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

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 .

 

Making Avian Tourism Count to Communities, Ecosystem and Business in Kenya.

With around 10,000 bird species to look at, it should come as no surprise that birdwatching (or ‘birding’) has become one of the more popular nature-related hobbies.Bird watchers, ornithologists and wildlife photographers spend millions of dollars every year travelling around the globe searching for this incredible swimming, walking and flying beauties. It is however, important to note that bird watching, or birding is the fastest-growing recreational activity in the United States, and that the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds alone boasts one million members. It’s a specialist outdoor activity that enjoys a huge global following.

Piero Aberti
Piero Aberti

Kenya is one of those destination where any self respecting birder must visit at least once in their life time. Well don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way suggesting that we can compare Kenya important bird areas to Manu national park in Peru or Pantanal in the lowland of Brazil!. First, let’s look at the product; there is no doubt about it: when it comes to Landscape, we’re right up there. We have sweeping savannas that makes the heart sing, picture-perfect beaches that cleanse the mind and soaring mountains that pacify the soul on its upward journey. We have hidden universe of creatures in our deep oceans and most importantly, the second-largest collection of bird species on the planet. Now, that is an exceptional fact that put us forward as significant destination to the ornithological community globally. Ken.vogels.bew. - 419
Which brings me to this question, are birders good for birds? Birding and nature tourism are compatible with environmental preservation. Kenya communities living close to important bird’s habitat must take advantage of natural scenic areas by promoting ecotourism. In Promoting bird watching and those areas natural assets will in turn promote a greater awareness of for species conservation and habitat protection and rehabilitation. However, we need to be careful not to over utilize significant habitat which are home to critically endangered and endangered species. Research shows that, the number of visitors increases when more birds are present, but as the number of visitors increases, the number of birds decreases and their minimum distance from the visitors increases, this clearly demonstrate that we must strike a balance between the two.
Birdwatching and twitching tourism has been particularly significant in opening up more remote places including deserts and wetlands, but particularly offshore islands, where more unusual and rare species are to be found. It has contributed to the economic development and environmental management of rural and remote areas, while also being one of the most ecologically sound and sustainable of versions of wildlife tourism. Birding therefore, creates economic value for conservation, and this has been true for different conservation initiative in various part of Kenya, and of important to note is Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP), Kijabe Environmental Volunteers, Lake Victoria Sunset Birders, Guides of Arabuko Sokoke forest and Lake Baringo Biodiversity Conservation Group._84Y4922001

There is potential of considerable expansion on benefit from avian tourism in Kenya. For example, incomes earned by local workers working in establishment developed to cater for birdwatching interest group and improved fees paid to local bird guides for their priceless services which most of the time contribute notably to client’s satisfaction. By raising local income and developing skills at the destination site, it adds to sustainable local development and community based conservation. At the same time, involvement of the local communities in the avian-tourism, improve the product (birdlife) and enhances popular support for the industry.
Lastly, this extract from an interesting book LIFE LIST, by Olivia Gentile. This is a story about Phoebe Snetsinger, an outstanding birder of our time. ‘ The group drove a van with a pop-up top all over the country, and everywhere there were birds and mammals in plain view, against a backdrop of green-gold grass and occasional lonely acacia tree. Some of the common birds in Kenya –or the ones you see day after day, and after a while, even when you close your eyes-are among the most spectacular. The common Ostrich is eight feet tall and bathes by rolling around furiously in dry dirt.The African Jacana’s back shines like a newly polished copper. TheLittle Bee-eater wears a different shade of green on each feather,or it seem in the four o’clock sun. The Gray Crowned-Crane stands tall and still, with a “crown” that looks like freshly picked wheat.Lichestein's Sandgouse
In a Nature Notes pieces, Phoebe couldn’t say which birds had been her favorites, because pretty much all of them had left her “ecstatic”. “One really has to include the Lilac-breasted Roller, ubiquitous though it is. And how can you compare an Emerald Cuckoo (unbelievable shades of green and yellow) to a group of Madagascar Bee-eater –or a paradise Flycatcher –or a Hoopoe –or an Orange-bellied Parrot (Unlikely combination of bright orange and green –or a majestic Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl –or that jewel of a Kingfisher, the Malachite ?……..I feel like the man in the children’s story ‘Millions of Cats’ who chose them all because they were all the most beautiful.”
Phoebe Snetsinger died in 23rd November 1999 while on birding tour in Madagascar. By the time of her death, she had seen 8398 species! Amazing. Asked of her favorite birding locale in the world, this is what she said “ Kenya, for its “spectacular” and “easily seen” birds.

Birds of PreyTheir shad…

Birds of Prey

Their shadow dims the sunshine of our day,
As they go lumbering across the sky,
Squawking in joy of feeling safe on high,
Beating their heavy wings of owlish gray.
They scare the singing birds of earth away
As, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,
Watching the toilers with malignant eye,
From their exclusive haven–birds of prey.
They swoop down for the spoil in certain might,
And fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.
They beat us to surrender weak with fright,
And tugging and tearing without let or pause,
They flap their hideous wings in grim delight,
And stuff our gory hearts into their maws.

by: Claude McKay (1889-1948)