Birding trip report Kenya 28 Jan - 15 Feb 2009 
John van der Woude -
See also: species list, photos of birding sites, birds, mammals
This trip was mainly a hunt for lifers (bird species never seen by us before), as an addition to our previous trips to Africa. We (my birding wife Nollie and me) got a stunning 200 lifers, on a trip total of 455 species. The trip was organized by Birding Breaks (, with Ben's Ecological Safaris as the Kenyan agent.
The two of us travelled in a small van (with open roof top in the national parks), with Peter as our driver/guide. He is an excellent driver and knows the birding routes, especially in the national parks; he also knows many of the birds we encountered. Detailed local bird guiding was done by Hudson (Mt. Kenya), Francis (Lake Baringo area), and Ben (Kakamega forest; another Ben); all three were good birders. No matter who was guiding us, we always checked the birds in the field guide (mainly Sinclair & Ryan - Birds of Africa south of the Sahara). We used our telescope in the more open areas, sometimes even from the van. We had brought several bird sounds of potential lifers on my mobile phone but used them only sparsely, and even then mainly to check sounds.
The trip layout was as follows: Nairobi - Thika Ponds - Mt. Kenya forest zone (2 nights) - Samburu NP (3 nights) - Lake Nakuru NP (1 night) - Lake Baringo area (2 nights) - Kakamega forest (3 nights) - Lake Victoria papyrus stands (1 night) - Masai Mara NP (3 nights) - Lake Naivasha (1 night Nakuru) - Limuru ponds - Nairobi. So this is a trip mainly N and NW of Nairobi, and covering the following habitats: rural open area, montane forest, dry savanna, saline lake, tropical rainforest, grassy plateau, riverine woodland, park-like gardens, marsh.
The accommodation was generally good, and often in a natural setting. Best were Samburu Serena lodge (inside Samburu NP) and Rondo Retreat (inside Kakamega forest). Also good were Castle Forest lodge (in the forest zone of Mt. Kenya) and Lake Baringo Club (with a large garden at the lake). Mara West Camp at the western border of Masai Mara NP has a good location and was generally good, but it has an ill-defined security against lions during the night, and when we left the place we both got ill (caused by the lodge's last meals, according to the doctor we had to consult in Nakuru ).
In Nairobi we had bought a prepaid Kenyan simcard for 1 euro (Safaricom), and this made calling and messaging to Holland a lot cheaper. Especially the messaging was fun, and much nicer than sending postcards I think. The network coverage across Kenya is very good, even inside national parks. Topping up your balance/airtime can be done in virtually any town or village, for any amount.
We had visited Kenya 25 years ago as well, in 1984. That was not a real worldbirding trip as we do them since 1990, but we picked up quite a few species then too. Our other African experience is Gambia and South-Africa + Namibia. Also, we had picked up some NE African species in Yemen. Especially our three visits to South Africa had produced many of the species of Kenya already. So we were very glad to get 200 lifers now (Nollie 202, she finds the birds often just a bit quicker than I do). Some of our best birds were three threatened species: Turner's Eremomela, Abbott's Starling and Sharpe's Longclaw. Of course we also missed several wanted species, like Rufous-bellied Heron, Mountain Buzzard, Allen's Gallinule, Hartlaub's Bustard, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, some nightjars, Nyanza Swift, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Short-tailed Lark, Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Papyrus Canary, Oriole Finch, etc. We often just did not know where to find them, or we were just not in the right areas for some of those species. At times I wished we had mobile phone contact with Ben's office in order to check with him where we could best find special birds that our driver/guide did not know.
Tourism in Kenya got a severe blow after the short tribal violence in December 2007, and the recovery from that was hindered now by the global financial crisis. Still, Kenya is such a wonderful and varied country that birders and other ecotourists will always go there. And, needless to say, the Kenyan people need them.
For an impression of the birding localities, please check out the site photos. Also, see the photos of birds and mammals
For info about the bird species we found, see the species list.