.
The Loita Plains are here defined as the birdrich plains alongside the C12 outside the Masai Mara Game Reserve. The biotope is rather similar to inside the reserve and there is dus a large overlap in species. Birding can nonetheless be interesting and one species to look out for is Denham's Bustard. They apparently breed in this area and can occasionally be seen here (but admittedly not too often). It is also worth looking out for Two-banded Courser and Caspian Plover, which are frequently seen here as well as larks and pipits: Red-capped, Rufous-naped and Fawn-coloured Larks, Fischer's Sparrow-lark and Long-billed Pipit have all been recorded.


Birds around Longonot Road and Loita Plains
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Longonot Road:
Ostrich, Abdim's Stork, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Secretary Bird, Greater Kestrel, Kori and White-bellied Bustards, White-fronted Bee-eater, Rufous-crowned Roller, Red-winged Starling, Schalow's Wheatear, Banded Martin, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Red-throated Tit, Rufous-naped Lark, Fischer's Sparrow-lark, Rufous Sparrow, Hunter's Sunbird and Brimstone Canary.

Loita Plains:
Ostrich, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Wahlberg's Eagle, Secretary Bird, White-bellied Bustard, Two-banded Courser, Caspian Plover, Meyer's Parrot, Little Rock Thrush, Capped Wheatear, Red-faced Crombec, Red-capped, Rufous-naped and Fawn-coloured Larks, Fischer's Sparrow-lark, Long-billed Pipit, Green-winged Pytilia and Grey-headed Social Weaver.


Other Wildlife

Many of the mammals you can expect in Masai Mara can also be seen around Longonot Road or in the Loita Plains, albeit in lower numbers.


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There

See under Masai Mara section for directions.




Amboseli NP


A map of Amboseli national park
A map of Amboseli NP.


Birds in Amboseli NP
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Dakhla Bay:



Other Wildlife

The most common


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There




Tsavo West NP


A map of Tsavo West NP
A map of Tsavo West NP.

The two Tsavo National Parks (Tsavo West and Tsavo East) are both great places for bird- and gamewatching. Tsavo West might be the better of the two, due to more varied habitats and better tourism infrastructure, but Tsavo East is more easily accessible if staying at the coast.
Birding in Tsavo West is, like in all major Kenyan national parks/game reserves, mainly done from the car. This is perfectly all right, as birding the extensive network of roads/tracks in the park can be superb. The common grassland birds that you also see in places like Masai Mara are easy enough; Ostrich, Secretary Bird, Yellow-necked Francolin, Lilac-breasted Roller and Long-tailed Fiscal, to mention a few. Birds that are not be seen at Masai Mara, but relatively easy at Tsavo West are Blue-naped Mousebird, d'Arnaud's Barbet, Rosy-patched Bush-shrike, Ashy Cisticola, Grey Wren-warbler, Pink-breasted Lark and Golden-breasted and Fischer's Starlings. Other less common species to look out for are Brown Snake-eagle, Crested Francolin, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Red-bellied Parrot, Von der Decken's Hornbill and Tiny Cisticola.
One place not to miss when in Tsavo West NP is Mzima Springs, in the western part of the park, not too far from Kilaguni Lodge. You can explore this area on foot and is well worth a few hours. The most important bird here is the Black-bellied Sunbird, a NE African endemic that is relatively easy to find here (but nowhere else it seems). Other good birds are Three-banded Plover, Greater Honeyguide, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and African Golden Weaver.
A very fine place to check out is the grounds and the waterholes at Kilaguni Lodge. If you can afford to stay there overnight, great, more power to you! If not you are most welcome there as a casual visitor. Birds that can be seen here include Greater Painted Snipe, Southern Ground Hornbill and Red-billed Buffalo-weaver. The weather conditions being right you might also experience a visible migration here (and elsewhere in Tsavo West); one early, rainy morning in December 2003 hundreds of Amur Falcons migrated past the lodge within a half hour, and some groups report passerines being pushed down to the lodges after nightly rain. Still the major attraction at Kilaguni Lodge is probably the mammals (see below for more information), but they are mostly not seen during daytime. info about Ngulia Lodge, check other reports


Birds in Tsavo West NP
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Driving around the park:
Ostrich, Brown Snake-eagle, Secretary Bird, Yellow-necked and Crested Franolins, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Red-bellied Parrot, Blue-naped Mousebird, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Von der Deckens Hornbill, d'Arnauds Barbet, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Ashy and Tiny Cisticolas, Pink-breasted Lark, Golden-breasted and Fischer's Starlings, Fire-fronted Bishop, White-winged Widowbird and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

Mzima Springs: Three-banded Plover, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Giant Kingfisher, Greater Honeyguide, Rufous Bush Chat, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, African Golden Weaver and Black-bellied Sunbird.

Kilaguni Lodge: Amur Falcon (passage), Greater Painted Snipe, White-rumped Swift, Lilac-breasted Roller, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Southern Ground Hornbill and Red-billed Buffalo-weaver.


Other Wildlife

All the large game you would expect are to be found in Tsavo West. Animals as Zebras, Warthog, Giraffe, Cape Buffalo, Impala and Thompson's Gazelle are common. Additionally you might see African Elephant, Waterbuck and Black-backed Jackal and at Mzima Springs you can expect Hippos. Of primates Green Vervet Monkeys and Yellow Baboons are common, while of the big cats lions and cheetahs can be seen while you drive around the park (but again a good idea to inquire with KWS personel or staff at the lodges for the most recent information). Leopard sightings are common at Kilaguni lodge where they put out meat near the waterhole. At Kilaguni many smaller, nocturnal species can be found around the terrace or the waterhole; these include Common Genet, White-tailed Mongoose, Egyptian Mongoose and African Civet.


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There

The Tsavo's can easily be reached from the main Mombasa Road (A109). The main entrance gate to Tsavo West NP is at Mtito Andei, about 230 kms southeast of Nairobi, or 250 kms northwest of Mombasa.




Tsavo East NP


A map of Tsavo East NP
A map of Tsavo East NP.


Birds in Tsavo East NP
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Dakhla Bay:



Other Wildlife

The most common


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There




Taita Hills


A map of Taita Hills
A map of Taita Hills.


Birds in Taita Hills
a photo of a royal tern in winter plumage
Royal Tern in winter plumage

Dakhla Bay:



Other Wildlife

The most common


Information

Food and accommodation:


Getting There