8 Days Bird Photography Tour to Kakamega Forest with Juhani Vilpo from Finland Trip Report.
Tour Participant: Juhani Vilpo.
Tour Leader: Joseph Aengwo.
Photo Acknowledgement: Dr. Juhani Vilpo.
Birds of the Trip: Great Blue Turaco, African Crowned Eagle, White-spotted Flufftail, White-tailed Ant-thrush, Blue-shouldered Robin-chat, Jameson’s Wattle-eye and Black-faced Rufous Warbler.
Report Compiled by: Joe Aengwo
Dr.Juhani Vilpo is a retired medical doctor who has picked up wildlife photography and birding as a hobby. I want to believe that he has been to Kenya many times, four of this was with me. Our latest engagement was on a 8 days trip to Kakamega forest in December 2018 where his attention was to focus only on the forest birds’ photography. Photographing forest birds is a real challenge because of poor lighting condition experienced in any forest, secretive nature of birds in this habitat and rainy forest nature.
Day 1, 2nd December, 2018: His flight route looked this, Helsinki to Schiphol then connect with KLM flight to Nairobi and take a domestic flight to the lake town of Kisumu . I met him at Kisumu international airport at the shores of Lake Victoria and after a brief exchange of pleasantries we drove for an hour from Kisumu to Rondo Retreat centre in the heart of Kakamega forest.
Upon arrival, David Osir, the friendly camp manager checked us in our rooms and invited us for a delicious lunch of vegetable lasagna . After lunch Juhani went to his room to unpack and get his photographic equipment ready for our afternoon session we had agreed to start 3:30pm.
Our first session started as schedule and together we agreed to walk the compound of the lodge which was very rewarding, we managed to photograph Grey-throated Barbet, Green-headed Sunbird, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Great Blue Turaco among others before we run out of light and we called it a day.
Day 2, 3rd December, 2018: We always had our breakfast at 6:00am, making use of this time because the light is terrible. After the first rays of sunshine, we visited a small forest patches outside Rondo lodge gate, next to the tea plantation. Here the birds were already awake and singing. We saw and photographed Chubb’s Cisticola , Common (Brown-throated) Wattle-eye, Yellow-spotted Barbet , Equatorial Akalat , Grey-winged Robin-chat and Yellow White-eye.African Blue Flycatcher and Luhder’s Bush-shrike were around but played hard to get.
In the afternoon, we did the fish-pond trail and got some better photos of Equatorial Akalat, enjoying an afternoon cold shower. Red-headed Blue-bill made a some technical appearance and disappeared into the thicket while the White-tailed Ant-Thrush was always around but seemed very restless .
Day 3,4th December, 2018: Today we decided to venture deeper into the forest and search for species who prefer primary forest . We did some birding on Luranda hills trails and heard Black-billed Turaco calling but he preferred to keep herself hidden in the canopy. Yellow-billed Barbet was also on a singing mood, but very mean on showing off. However, what got our attention and kept us engaged for the better part of the morning was the tiny but gorgeous Jameson Wattle-eye. The dense undergrowth made it difficult for us to observe let alone photographing . It briefly patched on a low branch and we could see the huge turquoise eye wattles. That was all for the morning . Seen and heard a lot of stuff, but not a single photographed was taken. There are days like those in the birding world .
Our afternoon was much better than our morning, we decided to try a new strategy , where Juhani will walk in front of me along the Fish pond trail and I will lag behind watching and listening and pointing to him the direction of action who after accessing the situation will then make an independent decision to or not to shoot , we will only talk in very low tones where necessary, but we preferred not to talk at all.
And then life happen!!Red-headed Blue-bill appeared and off he went , never to be seen again, White-tailed Ant-thrush played hide and seek with us and we gave up and moved on. Yellow wagtail was hanging around the pond, Brown-chested Alethe come a long preening , feeding and even decided to take a quick shower . Exit the Alethe, come the striking Mr and Mrs White-spotted Flufftail , I guess they were on a romantic evening walk . Juhani got excellent photos and with that, we decided to call it a day.
Day 4, 5th December, 2018: Today, we decided to revisit the trail next to the tea plantation , we recorded Yellow-spotted Barbet, White-headed Saw-wing, Chubb’s Cisticola, White-eye Slaty Flycatcher,African Blue Flycather, Olive(Abyssinian) Thrush. On the open field immediately after crossing the road, we recoded White-chinned Prinia, Black-crowned Waxbill, Bocage’s Bush-shrike and Tropical Boubou .
After taking a quick coffee break, we noticed a big raptor hovering above us, evidently revealing its identity to us. African Crowned Eagle it was, I knew that there was a breeding pair in Rondo Retreat centre, but on our arrival at the lodge, David informed us that the pair had abandon the nest because their only chick fell down from the tree and died . Their appearances here come as a surprise to me because I wasn’t expecting them. Out of curiosity we decide to walk to the lodge compound , who knows perhaps they changed their mind and decide to reuse the nest again.
Having a closer look at the tallest tree in the lodge compound False Mvule (antiaris toxicaria), we saw two Crowned Hawk Eagle as it is sometimes known. You can imagine what happen next, Juhani spent I think two hours taking photos of this majestic raptors flying and patching until they disappear from our sight, never did we see them again until the end our trip. I’m glad we took our chances.
Crowned Hawk Eagle ( stephanoaetus cononatus) is often dubbed the most powerful eagle. It has wingspan of 180cm making them one of the largest eagle in African. Female are larger than male and their favorite prey is primate.
Day 5, 6th December, 2018: After having our habitual breakfast , I heard Ross’s Turaco calling just across the road from our lodge. We made the decision to go after it, it doesn’t cost anything to try. Finally we managed to track their location, but it was against the sun, meaning the photo of it will be terrible if taken that way. We gave up and move on to other stuff who were a little bit cooperating .In a thicket nearby, we spotted a Thick-billed Seedeater , Olive Sunbird and Olive-bellied Sunbird, Black-billed Weaver, Turner’s Eremomela , Stuhlmann’s Starling, Joyful Greenbul, Honeyguide Greenbul and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater.
While enjoying the moment , Ross’s Turaco surprisingly come to the scene and stole the attention for other species , its remarkable slow buoyant flight reveals extensive crimson in its wings, always breathtaking to watch them fly from one tree to the other. Amazingly, Jussi secured an excellent photo of this species on flight.
Afternoon session was pretty quiet and nothing much happen as it was threatening to rain and lighting condition moved from bad to worse.
Day 6, 7th December, 2018: On this day, we decide to try the Yala River Trail, at the start of the trail, we saw Snowy-headed Robin-chat, Chestnut-throated Wattle-eye, Blue-shouldered Robin-chat , Brown-eared Woodpecker and Yellow-billed Barbet. Even Jussi, a shorter form of Juhani managed to get some few pictures of the Yellow-billed Barbet at last.
As we begin to penetrate the primary forest, we heard and sometimes saw Hairy-breasted Barbet, Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike, Ansorge’s Greenbul, Uganda woodland Warbler, African Emerald Cuckoo, African Shrike Flycatcher and Browned-capped Weaver.
We also observed briefly on the ground along the trail the arrival and exit of Scaly-breasted and Brown Illadopsises. The afternoon period we decided to revisit the Fish pond trails and try to see if we can see and photograph the beautiful Black-faced Rufuos Warbler . After searching it for an hour, we eventually heard is call and slowly tracked it and he exposed himself long enough to enable us to steal a shot or two.
Day 7, 8th December 2018: Today we were more interested in getting good pictures of White-tailed Ant-thrush and Bocage’s Bush-shrike . We were also joined by a colleague , Winstone Opondo, a resident naturalist at Rondo Retreat Centre who knew a great location for us to try our luck with the Bush-shrike . Just before we exited the gate of the lodge, we notice a African Pied Wagtail using a motor bike mirror to engaged in a territorial fight with its own image reflection.
We were lucky with both the species in our target list. Back to the lodge, we tried to search for Vieillot’s Black Weaver and Grey-throated Barbet. We were successful with the Barbet, but not the weaver . In the afternoon, we decided we will try to get a picture of Luhder’s Bush-shrike. Once we were inside the forest , a pair begun to call in duet but in poor lighting condition. We continued birding, this time round outside the forest, by the road side and another pair of Luhder’s Bush-shrike appeared on a dead branched tree and Jussi managed to steal some few shot of this incredibly beautiful bird.
Day 8, 9th December 2018: Today was our last day in the forest and after lunch we had planned to drive to Kisumu International Airport in time for Jussi to catch his domestic flight to Nairobi where he will connect it with his international flight to Schiphol and back to Finland. We spend the morning birding and looking for primates. Kakamega forest host five types of primate, Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Blue Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey and DeBrazza Monkey found in the northern part of the forest around Buyangu.
After lunch, we drove to Kisumu and that marked the end of our trip. I have learned from experience that spending more time in one location is much better than driving around from place to place, if you have some time to spare.