A narrow brook gently cascades along a garden trail, lilac-coloured blooms ornament the prominent Jacaranda trees. A mixed flock of iridescent sunbirds with long curved bills and tail streamers – flashes of emerald, bronze, amethyst and scarlet, each one chattering as they probe the blossoms for nectar. African Mourning Doves, perch high in the canopy singing the words “Drink Lager, Drink Lager…” Montane Wagtails, tiny, slender, black & white – they pump their tails as they follow us along the trail. Meanwhile enormous Crowned Hornbills, with their brilliant red toucan-like bills, and long tails, fly from tree-to-tree. Amongst them, a single Hartlaub’s Turaco, a flamboyant bird with a bushy crest, and crimson wings. Above all the activity, a Violet-backed Starling emerges from the canopy, its upper side shining with a rich magenta gloss – a colour rarely seen in the world of birds. The dawn chorus rings like a well-orchestrated symphony – sweet and melodic. A quick walk around the gardens reveals about 30 species of birds – all before a tasty cup of fresh Kenyan coffee and a plate of juicy fresh fruit.
This begins a typical day of birding in Kenya.
Fourteen days into our journey, and our group has tallied more than 500 species of birds and 60 species of mammals.
Equatorial regions provide the greatest diversity of species in the world, and Kenya is a perfect example of this. A country the size of New York State, about 1200 different birds have been recorded here – more than a tenth of the world’s total. With many different habitats, at different elevations, we discover a wonderful world of immense natural colour, drama and beauty. So far, our group has only visited areas north and west of Nairobi. Traveling around Mount Kenya, through the Rift Valley, down to Lake Victoria and into the Masi Mara, we go through many different habitats exploring lush montane forest, moorland, brushland, thorn scrub, lakeshore, various grasslands and wetlands – they contain the widest variety of life-forms I’ve ever experienced, much of it highly visible and easily photographed.
Elephants, Cheetahs, Giraffes, Lions, Monkeys, Zebras, Hippos… But, none match the kaleidoscopic colour of the birds. We’ve marveled at the likes of Lilac-breasted Roller, Superb Starling, Cinnamon-chested Bee-Eater, Malachite Kingfisher and Red-billed Firefinch. We’ve seen the abundant wildlife surrounding the shores of Lake Nakuru and Lake Bagoria, with its endless flocks of flashy pink Lesser Flamingos – more than 120,000 lining the shore. A morning hike through Kakamega Forest produces a new symphony of sounds, and 60 new species for the trip. Driving through the arid savannah grasslands of the Masi Mara, open and vast, sprinkled with the occasional dominant BalanitesTree. We’re surrounded by large herds of big mammals like Burchell’s Zebra, Impala, Wildebeast and Cape Buffalo – an abundance of life, thrilling, beautiful and photogenic – a childhood dream-come-true.
And, we’re only half way through the itinerary. What great adventures await in the days ahead? Stay tuned.