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Kenya: a west-to-east birding + mammal safari January 14-29, 2017


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What a wonderful array of bird species you managed to see and photograph @@offshorebirder

i don't doubt I'll be re-tracing some of your footsteps when I get the opportunity.

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Thanks @@Zarek Cockar - I will keep that in mind. I also hope to visit the Nandi Forests some day - I bet Ross's are not too hard there either.


@@Soukous - do feel free to reach out with any questions you might have when your visits are approaching.

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Zarek Cockar

@@offshorebirder I've personally never been to either of the Nandi forests, but essentially they're just slightly higher altitude extensions of Kakamega. They were all part of one larger contiguous forest not so long ago (so, yes, there are Ross' there)

For future reference, there are also reports of Spotted Creeper in one of the forests (can't remember the name now) lower down on the Cherangani Hills. Easy day trip from Barnley's Guest House in Kapenguria. You'd have to go with Maurice (the guide I mention in my joint TR with Botswanadeams) as he's the only one who knows where to go.

Edited by Zarek Cockar
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Wow, beautiful starling! But loved the angry lioness too, and the zebra fowl, and Wildebeest mother and calf...need to get there myself someday....

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Our neighbors the Purple Grenadiers

I forgot to mention some wonderful camp encounters we had each afternoon outside tent number four at Offbeat. Starting on January 21st, at 3:20pm each day, a male and a female Purple Grenadier came to eat grass seeds on the short-cropped little lawn right in front of our tent. It was short-cropped but not as frequently grazed as most of the area around camp. The pair obviously felt safe and liked the good food source.
These obliging little members of the Waxbill family of birds gave us the absolute best views I have ever had of Purple Grenadiers. We also got some photos despite the cloud cover.
Every day we were in camp between lunch and the afternoon game drive, we really looked forward to seeing our little neighbors. And they showed up the same time like clockwork. On the 22nd we got a scare when a Sparrowhawk went bombing through. But they scampered to cover in time, giving faint little alarm calls in the process.


Purple Grenadier female - feeding on tiny grass seeds
Purple Grenadier female
Purple Grenadier male
Purple Grenadier female - feeding again
Purple Grenadier female - seed detail
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Like the photograph of the male Rosy-breasted Longclaw together with many of the other birds.

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leopard stalking and lions roaring-andd some wonderful birding photo's, what a splendid adventure @@offshorebirder

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Thanks for following along and for your kind words @@CDL111 and @@Towlersonsafari - I am glad you are enjoying things.

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In my last post, I bumped up against the maximum number of photos per post. So I am going to do a prelude post here - call it "gratuitous photos of Lion Cubs being naughty".
Pretty early on our morning game drive January 25, we caught up with the female lion taking care of the Offbeat Pride cubs. They were in their usual morning spot across the Olare Orok river from camp. The female Lion was getting quite a workout from the cubs as they honed their attacking skills.
Every time she would take care of one cub, another would pounce, claw or bite.
Then she got up and started leading the cubs uphill towards a more open area.
She led them past a Cape Buffalo - but there were no fireworks as we feared might be the case.
When the cubs reached the open area, they broke into a run and started chasing each other.
A more cropped view:
One of the medium-aged cubs in particular liked to practice takedown holds - biting and wrapping its arms around the "prey".
Then things devolved into a sort of scrum
Until some new prey arrived - their mother/aunt!



The same cub decided to practice his bite hold on mum




It stopped to size things up - no reaction yet from the prey.



This time it put its ears back and glomp!



That got a reaction!



To be continued in the main post of our last glorious morning in the Mara...
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I have been following along with your report eagerly and am thoroughly enjoying the bird-centric approach. When one throws in birds along with everything else, it really can transform the whole experience into one of almost sensory overload.


This report (along with yours from last year and @@TonyQ's from the same timeframe, among others) have me on the fringe of signing on the dotted line for a Green Season (first-time) visit to Kenya to next year.


Thanks so much for taking the time to share your observations with us.

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Thanks very much @@Alexander33 - I highly recommend a green season visit to Kenya. For example, seeing Samburu lush and green is a memory I still treasure!

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January 25 - our last day in the Mara

This trip report lost momentum over the past week, due to sadness over Tristan Voorspuy's tragic passing and events in Laikipia. But I will press on while the memories of the safari are still fresh.

We started the day early again, driving out of camp at 6:30. The plan was to do a morning game drive and have a bush breakfast, come back to camp at midday and pack, then take a bush lunch to eat on our game drive to Mara North airstrip. That last morning on safari - or in a special place - everything has a sort of halcyon gloss to it. And time really flies.

Just outside camp, we found Napono (the eldest member of the Offbeat Pride) and another Lioness. You can view Napono's profile page on the Mara Predator Project's website here: http://livingwithlions.org/mara/lions/napono/

Napono walked right past us on her way to drink at a secret little water source.




In this photo, you can see Napono had a lot of cuts and minor injuries from some kind of recent fracas. But she seemed healthy, if somewhat sore.


Here is a short youtube video of Napono drinking from the secret little water source (for best quailty increase the default resolution setting to 1080p). The bird vocalizing in the background saying "drink lager, work harder" is our old friend, the Ring-necked Dove.



We wanted to spend some quality time with the Offbeat cubs and try for some more photos. So we crossed the Olare Orok to find them.

Crossing the river and stopping to scan from a little rise, this is what we saw (iPhone video):


When we started towards the cubs' probable location, we came upon a subadult elephant browsing. It was stripping the outer layers from small Acacia branches and chewing up the strips.




Here is a video showing part of the process. I have some longer, better segments but I need to watermark them and dial down the quality before putting them online. (for best quailty increase the default resolution)


We followed the Elephant a short way, moved around some low bushes, and saw Frank the pride male lying there. He and the elephant agreed to peaceably co-exist in close proximity. Here is a little video of them:

Then we found a Lioness with the five young Offbeat cubs. She was a frequent target of their play-attacks. See the previous post in this thread for a series of photos of their antics.

At the point we left that photo-series, the female Lion had just been bitten pretty hard by one of the cubs. She reacted with some lion-style discipline.



Then another cub launched an attack



But that cub was soon distracted by some new "prey"



This is one of my favorite lion shots from the safari. I call it "Kung Fu Lions"



Then the three cubs all focused on the same "prey"




The poor female lion had to put up with a lot (from the original naughty cub).



Uh oh, more discipline:



More playing with cubs


Eventually the female disentangled herself



and it became a cub-scrum again.



When the lions went into cover to sleep, we moved on. We had a nice encounter with a pair of Abyssinian Scimitarbills; I got one non-terrible photo of it taking flight.



Then we came upon a male and female pair of White-bellied Bustards. They were both exquisitely patterned - she more than he.





Proclaiming loudly


Here is a video clip - I think both birds are calling at a couple of points. (for best quality increase the default resolution)


Here is a video clip of the male going back to foraging:



After saying adios to the Bustards, we passed some more plains game. A sharp-looking Male Thomson's Gazelle ambled past at close range.



After enjoying more plains game and good birding, it was time to return to camp to get ready for our departure. Roger, Ben and I had packed before leaving this morning, and were good to go. So we used the extra time for what? Birding around camp of course. We had good action on the ledge by the riverbed - downhill and behind the dining tent. Chania noticed us birding down there and had some camp chairs brought down so we could bird in comfort in the shade. One of the askaris accompanied us and as usual Ben was happy to share his knowledge of birds, their calls and their habits.

Birding behind the dining tent


After a little while, our picnic lunch was ready. We were forced to bid our goodbyes to Chania and the camp staff - Jesse was still en route back from Nairobi having gotten his rifle permit. We tipped the camp staff, management and of course Kapeen and Josphat well.

* I cannot say enough good things about Offbeat Mara - the people, the infrastructure, the location, the flexibility and competence make for a memorable experience.

We had some good birding and game on the ride to the lunch spot. Midway there we saw a group of Thomson's Gazelles under the shade of a tree, and slowed to see about photos. A couple of the Tommies got nervous and started moving away from the tree (and us). One of the female gazelles squatted; momentarily Josphat, Kapeen and Ben all said "she's giving birth". Immediately Roger and I said "let's move on" so as not to distress her or cause the herd to move away from her. So no photos...

Things were hot and the heat shimmer was kicking in something awful. But decent photos of large subjects like Giraffe were still feasible.

Maasai Giraffe


Soon we chanced upon a party of lapwings. There were Crowned Lapwings, Senegal Lapwings and two Black-winged Lapwings. The latter were life birds for Roger and me. They are very similar to Senegal Lapwings in appearance, though not voice. Black-winged Lapwings have much more white on their forehead compared to their chin. Senegal Lapwings have equal amounts of white on forehead and chin - and not very much.

The Black-winged Lapwings stayed in deep shade except for a brief moment when one strolled out the edge of the shade. But a darned piece of grass foiled my only 5-6 shots in the light. We need to start a thread titled "Foiled by that piece of grass or twig". I bet it could go on for a dozen pages or more.

Black-winged Lapwing



At our lunch spot beside the Mara River, a Red-headed Weaver swashbuckled around a tree in search of food. He spent almost the entire time upside-down (and backlit), until he flew south to work a new tree. Shame, since they are such handsome birds.

Red-headed Weaver


The Mara River looked quite low.

Downstream view


Walking a bit downstream, we could see a Hippo ramp made of worn rocks. There was a pod of Hippos in the water at the base of the ramp and others scattered about.


Looking upstream there was another pod of Hippos in the deeper section



Lunch was delicious again. Roger and I indulged ourselves with Guinness and Ben, Josphat and Kapeen had sodas. It was so nice to relax in the shade while looking at birds and wildlife on the banks of the Mara River. Then the time came to pack up and head for Mara North airstrip.

On the way, we saw a Grant's Gazelle that kept biting its tail - presumably to scratch it.



Last January, this scene was green and lush - now it was dry and dusty.

Mara North plains


At the airport Josphat Ben and Kapeen posed for a photo, which I snapped a bit early before everyone was ready

Josphat, Ben, and Kapeen



It was tough to say goodbye to Josphat and Kapeen but we shall meet again!

We had originally booked a flight from Mara North direct to Malindi with Mombasa Air. But a few days before the flight, a group of passengers canceled. This put the number of passengers at three - one below their minimum number for the flight to take place. So we had to take their flight from the Mara to Mombasa and have Simon meet us there for the drive to Watamu.

After a couple of stops in the Mara for more passengers and a stop in Diani, we landed in Mombasa. We collected our bags and met Simon outside. Traffic was ugly getting out of Mombasa - rather than go through the city center, we briefly got on Mombasa Road towards Nairobi and then headed north on the C111 and C107 - traveling a lot of the way towards Watamu on these traffic-free roads instead of the main coastal highway.

We got into Watamu after dark, settled in at the Ocean Sports Resort, ate dinner and went to sleep. Tomorrow we would go to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest!

Edited by offshorebirder
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Here is a short video clip of traffic on the Mombasa airport road (for best quality be sure to increase the resolution to 1080p)


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Slight correction: Our last day in the Mara was January 24 - not 25. January 25 dawned for us in Watamu. Not sure how things got off-track...

Wednesday January 25, we were up early. Outside on our deck, faint smoke wafted from the neighborhood and the background sounds included roosters crowing, goats calling, and loudspeakers broadcasting the dawn call to prayer. Cool. We were in the restaurant for coffee just after 6am. The manager the night before had explained that there was no early breakfast, but that breakfast sandwiches would be packed for us upon request. A lot of the guests at Ocean Sports Resort are fishermen - they all signed up for breakfast sandwiches too. What we got was garbage. It was a baguette with some eggs and two horrible kinds of meat dripping grease - some kind of frankfurter thing and "bacon" which was more accurately a thick slice of seared fat and gristle with no meat to be seen. The sandwiches were so terrible we felt a little guilty offering them to some children later but they seemed ecstatic at their good fortune.

I was glad I had brought trail bars, fig bars, etc. for "meal failures." The strange thing was - the dinner at Ocean Sports is outstanding. Really good seafood, and I am from a great seafood town. They seem to be a bit Jekyll-Hyde in terms of meals there, but I would rather dinner be the good meal...

Most of the fishermen were signed up for offshore charter boats, which picked them up on the beach with a little skiff.


There were several tiny islands made of volcanic rock just off the beach, which was composed of pure white sand.




We drove to the main ranger station at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest to meet our local guide William and to pick up keys to some locked gates we would be entering. The gate keys are only given out to known/approved guides like Ben and William. William - or "Willie" as he later said to call him - was a very sharp naturalist and bird guide.

Pulling into the station at 6:45, we saw Yellow Baboons and Sykes Monkeys. As we got out of the car, a Silvery-cheecked Hornbill flew over and an African Goshawk went whizzing through in search of prey. William said there was a nice trail here that we could check for Sengi, would we like to? You bet! was our resounding answer. Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew was one of my major targets for this trip.

William led us down the forest trail, which was lined by what was obviously drought-stressed undergrowth. We were all taking pains to move slowly and quietly. Before long, William motioned to us and pointed through the undergrown ahead. We could see a dark shape moving around the forest floor. Looking through binoculars to penetrate the foliage, we saw it was a GOLDEN-RUMPED ELEPHANT SHREW! It was foraging by snuffling around the leaf litter with that amazing nose (proboscis?) while constantly darting glances about for danger. It was angling away from us and William and Ben motioned Roger and me ahead. They wisely waited behind so Roger and I would have a reduced profile and generate less disturbance compared to four people.

Roger and I stuck to the trail and tried to move stealthily. It was nearly impossible due to all the crispy leaves carpeting the forest floor and path, as well as all the little dry twigs on the ground. But by moving slowly and putting our toes down first then shoving leaves aside slowly, we could move with minimal sound at least. The problem was that moving slowly enough to stay quiet was letting the Sengi pull away from us. Just then the Sengi got in a slightly clearer area with only a few leaves and branches between us.

The early morning and cloud cover meant light was minimal - challenging to get a sharp photo of a shrew in motion.



Then the Sengi darted across the trail - I got one shot in the clear but sadly the shutter speed was lower than I would have liked.



The Sengi continued on its way and at that point I blundered and in my haste stepped on a twig. It snapped and the Sengi jumped, startled at the sound. Then it scooted away. Drat! I apologized to Roger but at least we each got a few photos. And we had seen our Sengi! We birded the trail a little and had multiple Little Yellow Flycatchers, Black-headed Apalis and Amani Sunbirds. The latter are a very range-restricted East African endemic. Amani Sunbirds only occur in a small area in south-coastal Kenya and a couple of very localized populations in eastern Tanzania,

Then it was time for us to go south on the highway a few kilometers, unlock a gate, and before enter the forest on a dirt road. We pulled over a few minutes to admire a Lizard Buzzard perched on the power line.

Lizard Buzzard



We pulled into the gate at 7:15 and after 100 meters, saw a Peter's Twinspot foraging on the road. They are incredibly beautiful little finches. Then we heard a Suni calling! After driving a little while, we got out of the car to explore on foot. Peter kept us in sight or close to it and kept in touch with Ben via radio in case of Elephants or other concerns.

Here is a look at the Brachystegia forest habitat with William leading the way


We got into the birds immediately - seeing Blue-mantled Crested-flycatcher, Plain-backed Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Pale Batis, Black-bellied Starling, Amani Sunbird, Zanzibar Zombre Greenbul (a great name), and African Black-headed Oriole. Most of the birds were terribly backlit and in the tops of trees, which did not produce good photo opportunities.

Pale Batis (female)


African Black-headed Oriole



Then we got into the vehicle and drove a short way before slowing again to creep up to a Peter's Twinspot feeding in the road. I eased my door open ever so slowly and leaned out to get a few photos. It was difficult to hold steady and shoot in the low-light conditions but I managed a decent shot of the Twinspot.

Peter's Twinspot



Just then, Simon pulled well off the road to let a truck full of armed forest guards come barreling past. Ben said that was the rapid response team of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest; they were probably racing to try and catch illegal loggers or poachers of some kind. We wished them Godspeed.

When some Red-tailed Ant-Thrushes led us well off the road, we ran across a small group of Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrikes. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is a great place to find these two range-restricted species. We returned to the road and crossed to the north side into slightly more open habitat under a higher canopy. At the edge of the forest, we saw a Purple Tip butterfly (Colotis hetaera) - Eastern Purple Tip, coastal subspecies is the correct designation I believe.

Colotis hetaera hetaera



* Does anyone know the kind of flower it is using?


Approaching a clearing, Willie and Ben spotted a raptor at the same time. It was perched on a large horizontal branch of a Brachystegia tree. It was a Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, a very shy forest raptor. We had a good setup, with a screen of smaller bushes and foliage separating us from the Snake-Eagle. It seemed to be an immature bird making the transition into adult plumage.

Without disturbing it a whit, we were able to observe the bird at length through a spotting scope, get some decent photos and watch it change perches to investigate something. Ben said "you will never get a better look at a Southern Banded Snake-Eagle than this."

Southern Banded Snake-Eagle




The Snake-Eagle eventually decided to fly off to check elsewhere for prey. The dry conditions meant we did not see a single snake in the Sokoke forest, just like Kakamega...

We got back in the vehicle and drove some more, stopping to check a flock of birds. A flock of Retz's Helmet-shrikes was a very welcome encounter. The mixed-species flock contained Mombasa Woodpecker, Little Yellow Flycatcher, Amani Sunbird, and more. They led us to a thicket nearby that was the base of operations for a flock of Northern Brownbuls.

Northern Brownbul


At this point it was midday and getting warm. Bird and wildlife activity was slowing down. We dropped Willie off at the forest station and went to eat lunch in Malindi. It was an Italian place Ben recommended and it was quite good.

Then we went by the Kenya Airways office in Malindi to pay a modest fee and move our Jambojet flight to Nairobi up one day sooner. We were sacrificing a day at the parched coast for a full day in Nairobi National Park. It was an easy decision. Then after a stop at the Nakumatt, we headed back to the forest station to meet Willie for our next adventure. The plan was to explore some areas near the forest station, then take a ride to look for Sokoke Scops Owl, Malindi Pipit and other rare birds in the northeastern part of the forest.

To be continued...

Edited by offshorebirder
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  • 2 weeks later...
January 25 - afternoon activity
After lunch and errands in Malindi town, we drove back south and met William at the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Station. We enjoyed seeing several Sykes' Monkeys in the course of birding the grounds and nearby forest. But they were very wary - as soon as we stopped walking to look at them, the Sykes Monkeys moved away towards better cover.
At the base of a tree near a Wood-Owl stakeout, we saw a White-headed Dwarf Gecko
White-headed Dwarf Gecko
Then we got very quiet and moved slowly and averted our gaze as we carefully approached a vantage point for the Wood Owl roost. Settling in, we could admire the three African Wood Owls. One parent sat next to a chick under a tangle while the other parent roosted nearby.
African Wood Owls






Moving along, we enjoyed seeing an Eastern Nicator, as well as Retz's Helmet-Shrike, Mombasa Woodpecker and other nice birds. Eventually it was time to take a ride to the northeastern section of the forest to look for Sokoke Scops Owls, Malindi Pipits and other goodies.
On the way to the Sokoke Scops Owl area, we took the road that runs along the easternmost edge of the forest. Once we got a certain distance inland, the sandy roads became red clay roads. We stopped at about the halfway point along the eastern forest edge, in an open grassy area. Behind the fence there is a large field with what was a dry waterhole. There was also a tank for elephants to drink from, which I presume is filled by pumping from a well.
We were glad to see a pair of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters foraging and catching insects around the field. They tended to keep their distance but I got a couple of decent shots.
N. Carmine Bee-eater



In the field to the right of the road were a couple of Senegal Lapwings and also a pair of Malindi Pipits! Getting good photos of the pipits was not possible due to distance and heat shimmer, but we had good views through the spotting scope.
Malindi Pipit






As we were admiring the pipits, a Trumpeter Hornbill flew by. It was terribly backlit, so no good photos. We also saw a distant Wahlberg's Eagle soaring.
Getting back underway again, we were traveling along the border road, just outside the electric fence. A man was riding his bicycle right beside the fence as we approached a gap in the foliage behind the fence. Suddenly a large shape loomed though the opening right by the fence - it was an Elephant!
Elephant looming 1
It was very close to the man on the bicycle and he didn't see the Elephant until the last minute. We thought the Elephant might reach over and grab the man - and when he saw it, he was clearly shaken. But the elephant just watched.
Elephant looming 2
We continued on and turned left onto the C-103 - a well-graded dirt road. We traveled 2-3 miles and turned right onto a small track into the forest.
Road into the forest
Roger and I stayed behind with Ben as William went ahead and ducked into the forest. The plan was for William to creep quietly between favored roost sites to try and locate a Sokoke Scops Owl. When and if he did, he would come back and lead us to the owl roost for today.
While we were waiting, we played peekaboo with a couple of Fischer's Greenbuls. These birds - though common in coastal forests in E. Africa and the Usambara Mountains - are shy and hard to observe. We got some decent looks but alas no photos.
We enjoyed more good birding but eventually William came back and reported that he was unable to find a Sokoke Scops Owl. Oh well - have to leave at least one "life bird" target for the next time I visit coastal Kenya!
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@@offshorebirder - fantastic report and a brilliant array of birds. Especially jealous of the Narina Trogan. I recently searched high and low in SA with no luck - it's a real nemesis bird for me.

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Thanks @ImSA84. I know what you mean about Trogons - they can be elusive and hard to see for such large birds.

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January 26, 2017 - morning activity.

Observation: I think that the next time friends and I visit the Watamu-Malindi area, we will take Ben Mugambi's advice and rent a house and hire a chef, instead of staying at one of the resorts. From what I am told, this is equally or less expensive, with much more privacy and comfort. I did a quick search on Airbnb and it lights up with many hits in the Watamu area...

On January 26, we made an early start and drove north from Watamu. The call to prayer sounded from several minarets as we passed through Malindi town. After Malindi, we entered more open, less developed country. As we approached the Sabaki River, a serious security checkpoint was on the south side of the bridge. A stern-looking woman in camouflage uniform, who was festooned with lethal gear, leaned in and showed momentary interest in our optics. "Ndege" I said, tipping my binoculars back and forth. "Sawa" was her curt reply as she looked around the vehicle some more, stepped back and waved us past.

Just after crossing the river, we took a right onto a dirt track. The track led towards the Indian Ocean, sort of paralleling the Sabaki (Galana) River. The birding was good - we had a Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark and a flock of Scaly Babblers in a hedge at the edge of a pasture. Scaly Babbler is a very range-restricted species and we were grateful to see a flock of these shy birds out in the open at one point.

Scaly Babbler



When the track dwindled away, we hopped out and birded on foot along a path to the beach. Simon stayed behind to guard the vehicle. In a more open area near some sand dunes we watched a Northern Carmine Bee-eater hawking insects. Then the path led between dry scrub habitat and a mangrove forest. A White-browed Coucal was one of the birds that popped up to take a look at us before discounting us and continuing on its business.

White-browed Coucal



Past the Coucal, an African Bare-eyed Thrush foraged on the ground ahead of us and a Red-billed Buffalo Weaver moved around in a thicket on our left. Then the mangroves thinned out and a tidal flat interspersed with what looked like Juncus reeds expanded in front of us. The tide was out and the wet mud had attracted several shorebirds. We saw Grey Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers, Little Ringed Plovers, Wood Sandpipers and Common Sandpipers. A Greater Crested Tern and a White-winged Tern flew over.

Then we moved on an into a more wooded section of the trail. We enjoyed brief looks at a Black-crowned Tchagra and a Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul popped up fairly close, but in rather poor light.

Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul



Then the path led up and over a HUGE dune line. It was very steep and about 2.5 stories tall. From the top of the tall dune, we could see the inlet to our south - it was teeming with flocks of shorebirds, wading birds, terns, flamingos and more. On the other side of the tall dune line was a wide sandy tidal flat, then a small dune line and finally the Indian Ocean. I thought to myself "this sure looks like beaches back home".



Descending the dune, we hiked about half a mile to the inlet. We passed a mangrove forest on the way.

Mangrove forest


Finally we neared the inlet proper. Next to the Mara, and maybe Nairobi National Park - this was the part of the safari I had been looking forward to the most. Looking at Roger, I grinned and said "it's shorebird time."

The tide was well out so the shorebirds were scattered widely as they foraged on the mudflats.




Wading birds like this Little Egret prowled the channels

Little Egret




Common Greenshanks foraged in the shallows along the edges of the same channels



A large flock of mostly Saunders' Terns roosted on the beach and occasionally took flight when an Osprey flew over and if fishermen got too close. There were also smaller numbers of Greater Crested Terns and Lesser Crested Terns and a couple of Gull-billed Terns. Besides Little Egrets there were African Spoonbills, and Yellow-billed Storks foraging and roosting.

Saunders' Terns


Gulls present included Sooty Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Kelp Gull.

Sooty Gull


Roger and I were glad for another chance to study basic (nonbreeding) plumage Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints.

Curlew Sandpiper


And we also studied Common Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover, which are very similar to North America's Semipalmated Plover.

Little Ringed Plover


* And despite the fact that they were were too distant for a good photo, we were thrilled to see one of our major targets for the safari - Eurasian Curlews! These huge shorebirds are the second-largest shorebird in the world, slightly behind Far Eastern Curlew and slightly ahead of North America's Long-billed Curlew.

We enjoyed a total of 15 shorebird species at the Sabaki River mouth: Spur-winged Lapwing, White-fronted Plover, Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Greater Sandplover, Lesser Sandplover, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel, and Eurasian Curlew.

It was a nice morning at the beach - then we went for what turned out to be a very interesting seaside lunch in Malindi town.

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January 26 - afternoon activity.

One nice bird I forgot to mention in the morning report was a Zanzibar Red Bishop we saw on the walk back from the inlet.

After spending the morning at the Sabaki River mouth, we drove to Malindi for lunch and to change our tickets for the flight back to Nairobi. We had to pay $40 USD for changing to a flight one day earlier, but that was a small price to pay for a full day in Nairobi National Park. We had missed our planned day in NNP at the beginning of the safari due to a late departure from New York and missing a flight in Dubai... The staff at the Kenya Airways office were friendly and efficient at getting our Jambojet tickets changed.

Then we drove through old Malindi town to eat lunch at the Stephanie Ocean Resort. We got there a little before lunchtime and the tide was still low enough for there to be many shorebirds on the beach/reef in front of the establishment. So we started checking them out with a spotting scope. We enjoyed several shorebird species, including a new one for the trip - a Whimbrel. It was also nice seeing friends from back home like Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones.

Then an elderly German gentleman approached us an said "hello safarimen". We chatted about where we had been on safari and where we were going next. He said he was doing his annual winter orbit through Africa - Kenya, then Tanzania, then Namibia and finally Botswana. He was due to depart for Tsavo in a couple of days. I expressed jealousy at his freedom and alluring itinerary. He responded jovially "I am sort of a time millionaire - I have endless free time". Roger and I laughed and replied that we could not wait to be retired ourselves. We shared the spotting scope and had fun chatting until lunch was ready. One meets the nicest people on safari.

It was a buffet style lunch and the food was very good. They had three types of fish - all quite good. And the vegetable selection was excellent. Ben is good friends with the owners of the Stephanie so they comped Ben and Simon's lunch and took excellent care of us. It was an interesting and friendly collection of guests at lunch - mostly Italians and Germans, but with a few more nationalities as well.

After we bid goodbye to the Stephanie, we drove south through Malindi, Gede and to the turnoff to Mida Creek. When we arrived, the tide was nearly high. Normally this is the best time to view shorebirds, as the high waters concentrate them at "high tide roosts" on open patches of high ground where they rest, preen and wait until their feeding grounds are not submerged. But at Mida Creek, once the tide got absolutely high, many of the birds flew off to some high tide roost farther up the estuary and beyond our reach. I think the proximity of the mangrove trees makes some shorebird species (particularly larger ones) uncomfortable roosting near them. This is because avian predators like Falcons use the trees for cover, and come zooming out of nowhere to grab shorebirds before they can attain escape velocity.

Roger and I were elated to see large flocks of Crab Plovers - one of our major targets for the trip. They are neat looking, very distinctive shorebirds. We would have to wait until the next morning for close views and photos, but here is a shot of a large flock taking off to head to a high tide roost farther inland.

Crab Plover flock


Here is a mixed species shorebird flock passing by. Grey Plovers, Ringed Plovers, Lesser Sandplovers, Terek Sandpipers, and Curlew Sandpipers are in the foreground - Crab Plovers are in the background.


Quite a while after all the other shorebirds had been forced to depart, longer-legged Eurasian Curlews still stuck to their now-submerged sandbar.

Eurasian Curlews


Though many shorebirds departed the area, there were still quite a few that lingered around the edges of the bay. Large flocks of Lesser Sandplovers, Terek Sandpipers, Little Stints and Little Ringed-Plovers roosted in open coves between mangrove patches.

Mida Creek hightide shorebird roost



And smaller flocks of Little Stints were scattered along the shoreline



Then we saw several "flagged" individuals among flocks of Sandplovers. In order to track individual birds, shorebird researchers have in recent years begun fixing small plastic flags to the shorebirds' legs. Letter/number codes are printed on the flags. The researchers record where the birds were first flagged and send this information to a central registry. Then over the years when birders sight the flagged individuals, they submit reports to the central registry that include flag number, date+time+location, etc. This allows researchers to build detailed maps of the birds' movements over time. This can reveal previously unknown breeding sites, important migratory stopover sites, important wintering grounds, and more.


As soon as I returned home after the safari, I went through all my photos and took notes on all the legible flags on the shorebirds. Then I provided all the flag + species info and photos to Colin Jackson of Arocha Kenya, who is involved in banding shorebirds on the Kenya coast.

Here is a flagged Greater Sandplover among Lesser Sandplover



Here is a flagged Lesser Sandplover next to an unflagged one



At one point as I was looking through Sandplovers, I noticed a very different shorebird. It was a plover with a rich golden-buff color in the afternoon light. I started to get excited at the prospect of what it might be, but just then an Osprey flew over and the shorebird flock too fright and flushed. I lost the bird as they flew around and scattered.

A while later, I spotted the bird again and though it was very backlit, we were able to study it in the spotting scope. I thought it was a Pacific Golden-Plover and set off to get some photos from the better-lit side of the bird. I sneaked back inland, worked my way east through the mangrove forest, and came out on the opposite side of the mudflat where the bird was resting. I gradually worked my way closer, being careful not to disturb or flush any shorebirds, This is because birds flushing near me might also spook the plover.

I was able to get into position and obtain a few unobstructed photos of the plover roosting with Common ringed Plover, Little Stint, and Lesser Sandplover.



Though Roger and I have seen Pacific Golden-Plovers in the USA, we were excited to see one at Mida Creek, where they are quite rare. My understanding is that the Tana River Delta is the only place in Kenya where Pacific Golden-Plovers are regular / expected from roughly November through March.

* However, we were later disappointed to learn that the bird was a Caspian Plover in nonbreeding plumage. The very thin needle-tipped bill and longer legs distinguish them from Pacific Golden-Plovers. A small consolation was that Caspian Plovers are pretty rare at Mida Creek...

Here is a photo of the marine snail shells that littered the beaches and mudflats at Mida Creek. This one may have a Hermit Crab inside that is producing the little balls of sand/mud. I don't think snails produce them, but perhaps some Kenyan naturalist like @@Zarek Cockar knows for sure?

Marine snail shell


We were thrilled at the good shorebirding and decided to spend our final morning at the coast at Mida Creek. It turned out to be a good decision.

Back at Ocean Sports Resort, we enjoyed another fine seafood dinner. I had tuna kabobs and Roger had fried Dorado (Mahi Mahi) cubes.

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Really enjoyed the part about Coastal Kenya. Lots of Wader goodness, and very cool you saw the Elephant Shrew. That Twinspot is a cool bird - never seen one.

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  • 2 weeks later...

January 27.

We headed for Mida Creek fairly early. The plan was to return to Ocean Sports around late morning to shower, eat lunch, check out and head for Malindi Airport.

In 15 minutes we were pulling off the highway and stopping to admire a large Baobab tree. When we got to the estuary, the tide was almost halfway out and the shorebird flocks (from the high tide roosts) were breaking up as the birds scattered to feed on the emerging mudflats. I eased out onto the mud, testing it with my tripod and then on foot and found it to be remarkably firm and supportive. We were able to walk out on the mud and move around fairly well, though there were pools and patches of soft mud to avoid. With the expanding mudflats on a falling tide, we could move around and approach target birds without disturbing other ones. This is far preferable to a more linear setup one often encounters. Things looked good for birding - but the cloudy conditions, near-misty humidity, and distance conspired against getting good photos.

The tide was racing out - the edge of the water was visibly creeping down the sloped mudflats towards the deeper creek channel off in the distance. A small flock of Sacred Ibis foraged for small crabs, worms and other invertebrates.

Sacred Ibis



Then I spotted a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits - a major target for the trip. They were out at the edge of the mudflat "shelf" near the deeper channel. I told Ben not to worry, we would go for a short jaunt after the Godwits and he stayed and looked for any neat landbirds.

We worked around the Sacred Ibis and I saw that one was eating a fluke or Polychaete Worm or something.

Sacred Ibis with prey



On our way, we had some nice close encounters with Crab Plovers - they did not seem as shy as some of the other shorebirds.

Crab Plover sequence








Then we passed some Whimbrel - they looked very similar to our Whimbrel back home, though these East African Ones had pale bellies rather than buffy ones.



Finally we got to the outer mudflat area and enjoyed hanging out with the Eurasian Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit




Other shorebird friends from back home included Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and Grey Plovers (we call them Black-bellied Plovers in the Americas).

But alas, though we saw many shorebirds of several different species, we missed a huge target - Broad-billed Sandpiper. Oh well, I will have to visit in the fall some time and see if they are present then.


As we turned to walk back, a Yellow-billed Stork came flying right past us.



Here is the view from a point near the edge of the mudflats bordering the channel.

Looking towards the channel:



Looking back towards shore:



We eventually had to tear ourselves away from the great shorebirding. We dashed back to Ocean Sports, got cleaned up, had one more excellent seafood meal and headed to the airport. There we learned that Jambojet had canceled our flight. Ben wondered why they had not told him sooner - apparently their email was HTML-formatted and Ben's SPAM filters had dumped the message into his SPAM folder and he missed it.

We were lucky to be able to change to a flight to Nairobi out of Mombasa that evening. Ben phoned Simon, who rode to our rescue and drive us two hours south to Mombasa. There we waited three hours for our flight - not too bad considering. Roger and I arrived at the Boma Hotel at nearly 10pm but we were looking forward to a full day in Nairobi National Park. It turned out to be one of my favorite days on Safari ever.

Edited by offshorebirder
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My upcoming post on Nairobi National Park is going to have a lot of photos. Since I don't want to run into the 'upper photo limit' on that post, I might do a couple of introductory photo-sequence posts to reduce the number of photos in the main post on NNP.


Here is a sequence of a Marabou Stork drinking at Hyena Dam in NNP.










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One of your favourite ever days!!!! Wow I am looking forward to that as we will be there for the day on 23 August. Pen

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January 28

This was a wonderful day in the field. We only ended up with 121 bird species, since we spent so much time with Suni and Black Rhino.

Ben picked us up at 6:30am and we drove to the main entrance of Nairobi National Park. There was already a long queue of vehicles at 6:45 so we dashed over to an empty East Gate and went right in.

There is a picnic area just inside the East Gate where one can walk around. Roger and I birded the area on foot while Ben made a few vehicle preparations such as opening the roof hatches, putting padded seat covers on the rooftop roll bars, etc.

There was a very cooperative Long-tailed Fiscal perched near the picnic area.

Long-tailed Fiscal



There were also many swifts and swallows zooming around feeding. There were roughly 3 dozen Little Swifts, 1/3 that many Palm Swifts, a couple of Scarce Swifts and a handful of Barn Swallows. There might have been a White-rumped Swift or two mixed in, but it was difficult to tell. I took up the photography challenge and did not do very well - those swifts are tough!

Little Swift




In addition to the swift show, we enjoyed Red-billed Quelea, Rufous Sparrow, Common Fiscal, Superb Starling and several other common + expected birds.

As we headed further into the park, we saw a puffed-up Kori Bustard with the Nairobi skyline behind it.

Kori Bustard


Then we saw a Coke's Hartebeest go running past



A little further on, we saw two male Hartebeest fighting in earnest. They did half their fighting standing up and half with their forelegs folded up / standing on their knees.

Hartebeest fight



-- There are a couple of video clips of the Hartebeest butting horns in the introductory post of this trip report.


A nearby dam (Eland Dam?) held some waterbirds and we saw a herd of Eland walking away after presumably having a drink of water. There were also some Plains Zebra milling about. Waterbirds included Red-billed Teal, African Jacana, a few Blacksmith Lapwings, a Three-banded Plover, 2 Wood Sandpipers, and a Little Stint. Driving away from the dam, we had a covey of five Shelley's Francolins.



Shelley's Francolin



Then we drove through some brushy forested habitat in the northern section of the park, on our way to Hyena Dam. Hyena Dam held 12 Long-toed Lapwings, 10 Blacksmith Lapwings, 6 Spur-winged Lapwings, and a couple of Three-banded Plovers. Other shorebirds included three Common Snipe, 9 Black-winged Stilt, 4 Wood Sandpipers, and half a dozen Little Stint. We did not see any African Water Rails but four Black Crakes walked and flew around brazenly.

Spur-winged Lapwing sleeping


Long-toed Lapwings vocalizing in unison


One of the Marabou Storks present kept washing part of a blue plastic shopping bag and trying to swallow it. Another had a broken foot that others pecked and pulled. We later saw the same bird around 5:30pm preparing to roost with lots of other storks beside Athi Dam. Other birds present at Hyena Dam included a pair of Crowned Cranes. A drying-up boggy patch nearby held a Green Sandpiper and a couple of
African Snipe.

Marabou Stork living dangerously with a plastic bag



Marabou Stork strutting


Marabou Stork coming in for a landing




African Snipe


After Hyena Dam, we slowly made our way towards Nagalomon Dam. Along the way, we had a nice close encounter with a Winding Cisticola.

Winding Cisticola



Birdwise Nagalomon dam was pretty quiet, with a pair of Lesser Swamp Warblers, a White-headed Barbet and a Malachite Kingfisher. Not much in the way of waterbirds or shorebirds. In general it was hard to find much Typha or reeds around dams - presumably due to drying conditions and hungry Buffalo. This suppressed the numbers of certain passerines and rails/crakes that we saw. There were a few Hippos present, but they were almost completely submerged.

White-headed Barbet


As we were watching the Lesser Swamp Warblers, I noticed a commotion out of the corner of my eye. It was a herd of Impala on the far side of the dam; they were running and jumping. I tried to get a photo but they were out of focus. Then I noticed a lion chasing them - it was a male. By the time I brought my camera to bear on the lion, it was partially behind some reeds.

Impala fleeing


Male Lion chasing the Impala


Unfortunately for the lion, it seemed to have sprung the trap too early, allowing the Impala to escape.



As the Lion walked back to his shady rest spot, we noticed it was wearing a collar of some kind (tracking collar?). At this point, a crowd of vehicles was building up to look at the now-sleeping lion so we decided to move on.

At the south end of Nagalomon Dam, we turned right towards forested habitat. We moved through a clearing and then the road led into the forest, which was close on both sides. Ben idled along slowly and quietly, then stopped and whispered "Suni" while pointing to the right.

It was indeed a Suni - very close but behind a screen of brush. We could use our binoculars to penetrate the brush and enjoy good views of the Suni. Photography was less possible but here is a shot of the confiding Suni who stood there for several minutes alternating between feeding and watching us. She did not seem disturbed by our presence.



When we cranked up and started driving away, the Suni ambled a little farther back from the road but did not flee or run.

Roger and I were giddy with excitement. Ben smiled knowingly and said "don't be surprised if we see more". It did not take long. A few minutes later we came upon another Suni - this time a male. It too was behind some brush and as we slowed to a stop, it walked back into thicker cover.

To our delight, we sighted Suni after Suni for the next hour and a half as we wended our way through the forest, working west, then south not far from Nairobi Tented Camp. We saw a total of 18 SUNI! Most were behind a screen of vegetation and most turned and gave us "butt shots" but a few paused in open areas. We had great views, but unfortunately the light was poor in these open areas of heavy canopy. So my photos are not that great. But we had great fun getting to know Suni and their habits, spending a good bit of time with a couple of the more cooperative individuals.






Just after crossing the Kisimbe River (west of Nairobi Tented Camp), I heard a familiar manic whistling call and hoped it was not a clever mimic. Then Ben spotted a single adult CROWNED EAGLE circling high that quickly soared behind the treeline!

For those unfamiliar with Crowned Eagle's call - here is a clip from xeno-canto.org:




We drove forward a bit to an opening where we could look back towards the eagle location and saw two adult Crowned Eagles soaring together. One did a diving display a couple of times. It was noteworthy that all Suni immediately disappeared after we first heard the Crowned Eagle vocalizing; we did not have another Suni sighting afterwards.

Here is a poor long-distance documentary photo of a Crowned Eagle


After the Suni and Crowned Eagle encounters, we enjoyed very good birding at the Kingfisher Picnic site. A couple of African Moustached Warblers were working out their territorial boundaries and one sat up and sang fairly out in the open.

African Moustached Warbler


Two Brown Parisomas fed actively and although they did not mind us, they presented a very challenging target to photograph. Their drab brown coloration and habit of feeding underneath tree branches meant they were always in dim light with their back to us.

Brown Parisoma


A pair of Red-throated Tits foraged and scolded nearby birds and mammals.



There was also a pair of Chin-spot Batis, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, the requisite Striped Kingfisher and Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus.

Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu


Chin-spot Batis


Kingfisher Picnic Site certainly lived up to its reputation as a birding hotspot. From there, we proceeded east towards the Rhino circuit. White and Black Rhinos were of course a major target for our visit. And we searched open grassy areas for Secretarybird, since we still needed that one for the safari. We looked particularly around the murrum pits, since Brian Finch had seen a pair of Secretarybirds there a couple of weeks previously. Alas, we "dipped" on Secretarybird to use birder parlance for missing our target. But we had a couple of pairs of White-bellied Bustards and

We enjoyed lots of plains game while searching for rhinos - Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Hartebeest, Eland, Grant's Gazelle, Impala, and Wildebeest. Some of the Zebras were very confiding.



We also saw multiple pairs of Common Ostrich



Zebras and Eland with Nairobi in the background


Next we headed for the Mokoyet Valley (not far from the Emakoko). There were nice birds around the Fever Tree-lined stream. But the best bird was a VERREAUX's EAGLE. We saw it perched in a fever tree and then in flight. This I am told was the first sighting of Verreaux's Eagle in Nairobi National Park in over a decade.

Verreaux's Eagle


We worked out way up and out of the valley. As we admired a Eurasian Marsh Harrier foraging nearby, Ben said we would go to Athi Dam to look at waterbirds for our last stop. On the way, he said we had decent odds of finding Rhino.

Eurasian Marsh Harrier


At one point we stopped and everyone was glassing the hills looking for rhino. I decided to use my spotting scope - since it works well atop a rooftop beanbag. I saw a small gray lump under an Acacia tree. It was a rhino!

We drove closer but the road we were on did not allow a suitable approach for decent photos. But we could tell there were two rhinos - both of which were still sleeping.

Rhinos sleeping


We took a side road that led to higher ground, though a bit more distant from the rhinos. I was fiddling with my camera settings when Roger said "they're standing up!". I climbed atop the vehicle and stood up to get enough elevation to shoot over a rise that was between us. I managed a few photos of a beautiful Black Rhino as it stood and contemplated things.

Black Rhinos


After a few minutes, it decided to lie down and have another nap. We watched them a few more minutes and reluctantly moved on, as it was approaching 5pm. My how the time flies when you're immersed in wildlife.

Entering Athi Basin, we enjoyed Fawn-coloured Lark, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, and Pangani Longclaw. As we approached Athi Dam, the Standard Gauge Railway was an ugly scar on the landscape.

SGR looming


Storks milling about Athi Dam with SGR overpass in the background


A few wading birds were foraging in the water - like this Yellow-billed Stork



The area around the dam abounded with wading birds - hundreds of Marabou Storks loafed and walked around the edges of the dam. Cattle Egrets were starting to stage for their night roost in adjacent groves of Acacia. A few White Storks, Black Storks, and Yellow-billed Storks also milled about and flew over.

A lone White-faced Whistling-Duck was present among Egyptian Geese and shorebirds included a Ruff, Kittlitz's Plover, Spur-winged Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing, Little Stint, Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper. The shoreline also held a small flock of Fischer's Sparrow-Larks.

Kittlitz' Plover


Little Stint


And there was also a Speckled Pigeon imitating a shorebird



At this point, it was time to go because we had dinner plans with Kyle and Lara Ray, the former managers at Offbeat Mara.

When we attempted to check out of the east gate at 5:59pm, we were told the gate attendant / customer service representative had already departed. They are supposed to be present until 6:30pm. Due to our dinner plans, we did not have time to go to the main gate to check out. This meant Ben had to return another day to get officially checked out. When we stopped by the Langata gate the next morning just before 7am on our way to Corner Baridi, it was still closed with no staff in sight. It is surprising how little staff accountability exists at the park where KWS headquarters is located!

But this minor glitch was not enough to dampen a marvelous day!


Edited by offshorebirder
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Here you go @@penolva (see above). I hope you have a great outing on August 23!

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