I did an excellent trip to East Africa in Janaury. Thought you might be
interested in the highlights.
January / February 2005
After a brief 10-day detour to Boston to pick up Jan Smith, who lives
there (and who said it was a short-cut to Africa), Jan, Rosemary and I
joined Ross and Jann Mulholland in Nairobi on 8 January to start a 34-day
adventure, birding in East Africa. I had high expectations for this trip
as I had wanted to go there for a long time. It promised lots of birds
and some great mammals as well as a chance to see a part of "deepest,
darkest Africa". And, on every front, Africa didn't let me down ? it was
much better than I had expected or hoped.
We spent about 20 days in Kenya, 4 days in Uganda and 10 days in Tanzania.
Our itinerary was worked out by Nigel Moorhouse of Sarus Bird Tours in
England. Our birding guide for the trip was Brian Finch, who is now based
in Kenya but will be known to many of you from when he lived here in the
1980's. Nigel organised different ground agents in each country and we
were very impressed with each of them, particularly the quality and
friendliness of each of the drivers we were provided with. Given the
general standard of the roads we encountered, having good drivers was
We visited many of the best bird sites in Kenya, including:
Lake Naivasha NP Lake Nakuru NP Kisumu on
Kakamega Forest Lake Baringo Solio
Ranch & Naro Moru
Buffalo Springs NP Shaba NP Mount
Thika Ngangao Forest & Taita Hills Lake Jipe
& Tsavo West NP
Tsavo East NP Malindi & Sabaki River Arabuko ?
Sokoke Forest & Mida Creek
Nairobi NP Magadi Road, south-west of Nairobi
We only made a brief visit to Uganda, primarily to try and see Shoebill.
While we were there, we visited:
Lake Bisina Jinja ? the self-proclaimed "Source of the
Mabira Forest Mabamba Wetlands on Lake Victoria
We birded across northern Tanzania, visiting:
Pemba Island East Usambaras at Amani West
Usambaras at Lushoto
Tarangire NP Ngorongoro NP Serengeti
The birds were unbelievable. No-one had prepared me for the birds, both
numbers of birds and number of species in most of East Africa,
particularly the grasslands. On our safaris, there were birds everywhere
? flying close and distantly, in the trees and bushes, on the ground in
the grass and on the track. After dawn and before sunset, there were
extraordinary numbers. We recorded more than 200 species a day on four
occasions on safari in Kenya and Tanzania.
So, for me, the bird highlights were:
Shoebill Southern Ground-Hornbill
Turacos x 7 Vulturine Guineafowl Greater
and Lesser Flamingoes
Gambaga Flycatcher Usambara Weaver Bataleur
Long-tailed Widowbird African Skimmer Saddle-billed Stork
Pemba & Sokoke Scops-Owls Four-coloured Bush-Shrike Crab
Eagle-Owls x 3 Coursers x 3 Sand-Grouse x 4
Hornbills x 13 Bat Hawk Pygmy
Fox's Weaver Hinde's Babbler Nairobi Pipit
Honeyguides x 6 Giant Kingfisher White-bellied &
Weavers x 41 Verreaux's & Martial Eagles Vultures x
Papyrus Gonolek Bar-tailed & Narina Trogons Bee-eaters
x 11 & Rollers x 6
This list is shorter than I would like, but I was forced to leave out so
many other good species.
But, Africa isn't just about birds. I also went for the mammals. We
recorded nearly 80 species. I had wondered whether I would be impressed
by the mammals that I had known for so long from books and documentaries.
Well, seeing them for myself, up close, was not at all disappointing.
Elephants are really big and impressive. Giraffes are unreal. All the
antelopes, of which we saw 18 species, were great. Etc, etc.
My mammal highlights were:
Giraffe White & Black Rhinoceroses Hippopotamus
Sitatunga Hirola, Gerenuk, Eland, Topi Spotted
Lion and Leopard Besia Oryx African Elephant
Grevy's Zebra Black-backed & Golden Jackals African
Eastern Tree Hyrax Wildebeest and Hartebeest Kirk's Dikdik
De Brazza's Monkey Syke's Monkey Black-and-white Colobus
Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew Dwarf Mongoose Yellow-winged Bat
As well as Mount Kenya, I was very impressed by Mount Kilimanjaro and
Mount Elgon, the former being one of the best highlights in a trip full of
them. The Rift Valley was also splendid - higher, deeper and cooler than
We did three canoe trips, two on Lake Victoria and one on Lake Bisina. We
saw some great animals on each of them, saw some interesting habitat and
learned the need to keep bailing.
There were other animals of note, two worthy of mention are the marvellous
chameleons and the beautiful butterflies.
Four of the fascinating experiences were the border crossings into Uganda
and Tanzania to and from Kenya. They were a study of humanity with the
touts, money changers, beggars, vendors and souvenir sellers. The
crossing into Tanzania at Lunga Lunga was the only place we took the car
through (at the others, we swapped vehicles), which took a long three
hours. But, we saw a Bat Hawk while we were waiting, so I wasn't
Lake flies on Lake Victoria were a diversion, but we only saw them in
smallish numbers, not the billions when the numbers irregularly build up.
And we only saw Tsetse flies in two of the Tanzanian parks, and, for us,
they weren't a problem. The (poor) standard of the roads was a constant
amazement, but they did not affect our trip to any great degree.
There were really none. We had to survive without alcohol at Kakamega
(gasp!!) and a couple of the accommodation places were poor (but they were
the only "lodges" in town). We had no complaints.
My absolute highlights were the safaris, particularly Lake Nakuru (which
was the first one we did and was very impressive with lots of animals and
a million flamingos) and Ngorongoro Crater (which was the best). Buffalo
Springs got an honourable mention because the animals we saw were very
different, with the Somali influence in the avifauna and the mammals.
However, the truly amazing statistic was the bird total ? the group
recorded 913 species (based on Sinclair's taxonomy) with 895 seen. We all
saw most of the birds. For example, my total was 897 with 880 seen and Ro
saw 846. All of this was attributable to Nigel's good planning, but more
directly to Brian's guiding. He was fantastic. His knowledge of the
birds, their calls and habits and the habitats and species to be expected
in them was first class. And, it seemed that his main objective was to
show us every possible species in every habitat, an objective that we
supported and enjoyed to the maximum.
I haven't touched on any aspects of the East African people. We
experienced some of their culture, saw the varying conditions in which
many of them lived, met and spent time with a few of them. It might seem
that we spent all of our time birding and searching out animals. Yes,
that was the primary aim of the trip, but I found plenty of opportunity to
see and consider lots of aspects of the countries we visited.
Previously, I had planned to move onto South Africa for my next visit to
the dark continent. But, now I find myself planning to go back to East
Africa first to see the north of Kenya, cover the rest of Uganda (and in
particular see the gorillas and chimpanzees) and see the rest of Tanzania
? and to do it with our guide extraordinaire, Brian Finch. Then, we will
move onto the rest of this big continent.
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