Naturetrek "Kenya Highlights"

October 27th - November 9th 2007

To see a list of birds seen on this trip click here

To see a list of mammals seen on this trip click here

Kevin Elsby – leader

Saturday 27th. October 2007

After an uneventful 8 hour daytime flight from Heathrow, the group met up at baggage reclaim at Nairobi airport, in excited anticipation of the trip to come. We soon cleared immigration and were on our way to the delightful Safari Park Hotel on the north side of Nairobi. It was dark when we arrived so it was straight to dinner then an early night ready for the journey to Samburu tomorrow.

Sunday 28th. October, 2007

Dry, bright spells, mild.

The gardens at the Safari Park are wonderful, and a major attraction for much local birdlife. We began our bird list here over breakfast, with views of Olive Thrush, Baglafecht Weaver, Yellow-billed Kite and the almost improbable African Pradise Flycatcher, to name a few. We also saw a pair of African Black Duck on the hotel pool! We all wished we could have stayed longer to explore the birds which had been drawn to the lush gardens, but soon after breakfast, we met Rob and Galah, our two expert guides and drivers for the trio, and were soon heading north to the Samburu Game Reserve.

Our first of many stops en route was at the Blue Post Hotel. In the grounds we encountered several Pied Crows, a pair of gaudy African Green Pigeons, Spot-flanked Barbet and White-headed Barbet.  A couple of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus were found - surely no bird has a more ridiculous English name? Some of the group also got to see a shy Black Cuckoo-shrike with his golden yellow epaulettes.

Mammal enthusiasts did not go empty handed though, with a troop of Syke's Monkeys being seen in the hotel grounds. We were not to know it yet, but this species was to become a real pest later in the tour.

Next stop, at a local curio shop selling wares, we saw a pair of Black-chested Snake Eagles - thankfully one of the easier to identify birds of prey in this bird-rich country.

Further towards Samburu, we stopped at a dam at the side of the road and had our first Blacksmith Plovers, or, more correctly, Blacksmith Lapwings. In addition, a single Black Crake and Crested Coot were on show. As if to temper any feelings of being homesick, a Yellow Wagtail, a couple of Egyptian Geese and a Ruff also put in an appearance.

We then crossed north over the equator, the first of several crossings of this landmark over the next fortnight. We stopped here and witnessed first hand the Coriolis effect, caused by the rotation of the Earth, meaning that water goes down a plughole in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere and in an anticlockwise direction in the southern hemisphere - or is it the other way round?

Either way, we could see that on the equator itself, the water went straight down! The things you see and learn on a Naturetrek holiday!

At a final stop before entering Samburu, we saw three Red-collared Widowbirds - they were rather reluctant to show themselves, but we were more than compensated by the first of many Long-crested Eagles and a couple of Augur Buzzards.

On entering Samburu, it was late afternoon. We were soon watching our first Grant's Gazelles and that truly beautiful and local antelope, Gerenuk. It was a popular species for all participants. Later, we came across a party of Elephants and got excellent views. Other mammals included a herd of Impala, whilst some of the group also got to see a Reticulated Giraffe. This has to be the most attractive of the races of Giraffe which can be found in Kenya, and another local species with a very restricted range.

The highlight of the day for the two who saw it was a Leopard which crossed the road between the two mini buses. Unfortunately, it sloped off quickly into the bush, and in the rapidly fading light was not seen again.

We checked in to the Lodge and over dinner reflected on the day's sightings. During dinner, an African Civet was seen at the floodlit waterhole in front of the restaurant. We all agreed that it had been a great start to the trip.

Monday 29th October, 2007

Beautiful hot sunny day. Cloudless much of the time.

Today we were to explore as much of the Samburu Game Reserve as possible in order to see as much of its wildlife as we could. We had two game drives. The morning one was from 7:30 am to noon. The afternoon one was from 15:30 to 18:30.

One of the first birds we saw and were to become well familiar with was Vulturine Guineafowl. These are a somewhat comical species, seemingly with no sense of personal responsibility. The mini buses were held up several times by them refusing to move out of the way. Another colourful species was the Red and Yellow and d'Aranaud's Barbets, located close to the Lodge. A Yellow-throated Longclaw was soon spotted, followed by an African Grey Flycatcher and a single Orange-bellied Parrot. With the heat building, it seemed incongruous to encounter a member of a family more often associated with tropical rainforests than the almost desert conditions of Samburu.

Our first Kirk''s Dik-dik showed themselves and we saw lots during our stay at Samburu. A particularly sharp-eyed member of the team found a distant Rock Hyrax, appropriately enough on a rock. We then enjoyed marvellous close views of two Buff-crested Bustards. These large birds can nevertheless be hard to find against the somewhat barren background.

We came across a party of a dozen or so Dwarf Mongooses (should that be Mongeese?), and we were entertained by their behaviour for a while.

Another relatively local bird was the Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill. This bird looks just like it has a banana in its mouth. That most impressive of birds of prey, the Martial Eagle was seen quite close - a huge raptor indeed.

Mammals encountered included African Buffalo and Impala, but the surprise of the morning was not one but two Leopards together - both males. All the group were mightily pleased with this encounter, particularly as it initially appeared that only one animal was involved. It was lying down when we first saw it. It then got up and proceeded to walk off into the bush, when another one joined it. The leader was busy photographing the first animal when he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw another one in the viewfinder - he did what all good wildlife photographers should have done - he just kept pressing the camera trigger!

After seeing some more Elephant, this time closer, as well as Crocodile, Nubian Woodpecker, Chin-spot Batis, Chestnut Sparrow, Namaqua Dove, Crowned Plover and Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk to name but a few, it was time to return to the lodge for lunch.

The birds continued to come thick and fast in the afternoon game drive. Von der Deckens Hornbill, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Palm Nut Vulture, Rufous Chatterer and the wonderfully named White-bellied Go Away Bird were all seen. Support was lent by Hunter's Sunbird, Yellow-billed Stork and Spur-winged Plover.

Mammal interest came in the form of Vervet Mokney, more Gerenu and Reticulated Giraffe as well as Olive Baboon and yet another Leopard, possibly one from the morning game drive. This time it was being more typically skulking, and some expert driving by our excellent guides was needed for everyone to get a good look at this individual.

Over dinner that evening we recalled the luck with the Leopards, and saw our only Striped Hyena of the trip, coming to the floodlit waterhole in front of the restaurant. Here, we also saw a magnificent Verreaux’s Eagle Owl perched in a tree, below which a Cape Hare and domestic cat (both potential prey items for the owl) carried on their nocturnal behaviour seemingly oblivious to the threat above them.

Tuesday 30th. October 2007

Clear blue sky to start the day, then becoming cloudy later with some light rain.

Today we departed Samburu and headed up to the slopes of Mount Kenya, for a two night stay at the Mountain Lodge. Before we left Samburu, however, we had another game drive and were rewarded with excellent views of Grevy’s Zebra, Beisa Oryx and Somali Ostrich (all local species restricted to this part of Kenya) as well as more Reticulated Giraffes and Gerenuks.  Von der Deckens Hornbills, an confiding Black-faced Sandgrouse, Black-throated Apalis and a single Greater Kestrel were all seen well, the latter at a ‘stretch the legs’ stop at Buffalo Springs. As we crossed one of the small rivers in the reserve, we saw a group of 7 Yellow-billed Storks feeding in the shallows, with at least two crocodiles also visible.

As we climbed higher in altitude, the temperature dropped. Mountain Lodge stands at over 7,000 feet. As we arrived in the mid afternoon, we were saw several Blue Monkeys. Charming to look at, we soon changed our opinion as they made a nuisance of themselves when we positioned ourselves on the balcony overlooking the waterhole. They would brazenly come and stand right in front of us, with the aim of trying to grab any food from us. One of the party had her room window broken by one of the monkeys, who then got into the room and attacked a rucksack to find food. Seemingly this is not an unusual occurrence here and steps should be taken to reduce this problem.

Once wise to the hassle from the monkeys, we settled down to check out the wildlife at the waterhole. We found some Common Bushbuck and African Buffalo as well as Cape and Mountain Wagtails feeding in the grass around the water. The ubiquitous Hadada Ibis were also present.

In the rain a single Marabou Stork arrived and started to hunt for food in the waterhole. Normally considered a horrid bird, this singleton looking bedraggled in the wet weather, almost acquired a sympathy vote – but not quite!

The lodge operates a ‘call’ system at night, whereby you register with the staff which animals you would like to be woken for in the night, should they appear at the waterhole. One animal seen by this method this night was the Giant Forest Hog – a shy and retiring giant pig.

Wednesday 31st October 2007

Cloudy but dry at first, then some rain in mid afternoon, clearer later.

This morning, the early risers were able to enjoy a clear view of the 17,000 plus feet peak of Mount Kenya from the balcony before it became shrouded in cloud.

Today we went on a private walk through some of the superb highland forest adjacent to the lodge, with Vincent, a guide from Mountain Lodge. As we were walking in the territory of Elephant and African Buffalo, we were also accompanied by an armed guard throughout.

Vincent proved to be a superb guide, whose knowledge of the birds, animals, plants, geography and geology of the area seemed to know no bounds. He clearly loves his work, and this enthusiasm shone through.

We went on a three hour walk through the forest with him. The change in altitude resulted in a new suite of animals to see and although we never saw Elephant or Buffalo (thankfully), we did see a wide array of birds. Amongst these were Mountain Buzzard, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, the excellent Hartlaub’s Turaco (which, with persistence, all members of the party got to see), Slender-billed Greenbul, Montane White-eye, African Hill Babbler, Grey Cuckoo Shrike, Mountain Greenbul, Black Saw-wing and Mountain Yellow Warbler.

We had a break for coffee (and something a lot stronger!) towards the end of the walk, then after dinner spent some time overlooking the waterhole while it rained.

As the rain cleared, it left a superb rainbow over the waterhole, which seemed to last for ages. Hopefully, we all managed to get some good photos of this. Then, Vincent took us out for another shorter walk, before dusk. On this walk we added Red-fronted Parrot, Thick-billed Seedeater, Hunter’s Cisticola and Eastern Double-collared Sunbird to the bird list.

That night, one of the party found a Leopard about 25 feet up a tree on the opposite side of the waterhole. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there long enough for everyone to enjoy, as it slid down the trunk and disappeared into the bush. Still, that was the trip’s fifth Leopard – a more than respectable total.

Compensation came in the form of a Large Spotted Genet which came to meat put out on a feeding station, close to the viewing platform.

Thursday 1st November 2007

Cloudy off and on most of the day with some light rain.

We left Mountain Lodge after breakfast, and made our way to Lake Baringo Club, our base for the next two nights. Our route took us via Thomson’s Falls and Nakuru. As we left Mount Kenya, we spotted at least 8 Red-collared Widowbirds, and a very dark Common Stonechat. A group of 4 Olive Pigeons also flew over the mini buses.

At the Thomson Falls stop, we saw a Red-throated Wryneck on a tree, and one of the group managed to spot a Slender-billed Starling near the falls. There were a couple of tame Olive Thrushes knocking about, but for most, the best thing seen was a Chameleon, pointed out to the leader by one of the traditionally dressed Kenyans in the grounds of the Thomson Falls lodge. We all thoroughly admired this animal, but neither of our guides wanted to see it as Chameleons are considered animals of ill omen in Kenya as well as other African countries.

Near Nakuru we saw our first Ruppell’s Long-tailed Starlings, whilst we also made a stop to help a large Leopard Tortoise cross the road. The chivalrous leader nearly acquired wet trousers from this animal as it went into defence mode when lifted up – fortunately the wind was blowing in the right direction and no harm was done to his clothing, though the event caused great hilarity to the rest of the party.

Lake Baringo is,like Lake Naivasha, a fresh water lake, and the birdlife around is prolific. We were soon adding Jackson’s Hornbill, Black-headed Weaver, White-billed Buffalo Weaver and Beautiful Sunbird to the list. As we arrived late in the afternoon, we would have to content ourselves with this until our trips tomorrow.

Friday 2nd November 2007

Clear, sunny and very hot all day.

This morning, we went on a pre-breakfast bird walk with Cliff, a local Kenyan bird guide. We drove to some nearby cliffs (appropriately enough!), which were formed by an ancient lava flow. Here, in the still morning air, we saw a wide array of birds. Notable examples were Dark Chanting Goshawk, Shikra, Hemprich’s Hornbill, a single Honey Buzzard, White-browed Scrub Robin, Cliff Chat, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Yellow-vented Eremomela, Pale Prinia, Northern Puffback, Bristle-crowned Starling and Green-winged Pytilia. It was great to have Cliff help point out some of these birds, which can be very shy and retiring – a case where local knowledge was key.

After a quick return to the lodge for breakfast, we were soon on our way for our three hour boat trip on the lake. This was an excellent trip, and was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. Highlights included two Goliath Herons, Allen’s Gallinule, close-up views of African Darter, Water Thick-knees, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Black-crowned, Striated and Squacco Herons, African Jacana and African Spoonbill. However, the best of all surely came when Cliff called a magnificent African Fish Eagle to the boat by throwing a fish over the side. The bird came swooping within feet of us to pluck the fish from the surface – a wonderful sight. In addition to the birds, we saw some of the lake’s Crocodiles and several Hippopotamus – both of which thankfully stayed their distance!

After returning to the lodge for lunch, we went out again with Cliff, this time in search of hard to see nocturnal birds. First of all we saw a couple of Heuglin’s Coursers, then had a great view of an African White-faced Scops Owl, then a Slender-tailed Nightjar and finally a pair of close Spotted Eagle Owls.

Everyone in the group had had a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Saturday 3rd. November 2007

Dry, sunny and hot.

Today we made our way to our next base, Lake Nakuru Lodge, calling en route at the lovely Lake Bogoria, like Nakuru a Great Rift Valley soda lake. Having seen close up the product of the volcanic activity just below our feet, in the form of steam issuing from cracks in the ground, we enjoyed our first views of Lesser (the overwhelming majority) and Greater Flamingoes here, and had a delightful picnic lunch in the shade provided by some lakeside trees, while enjoying the spectacle in front of us. We were amused by the numerous local school children who were visiting the lake and who were boiling eggs for lunch using the free geothermal energy.

We saw our first Masai Ostriches as well, and had a view of a Common Kestrel – a familiar bird to all. Joining the Flamingoes on the lake were numerous Black-necked Grebes, all in summer plumage, whilst a couple of Whiskered Terns flew past.

In the shallows were several Wood Sandpipers, and several Long-tailed Cormorants and Grey-headed Gulls were also to be seen.

Moving on, we arrived at Nakuru by mid afternoon, and made our way slowly to the lodge, viewing the wildlife as we did. We were soon watching our first Rothschild’s Giraffes (a speciality of the park), and White Rhinoceros. We were close enough to convince ourselves that their alternative name of Wide-lipped Rhinoceros was correct. We came across an area of standing water from the recent short rains, and here we were entertained by the sight of over 200 of that most delicate wader, Marsh Sandpiper. Also finding this habitat to their liking were several Yellow-billed Duck, Hottentot Teal and Red-billed Duck. A Hammerkop also called in for a while. We got to the lodge just as it was getting dark, and settled in for our stay.

Sunday 4th. November 2007

Cloudy and cool to start with, then warm and afternoon rain.

We had two game drives in the park, separated by a break for lunch. In the morning drive, we came across more Rothschild’s Giraffes and White Rhinoceros, and then someone spotted a distant Black Rhinoceros. It took the telescope and some patience before we could be certain, when the animal turned its head towards us briefly, before lying down out of sight, and in that time we were able to see the pointed upper lip which helps to identify this species. This was an excellent find, since there are many fewer Black than White Rhinoceros in the park.

A pair of Silver- (or Black-) backed Jackals were seen in the distance, and we found our first Warthogs of the trip. Several of that most difficult bird group, the Cisticolas, were seen – challenging for all. Sound is very useful in identifying them but we eventually agreed that we had identified Rattling, Singing, Winding and Stout Cisticola.

A Short-toed Eagle flew over, and we saw a juvenile Martial Eagle. An African Hoopoe was found, showing a much darker colour than the more familiar European version. New mammals also included the Defassa Waterbuck.

We then proceeded down to the lake shore and we were able to witness what is surely one of the natural wonders of the planet. Hundreds of thousands (?millions) of Lesser Flamingoes adorned the shoreline, leaving it pink as far as one could see. At a safe place, well away from the threat of the ever present Buffalo, we were able to get out of the mini bus and take in the spectacle. It was overwhelming. The sight was impressive enough, but the sound of so many birds also helped the atmosphere.

In amongst the flamingoes, huge Great White Pelicans appeared, some flying in ‘skeins’, others engaged in synchronized fishing near to the shore. Birds such as Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and even Black-winged Stilt were dwarfed by such company. The drama of this sight will surely live long in the memory.

All too soon, it was time to return to the lodge for lunch. However in the second game drive, later, we found a solitary African Cuckoo, a couple of White-bellied Tits and our final (the fifth) Leopard of the trip. It was sitting in the open on a log, and appeared to be ‘eyeing up’ a nearby herd of Impala, which were oblivious to its presence. It soon got down from the log and merged imperceptibly with the surrounding vegetation, and we left nature to get on with itself.

The final part of the afternoon saw us drive to the top of the nearby Baboon cliff lookout. Here one can get a superb view down over Lake Nakuru from a sheer cliff, about 300 feet above the lake. It was a dramatic sight, and as the rain had by now stopped, the light was fantastic.

Monday 5th. November 2007

Clear, misty start, hot later.

Today we made our way to the Siana Springs camp site, close to the famous Masai Mara game reserve. First stop, however, was that other famous freshwater rift valley lake, Naivasha. Here, some of the party enjoyed an hours’ guided boat trip on the lake, whilst the others chose to wander around the grounds.

On the boat trip, we had exceptional close-up views of Pied Kingfisher, as well as Great and Long-tailed Cormorants. A group of Hippopotamus allowed close approach, as did a Grey-headed Gull which had a nest on floating vegetation.

We repeated our fishing trick with the African Fish Eagle with the same wonderful result. Upon returning to shore, a familiar song was heard in the nearby trees – a Willow Warbler.

Moving on to Siana Springs, the road journey was incredibly bumpy and dusty – a typical road journey in the Kenyan countryside. But just when you wished you were back in the traffic jams on the M25, we arrived at the oasis that is Siana Springs. A wonderfully peaceful setting in good shade. A tented site, but what luxurious tents they were, and what a welcome shower inside! We arrived in just enough time to have a look around the extensive grounds, and saw some Eastern Black and White Colobus Monkeys, as well as Bushbuck (remarkably tame) and some Tree Hyraxes. The latter make the most blood-curdling, horror movie-type screams at night, so it was just as well that we were forewarned about this before retiring!

Tuesday 6th. November 2007

Dry, sunny and very warm.

Today we had two game drives in the Masai Mara, returning to Siana Springs between for lunch. The Masai Mara is justifiably renowned as one of the premier mammal watching reserves in Africa, and is contiguous with the northern extension of the Serengetti in Tanzania.

On our morning drive, we saw our first Wildebeest – in lower numbers now than three months or so ago, when the migration north was at its best. Numerous Burchell’s Zebras and small numbers of Eland as well as Masai Giraffe were present. We spotted a couple of Temminck’s Coursers before finding our first Lions of the trip – two young males. The remains of their nearby kill had attracted the inevitable vultures, and we had a very close group comprising African White-backed, Ruppell’s Griffon and the ‘daddy’ of them all, the enormous Lappet-faced. We spotted that one of the White-backed was wearing a blue wing tag with a number on it – part of a research project into the decline of vultures in Africa. We will endeavour to find more information about this particular individual.

Long-billed Pipits, Purple-banded Sunbird, Brown Parrot, Pallid Harrier, Sooty Chat and Black Saw-wing gave the birdwatchers something to occupy them while new mammals included Topi and Hartebeest. Just before lunch, we found a group of 6 Southern Ground Hornbills – a very impressive species, and one of the world’s largest flying birds. What amazing eyelashes they have!

The afternoon game drive provided Black-bellied Bustard and Wire-tailed Swallow, as well as more of the mammals from this morning. A great day, with more to come.

Wednesday 7th. November, 2007

Dry, sunny and hot. Mid afternoon cooling shower.

This was to be our last full day on the trip, and determined to enjoy it to the full, we took a packed lunch with us. An elusive Silverbird  gave us a bit of a run around before being identified.

Then, as we got into the park, we again met a small group of Lions, as well as African Buffalo, more Wildebeest and Burchell’s Zebra. Late morning saw us speeding along to some Cheetahs reported by another mini bus on the ‘walkie talkie’. The first of our buses to arrive were lucky enough to see a group of three male Cheetahs catch a young Impala. When the second mini bis arrived the Cheetahs had moved into the bush and were harder to see. Nonetheless, all saw them – another mammal for the list.

We carried on now for our picnic lunch, calling at the Mara River on the way. At a bridge over the river, we saw the extraordinary sight (and smelled the appalling stench) of literally hundreds of rotting Wildebeest carcasses, lying on the mud at the side of the river – victims of the power of the river, and the pressure to cross to find better grazing. At the same time, in this gruesome arena, a couple of Three-banded Plovers and Wood Sandpipers were feeding. It is known that a sense of smell is poorly developed in most species of birds – and here was the proof! A large African Monitor Lizard and the inevitable Marabou Storks and some Hooded Vultures were picking over the remains of the Wildebeests.

We found a tree with some shade and, in spite of the recent Wildebeest carcasse encounter, all ate lunch with enthusiasm!

Making our way finally back to Siana Springs, we added Spotted Thick-knee and Woolly-necked Stork to the bird list and Oribi to the mammal list. In a final manouvre, we went back to see if we could find the three Cheetahs from this morning. A kindly lorry driver told us that they were being watched a little further on, so we made our way there and had very close views of all three before they once again wandered off into the bush. It had been another marvelous day.

Thursday 8th. November 2007

Dry, sunny and hot.

Today, we returned to Nairobi for out flight back to the UK and after a leisurely morning wandering round the grounds of Siana Springs, we left around 10 am. Before leaving, however, we were able to find Holub’s Golden Weaver, Black-backed Puffback and Brown-throated Wattle-eye.

We had a stop to admire the dramatic rift valley and the extinct Mount Longonot volcano, before arriving in Nairobi at about 4pm. After saying our farewells to our excellent drivers, and to tow of the party who were having an extension to their holiday on the coast, we left Kenya at midnight and arrived in the UK to much cooler weather at 6am the following morning.


During the trip, 364 species of birds and 51 species of mammals had been seen. We had visited many of the great destinations in Kenya for wildlife watching, and had been helped by two excellent guides, Ropkoi and Nkala, different in personality, but both totally committed firstly to our safety, and also to ensuring we saw as much of the wildlife as possible. We had also met many Kenyan people, who without exception were friendly, smiling and helpful.

Finally, I would like to thank the group for your efforts to make the trip such a success.

Kevin Elsby