AT A GLANCE
Our 14-day Kenya birding tour offers some of the best birding in Africa with over a 1000 species recorded here. Visit to renowned parks and reserves and the famous Maasai Mara also gives great opportunities for game viewing.
Private and small group, customised safaris can be booked on request for your preferred travel dates
Arrival in Kenya, birding around the hotel
Welcome to Kenya! Your fantastic birding tour will start the moment you touch down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and the “safari capital of the world”. You will be met by your Nature Travel guide, who will help load your luggage into our comfortable, airconditioned vehicle before we head to our chosen hotel.
We will slowly make our way through the traffic of Nairobi, to our hotel just outside the city centre. We will be on the lookout for our first bird species of the tour, which could include Little Swift, Pied Crow, Black Kite, the amazing Superb Starling and the majestic but odd-looking Marabou Stork.
We will also get to enjoy the sights and sounds of Nairobi, a very interesting east African city. Situated along the Nairobi river (the name actually comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nairobi, which translates to “cool water”, in reference to the river), the capital is definitely east Africa’s most cosmopolitan city. It is Africa’s 4th largest city (with a population of over 4 million) and is a vibrant and exciting place, and although it has developed a reputation which keeps tourist visits brief, there are some fascinating attractions.
Nairobi, sometimes called the “green city in the sun”, is a hub for international companies, with many having established their international or continental headquarters in the city. It is also undergoing a construction boom, and interestingly “The Pinnacle” is nearing completion; when finished it will be the tallest building in Africa, at 320 metres (1,050 feet) tall.
Nairobi is a major tourist destination, not just for its proximity to east Africa’s superb game reserves, but also for its cafe culture, huge range of restaurants, Benga music, unbridled nightlife, 6 golf courses, the National Museum, the Karen Blixen Museum and its many parks and open spaces.
If time allows, we will do some late afternoon birding around the hotel, where we could see a surprising number of species. Nairobi is known the world over in birding circles as one of the best capital cities to bird in, on the entire planet. We could see species like Thick-billed, Yellow-rumped and Streaky Seedeater, Speke’s Weaver, Black-headed Heron, Hadeda Ibis, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Bishop and many more.
In fact, Kenya is probably the best birding destination in Africa. Of the 1,123 species recorded in the country so far, 13 are endemic, 37 are near-endemic, 170 are Palearctic migrants and at least a further 60 are intra-Africa migrants. Kenya’s 60 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) cover a total of 5.7 million hectares or about 10% of the land area of the country. You are in for a treat over the next two weeks!
We will enjoy dinner at our hotel, getting to know each other a bit and hearing everyone’s target species for the amazing trip ahead of us. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest; tomorrow the tour starts in earnest.
Nairobi National Park
After breakfast at the hotel, we will make our way to nearby Nairobi National Park, where we will spend the full day exploring this amazing gem, the only wildlife park in the world to border a capital city.
This utterly unique 117 km2 (45 sq mi) park was officially opened in 1946, making it Kenya’s oldest national park. It really is a bizarre sight watching Africa’s big game against a backdrop of city skyscrapers and commercial airplanes coming in to land! The habitat in the park is mostly open savannah plains with scattered Acacia trees. The Athi river on the southern boundary of the park provides lush riverine habitat.
The park also goes by the nickname “Kifaru Ark”, a testament to its successful rhino (kifaru in Swahili) conservation history. In fact, the park boasts the densest concentration of Black Rhinoceros of any park in the world. It is also home to 3 other members of Africa’s Big Five (no African Elephant) and we will hope to see these and many of the other mammals that live here. These include Cheetah, Spotted Hyaena, Hartebeest, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Common Eland, Plains Zebra, Impala, Waterbuck and more.
Of special interest to us is that over 500 bird species have been recorded in the park, and it is one of Kenya’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Some of the species we will be looking for here include Martial, Crowned and Wahlberg’s Eagle, Bateleur, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vulture, Kori and Hartlaub’s Bustard, Saddle-billed Stork, Secretarybird, Shelley’s Francolin, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, African Rail, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-winged Plover, African Finfoot, Pangani Longclaw, Jackson’s Widowbird, Northern Yellow White-eye, Common Nightingale, Rüppell’s Robin-chat, Northern Pied Babbler, White-tailed, Rufous-naped and Short-toed Lark, Red-throated Tit, Speke’s Weaver, Quailfinch, Orange-breasted and Black-faced Waxbill, Harlequin Quail, and Croaking Cisticola and Desert Cisticola. The gorgeous usambiro subspecies of D’Arnaud’s Barbet, a Kenyan near-endemic, also occurs in this park, and we may encounter it on our visit. Some fantastic rarities have also been spotted here, and if we are very lucky we might see species like Corn Crake, Malagasy Pond Heron, Lesser Kestrel and Basra Reed Warbler.
We will stop at a beautiful picnic spot to enjoy our packed lunch in the middle of the day. After an exciting day in the park we will make the short drive back to our hotel in Nairobi. We will freshen up and get together for dinner. After an evening of relaxing and socialising we will retire for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we head out of the city and into the wilderness!
Nairobi to Mount Kenya
We will start our day with a nice hotel breakfast and then check out. We will drive north towards majestic Mount Kenya. As soon as we exit the greater metropolitan area of Nairobi, the scenery will change and you will start seeing why people that come to Kenya always return; it really is a beautiful place.
On our way to Mount Kenya we will stop at the Thika Blue Post Hotel, where we could have sightings of Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Trumpeter Hornbill. Our next stop will be at the Mwea rice plantation. Here we hope to see species like Yellow-crowned Bishop, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Oriole Finch, Winding Cisticola and various species of aquatic birds.
We’ll continue to our lodge on the forested slopes of Mount Kenya, arriving in time for lunch. Mount Kenya National Park was created in the 1940s to protect Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain (after Kilimanjaro) at a dizzying 5,199 metres (17,057 ft) above sea level. The park is now both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
After a short break for lunch and relaxation, we will start our afternoon birding on the main forest road. This is an excellent birding trail where we might see species like Crowned Eagle, Mountain Buzzard, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Scaly Spurfowl, endemic Jackson’s Spurfowl, Silvery-cheeked and Crowned Hornbill, Olive Ibis, African Olive and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Lemon and Dusky Turtle Dove, Bar-tailed Trogon, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Mountain Oriole, Purple-throated and Grey Cuckooshrike, Red-fronted Parrot, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Doherty’s and Black-fronted Bushshrike, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Rüppell’s Robin-chat, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Slender-billed, Abbott’s, Kenrick’s, Waller’s and Sharpes’s Starling, Fine-banded Woodpecker, Mountain and Cape Wagtail, Scarce Swift, Slender-billed Greenbul, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Cinnamon, Bracken and Evergreen Forest Warbler, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Malachite, Golden-winged and Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Grey-headed Nigrita, Kenya Sparrow, Yellow-crowned Canary, Grey and Black-throated Apalis, the endemic Kikuyu White-eye, near endemic Hunter’s Cisticola and many others.
We will also be on the lookout for African Buffalo, Guereza, other monkeys, squirrels and antelopes, and others. The night sky may be graced by sounds from the Montane Nightjar and Southern Tree Hyrax, so listen up!
We will return to the lodge to freshen up, update our growing trip lists and enjoy dinner. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest.
Mount Kenya to Samburu National Reserve
Our day will start with early morning birding in the forest before returning to the lodge for breakfast and checking out. Remember to watch the morning light hit the peaks of Mount Kenya this morning; a truly beautiful sight! This morning we will depart for the Samburu National Reserve, heading north.
Once we pass Isiolo the habitat becomes drier and the East African Doum Palm becomes the signature tree, especially apparent along the waterways.
Once we are inside Samburu you will quickly see why this is one of the most exciting reserves in all of East Africa. The 165 km2 (64 sq mi) park was established in 1985 and is situated on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro river, along whose banks both big game, birds and vegetation flourish. The river runs through the park and is its heartbeat; without its precious water the animals would not survive in the park’s otherwise semi-arid environment that is dotted with skyscraper-resembling termite mounds. On the other side of the river is the Buffalo Springs National Reserve.
The habitat at Samburu is semi-arid shrubby grassland, riverine forest, and woodland, with rocky outcrops interspersed among the rolling hills.
An afternoon game drive will produce many of the regional specials including Somali Ostrich, the endemic Grant’s Wood Hoopoe, the near-endemic Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-weaver, Palm-nut Vulture, the tiny African Pygmy Falcon, Vulturine Guineafowl, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Red-fronted Parrot, White-headed Mousebird, Somali Bee-eater, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, the glorious Golden-breasted Starling, Bare-eyed Thrush, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Black-capped Social Weaver and Cut-throat Finch.
Although it is a peaceful park that is much quieter than most of east Africa’s other reserves, it still boasts an incredible wealth of classic African safari big game species in addition to the fantastic birds. The predators are well represented, and we will look for Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and African Wild Dog. Big games species include African Elephant, African Buffalo, Hippopotamus, Black Rhinoceros and many antelope species like Grant’s Gazelle, Kirk’s Dik-dik, Impala and Waterbuck.
Back at the lodge, we will keep an eye open for Water Thick-knee, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Rufous Chatterer and Spotted Palm Thrush. Eurasian migrants include flocks of Eurasian Hobby, both Common and Thrush Nightingale, Upcher’s and Olivaceous Warbler, and Spotted Flycatcher. Other interesting birds in this area include the handsome Buff-crested Bustard, Pink-breasted Lark, Three-streaked Tchagra, the aptly named Shining Sunbird and Somali Bunting.
We will get together for some socialising time and dinner once again, then maybe sit around the camp fire and just enjoy the sounds of the bush out here in the middle of nowhere – nothing could be better!
Samburu National Reserve
Today we will have a full day to explore the beauty, birds and animals of Samburu. We will start with breakfast at the lodge and enjoy morning and afternoon game drives, returning for lunch and a short siesta in the heat of the day.
On our drives we will try and find Palm-nut and Hooded Vulture, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Crested Francolin, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Vulturine Guineafowl, Buff-crested and White-bellied Bustard, 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, Bare-eyed Thrush, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Hunter’s and Black-bellied Sunbird, Golden-breasted and Fischer’s Starling, Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-weaver, Cut-throat Finch and the stunning Somali Bunting.
In terms of mammals, Samburu really is fantastic. Of special interest is a few rare and localised species like the ultra-striped Grevy’s Zebra, the reticulated subspecies of Giraffe, regal Beisa Oryx and long-necked Gerenuk. These four together with the blue-legged Somali Ostrich make up the so-called “Samburu Special Five”, and we will hopefully tick off all five easily.
Furthermore, the Ewaso Ng’iro river also contains some massive Nile Crocodiles, and the Critically Endangered African Pancake Tortoise also calls the reserve home.
As an aside, Samburu was one of the two areas in which conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness, made famous in the best-selling book and award-winning movie Born Free. The reserve is also the home of Kamunyak, a lioness that was famous for adopting at least 6 oryx calves in the early 2000s, and whose story was told in the film Heart of a Lioness.
After a wonderful day in Samburu we will return to our camp and once again get together around the camp fire for dinner and relaxation. These are moments to treasure and you will remember them fondly when you are back at home and in the “rat race” again.
Samburu Game Reserve to Aberdare National Park
On our morning game drive in Samburu we will be looking for any birds and mammals still missing from our list.
After breakfast and checking out of the lodge we will depart to the town of Nyeri, which lies to the east of Aberdare National Park.
En route we will stop to bird the Solio Plains where we might see Jackson’s Widowbird, Black-bellied Bustard and a variety of larks, wheatears and cisticolas. Lesser Kestrel is often numerous here and we also have a good chance of finding a Greater Kestrel or two. We will also enjoy lunch en route.
We should arrive at Nyeri by late afternoon and check into our comfortable lodgings. Nyeri is one of the oldest towns in Kenya, having been established in the British colonial era. Nyeri hosts the tomb of Robert Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout movement. It is also the home town of the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai.
About 15 kilometres (9 mi) out of Nyeri on the opposite side to Mount Kenya is the Aberdare National Park. Established in 1950, the park covers an area of 767 km2 (296 sq mi) and forms part of the Aberdare mountain range. The park contains a wide range of bird-rich habitats, from mountain peaks that rise to 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) above sea level, to their valleys intersected by streams, rivers, and spectacular waterfalls. Afro-alpine moorland, bamboo forests and rainforests are also found at various altitudes in the park.
Wildlife present in the protected area include Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, African Buffalo, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, diminutive Suni, Side-striped Jackal, Common Eland, Olive Baboon and Guereza. Interestingly, the African Elephant herd here is the highest-altitude herd of pachyderms on the continent. The park is also home to the beautiful Bongo antelope, but we would have to be extremely lucky to spot one.
We will enjoy dinner back at our accommodation, update our trip lists and then enjoy a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we hit the park proper!
Aberdare National Park to Lake Nakuru National Park
We will again make our way to nearby Aberdare National Park after an early breakfast.
We are in for a good morning, as almost 300 bird species have been recorded inside the park. Once inside we will make our way into the Aberdare mountains where a good road will take us above the treeline into moorland habitat. As we ascend through mixed woodland we will look for Jackson’s and Scaly Spurfowl along the roadside.
Other interesting birds we might see include endemic Aberdare Cisticola, African Goshawk, Crowned Hornbill, Baglafecht Weaver, African Thrush, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Slender-billed Starling, Red-throated Wryneck, Hunter’s Cisticola, Mountain Greenbul, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Thick-billed Seedeater, and African Emerald and Black Cuckoo.
We’ll stop at the end of the road in moorland habitat above 10,000 feet where Moorland Chat will be common. We’ll search patches of Giant Lobelias for the main special: Scarlet-tufted Sunbird, as well as Golden-winged, Bronzy, Malachite and Tacazze Sunbird.
We will exit Aberdare by late afternoon and make our way westward to Lake Nakuru National Park, expecting to be inside the park by late afternoon.
We will check into our lodge and maybe walk around the grounds to stretch our legs and get used to our beautiful surroundings. We will then get together for dinner and have some time to socialise into the night, wondering why it took us so long to come to magical Kenya!
Lake Nakuru National Park
We will spend the morning in beautiful Lake Nakuru National Park, famous for its vast flocks of pelicans, flamingos and a wealth of other water birds.
Lake Nakuru (meaning “dusty or dry place”) is one of the rift valley’s alkaline lakes and is protected by the 188 km2 (73 sq mi) Lake Nakuru National Park. The lake is also protected under the International Ramsar Convention on wetlands. Flanked by rocky escarpments, pockets of dense forest and waterfalls, the park itself is very pretty and you will get some great photographs here.
The lake is host to huge numbers of flamingos (Greater and Lesser Flamingo) that gather at the water’s edge, giving the lake an incredible pink hue when viewed from afar. The number of flamingos on the lake varies with water and food conditions and the best vantage point is from Baboon Cliff or the even higher Out of Africa viewpoint.
On the water, at the lake edges and in the Acacia woodland around the lake we will look for species such as Grey-crested Helmetshrike (our only chance to see this species on the tour), Narina Trogon, Red-throated Wryneck, Greater and Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Arrow-marked Babbler, Great White Pelican, Great Cormorant, African Spoonbill, African Fish Eagle, African Harrier-hawk, Hildebrandt’s Francolin, Grey-headed Gull, Broad-billed Roller, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, Green Wood Hoopoe, African Grey Woodpecker, Black Cuckooshrike, Grey-backed Fiscal, Brown-crowned Tchagra and African Firefinch.
The small park (given National Park status in 1968) also boasts several of Africa’s famous big game species, including rhinos, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Waterbuck, Lion, Cheetah and Leopard. Smaller mammals include Common Warthog, Olive Baboon, as well as some huge pythons!
After enjoying lunch at the lodge we will leave the park and make our way to Lake Baringo, a birding paradise, situated about 2 hours away to the north. We will stop to look for Silverbird, Black-headed Lapwing and Dark Chanting Goshawk along the way.
We will reach our accommodation at Lake Baringo late in the afternoon and check in.
Lake Baringo, with a surface area of 130 km2 (50 sq mi) and an elevation of 970 metres (3,180 ft) above sea level, is one of the two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley in Kenya, the other being Lake Naivasha. Of special importance for us, is that over 470 species of birds have been recorded at and around the lake; it is after all a Ramsar wetland of importance. The lake also provides a habitat for seven fresh water fish species and many other species of animals, including the Hippopotamus, Nile Crocodile and many other mammals, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates.
After settling into our lodgings, we will get together for dinner and updating our lists, and then head to bed for a good night’s sleep.
We will enjoy breakfast and then we will go on an exciting birding adventure!
We are doing a 3 hour boat ride on Lake Baringo in search of water-associated birds like African Jacana, Black Crake, Goliath, Striated, Purple and Squacco Heron, Senegal and Spotted Thick-knee, Little Bittern, Maccoa and White-faced Whistling Duck, and Malachite, Woodland and Giant Kingfisher. The boat ride experience will also help you enjoy the beauty of the lake and see the local African Fish Eagles advertising their territories as they hunt too. The boat cruise is also great for some fantastic photographic opportunities and getting interesting angles on some species.
We will spend the afternoon birding in the Lake Baringo area. We will drive and walk around the scrubland and the cliffs surrounding the lake, in search of Verreaux’s Eagle, Shikra, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Slender-tailed and Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjar, Fan-tailed Raven, Jackson’s and Hemprich’s Hornbill, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, D’Arnaud’s and Black-throated Barbet, Brubru, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Slate-coloured Boubou, Brown Babbler, Somali Fiscal, Three-streaked Tchagra, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Nubian Woodpecker, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, the viridiceps subspecies of Yellow-breasted Apalis, Little, Golden-backed and Northern Masked Weaver, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-bellied Canary, Beautiful Sunbird, Black-headed Plover, Northern Red Bishop, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Mocking Cliff Chat, Somali and Parrot-billed Sparrow, and Bristle-crowned Starling, among many other wonderful species of this region.
Just before returning to the lodge for the evening we will also try to find roosting Spotted and Greyish Eagle-owl, Northern White-faced Owl and even Three-banded Courser. We will again overnight and enjoy dinner at the same lodge in Baringo.
Lake Baringo to Kakamega Forest
This morning, we will enjoy breakfast at the lodge and then check out, thanking the wonderful staff for looking after us.
We will leave Baringo and make our way west, heading towards our next spectacular destination, the famous Kakamega Forest. The driving will take up most of the day, but the stunning scenery will more than make up for it. We will travel up the western side of the Rift to Kabarnet and descend into the spectacular Kerio Valley. On rocky hillsides we will search for Green-backed Eremomela and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver.
We will stop for lunch in a wooded valley where Meyer’s Parrot, White-crested Turaco, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Black-headed Gonolek might pay us a visit. A spectacular viewpoint halfway up the valley’s western escarpment may offer the localised Boran Cisticola.
We will reach our lodge situated deep in Kakamega Forest by late afternoon and check in. We will take some time to get used to our beautiful surroundings before getting together for dinner and some relaxation time. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest; tomorrow we explore the forest!
We will start our day with an early breakfast, so that we can maximise our time in Kakamega.
The forest, Kenya’s only tropical rainforest, is a remnant of the ancient Guineo-Congolian equatorial rainforest that once spanned the continent. The forest lies on undulating terrain, at about 1,550 metres of elevation. The forest, including reserves, encloses about 238 km2, a little less than half of which currently remains as indigenous forest. Almost 400 species of plants have been recorded in the forest, including 60 orchid species.
There is a huge variety of bird species present in the forest (almost 370 species) and we hope to add a few specials to our ever growing bird list. Kakamega really is a special place and is home to about 80 species found nowhere else in Kenya. We will spend most of our time walking in the forest in search of local specialties, with short breaks in between.
We will search for the special species of Kakamega, including Crowned Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Ayre’s Hawk-eagle, African Goshawk, Red-chested Owlet, White-spotted Flufftail, Great Blue and Black-billed Turaco, Grey Parrot, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Eastern Plantain-eater, African Emerald and Black Cuckoo, Blue Malkoha, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Western Oriole, Blue-headed and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Brown-eared and Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Yellow-billed, Hairy-breasted, Yellow-spotted and Grey-throated Barbet, Bocage’s and Lühder’s Bushshrike, Pink-footed Puffback, Mackinnon’s Shrike, White-tailed Ant Thrush, Brown-chested Alethe, Cassin’s, Thick-billed and Least Honeyguide, African Broadbill, Blue-shouldered and Grey-winged Robin-chat, Toro Olive, Cabanis’s, Slender-billed, Joyful, Ansorge’s and Kakamega Greenbul, Grey-chested Babbler, Scaly-breasted, Pale-breasted and Brown Illadopsis, Jameson’s, Yellow-bellied, Brown-throated and Chestnut Wattle-eye, Turner’s Eremomela, Chapin’s, Red-bellied Paradise and African Blue Flycatcher, Black-faced Rufous and Uganda Woodland Warbler, Vieillot’s Black Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, Olive Sunbird, White-chinned, Banded and Black-faced Prinia, Buff-throated and Black-throated Apalis, Green Hylia, Dusky Tit, Red-headed Bluebill, Black-crowned Waxbill, Oriole Finch and many others.
Mammals that occur in Kakamega include Bushpig, duikers, Bushbuck, African Clawless Otter, squirrels, bats, Giant Otter Shrew and a variety of primates including De Brazza’s, Blue and Red-tailed Monkey. At least 28 snake species have been recorded, including the rare African Tree Cobra. The forest also hosts over 400 species of butterflies.
We will return to our lodgings after an exciting day in Kakamega to freshen up. Then we will update our trip lists, have dinner and socialise, maybe discussing our plans for future trips to bird-rich places in the world. Then we are off to bed, for tomorrow we go to the “Mara”!
Kakamega Forest to Maasai Mara National Reserve
Today we will enjoy an early breakfast before we depart for the famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve in southwestern Kenya. It is a long drive today, but we will make regular stops to look at birds, stretch our legs, and also have a good lunch break en route.
Situated in the southwest of Kenya, the Maasai Mara is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in the northern Mara Region of neighbouring Tanzania, and is the northern-most section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, which covers some 25,000 km2 (9,700 sq mi) in Tanzania and Kenya. It is named in honour of the Maasai people (the ancestral inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from afar. “Mara,” which is Maa (Maasai language) for “spotted,” is an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savanna, and cloud shadows that mark the area.
The image of acacia trees dotting endless grass plains epitomises Africa for many; then add a Maasai warrior and some cattle to the picture and the conversation need go no further. This is the Africa we love!
Covering an area of 1,510 km2 (583 sq mi) and rising from 1,550 to 2,100 metres above sea level, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is a place of breathtaking vistas, abundant wildlife and endless plains. The terrain of the reserve is primarily open grassland with seasonal riverlets.
The Maasai Mara is regarded as the jewel of Kenya’s wildlife viewing areas and definitely one of the world’s greatest wildlife reserves. As in the Serengeti, the Common Wildebeest are the dominant inhabitants of the Maasai Mara, and their numbers are estimated in the millions. Nowhere in Africa is wildlife more abundant, and we are almost guaranteed seeing the Big Five (African Buffalo, African Elephant, Leopard, Lion and rhino). Another 90 species of mammals have been recorded in the reserve, along with over 500 species of birds and many amphibians, reptiles and other fascinating creatures.
Hopefully we will arrive in time for a short, late afternoon game drive. We will enjoy a wide assortment of birdlife as well as some of the most spectacular game viewing in Africa. Complementing the birding and wildlife are the dramatic scenery of endless grasslands, lush river valleys and steep rock-strewn escarpments.
Some of the birds we hope to see include Rufous-bellied Heron, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Coqui and Red-necked Francolin, Grey Crowned Crane, Temminck’s Courser, Wattled Lapwing, Ross’s and Schalow’s Turaco, Malachite and Woodland Kingfisher, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Rufous-chested Swallow, White-tailed Lark, Familiar Chat, Silverbird, Red-faced, Trilling and Tabora Cisticola, Green-capped Eremomela, Black-crowned Tchagra, Hildebrandt’s and Violet-backed Starling, Yellow-fronted Canary and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
After our exciting first game drive we will head to camp to freshen up and have dinner. Remember to look up at the sky tonight before settling in to your room – the stars are truly remarkable out here! And listen out for the roar of a lion or a nightjar’s call before falling asleep… Isn’t Africa fantastic!
Maasai Mara National Reserve
Today we have a full day to explore one of Africa’s great game reserves.
We will have an early breakfast and then head into the park. We might return for lunch at the camp or we could even take along a packed lunch to enjoy on the go, thereby maximising our time in the reserve.
Besides some of the birding specials already mentioned, we will also enjoy the excellent game viewing offered in this park. Some of the many mammals we hope to see here include African Elephant, African Buffalo, rhinoceros, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Spotted Hyaena, Hippopotamus, Giraffe (Maasai or tippelskirchi subspecies), Common Eland, Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelle, Black-backed Jackal, Bat-eared Fox, Serval, and of course hundreds of thousands of zebras and wildebeest if our timing is right for the Great Migration.
Around July of each year, these animals migrate north from the Serengeti plains towards the Maasai Mara in search of fresh pasture, and return to the south again around October. The Great Migration is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, involving some 1,300,000 wildebeest, 500,000 Thomson’s Gazelles, 97,000 Topi (a subspecies of Tsessebe), 18,000 Common Eland and 200,000 zebras. Astoundingly, about 250,000 wildebeest and other mammals die during the journey from Tanzania to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Death is usually from thirst, hunger, exhaustion, or predation.
Something else to look out for are the absolutely monstrous Nile Crocodiles we will see in the rivers. These ancient reptiles (some of them over 5 metres/16 feet long!) lie in wait for the migrating mammals and seeing one of them catch a zebra and consume it is a scary reminder of how fragile us humans are in the greater scheme of things.
Other birds that we will look for during our time here include several species of vultures, Saddle-billed, Woolly-necked and Marabou Stork, Secretarybird, many hornbill species, D’arnaud’s Barbet, 7 species of kingfisher, Kori and Denham’s Bustard, Grey-crested Helmetshrike, aptly named Long-crested Eagle and Superb Starling, the cute Pygmy Falcon, Sooty Chat, Jackson’s Widowbird, Kenya Sparrow, Southern Grosbeak-canary, Lesser Kestrel, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and the beautiful Lilac-breasted Roller, the national bird of Kenya. It is easy to see over 100 species on a day trip in the Mara!
Remember to bring extra batteries for your camera, because the reserve is also a photographer’s paradise destination, with abundant wildlife, birds, incredible African landscapes, and excellent weather. The BBC Television show titled “Big Cat Diary” was filmed in both the Reserve and Conservation areas of the Maasai Mara.
After another fantastic day in the Mara, we will return to the lodge for our farewell dinner together. We will sit under the African sky and reminisce about our wonderful time here before heading to bed and a good night’s rest.
Final birding and off to Nairobi
And so an amazing Kenyan safari unfortunately comes an end.
After some early morning birding around the lodge, we will enjoy breakfast before departing for Nairobi with a few birding stops along the way. It is another long drive, but the beautiful Kenyan scenery will make up for it.
If you are not joining the extension trip you will be transferred to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for your flights home.
For those joining us on the extension, we will drive to our hotel for a good night’s rest, preparing for the exciting extra 6 days of birding lying ahead of us.
Optional 6 day Extension Itinerary:
Tsavo East National Park
We will spend most of the morning driving southeast to Tsavo East National Park. We’ll stop at Hunter’s Lodge for lunch and a visit with a bustling colony of African Golden Weavers. This stop offers great photo opportunities of the resident Giant Kingfisher. In the afternoon we’ll drive to Sagala Lodge where we hope to find species like Scaly Chatterer, Bare-eyed Thrush, Spotted Eagle-owl and a variety of whydahs and widowbirds.
Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo East National Park with its vast savanna lies in semi-arid country at the eastern edge of the inland plateau, north of the main Mombasa – Nairobi road and railway line. Most of the park is open country, with scattered rock outcrops. Birdlife is abundant with more than 400 species of birds, 48 species of wildlife and several reptile species are found in the park.
We will enjoy a full day of birding and game viewing in Tsavo East National park and look for species such as Somali Bee-eater, Crested Francolin, Black-headed Plover, Black-faced Sandgrouse and Golden-breasted Starling. Raptors are present in good numbers and we could tick Egyptian, Hooded, White-headed, White-backed, Rüppell’s and Lappet-faced Vulture, African Cuckoo-hawk, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Bateleur, Pygmy Falcon and Eurasian Hobby. We also hope to see Crested Bustard, Broad-billed Roller, Brown-headed Parrot, Red-winged Lark and Chestnut-backed and Chestnut-headed Sparrow-lark. With luck we might also see Somali Ostrich, Somali Courser, and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. We’ll also have our best chance of seeing the strange, giraffe-imitating Gerenuk antelope.
Sabaki River Mouth and Coastal Birding
After a morning in Tsavo we will make our way to the Sabaki river mouth. Here we will bird in a variety of habitats that include sandbanks, mud banks, dunes, fresh water pools and marshes at the river mouth. The Sabaki is Kenya’s second longest river and the state and size of the estuary vary seasonally depending on the water level. Just north and south of the river mouth are grassy dunes that conceal permanent or temporary pools of fresh water. Here we hope to see species like the Sooty, Black-backed and Grey-headed Gull, Greater Crested, Lesser Crested, Sandwich, Roseate and Saunders’s Tern, Zanzibar Red Bishop, Greater Snipe, Malindi Pipit, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Whimbrel and a variety of other species like Water Thick-knee, Marsh and Wood Sandpiper, African Spoonbill and Spur-winged Lapwing.
We will spend the next two days birding in the famous Sokoke Forest. Besides being the northernmost Brachystegia forest, Sokoke has two near-endemics (Sokoke Scops Owl and Sokoke Pipit) and one endemic, Clarke’s Weaver. Other interesting birds found here include Narina Trogon, Eastern Nicator, Green and White-eared Barbet, Fischer’s Turaco, Green Malkoha, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Black-headed Apalis, Spotted Ground-thrush, Retz’s and Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Gorgeous Bushshrike, East Coast Akalat, and Amani and Plain-backed Sunbird.
Besides visiting Sokoke Forest we will also visit Mida creek. We will explore the marine and tidal habitats consisting of inter-tidal rock, sand and mud, fringing reefs and coral gardens, beds of seagrass, coral cliffs, sandy beaches and mangrove forests. A huge variety of birds are found here. We will focus on finding Crab Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Mangrove Kingfisher, Greater Sand Plover and Eurasian Oystercatcher. Other interesting birds here include Little Stint, Eurasian Curlew, Curlew Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Sacred Ibis, Saunders’s Tern, Gull-billed Tern and both species of Flamingo.
Final birding and off to Nairobi
On our final morning of birding we will look for any species we might have missed. We will make our way to Malindi Airport for a domestic flight to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for your international flight connection.