19 November–6 December 2017
Kenya is one of the greatest birding destinations in the world. The huge numbers and variety of mammals and the diversity of scenery complete the ingredients for a wonderful experience. This tour visits some of the best birding sites in the country. We will see over six hundred species of birds and, although it is primarily a birdwatching tour, we will also see far more species of mammals than on a regular safari as we will spend more hours in the field! It all adds up to an unforgettable experience.
Day 1 Our flight will be from London to Nairobi, where we will be met by Steven Easley and transfer to Hotel Boulevard in Nairobi for an overnight stay.
Day 2 Once outside Nairobi city our first planned birding stop will be at Limuru Pond, which is close to the main road in the highlands. A large ridge overlooks the pond and from this vantage point we should be able to locate Intermediate Egret, White-backed and Maccoa Ducks, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling-ducks, Black Crake and Whiskered Tern. Our next site will be the Gatamayu Forest on the Kikuyu Escarpment, an area of middle-elevation forest that is home to several key species. Our main target birds in this area will be Evergreen-forest Warbler, White-tailed Crested-flycatcher, Cabanis's Greenbul, Black-fronted Bushshrike and the nomadic Abbott's Starling. After lunch we will continue to the open fields of the Kinangop Plateau to look for the endemic Sharpe's Longclaw, which has been on the decline in the last few years mainly due to habitat loss; with some luck we will be able to locate this very special bird. By late afternoon we will arrive at Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley. The Acacia woodland in the beautiful hotel grounds is very productive, holding Gabar Goshawk, Dideric and Black Cuckoos, Verreaux's Eagle-owl, White-fronted Bee-eater, Lesser and Wahlberg's Honeyguides, Black-lored Babbler, Amethyst Sunbird, Grey-headed Bushshrike and Spectacled Weaver. We will stay overnight at Lake Naivasha Country Club.
Day 3 Special birds we will be looking for during an exciting boat trip on Lake Naivasha will include Pink-backed Pelican, Goliath and Purple Herons, Southern Pochard, African Marsh-harrier, African Swamphen, Lesser Moorhen, Three-banded Plover and Lesser Swamp-warbler. By late morning we will depart for the Masai Mara, making several birding stops hoping for Egyptian Vulture, Greater Kestrel, Kori Bustard, Grey-rumped Swallow, Abyssinian and Capped Wheatears and Red-billed Quelea. Our destination will be the Acacia scrub near Siana Springs in the southern Mara. This area is home to several species found nowhere else in the country. Some of the specialties include Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Magpie Shrike, Miombo Wren-warbler, African Penduline-tit, Croaking Cisticola, Red-throated Tit, Red-headed Weaver, Black-throated Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting. One night will be spent at the beautiful Siana Springs Camp just outside the Masai Mara.
Days 4–5 After some early local birding we will traverse the Mara, crossing the famous Mara River. We will stop at the well-named Hippo Pools to see these huge beasts at close range. While birding the bush-covered hills and open grasslands we should find Common Ostrich, Secretary-bird, White-headed Vulture, Black-breasted and Brown Snake-eagles, Grey Kestrel, Southern Ground-hornbill, Little Bee-eater, Rosy-breasted Longclaw, Rufous-naped and Flappet Larks, Sooty Chat, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Cardinal Quelea, Yellow-shouldered Widowbird, Grey-headed Social-weaver and African Quailfinch. The Mara, the northern extension of the famous Serengeti plains, is home to a wide assortment of bird life as well as some of the most spectacular mammals on the continent. Complementing the wildlife is the dramatic scenery of endless grasslands, lush river valleys and steep rock-strewn escarpments. Further birds we can expect in this area of the Mara include Rufous-bellied Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Wahlberg's Eagle, Coqui and Red-necked Francolins, Grey Crowned-crane, Temminck's Courser, Wattled Lapwing, Ross's and Schalow's Turacos, Malachite and Woodland Kingfishers, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Rufous-chested Swallow, White-tailed Lark, Familiar Chat, Silverbird, Red-faced, Trilling and Tabora Cisticolas, Greencap Eremomela, Black-crowned Tchagra, Hildebrandt's and Violet-backed Starlings, Yellow-fronted Canary and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. The Mara is the best place in Kenya, if not all of Africa, to see big game up close; some of the many mammals to be seen here include Black-backed Jackal, Bat-eared Fox, Banded Mongoose, Spotted Hyena, Serval Cat, African Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Bush Hyrax, African Elephant, Common Zebra, Hippopotamus, Common Warthog, Masai Giraffe, African Buffalo, Eland, Steinbuck, Bohor Reedbuck, Thomson's and Grant's Gazelles, Impala, Topi, Coke's Hartebeest and thousands of Wildebeest. We will also see many massive Nile Crocodiles, some over 4.5 metres in length, basking in the sun along the banks of the Mara River. We will spend two nights at Mara West Camp overlooking the entire Masai Mara.
Day 6 Following a final early-morning outing on the Western slopes of the Mara we will depart for Kisumu on the northeastern shore of Lake Victoria. There are many specialties in this area, some of which are found only in the papyrus swamps surrounding this great lake. We are likely to see African Openbill, Abdim's Stork, Water Thick-knee, Long-toed Lapwing, Eastern Plantain-eater, Blue-headed Coucal, Black-billed Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Greater Swamp-warbler, Swamp Flycatcher, Red-chested and Copper Sunbirds, Papyrus Gonolek, Slender-billed, Black-headed and Northern Brown-throated Weavers, Black-winged Bishop, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Papyrus Canary. We will stay overnight near the shores of Lake Victoria at the Imperial Hotel in Kisumu.
Days 7–9 The reed-beds of Lake Victoria come alive in the early morning, when we will be there looking for any species that eluded us the day before, after which we will depart for Kakamega by way of Mumias and Busia. The scrub and waterways along this western edge of Kenya hold several species which occur in Kenya only in this area: highlights may include Rock Pratincole and the stunning Red-chested, Purple-banded and Copper Sunbirds. By late afternoon we will arrive at the Kakamega Rainforest, the easternmost extension of the Congo Rainforest and without doubt the best birding destination in the entire country. Many of the species here are found nowhere else in Kenya and the list of possibilities is seemingly endless: White-spotted Flufftail, Great Blue Turaco, Bar-tailed Trogon, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Grey-throated, Yellow-spotted and Yellow-billed Barbets, Golden-crowned and Brown-eared Woodpeckers, African Broadbill, thirteen species of greenbul, Brown-chested Alethe, Banded and White-chinned Prinias, Black-faced Rufous-warbler, Equatorial Akalat, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, African Shrike-flycatcher, Chestnut, Jameson's, Brown-throated and Yellow-bellied Wattle-eyes, African Blue-flycatcher, Dusky Tit, Green-throated, Green and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, Western Black-headed Oriole, Mackinnon's Shrike, Pink-footed Puffback, Grey-green and Luehder's Bushshrikes, Stuhlmann's Starling, Black-billed and Vieillot's Weavers, Red-headed Malimbe, Red-headed Bluebill and Black-and-white Mannikin are some of the avian gems which occur. Rainforest mammals to be expected are Eastern Black-and-white Colobus, Gentle and Red-tailed Monkeys and the very active Red-legged Sun-squirrel. Three nights will be spent at the unique Rondo Retreat Centre amidst the forest.
Days 10–11 There will be some final early-morning birding near the Centre before we leave for Lake Baringo. We will be stopping en route in the Kerio Valley for many special birds which may include Meyer's Parrot, White-crested Turaco, African and Horus Swifts, African Pygmy-kingfisher, Double-toothed Barbet, Long-billed Pipit, Silverbird, Brown Babbler, White Helmetshrike, Black-headed Gonolek, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver and Reichard's Seedeater. By late afternoon we will be able to see Lake Baringo. Specialties in this area are Dark Chanting-goshawk, Three-banded Courser, Northern White-faced Owl, Greyish Eagle-owl, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Jackson's and Hemprich's Hornbills, Black-throated Barbet, Red-fronted Warbler, Brown-tailed Chat, Somali Tit, Beautiful Sunbird, Bristle-crowned Starling, Golden-backed and Little Weavers, Northern Masked-weaver and Orange Bishop, while other possibilities include Lanner Falcon, Verreaux's Eagle, Blue-naped Mousebird, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Red-fronted Barbet, Northern Crombec, Pygmy Batis, Cardinal Quelea and Eastern Paradise-whydah. We will stay for two nights at Soi Safari Lodge near the shores of Lake Baringo.
Day 12 We will depart for Lake Nakuru National Park after a final look in the Lake Baringo area. Although numbers fluctuate, Lake Nakuru is famous for its multitude of Lesser Flamingos and smaller numbers of Greater Flamingos. While exploring the Acacia woodland and the lakeside marshes we will no doubt encounter many wonderful avian delights: Great White Pelican, African Spoonbill, African Fish-eagle, African Harrier-hawk, Hildebrandt's Francolin, Grey-hooded Gull, Broad-billed Roller, Levaillant's Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, Green Woodhoopoe, Rufous-necked Wryneck, Grey Woodpecker, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Northern Anteater-chat, Grey-backed Fiscal, Brown-crowned Tchagra and African Firefinch all occur. Mammals are also quite common in the park and it is one of the few places in East Africa where the endangered White Rhino can be found. Some of the other mammals we hope to find include Rothschild's Giraffe and Chandler's Reedbuck. One night will be spent at the Lion Hill Sarova.
Day 13 Early-morning in Lake Nakuru National Park will find us searching for species not yet seen, which might include Hamerkop, Cape and Hottentot Teal, Tawny Eagle, Kittlitz's Plover, Red-chested and Klaas's Cuckoos, Nyanza Swift, Greater Honeyguide, White-browed Robin-chat, Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey-crested Helmetshrike, Rüppell's Glossy-starling and Golden-breasted Bunting. We will leave by mid-morning to allow time to search for several important species as we travel across the high plains toward Mount Kenya. A key stop will be at Thomson's Falls, where our main goal will be the local, snail-eating specialist Slender-billed Starling and where Crowned Hawk-eagle, African Black Duck, the glorious Golden-winged Sunbird and the marsh-loving Levaillant's Cisticola can also be found. Further on we will stop at a large rocky escarpment which is a favourite roosting spot for the highly sought-after Cape (Mackinder's) Eagle-owl. The adjacent Acacia scrub and a nearby lake are a favourite haunt of Yellow-billed Duck, Giant Kingfisher, Red-winged Starling, Little Rock-thrush, Pale Flycatcher and Purple Grenadier. On the high plains we will keep alert for Black-winged Lapwing and the amazing Long-tailed Widowbird. We will also keep an eye out for Marsh Owl en-route to our lodge, which is in the perfect setting of highland forest, flowing brooks and gorgeous flower-filled grounds. The birding in this area is also special and we may see Narina Trogon, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Tropical Boubou, Chinspot Batis, African Black-headed Oriole and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. Our final bird of the day might well be a responsive Montane Nightjar near our cabins. We will stay for one night at Naro Moru River Lodge.
Days 14–15 Leaving early, and weather permitting, we will drive up onto Mount Kenya, entering the vast, pristine montane forest of Mount Kenya National Park. As we make our way up the winding road to the Meteorological Station we will look out for African Goshawk, Mountain Buzzard, Rameron Pigeon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Red-fronted Parrot, White-headed Woodhoopoe, Grey Cuckooshrike, Brown Woodland-warbler, Waller's Starling, Abyssinian Crimson-wing and Black-headed Waxbill. By midday we will leave the cool climate of Mount Kenya for the more arid country of the Samburu Game Reserve. The drive will offer spectacular scenery and the grasslands along the roadside are a great place for Black-winged Lapwing, Black-shouldered Kite, Dusky Turtle-dove, Angola Swallow, Greater Blue-eared Glossy-starling, Cape Crow, Tacazze Sunbird, Red-collared and Long-tailed Widowbirds and Speke's Weaver. Further along, as we begin our descent, we will make a special stop for the localized Boran Cisticola. Beyond Isiolo the habitat becomes very dry and the Doum Palm, the signature tree, becomes apparent along the waterways. Once inside Samburu we will see why this is one of the most exciting reserves in East Africa. Exploration of the reserve will produce an almost overwhelming array of bird species: Palm-nut and Hooded Vultures, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Crested and Yellow-necked Francolins, Vulturine Guineafowl, Buff-crested and White-bellied Bustards, Black-faced and Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Red-bellied Parrot, African Scops-owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Somali Bee-eater, Rufous-crowned Roller, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, Pink-breasted Lark, African Bare-eyed Thrush, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Hunter's and Black-bellied Sunbirds, Golden-breasted and Fischer's Starlings, Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow-weaver, Cut-throat and the stunning Somali Bunting. Mammals are prolific, including many species not occurring elsewhere on our tour. Just a few of the possibilities are Olive Baboon, Black-faced Vervet Monkey, Dwarf Mongoose, Striped Hyena, Grevy's Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Kirk's Dikdik, Common Waterbuck, Gerenuk and the magnificent Beisa Oryx. These, in combination with Savanna Elephant, Lion, Cheetah and a good chance for Leopard, make it a magical wildlife experience. Two nights will be spent at Samburu Lodge.
Day 16 On our last morning in Samburu we will continue to search for the many specialties this area offers including Somali Ostrich, Lappet-faced Vulture, Rüppell's Griffon, Eastern Chanting-goshawk, Pygmy Falcon, Somali Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, White-headed Mousebird, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Fischer's and Chestnut-headed Sparrow-larks, Yellow-vented Eremomela, Spotted Morning-thrush, Mariqua Sunbird, Taita Fiscal, Golden Palm Weaver, Black-capped Social-weaver and African Silverbill. We will return to the highlands, this time to Mountain Lodge Serena on the western slope of Mount Kenya, another excellent place to look for many highland forest species. Along the entrance road we may encounter Augur Buzzard, Crowned Hawk-eagle, Hartlaub's Turaco, Moustached Tinkerbird, Mosque Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Sharpe's Starling, Black-tailed Oriole, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, African Paradise-flycatcher, Cape Robin-chat, African Stonechat, Broad-ringed White-eye and Eastern Double-collared Sunbird. The large waterhole and salt lick at the lodge is host to many mammals and we can expect Blue Sykes Monkey, White-tailed and Marsh Mongooses, Common Genet, Defassa Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Giant Forest Hog and the diminutive Suni. At an elevation of over 2100 metres, nights can be quite chilly. We will stay overnight at Mountain Lodge Serena.
Day 17 Birding from the lodge balcony early in the day is always excellent and may produce the unique Bat Hawk, Black Goshawk, Delegourge's Pigeon, Tuhlberg's Woodpecker, Cape Wagtail, Slender-billed and Sombre Greenbuls, Rüppell's Robin-chat, Hunter's Cisticola, Grey and Black-throated Apalis, Grey-headed Nigrita and Yellow-crowned Canary. We will also take a walk from the lodge along the entrance road in search of the more secretive species of the area including Scaly Francolin, African Hill Babbler, White-starred Robin, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Mountain Yellow-warbler, White-browed Crombec, Yellow-bellied Waxbill and Oriole Finch. On the way to Nairobi we will make several birding stops, one in the rice fields new Mwea hoping for Dwarf Bittern, Greater Painted-Snipe and the bumble bee-like Yellow-crowned Bishop and another, time permitting, at the Blue Post Hotel in Thika, where we will bird the hotel grounds and woodlands along the Chana River. Here we will hope to find African Green-pigeon, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-headed and Spot-flanked Barbets, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Mountain Wagtail, Grey-olive Greenbul, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Grey-capped Warbler and Holub's Golden-weaver. Back in the hustle and bustle of Nairobi we will have a nice dinner before transferring to the Nairobi International Airport for our late evening flight home.
Day 18 Arrival back in London at the end of the tour.
General Information The climate is generally hot although mornings can be cold at high altitude. Accommodation standards are good with en-suite in all rooms. Food is of European standard. Transport is by minibus or four-wheel drive and the road conditions are reasonable. There are special health requirements and you should consult your GP in this respect. Visas are required and cost either £35 in advance or $50 in Kenya. Only a moderate degree of fitness is needed. Photographic opportunities are excellent.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.