Once again, the Birdfinders Kenya tour exceeded 600 species during a spectacular two weeks, which included all of the major species of mammals. Of course, highlights are numerous on a tour like this but the following were memorable. After our first night in Nairobi, we headed towards Mount Kenya, stopping en-route several times with a perched Ayres Hawk-eagle, a superb Black Goshawk, Madagascar Pond-heron, Grey Crowned Crane, African Wood-owl, Hartlaub's Turaco, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Grey-Olive Greenbul, six of the endemic and endangered Hinde's Pied-babblers, African Golden-weaver and White-winged and Red-collared Widowbirds being the most outstanding. In the evening we watched mammals coming into drink at the waterhole and these included the recently split Forest Elephant (most safaris don't see these are they don't go to the right habitat) and Common Genet whilst three African Snipe fed under the spotlights. Next day we were off to Samburu but not before adding stunning views of perched African Cuckoo-hawk, a soaring Crowned Hawk-eagle, Rameron and Delegorgue's Pigeons, Lemon Dove, Red-fronted Parrot, Narina and Bar-tailed Trogons, Crowned Hornbill, Moustached Tinkerbird, Bearded Woodpecker, Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike, Eastern Mountain-greenbul, four species of Apalis (Black-collared, Black-throated, Chestnut-throated and Grey), Mountain Yellow Warbler, White-starred Robin, Black-tailed Oriole and Sharpe's Starling. We made several stops en-route to Samburu seeing Secretary-bird, and the extremely local Boran Cisticola. In the park, we saw our first Somali Ostrich, Pygmy Falcon, Crested and Yellow-necked Francolins, Kori Bustard and Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Desert and our only Ashy Cisticola, Taita Fiscal and two stunning Golden-breasted Starlings.
We spent the whole of the next day exploring the park (actually called Buffalo Springs) where many new species included Vulturine Guineafowl, stunning views of a pair of Heuglin's Courser, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Verreaux's Eagle-owl, Striped Kingfisher, Somali Bee-eater, Grant's (Violet) Woodhoopoe, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Black-throated Barbet, Singing Bushlark, Red-winged Lark (the giant of the lark world), stunning Golden Pipits, the distinctive sub-species of Common Bulbul known as Dodson's Bulbul, Northern Brownbul, African Bare-eyed Thrush, Three-streaked Tchagra, Yellow-vented and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Black-bellied Sunbird, Fischer's Starling, Grey-headed Silverbill and Somali Golden-breasted Bunting. Many of the common mammals of the park were seen but the highlight was a female Leopard with her half-grown cub sitting in a tree. Next morning we birded the park again on our way out south again towards Mount Kenya seeing our first Lappet-faced Vulture, Black-chested and Brown Snake-eagles, Lanner Falcon and Mouse-coloured Penduline-tit and our only Somali Courser (with chicks), Chestnut-bellied, and Golden Palm-weaver. En-route south, we found both Chestnut-headed and Fischer's Sparrow-larks and Angola Swallow, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler whilst at the lodge in the evening we saw Green-backed Honeyguide, Mountain Wagtail, Placid Greenbul, Brown Parisoma, Tacazze Sunbird, the incredibly tame African Dusky Flycatchers and Golden-breasting Buntings.
After some early morning birding in the grounds next morning, we criss-crossed the equator on our way to Lake Nakuru, making several excellent stops en-route seeing Mackinder's Eagle-owl, Rufous-necked Wryneck, Black-crowned Night-heron, Golden-winged Sunbird, Slender-billed Starling and Speke's Weaver as well as the stunning Thomson's Falls. At Lake Nakuru, the spectacle was almost overwhelming with the huge number of birds and particularly over 1 million Lesser Flamingos creating a sea of pink. Here, we saw our first Masai Ostrich, Pink-backed Pelican, Comb Duck, Cape and Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, African Fish-eagle, Kittlitz's Plover, only Black Cuckoo, White-fronted Bee-eater and White and Grey-crested Helmetshrikes. The highlight for Steven however, were four Slender-billed Gulls, not only incredibly rare in Kenya but a lifer for him! Two of them being in summer plumage was an added bonus. Next morning, we birded around the lake again adding Coqui and Hildebrandt's Francolins, Fischer's Lovebird, African Cuckoo, Greater Honeyguide, Broad-billed Roller, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Mocking Cliff-chat, Arrow-marked Babbler and African Golden Oriole, Rufous-naped and Red-capped Larks and Black-crowned and Brown-crowned Tchagras, and Long-tailed Widowbird. Heading north towards Lake Baringo, we stopped en-route for Dark Chanting-goshawk, White-throated and Madagascar Bee-eaters, Buff-bellied Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird, and Jackson's Widowbird before arriving at Lake Baringo with still enough light to see our first Black Heron, Woodland Kingfisher, Jackson's Golden-backed and Village Weavers and Chestnut and Northern Masked-weavers.
After a very productive stay in the Carara area, we headed further north to the Palo Verde Reserve. While birding in this unique dry habitat zone called Guanacaste, we were able to add several new and exciting species such as: Wood Stork, Jabiru, Glossy Ibis, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Roadside Hawk, Northern Caracara, American Kestrel, Limpkin, Double-striped Thick-knee, Common Ground, Inca and White-winged Doves, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-fronted and Yellow-naped Parrots, Mangrove Cuckoo, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Spectacled Owl, Steely-vented and Cinnamon Hummingbirds, Canivet's Emerald, Rose-throated Becard, Scissor-tailed, Sulphur-bellied and Brown-crested Flycatchers, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Banded Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Melodious Blackbird, Streak-backed and Spot-breasted Orioles, Indigo Bunting, Olive and Stripe-headed Sparrows and White-collared Seedeater.
We spent the next day driving short distances to several local sites for speciality birds of the area and relaxing in the heat of the day (there is a rumour that someone used the swimming pool!). It really couldn't have gone better with Common (Rock) Kestrel, Black-headed Lapwing, Northern White-faced Owl, Greyish Eagle-owl, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Eastern Yellow-billed, Jackson's and Hemprich's Hornbills, Red-fronted Barbet, Pale Prinia, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Brown-tailed Chat, Fan-tailed Raven, Bristle-crowned Starling, Speckle-fronted and Little Weavers, Lesser Masked-weaver, Blue-capped Cordonbleu and Black-cheeked Waxbill all seen well. The real surprises however, were a pair of the highly nomadic Magpie Starlings, a female Standard-winged Nightjar (Kenya tick for Steven) and Great Spotted Cuckoo. In the evening as we settled down for dinner we watched a Hippo walk across the lawn! The next morning after an early scan of the lake, where Long-toed Lapwing was the highlight, we headed west towards Kakamega Forest, making several stops as usual. African Marsh-harrier, Wattled Lapwing, White-crested and Ross's Turacos, Blue-headed Coucal, Double-toothed Barbet, Grey-rumped Swallow, Little Rush Warbler, Lesser Swamp-warbler, Green-backed Eremomela, Malachite Sunbird, Black-headed Gonolek, Bronze-tailed Starling, Grosbeak Weaver, Cardinal Quelea, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Zebra Waxbill were all seen well and broke up the journey nicely. Arriving at the fabulous Rondo Retreat Centre, we still had time to see Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, African Thrush and Grey-headed Negrofinch.
The next two days were spent exploring Kakamega Forest and looking for the speciality rainforest birds. Most of our time was spent walking although we didn't cover much distance as there were just so many birds to look at! Specialities for the two days included White-spotted Flufftail, Crested Guineafowl, Great Blue Turaco, Yellowbill, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Grey-throated, Yellow-spotted, Hairy-breasted and Yellow-billed Barbets, Least Honeyguide, Brown-eared and Golden-crowned Woodpeckers, African Broadbill, White-headed Sawwing, Petit's Cuckoo-shrike, Kakamega (Shelley's), Little, Little Grey, Ansorge's, Joyful and Cabanis's Greenbuls, Toro Olive-greenbul, Common Bristlebill, White-tailed Ant-thrush, Brown-chested Alethe, Chubb's Cisticola, White-chinned and Black-faced Prinias, Buff-throated Apalis, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Turner's Eremomela, Olive-green Camaroptera, Green Hylia, Uganda Woodland-warbler, Ashy Flycatcher, Blue-shouldered and Snowy-crowned Robin-chats, African Shrike-flycatcher, Brown-throated, Chestnut, Jameson's and Yellow-bellied Wattle-eyes, African Blue-flycatcher, Scaly-breasted, Pale-breasted and Brown Illadopsis, Dusky Tit, Grey-chinned, Green-throated and Copper Sunbirds, Western Black-headed Oriole, Mackinnon's Fiscal, Pink-footed Puffback, Luehder's and Bocage's Bush-shrikes, Square-tailed Drongo, Stuhlmann's Starling, Dark-backed, Black-billed and Black-necked Weavers, Veillot's Black-weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, White-breasted Negrofinch and Black-and-white Mannikin. Although it was all forest birding, amazingly virtually everyone had good views of every bird. Additionally, the Rondo Retreat Centre is such a fabulously quiet and relaxing place with excellent grounds and superb service.
Sadly, we had to leave the Rondo Retreat Centre but with the Lake Victoria specialities to look forward to and then the Masai Mara! At Lake Victoria we saw African Openbill, Abdim's Stork, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Black-billed Barbet, Carruther's Cisticola, Swamp Flycatcher, Red-chested Sunbird, Slender-billed, Northern Brown-throated and Black-headed (Yellow-backed) Weavers and Papyrus Canary. Further south, we made several more stops seeing Plain Greenbul and a party of White-headed Wood-hoopoes. Arriving on the edge of the Mara, we headed up into a valley in the escarpment where we found the rare Ovampo Sparrowhawk as well as Wahlberg's Eagle and Usambiro Barbet. As we drove into our luxury tented camp, a pair of the elusive Scaly Francolin were in the car park, an amazing end to the day. The next day was spent driving around the north-western part of the park. Overnight it had rained hard but we were able to bird for most of the day before a torrential downpour put an end to proceedings mid afternoon. We did manage to see many good birds and huge numbers of mammals however and highlights included Rufous-bellied Heron (at a distance before the heavens opened and we had to be towed out of a swamp!!), Red-necked Francolin, White-bellied Bustard, Schalow's Turaco, Southern Ground-hornbill, Little Spotted Woodpecker, Flappet Lark, Banded Martin, Long-billed Pipit, Trilling, Tabora and Stout Cisticolas, Silverbird, Familiar Chat, Red-throated Tit, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and Southern Citril. After an early morning excursion up the escarpment where we had to wait for a group of Spotted Hyenas to finish their kill before we could climb up to look for Rock-loving Cisticola (no-one was brave enough at first!), drove right through the Mara on rapidly drying tracks. Numbers of mammals were overwhelming and nearly made us forget about the birds at times and views of Lions and Cheetahs were outstanding. We did manage to see Rüppell's Griffin-vulture, Hooded Vulture, Steppe Buzzard, Black-bellied Bustard, Temminck's Courser, Black-winged Lapwing, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Zitting Cisticola, Moustached Grass-warbler, Buff-bellied Penduline-tit, White-necked Raven, Swahili Sparrow, Grey-headed Social-weaver and African Quailfinch. The most unexpected find was a feeding flock of 15 Athi Short-toed Larks, a rare vagrant species for this area.
Driving north next day, we saw the declining White-headed Vulture, Rufous-chested Swallow, Croaking Cisticola, and several Rosy-throated Longclaws in good plumage before leaving the park. Our next stop was at an area of Miombo woodland for several specialities and sure enough, we found the local Miombo Camaroptera, Magpie Shrike, and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting quite easily. Moving on, we made several more stops for Double-banded Courser (with chicks), Banded Parisoma, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Capped Wheatear, Southern Grosbeak-canary, and Greater Kestrel before arriving at Lake Naivasha for the night.
Today we took an early-morning boat trip out into the lake adding a few more birds to our already huge list; African Darter, Goliath Heron, superb views of African Rail, African Purple Swamphen, Giant Kingfisher, and Sharpe's Pied-Babbler. We also enjoyed wonderful views of Hippopotamus before leaving to head back towards Nairobi. En-route we needed to make several stops however, with the first being a nearby gorge where both Lynne's Cisticola and Schalow's Wheatear showed well. Our next stop was on the high plateaux where Sharpe's Longclaw is now a highly threatened endemic bird. Again, we were lucky getting excellent views before moving on to a remnant patch of highland forest for lunch and to look for some more localised birds. Cameroon Scrub-warbler eventually showed well whilst Scarce Swift, White-browed Crombec, Brown Woodland-warbler, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, African Hill-babbler, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, and Abyssinian Crimsonwing were all good birds but the highlight was a superb Bat Hawk perched in a tree for all to see, fabulous! Leaving the forest for the drive down to Nairobi, we stopped at a roadside pool where large numbers of the localised and threatened Maccoa Duck were seen.
Our final day was spent in Nairobi National Park where we spent a very relaxed and enjoyable time. Several new species were still added even at this time on the tour with African Goshawk, Hartlaub's Bustard, Pangani Longclaw, Nairobi Pipit (recently split, with Steven being the co-finder of the species), Singing, Winding and Siffling Cisticolas and Long-tailed Fiscal. With one last species still needed to make 600 we headed to Maxwell Academy where a pair of Spotted Thick-knees were found with a chick, a more than satisfying end to the tour.