The Cryptic Slender-tailed Nightjar at the Rocky Cliffs of Lake Baringo!

Nightjars are largely nocturnal family. They look like owls, with large heads and eyes and a cryptic plumage. The family name caprimulgidae was given to them after some superstitious belief that because of their wide mouths, the birds suckled goats.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

In Kenya we have 13 different species of Nightjars, wide spread in different habitats across the country. The photo appearing above was taken at a rocky countryside of Lake Baringo. Most species are nocturnal or active at dusk, and are solitary and retiring . They concentrate their foraging bouts during twilight hours.

Photo@ Joe Aengwo

By day, they roots on exposed grounds or rocks, in leaf litter, or on branches. When roosting , they adopt a horizontal posture, in contrast to owls.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

Nightjars have very large eyes, adopted to low light condition. They eye have a tapetum, a reflective membrane that increases the amount of light entering the eyeball. Its presence causes reflective “eye-shine” when the eye are illuminated by artificial light.

Photo@Joe Aengwo

Top 5 Tips when you are bird watching in Kenya

With around 1089 different species of birds, Kenya is a bird watchers paradise. The diversity in habitats, good climatic conditions along with beautiful geographic features attracts a variety of birds to migrate to Kenya. Nairobi, the capital city itself boasts of 600 plus species of birds that are resident as well as migrants. 

Kenya is home to a variety of endangered species. A bird watcher or enthusiasts should consider camping in the forest or even highland grasslands to watch some of the rarest species. Near Malindi is the Arabuko-Sokoke forest, where you will find the endemic species like Clarke’s Weaver, East Coast Akalat (Gunning’s Robin), and Sokoke Pipit. At the Papyrus Swamps near Lake Victoria, you will find the endemic species of the Papyrus like the Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, and Papyrus Yellow Warbler. Kenya is a place that you can visit all around the year for bird watching.

Common Ostrich roaming the extensive savanna of the Masai Mara . Photo by Tony Crocetta

Here are a few tips if you’re planning your next bird watching trip to Kenya.

A Bird Book Guide

A bird watcher should look up online or in a bird guide to know about the different species of birds you can find in Kenya. Kenya has a large variety of bird species. Do extensive researches to learn about the different species found in different areas of Kenya, and you will have a wonderful birding experience. If you’re new to birding, it is imperative to study on how to differentiate between bird families. You can pick up a local bird book, and it will give you valuable information about the birds in the region.

Hire a Local Guide

There are birds everywhere in Kenya. You will be mesmerized to see the variety of species you will see when you take a walk around your hotel or even the garden. However, a local guide can take you to numerous sites and help you in identifying various species of birds that you may have never seen. They can take you on a safari, and you will never forget the birding experience in Kenya.

Don’t Forget Your Binoculars

Binoculars are essential for a rich and fruitful bird watching experience. It is not possible to get a good view of a bird flying high in the sky or in the highland grasslands if you don’t have a binocular. Always have your set of binoculars to watch the birds in the distance. Never miss an opportunity to watch the rarest or endemic species with a binocular in your hand. You can check the reviews and prices of the best binoculars under $200 here.

Camera

Capture your memories of birding experience in your camera. There are a variety of digital cameras that will give you clarity, and zoom-in and Zoom-out feature. You can refer to the pictures later in the comfort of your home and study the different species of birds.

Plan your Visit

There are a variety of locations you can visit in Kenya. Make a list of where you want to go and what kind of birds you want to see. The bird watcher should include these places on their list, Aberdares, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Baringo, Chyulu Hills, Kakamega Forest, Lake Victoria, Magadi, Sabaki esaturary,  Watamu, Meru, Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, Nakuru, Nairobi City, Ruma National Park, Shimba Hills, South Coast, Samburu, Tsavo, Tana River Delta, Samburu National Reserve and Taita Hills.

Plan your next visit to the best bird watching destination and enjoy a wonderful birding experience in Kenya.

“The Leopard of the Sky”Crowned Hawk-eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus)

African Crowned-Eagle gliding the African Skies. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Although not the biggest eagle in Africa, the Crowned Eagle is considered the most powerful and ferocious eagle based on the size of its prey. Weighing in at 2.5 – 4.5 kg, it regularly kills prey heavier than itself. Forest mammals like Vervet monkeys and duiker (25kg) are never safe when this eagle is near. Africa’s biggest eagle is the Martial Eagle which can weigh over 6kg but prefers to prey on animals like Guineafowl and reptiles.

Also known as the Leopard of the Sky for its hunting abilities, the Crowned Eagle is well camouflaged with bars and blotches on the chest and a slate grey upper side. This colouring makes it disappear in a forest environment, especially because it tends to sit inside the tree canopy instead of on top like most other eagles.

A breeding pair of African Crowned Eagle at Kakamega forest. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

To adapt to the forest environment, the Crowned Eagle has a long tail and broad, rounded wings. The combination of these two makes it extremely agile and fast which is one of the main reasons why it is the only eagle that preys on monkeys actively. Monkeys are very alert and quick, making them difficult to hunt, especially in a group. The male and female Crowned Eagle often hunt as a pair, while one eagle distracts the monkeys, the other makes the kill. With powerful feet and massive talons it can kill a monkey in one blow. This is essential because monkeys have strong hands and can easily damage an eye or a wing of the eagle.

During breeding time crowned eagles become much more visible and vocal as they make undulating areal displays at heights of up to 1km. They can be noisy during these times with a loud ‘kewee kewee kewee’ call from the male. This ritual is normally associated with breeding, but could also be an act of territorial domination.

The nest of a Crowned Eagle is a huge structure of sticks which is repaired and enlarged every breeding season, making the nests grow bigger and bigger. Some nests grow to be about 2.3 metres across making them the biggest nests of all the eagle species.

You have a chance of seeing this species in Kenya if you are touring Mt.Kenya Forest Reser, Nairobi National Park, Aberdare National Park, Kakamega tropical rain forest and Mau Forest.

White-spotted Flufftail at Rondo Retreat Centre, Kakamega forest.

On the first week of December, 2018 we had planned a 8 days photographic trip to kakamega forest. My client opted to stay at Rondo Retreat Centre because of its location right inside the forest. Our target birds were many, but high on the list was the stunning White-spotted Flufftail.

After 3 days of continuous search of this elusive and secretive species, nature rewarded us with great views of both male and female. I guess they were on romantic walk enjoying each other company and failed to notice our presence.

Birding is first class at Kakamega forest, although the forest suffers from increasing fragmentation .

Photo by Juhani Vilpo
Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Bar-tailed Trogon at the Lower Slopes of Mt.Kenya.

Bar-tailed Trogon
Photo by Raymond Galea

On any bird watching excursion disappointment and  surprises happen all the time, so when my clients and I arrived at one of the forest block a long the lower slopes of Mt.Kenya, seeing a Bar-tailed Trogon was not really in our mind, I guess we had learned to manage our expectation.

On the main trail in the forest other things come by easily without much effort, Mountain Yellow and Brown Woodland Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Yellow-crowned Canary, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Hartlaub’s Turaco, African Crowned Eagle, Mountain Buzzard, Eastern Mountain and Slender-bill Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Ruppelle’s Robin-chat, Golden-winged and Tacazze Sunbird  among others were some of our priced collection.

Then the big moment come and voila we had some fantastic views of Bar-tailed Trogon. It begun by it calling from a nearby forest thicket  and its continuous calling betrayed its exact location and we had excellent photographic opportunities.

On such kind of trips, sometimes you lose and sometimes you win, but this time round we won in a big way.

Grey Woodpecker (Dendropicos goertae rhodeogaster)

Grey-headed Woodpecker 1Our bird of the week  is the Grey Woodpecker, race rhodeogaster, which is sometimes considered conspecific with the Ethiopian spodocephalus and known as Grey-headed Woodpecker. This species species was photographed around central Kenya.

In Kenya we have 13 species of Woodpecker and they are amazingly beautiful to watch in the field. Most of the woodpeckers we have here are diamorphic, meaning male look different from the female.Grey-headed Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are known for tapping on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. Woodpeckers also have, well, a head for pecking. For one, woodpeckers have tiny brains—just 0.07 ounce. The bigger the brain, the higher the mass and thus the higher the risk of brain injury according to biologist research work, hence the reason why woodpeckers don’t get a headache while pecking.

The woodpecker’s strong, pointed beak acts as both a chisel and a crowbar to remove bark and find hiding insects. It has a very long tongue, up to four inches in some species – with a glue-like substance on the tip for catching insects.

While most birds have one toe pointing back and three pointing forward on each foot, woodpeckers have two sharply clawed toes pointing in each direction to help them grasp the sides of trees and balance while they hammer – this formation is called zygodactal feet. Many woodpecker species also have stiffened tail feathers, which they press against a tree surface to help support their weight.

Woodpeckers live in wooded areas and forest where they tap on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. Some species drum on trees to communicate to other woodpeckers and as a part of their courtship behavior. Woodpeckers tap an estimated 8,000-12,000 times per day.

 

White-Starred Robin (Pogonocichla stellata)

White-starred Robin

During our brief two days stay at a pristine montane forest located in the southern part of Mt. Kenya, we came across this eye-catching forest robin. Observing it from the back might appear a little bit dull, but wait until it turns its back to you, and you will be amazed by its bright-yellow breast, its views will surely take your breath away .

On our way up there, we had early on passed through Wajee Nature Park located Mukurweini valley, which is arguably the best site in Kenya to see the endemic Hinde’s Babbler, we managed to steal few excellent views of this iconic species, but missed the African Wood Owl which our guide James as earlier on said it roots at the reserve.

Other than the White-starred Robin, we also managed to record species like; Rameron and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrot, Olive Ibis, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Hunter’s Cisticola, Black-throated, Chestnut-throated and Grey Apalis, Abbott’s and Waller’s Starling, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Oriole Finch and several species of Sunbird.

Once again, birding Mt.Kenya forest reserve is always exciting and rewarding, I will never get enough of this forest .