I was asked to arrange a tour for twenty-six days that would give us a chance of 800 species including all of the regional specialties, and remove the Birdquest current title for the tour I led for them over ten years ago when we had an exceptional November passage.

This time the tour was for Rockjumper (the South African Bird Tour Company) co-leading with David Hoddinott (Rockjumper guide), and expertly co-ordinated by our own Ben Mugambi and his staff of Ben’s Ecological Safaris. Apart from the clients it was a 100% all African team.

The group that turned up at the airport for this tour:  three British, three Dutch, one French Canadian, four American, one South African, and a co-leader also a South African, was very keen and compatible. They were all twelve with two leaders and hence contained several pairs of the sharpest eyes I have ever encountered in my life.

Under normal circumstances it is thought that the maximum number of species available in Kenya falls in the period mid-October until mid-December when hordes of migrant birds from the palaearctic are moving southwards.  February and March sees lesser numbers moving northwards after the period of mortality for the younger birds on their wintering grounds.

Nevertheless neither of these periods was chosen, and it was decided to run the risk of the long rains and commence the tour from early April into the beginning of May.  Naturally a vast majority of the palaearctics will already have left, but the rains bring Afro-tropical birds into breeding activity and normally secretive species can be more obvious.  The changing environment brings about large movements of African species as they seek to temporarily colonize the new habitats available.

The tour started on 9th April and finished on 4th May, this would seem rather late for the migrants heading north, and too early for the Afrotropicals to react to the long rains. In fact because of these factors tours do not run in this period, and of course there is always a chance of being caught out in the rains.

We had to sacrifice some migrants, and as a consequence we did not encounter any palearctic ducks, Grasshopper Buzzard, Pallid or Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Eleonora's Falcon, Little Ringed Plover, Temminck's Stint, Common Snipe, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Blue-cheeked Bee- eater, Tree Pipit, Grey or White Wagtails, Rufous Bush-Chat, Irania, Isabelline or Pied Wheatears, Icterine, Olive-Tree or Barred Warblers, Blackcap, and Mangrove Kingfisher together with Red-capped Robin Chat had deserted their coastal retreats. Between November and March virtually all of these 25+ species would have been reasonably expected.

The strange weather conditions that were prevalent in March, removing waterbirds from the country was still in evidence, and during the period there was no sign of Pink-backed Pelican, African Darter or Spurwing Goose, Allen's Gallinule, Purple Swamphen, African Skimmer or either of the other Grebes.

As with all tours some surprisingly common or normally reliable species secluded themselves mysteriously, amongst these we failed to find Greater Kestrel, Kittlitz's Plover, Barn, Marsh and Spotted Eagle Owls, Fine-banded Woodpecker, White-tailed Lark and Grey- headed Silverbill.

Then finally there are the species that do not show up in the limited time available within their range and there are far too many of these to list here.

The late short rains had brought breeding into play earlier than normal, and we saw so very many species feeding flying young, this meant that virtually throughout, very little was singing, and little responded territorially. In all, conditions appeared far from perfect. On the other hand because they had young to feed, birds were active for much of the day and this meant more visual activity than would usually be the case.

With all of these numerous species now "out-of-play" how did our small country like Kenya fare? The answer is exceedingly well, we finished the tour with no less than 816 species seen (and nearly all by all participants) and a further 10 heard only and three moribund (!) bringing the total to 826 forms and 823 without the corpses!!!!! This is in all likelihood a world record number of species seen on any organised bird tour in the world within one country. We even officially deprived Tanzania of one of it's endemics!

I will now give a locality by locality report on the more interesting sightings during the tour, and there were some surprises. The better records are mentioned, but it is necessary to wade through all of the palearctic records that I feel are so important at this time of year.

We flew directly to Mombasa when the group arrived, and then on to Shimba Hills Lodge. This was our only serious error, as we had nothing not seen the following day, and the morning should have been spent in Nairobi Park and we should have flown to Mombasa in the afternoon. Two days previously with Mike Davidson, Fleur Ng'Weno and Karen Plum we had recorded four species that did not appear on this tour!

Shimba Hills & North Coast Sites
The adventure started providentially with the finding of the Kenyan endemic Shimba Hills Reed Frog (exquisitely colourful) in the gentlemens washrooms of Shimba Hills Lodge. On the morning of 10th April we drove out to the Makadara Picnic Site before breakfast. The area was quite dry and the roads in good condition, a herd of some thirty Sable were found on the way. Birds were not that active, eight Northern Hobbys passing over, one Yellow Wagtail, 20 Eurasian Golden Orioles and the usual Green-headed Orioles, eight Asian Lesser Cuckoos included two beautiful bright rufous individuals. We saw a pair of the diminutive coastal Pale Flycatchers (maybe some work needs to be done here as they are quite different from the giants of the interior), a couple of coastal Siffling Cisticolas, only one Willow Warbler, five Red-backed Shrikes and two Honey Buzzards came circling over the lodge car park as we were about to leave.

Whilst driving north, we had two Hobbys harassing an Asian Lesser Cuckoo over the creek at Likoni whilst we waited for the ferry, and one Common Buzzard over Mombasa.

Mida Creek had a very low tide and had low wader numbers but there were about 250 Crab Plovers, though only one Ringed Plover, good numbers of Greater Sand Plovers and a couple of Lessers, 80 Grey Plover some in startling breeding dress, one each of Sanderling and Turnstone, 200 Curlew Sandpipers but only a single Little Stint, 40 Whimbrel, 2 Greenshank, 6 Terek Sandpipers, 15 Saunder's Terns, two Eurasian Cuckoos, one Lesser Grey Shrike, and the strange sight of a Hobby sitting out on the mud!

In the late afternoon we visited Sokoke Forest which produced the delightful trio of Sokoke Scops Owls at their daytime roost, and at sunset Fiery-necked Nightjars entertained us.

However KWS did not entertain us. In the National Parks, a ticket is valid for a twenty-four hour entry commencing at time of purchase, not so with KWS at Arabuko-Sokoke, the next morning they would not budge from stating that our hour in the forest for the Owl constituted a whole day and the next morning we had to pay all over again. This meant that we could not visit the forest on our final morning as planned, as with the size of the group we are talking about a considerable sum of dollars. Whoever implemented this ruling should be sacked as the damage done to the revenue of the forest will be considerable. Thinking that tourists (other than birders) will pay evening and the following day is a stupid notion, and for a few hours they will just not visit at $20 per head or whatever it has been put up to now. KWS has a history of stupid people in its ranks, but at the moment the coast is winning by a mile. In addition there is no obvious maintenance of the roads taking place inside the forest, apart from emptying a few pieces of broken coral in the washaways.

The group was entirely dissatisfied by this attitude of money grabbing that sadly the name of both KWS and Arabuko-Sokoke will be tarnished overseas as soon as they all reach their native shores. With our group $600 went into their gate-takings and still this is their attitude. It leaves a very bad taste and I will be taking the issue further. Our birders stayed 12 nights in Parks or Reserves in the country at an average of over $500 just in entry fees per night this will give some idea of the revenue bird groups are putting into the KWS and NGR economies.

Back to the birds……..!

We spent the nights on the coast in Scorpio Villas in Malindi, now under new management, it was much better than it used to be, everything ran smoothly and very comfortably, and so much better than their now inferior though much more expensive better known neighbours. It made a great base for Sokoke, and meant that Sabaki was only a short distance away.

On the morning of the 11th we found small groups of first arrival Madagascar Pratincoles over the hotel, then we went into Sokoke Forest, and instead of doing two mornings as planned, made the entire day of it. There were also Madagascar Pratincoles flying over the forest, they seemed to have made an early landfall, but my records of previous years show that this is the normal time for their first appearance. We saw most of what Sokoke had to offer in visiting the main forest and Kararacha in the afternoon. In the migrant line there were two Hobbys, six Eurasian and ten Lesser Cuckoos, three Willow and one Garden Warbler, 30 Eurasian Golden Orioles and a Red-backed Shrike.

A black Levaillant's Cuckoo was a nice find, as was finding three roosting Wood Owls only a couple of metres from the ground, a Pallid Honeyguide and four African Golden Orioles in the forestry station, and six Clarke's Weavers at Kararacha which completed our last of the real local specialities in the forest.

The next morning (12th) we headed to Sabaki, stopping at a small flooded area on the way that proved productive. One of a pair of Red- necked Falcons caught a Yellow-fronted Canary and posed with its breakfast. Golden Palm Weavers and Zanzibar Red Bishops were in breeding dress. Coastal Cisticolas were cavorting in the rank grass, between here and Malindi there were at least 30 Eurasian Golden Orioles.

Sabaki had over 500 Lesser and three Greater Flamingos, yet another Red-necked Falcon, two Hobbys, surprisingly after the previous days arrival, only one Madagascar Pratincole, 20 Ringed, 10 Greater Sand, 2 Lesser Sand and over 100 Grey Plovers, with seven Black-headed Plovers on the grasslands, one each of Common Sandpiper, Sanderling and Ruff, two Turnstones, 250 Curlew Sandpipers, 75 Little Stints, 2 Eurasian Curlew, 20 Whimbrel, 15 Wood Sandpipers 5 Greenshank and 20 Terek Sandpipers. Continuing the domination of Heuglin's Gull this year there was only one Lesser Black-backed in a group of 25 migrant gulls (and one Black-headed) . Of the eight terns species present there were 4 Saunder's, one Caspian, 15 Roseate, 50 Common and 6 White-winged Black. There was one Eurasian Cuckoo in the scrub, a dozen Yellow Wagtails including flava, two Spotted Flycatchers and a Sedge Warbler was heard calling. The prize was a pair of the now split Eastern Black-headed Batis in the rank growth on the walk down to the shore.

At Gongoni we were successful in locating a very territorial pair of Malindi Pipits which seemed to enjoy being photographed at close quarters, a single Temminck's Courser was a bit of a surprise on the coast, a very nice discovery was finding a roosting most attractive Nubian Nightjar, and a more reasonably expected Slender-tailed Nightjar. There were also three Pangani Longclaws, six Red-backed and eight Lesser Grey Shrikes,

Driving back towards Malindi we stopped for a large raptor circling over the road, and were most happy to find an adult Short-toed Snake- Eagle which was duly digitised.

Tsavo, Taita Hills
Having entered Buchuma Gate rather late in the afternoon there was not much time for stopping. We had six Amur Falcons sitting on bushes by the road, a single Eurasian Roller and Eurasian and Donaldson-smith' s Nightjars were on the road on the entrance to Ndololo Camp.

There were Scops Owls calling at night, and in the morning (13th) a Sprosser was singing outside of our tent and two Spotted Flycatchers came in to mob a Pearl-spotted Owlet with four Willow Warblers, three Whitethroats, an Olivaceous Warbler and 4 Eurasian Golden Orioles in the area. Well in excess of 50 Red-backed Shrikes a single Red-tailed and 25 Lesser Grey Shrikes were in the scrub between Ndololo and Voi Gate. On driving towards Voi Gate we also had two Lesser Spotted Eagles and three Amur Falcons.

In the Taita Hills we found an obliging pair of Striped Pipits, and there was still a Chiffchaff present as well as the more normal residents. A Honey Buzzard circled low over the road near Mwatete.

Driving from Taitas there were over 60 Eurasian Rollers along the roadside, and on entering Tsavo Gate entrance we drove to Ngulia Lodge, there were 40 Vulturine Guineafowl feeding along the road,

At the Lodge there were 5 Eurasian and one Plain Nightjar feeding on insects attracted by the light.

On the 14th there had been a small fall at the lodge. There was a freshly dead River Warbler in the restaurant as well as two equally deceased Marsh Warblers, and a Sedge Warbler which was rescued and in the garden, three Eurasian Golden Orioles, plus singles of Nightingale, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler. The dominant migrants were 15 Whitethroats.

After breakfast we left for the whole day for an outing to Lake Jipe, On the way we found five Amur Falcons with two adult male Western Red-footed Falcons, a real surprise. Equally amazing some twenty kilometres from the western Maktau Gate, we found a Somali Bee-eater holding food as if it was going to visit a nearby nest. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to wait by the bird, as there was still quite a distance to travel, but it was in the identical place on the return journey. Also there were 3 Hobbys, a Eurasian Cuckoo a single Yellow-billed Hornbill, always uncommon in Tsavo West. A pair of Pale Prinias also lend evidence that the species might still be spreading slowly southwards. At the lake there was not a lot of activity, but there was a Eurasian Marsh Harrier, one Yellow Wagtail, 5 Lesser Kestrels in the plains, a couple of Eurasian Swifts, five Eurasian Rollers, with totals of 75 Red-backed and 40 Lesser Grey Shrikes spread over the area. Non migrants included two Zanzibar Red Bishops, and 20 Taveta Golden Weavers with males in breeding plumage.

On return there were two Eurasian and one Plain Nightjar around the lights of the lodge.

We returned to Nairobi on the 15th, the birdbath at Ngulia was attracting eight Jameson's Firefinches, so nice to see the birds not skulking in rank cover for once. A Basra Reed Warbler was in fine form feeding in scraggy annuals on the lawn and posed most obligingly with 3 Marsh, 2 Upcher's and a Willow Warbler with five Whitethroats.

We had a pre-breakfast drive to the area around Ngulia Airstrip, better finds here were four Red-naped Bush-Shrikes which showed well, also a few Pringle's Puffbacks. There were also three Eurasian Cuckoos on the way out of the park, as well as a single Eurasian Swift, five Eurasian Rollers, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, over 100 Red- backed , 30 Lesser Grey Shrikes and 6 Eurasian Golden Orioles.

Magadi Road, Olorgesaillie
We woke up on the 16th at Whistling Thorns for a morning on the Magadi Road, there were three Eurasian Cuckoos on the lawn before we left, along the road there were single Common Buzzard and Hobby, another 4 Eurasian Cuckoos, nine Eurasian Bee-eaters flew over, a couple of Short-tailed Larks, two Yellow Wagtails, 2 each of Great Reed and Marsh Warblers, 4 each of Willow and Garden Warblers, 2 Red- backed Shrikes, and on the Camel Road, the Steel-blue Whydahs were in fine plumage together with many Paradise. Finally there were 500 Abdim's Storks at Ol Tepesi. We left here for Blue Posts.

Thika
The 17th April we had a look around the Blue Posts, on the river we were fortunate enough to find a Finfoot, a single Trumpeter Hornbill, the usual pair of Brown-hooded Kingfishers and 6 Grey- olive Greenbuls, the garden also had three Willow Warblers.

Kijabe Escarpment Forest, Lake Naivasha
At Kieni Forest we had a fine assortment of montane species but nothing out of the ordinary.

The fields near the Kinangop Flyover were full of lush pasture, a very good find here were at least six pairs of African Snipe flying around displaying and drumming. I am not sure when Kenya last had a breeding record for this species and they are well worth going to see. Five Hobbys flew over the area, and yet another Honey Buzzard. A very encouraging find was 20 Sharpe's Longclaws quite a remarkable concentration. The paddock also had one Wing-snapping and two Levaillant's Cisticolas, and a Red-throated Pipit.

In the evening we arrived at Naivasha, there was a Little Bittern on the jetty, two Eurasian Cuckoos on the lawn, a single Great Reed, two Sedge Warblers, and four Eurasian Golden Orioles.

We had a boat-trip on the lake on the morning of the 18th, of interest were single Black-headed and Heuglin's Gulls, two Hobbys, a single Ringed Plover and Marsh Sandpiper, five Common Sandpipers, 25 Ruff, 6 Wood Sandpipers, 20 White-winged Black Terns, no less than 10 Eurasian Cuckoos on the lawn including one hepatic female, only one Yellow Wagtail, three Sand Martins, single Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Marsh Warbler and Whitethroat, two Sedge Warblers, amongst the 30 Willow Warblers were two nice Wood Warblers, six Red- backed and two Lesser Grey Shrikes finally two Eurasian Golden Orioles. Leaving Naivasha we found African Black Swifts prospecting for nest sites in a building, the same was happening at KWS offices Hippo Point (Naivasha) this time last year.

Aberdare Mountains, Mt. Kenya
At the pasture near North Kinangop we were fortunate enough to find six Common Quail, another six Sharpe's Longclaw's, four Wing- snapping Cisticolas with much displaying and a pair of Levaillant's Cisticolas.

Crossing the Aberdares from Mutubio Gate to Nyeri we easily found Jackson's Francolins, Hill Chats and Aberdare Cisticolas, a few Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbirds sang from giant heather and a flock of 30 Lesser Kestrels passed overhead.

We called in at Wajee, there were five Hinde's Babblers present, but an adult Sooty Falcon passed over and the biggest surprise were two Buff-spotted Flufftails wailing from the thick lantana growth.

On arrival at Mountain Lodge there were still two Green Sandpipers on the waterhole.

It rained heavily on the mountain overnight, and on the morning of the 19th, we bird-watched from the roof before breakfast. The two Green Sandpipers were still there, along the road there were five Eurasian Cuckoos, two Eurasian Bee-eaters flew over.

On arrival at the Naro Moru entrance to the Park, we were advised that the road up to the Met Station was impassable, this was a blow but we made the most of birding the lower road. We found five Eurasian Swifts amongst the 60 or more Scarce Swifts, a single Chiffchaff and strangely only a single Willow Warbler, an attractive pair of Abbott's Starlings, six Sharpe's and plenty of Waller's.

From the Mountain Lodge rooftop in the evening, amongst the montane starlings a group of four Kenrick's flew in to roost.

On the 20th April we had early morning on the rooftop before breakfast finding a nice Oriole Finch feeding in a fruiting tree, and there was a Common Kestrel over the fields near Naro Moru, and one Eurasian Cuckoo on leaving Mountain Lodge.

Near Timau junction there was a dam near the road that had four Black Storks, nine White Storks were over the fields, with one Common Buzzard, and three Yellow Wagtails, whilst Boran Cisticola was easy to locate, the habitat is seriously in threat,

Samburu & Shaba Game Reserves
On the drive from Isiolo to Buffalo Springs, amazingly there was only two Red-backed Shrikes and no Lesser Greys.

The 21st morning was spent entirely in Samburu GR, and in the afternoon the departure was through Buffalo Springs GR to Shaba GR.

We explored the "Sopa" Hill first thing in the morning, 15 White Storks soared over, there were four Eurasian Cuckoos in the bush, five Common Swifts were around Sopa Lodge, and a Eurasian Rock Thrush there might be the last of the season. Two Great Reed Warblers were in the bushes, and a Pearl-spotted Owlet attracted one Eurasian Reed Warbler and a Whitethroat. Whilst searching the scrub, we were amazed and delighted to find a superb pair of Somali Long- billed Crombecs in the grounds of the lodge. There were a few Pringle's Puffbacks in the commiphora along the ascent road.

At mid-day we had a short walk in the Serena grounds, the best bird being a Wood Warbler amongst a half-dozen Willow Warblers and a Eurasian Golden Oriole.

Driving through Buffalo Springs GR we came across a number of Somali Ostrich, one pair had some newly fledged chicks, I was interested to see that they were completely uniform, as opposed to the stripy Maasai Ostrich. Does anyone know if this is a constant feature, I have photos, but have never seen their chicks before. Ethiopian Swallows were nesting on the Choka Gate Entrance. There were only two Red-backed, one Red-tailed and five Lesser Grey Shrikes along the road. Several Fire-fronted Bishops were in all of their
splendour along the Samburu Airstrip, buzzing like painted tennis- balls in the rank grass.

On the road to Shaba Lodge there were three Brown-tailed Rock Chats on the road, not a common bird in this area, and a single male Magpie Starling.

We managed to arrive fairly early on the lava in Shaba on 22nd., but were distracted on the way by fairly numerous Friedmann's Larks singing both from the tops of bushes and in flight. This was a really exciting discovery, though the species was first found there by Colin Jackson a couple of years ago. William's Larks were easy to locate, and we had at least five individuals, both these and the Friedmann's posed readily and openly for photos.

There were hundreds of Harlequin Quail on the lava, and we were followed by a pair of Lanner Falcons for over an hour, which chased the quail as we flushed them. They had many failures but eventually one succeeded, and immediately had it stolen by a Tawny Eagle, and amazingly put up no fight to retrieve their prey. They continued to follow us, and eventually secured another and flew off, presumably to a nest. Other birds consisted of a solitary White Stork, four Buttonquail, no less than 10 Eurasian Cuckoos winging north-east in the morning, very sadly though a very important record and well photographed was the discovery of a freshly dead male Star-spotted Nightjar on the road. I have long suspected that they might be in the area, as conditions look perfect. Six Eurasian Swifts and two Alpine Swifts were flying over a ridge that had a pair of Shining Sunbirds. Five Chestnut-crowned and one Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks were along the road on return to the hotel, and a single Yellow Wagtail looked a bit out of place and a late Northern Wheatear was not too far from the entrance. Other migrants included a half-dozen Willow, one Garden Warbler and a Whitethroat, but only one Red- backed and three Lesser Grey Shrikes. From here we left for Naro Moru.

Mweiga
On the morning of the 23rd we birded the grounds of Naro Moru River Lodge, the golf course is still disappearing under the regrowth. No birds of any note, only migrants being a couple of Willow Warblers, apart from the ubiquitous Barn Swallows of course.

The recent rains had made the Solio Ranch road impassable, which was quite a blow, and we had to detour past the Aberdare Country Club to get to the Nyahururu Road.

At Mweiga we met with Mackinder's Eagle Owl and Murithi told us of an African Grass Owl nest with two chicks he had been looking at the previous day on a private piece of land. We back-tracked to the field in view of the Aberdare Country Club and waited whilst Murithi flushed one bird, successfully obtained a photo, then left it in peace without going anywhere near the nest. The landowner was duly rewarded for keeping the area completely natural though the rest of the area was cultivated. We were truly delighted with this sighting, and none more than me. What a wonderful breeding record for the country.

Near Nyahururu we had a very extravert African Water Rail and four Wood Sandpipers, with bathing Slender-billed Starlings at Ndaragwa.

Lake Nakuru & Lake Baringo
Early breakfast at Lion Hill, Nakuru on 24th, and we spent the morning exploring the Park. The Lesser Flamingos were back to being spectacular, however White Pelicans have still not returned and we only saw a flock of fifteen. The sewage ponds did not provide a single duck, just a few Red-knobbed Coots. Near the shore was a single Steppe Eagle, only one Hobby, and just one Avocet. Other waders consisted of eight Curlew Sandpipers, ten Little Stints, five Black-tailed Godwits, 30 Ruff, 20 Wood Sandpiper, two each of Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper, one very attractive breeding plumaged Black-headed Gull, otherwise two Eurasian Cuckoos, two Sand Martin,

We met up with Francis at Baringo in the afternoon and went straight to the cliffs then followed this with the other local specialities one after the other, meaning that we could leave Baringo early to cross the Kerio on leaving. There were eleven White Storks along the cliffs, a Lead-coloured Flycatcher here was a good find,

There is a hidden heron colony near the jetty in the club but the Prosopis make it impossible to see any nests. It would appear that Cattle Egrets and Squacco Herons are breeding there. Apart from this it was not too exciting with a single Great Reed and Sedge Warblers, though all the weavers were nesting and in breeding plumage.

On the 25th we had a pre breakfast walk to the jetty, but nothing additional was to be found apart from two Black Egrets and a Little Bittern. Also a couple of Sedge Warblers,

Kapendo, Kerio Valley
After breakfast we left for a days outing north to Kapedo. There were at least ten Eurasian Cuckoos in the scrub.

At a flooded depression before Nginyang we found four Dwarf Bitterns, two Lesser Moorhen, five Painted-Snipe, eight Wood Sandpiper, a Greenshank, plus an early arrival of five Madagascar Bee-eaters.

North from there we had several Lichtenstein' s Sandgrouse, a pair of Chestnut-crowned Sparrowlarks, six Crested Larks, six Ethiopian Swallows, a very strange shrike which we photographed and has to be investigated, buffy underparts with contrasting white throat, pale grey upperparts, but the entire crown grey with no black on the forehead and the mask reduced to a broad eye-line. In all likelihood probably just a strange Lesser Grey, but we will have to get the photos off to experts who can help out with the identification. There were three Lesser Grey Shrikes, two Somali Fiscals, several Magpie Starlings, Shining Sunbirds, the real star was five male Somali Sparrows in a flock of House Sparrows in Kapedo town. There were undoubtedly female Somali Sparrows present as well, but I don't know how to separate the females of the two species.

Back at Baringo Club in the evening we had a small nightjar flying with Slender-tails that had absolutely no markings on wings or tail, and a female Standard-winged Nightjar is suspected, but the record is inconclusive.

Because we had seen everything that the area had to readily offer, we departed Baringo on the morning of 26th., straight after breakfast, getting us into the Kerio Valley fairly early and apart from the usual specialities located a Gambaga Flycatcher. Then continued on to the Kericho Club.

Cherangani Hills, Kongelai Escarpments
Next morning (27th) we located Maurice and spent the morning in the Kongelai/Keringet area, it was most successful. At the Keringet Dam there were some nice birds, Red-chested Flufftail was calling but we did not have the time to draw it into view, another Little Bittern was quite showy, a compact party of six Honey Buzzards passed overhead, a pair of Splendid Starlings and a pair of Bronze-tailed Starlings feeding young in a nest lastly Heuglin's Masked Weavers were active in their breeding colony.

On the descent towards the Suam River we found Brown-backed Woodpecker and Brown-backed Scrub-Robin on the top, eight Yellow- billed Shrikes in the valley.

Kakamega Forest
Afternoon in the garden at Rondo Retreat in Kakamega was also birdy, seven Grey Parrots fed in a fruiting tree with various barbets. Grey- winged Ground Robin and the usual Snowy-headed Robin Chats were conspicuous.

With only one full day on the 28th we stayed out in the forest all daylight hours, and had an amazing time finding a greater percentage of the species present. Less numerous species were Banded Snake- Eagle, White-spotted Flufftail was incredibly co-operative in Rondo, Toro Olive Greenbuls, all four Illadopsis, Chapin's Flycatcher, four Southern Hyliotas, yet another species that is awaiting work to be done on it to show that there is really a Kakamega endemic, an almost perfect Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, but with a stain of grey down the centre of the chest, all four Wattle-eyes, but no migrants. Butterflies were on the increase and it may soon be a good flying season.

On 29th we had the morning looking for some of the missing species, and managed a number more, one of the grassy glades had a pair of Blue-headed Coucals and displaying Broad-tailed Warbler and Marsh Tchagra.

Busia Grasslands
There was only one Rock Pratincole on the Mumias Bridge, but the star here was a Forest Cobra swimming in the river and resting in view on the bank. The rest of the afternoon was spent at Mungatsi. Here we found four Senegal Plovers, several Red-headed Lovebirds, flushed a Swamp Nightjar off a nest with two eggs, and had several more at dusk when they were joined by an early Pennant-wing. Four Broad-billed Rollers in rather shabby dress may have been from Madagascar. Reeds along the Sio River still hold White-winged Warbler, Greater Swamp Warbler and Slender-billed Weaver all species normally associated with papyrus, apart from Barn Swallows virtually the only migrant was a single Lesser Grey Shrike, a solitary glowing Purple Starling was a real stunner and our 24th starling having seen all but Shelley's still up in Somalia breeding, and White-crowned from the extreme north. Three confiding Locust Finch were in the grasslands and several Parasitic Weavers were active there.

The night in Busia was not too quiet, but maybe we were too exhausted to worry too much about it. Next morning (30th) we explored Nambale, one of the better birds being a pair of Speckle- breasted Woodpeckers that were digitised, closely followed by a very fat Great Snipe, something of a rarity in recent years. A single Eurasian Cuckoo showed that the incredible passage this year was not yet over, an adult and immature Blue-breasted Bee-eater, a couple of Black and several Black-winged Bishops in breeding plumage as were the Marsh Widowbirds, another three Locust Finch were also here.

In the afternoon we visited Adungosi where there was a Shining-blue Kingfisher in almost the same place that I had had one ten years ago, maybe they are always there, another interesting species here was a couple of Black-rumped Waxbills (our 9th and final Estrilda) associating with Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus, on the nearby hills we found several Whistling Cisticolas, Black-bellied Firefinches and many Finch's Agamas.

Kisumu, Lake Victoria
From here we left for Kisumu.

May Day on the shores of Lake Victoria, sleep the previous night was interrupted by the constant wailing of a Buff-spotted Flufftail. We tried for the bird in the morning, and had it calling, but time pressure really meant we had to leave as our next destination was the Mara and we had no idea how bad the roads would be and how long it would take. At the Yacht Club we found several nice birds including Papyrus Canary, whilst at Dunga Point we found yet another Little Bittern, another Lesser Moorhen, 50 White-winged Black Tern, Black-billed Barbet and Papyrus Gonolek. There were small flocks of out of plumage queleas moving around, but unfortunately they never landed in view… they were in all likelihood Red-headed Quelea.

Stopping at Ahero rewarded us with two Rufous-bellied Herons, a displaying African Marsh Harrier, 30 Ruff, four Wood Sandpiper, breeding Yellow-crowned and Southern Red Bishops.

Continuing the journey we only had a Northern Hobby, and a few Southern Ground Hornbills.

Maasai Mara
Evening in Kichwa Tembo we had a nightjar land on some bare ground that we suspected as Square-tailed but did not have the spotlight. Montane were calling from the Oloololo Escarpment.

2nd May we had an early breakfast then had the morning on the escarpment, finding many niceties, maybe the best was a fledged family of Ovampo Sparrowhawks, throwing themselves at the vegetation to flush small birds feeding on fruit and being disturbed by monkeys. I wonder if this a regular habit. There was still a Eurasian Cuckoo about and six House Martins. Red-tailed Chat, Green- capped Eremomela, Trilling Cisticola, Rock-loving Cisticola and Pale Wren Warbler all restricted to here in Kenya were in the bag by 9-00am. However it was to be Yellow-bellied Hyliota that was to prove the elusive one with no sign of the bird. From here we planned to cross the river, as our trip to Siana with the weight of our luggage would require a much better road than the mud-pile to Fig-Tree.

The money-grabbing Koiaki's have blockaded the road, and there is a barrier not long after crossing the Mara bridge. The government have let the original road deteriorate into an impassable slope of scree and boulders, so the only way past is to use a new Koiaki road. They successfully extracted $520 from us to pass, the alternative was not being permitted to bird on the Musiara side (there was an up-side to this as it eventuated). However this money was meant for Musiara Gate, and now we would not be able to enter there.

We did not comply easily and insisted that they let us through and a Koiaki ranger was to travel with us and only on return we would pay the money. After twenty minutes of stalemate, with the prospect of getting nothing out of us, they capitulated, and we all got our way (except for Narok County Council, but there is no love lost there, and I will still sleep easily at night)!!!!

Nevertheless we found what we wanted on the edge of Musiara Swamp, nothing of too great an interest, three Rufous-bellied Herons, sixty Open-bills, but our only Saddle-bill for the trip. As we had paid the Koiaki we were going to bird on Koiaki. Driving through the acacia scrub looking for Coqui, we flushed a party of six birds from the ground, immediately recognised as Rufous-tailed Weavers. These were duly digitised and represent not only a new bird for Kenya, but a loss of one endemic for Tanzania (they have enough anyway)! The exact location is S 01o 14.404' E 35o 3.982' . With six birds I feel pretty confident that they will multiply in this area.

Back at Kichwa in the evening, we played tape for Square-tailed Nightjar, soon a bird came winging in, the spotlight was switched on and there was a…… Dwarf Bittern! Moments later a nightjar flew in and settled in front of us and was the bird we were seeking.

The 3rd May we substantially circumnavigated the Mara picking up some species on the way, two more Rufous-bellied Herons in a flooded depression not a great distance from Little Governors, also over 150 Open-bills there. One Hobby, an African Crake (our 800th species seen on the tour) near Serena Oxbows, a Black Coucal carrying a frog back to its nest and others calling, two Eurasian Rollers were on the late side as were another two House Martins and two Lesser Grey Shrikes.

Just outside of Siana there was a dead male Dusky Nightjar, this was our 12th Nightjar for the trip, although two species were only seen as corpses. We might have seen a 13th with the possibly Standard-wing at Baringo, but we never heard a squeak from Black-shouldered around Busia, or Freckled anywhere. Ironically we never did any night drives, all were encountered either in lodges, roosting or whilst driving to our accommodation.

There were Athi Short-toed Larks on the flat grassy land along the road towards Siana, I have seen them here before.

Calling in to Siana Valley for the late afternoon we found Tabora Cisticola, incredibly the 25th Cisticola we had seen.

Manguo Ponds, Limuru
4th May our final morning, and a long trip back to Nairobi for the departure that evening. There were fifteen House Martins in the garden, and we were fortunate in finding three Buff-bellied Penduline-Tits just outside of the gate, still there were two each of Eurasian Cuckoos and Lesser Grey Shrikes to be seen, we failed miserably to locate Karamoja Apalis in spite of a substantial effort, there were four Maccoas and a pair of Black Ducks on the floodlands near Engare Naregei, and six Madagascar Bee-eaters there.

Our final species was White-backed Ducks on Limuru Ponds. There were a number present including two separate pairs each escorting a brood of five recently hatched ducklings.

Wrap-up
How did we do? In the 26 days we recorded 826 species and out of these a staggering 815 were seen by virtually the entire group; 3 species were only found dead and not encountered alive in the field. 76 mammal species were seen, as the bird tours visit such a wide range of localities and habitats, and finally 37 species of reptiles and amphibians.

There is no-where on this planet where in the comfort of such up-market and attractively sited accommodation, there is such a variety of birds in such a relatively small area, and so seeable. Lump this together with the world’s most prolific region for mammals: Kenya has truly no competition.

Best birding to all….

Brian Finch.

P.S: the bird list contained the following forms not acknowledged as specific by all authors…

Yellow-billed Kite, Blue Yellowbill, Eurasian Hoopoe, Usambiro Barbet, Buffy Pipit, Placid Greenbul, Dodson's Bulbul, Brown-tailed Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Coastal Cisticola, Taita White- eye, Buff-bellied Penduline-Tit, Eastern Black-headed Batis, Tsavo Sunbird, Swahili Sparrow, Parrot-billed Sparrow and Grey-faced Citril.