Classic Kenya: 9 day birding holiday
If you look at planet Earth from space you can see the Great Rift Valley in Africa, and you could literally spend a lifetime exploring it. This birding safari zooms in on Kenya’s Great Rift Valley which contains a mind-boggling variety of habitats in close proximity to one another. This means a huge variety of species, and minimal travelling between sites. If you’re looking for a lot of action in a small space, this is it!
Day 1: Arrival (urban habitat over 6,000 feet above sea level)
We’ll meet you at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport (morning flight) and drive you out to The Residence in the district of Karen, Nairobi. When you’re settled and ready to explore we’ll head out to nearby Nairobi National Park, an ornithological paradise within the city limits. After a couple of hours we’ll adjourn to Carnivore Restaurant famous for its mouth-watering charcoal grilled barbeque.
In the afternoon there will be a guided visit to National Museum Bird Gallery http://www.museums.or.ke/ornithology-section/ which will be followed by a short bird walk at Nairobi National Museum Botanic Garden. Here we anticipate to see species like the Variable Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird and the Collard Sunbird, African Goshawk, Palm swift and Baglafetch Weaver, among others.
There is so much choice and variety of restaurants in Nairobi that this evening you are free to explore independently. The guide will be on hand to advise and make suggestions. Overnight at The Residence (B, L)
Day 2: Nairobi and into the Great Rift and explore Lake Elementaita (Soda lake, floor of Rift Valley)
Morning departure to Lake Elementaita arriving in the mid-morning. Elementaita is an unusual habitat because this is the first alkaline or ‘soda lake’ that we’ll explore. On the mammal side of things, it means there are no crocs or hippos living in the lake; birds (over 400 species) that favour this harsh habitat include a lesser flamingo colony, as well as yellow-billed storks, avocets, crowned cranes and flamingos, none of which are rare, but all spectacular to watch.
Less common are the Feral lovebird, Klaas’s cuckoo, Glossy ibis, Black heron, Red billed Teal and Black tailed godwit. We’ll head to Pelican Lodge for lunch and in the afternoon walk around the lodge environs at a steady pace. Dinner and overnight at Pelican Lodge (FB).
Day 3: Lake Elementaita to Lake Naivasha (Freshwater lake, floor of Rift Valley)
Lake Naivasha is a short distance away, but a completely different habitat: this is fresh water. We’ll arrive by mid-morning and explore the margin of the lake which became a bird sanctuary in 1967. There are over 450 recorded species here so you’ll be kept busy. We’ll stop for lunch at a local lodge but the entire day is focussed on the fertile margins of this beautiful lake. Species include a variety of herons, fish eagles, ospreys, black crakes and lily-trotters.
Dinner and overnight stay at Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge (2 night stay). (FB).
Day 4: Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Park (Freshwater lake; grassland; floor of Rift Valley)
The guide will be available before breakfast, for those who enjoy early mornings. After breakfast we’ll take a few more hours to explore before driving the short distance to Hell’s Gate and the roost of one of my personal favourites, the Lammergeyer: it’s baffling how such a large bird can occupy such a specific niche in the food chain! Watching these birds on the higher slopes of Kilimanjaro, or here in Hell’s Gate, is always a pleasure, particularly when Bateleurs share the sky with them: delicately balance trapeze artists. Hell’s Gate National Park is a breeding ground for vultures in Kenya. Expect to see the Imperial eagle, Schalow’s wheatear and beautifully-voiced Chinspot batis amongst many others.
Dinner & overnight at Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge (FB).
Day 5: Hell’s Gate National Park to Lake Nakuru (Soda lake; grassland; floor of Rift Valley)
Nakuru is a soda lake and is often home to millions of both greater and lesser flamingos: tricky to tell apart because you can’t judge by size! The trick is to look at the bill.
Flamingos move between the half-dozen soda lakes in this area, but if we’re lucky, the flamingo viewing here at Nakuru is stunning. Water levels fluctuate between the lakes, partly due to rainfall and partly due to other demands made on the water-table; if water levels rise too far the alkalinity is diluted and the algae upon which the flamingos feed decline, and the flamingos move on. A piece of trivia: this is where they filmed the opening scene from Robert Redford’s “Out of Africa” (bi-planes swoops low over the lake and sets off a cloud of flamingos; I wonder what they had to pay for that!?)
This park is home to several significant mammal species too, so in the afternoon we’ll take to 4X4’s and explore the park’s trails looking at the wider habitat and its residents great and small.
Dinner and overnight at the rustic Flamingo Hill Camp. FB.
Day 6: Lake Nakuru National Park (Soda lake; grassland; floor of Rift Valley)
Today we will spend the whole day in the park. AS well as the huge number of birds, Nakuru is also famous for its population of leopard; they tend to be crepuscular but are also seen in full daylight which provides an excellent photo opportunity. By the end of the day the birding list should be fairly well-used and everyone should have their ‘eye in’.
Overnight at Flamingo Hill Camp. (FB.)
Day 7: Travel from Lake Nakuru to Maasai Mara (Savannah land)
South of Lake Nakuru the Great Rift Valley opens out and contains the great grass plain that runs away south, across the border and into Tanzania. This is the Maasai Mara, which is the northern tip of the Serengeti Plain, arbitrarily bisected by the national border, but of course the border is non-existent to birds and animals! This is the site of the annual wildebeest migration.
Perhaps the most famous part of the Maasai Mara is the “Mara Triangle” which is a fertile area in the centre of the national park. The triangle is bordered by rivers which provide water 12 months of the year, and are what make this area such valuable “wildlife real estate”. Jonathan Scott and his ‘Marsh Lions of Mara’ did a great deal to put this fantastic spot on the map and you really are torn between watching the mammals and the birds.
The lodge we are staying at is the Mara Sopa, set on high ground just to the east of the Mara Triangle. ‘Sopa’ is a Maasai word meaning ‘welcome’ and this is a welcoming place to stay! Stunning views and outstanding guides bring the Mara to life and help you see the less obvious as well as the headline acts.
Dinner & overnight at Mara Sopa Lodge (FB).
Day 8: Maasai Mara (Savannah land)
An early morning birding cum game drive to explore the Mara. The birding list is again 450-odd which implies a varied and extensive range of habitats. We will pause to watch mammals that we encounter, but the Mara has so much more, tucked away in quiet and secluded drifts and valleys. You never know what you’re going to find.
Overnight at Mara Sopa Lodge (FB).
Day 9: Maasai Mara and return Nairobi (Savannah land and return to urban)
After breakfast, we drive back to Nairobi for your last minute shopping. Farewell dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant considered “Africa’s greatest eating experience” . Thereafter you will be transferred to the airport in time for your International departure flight
GUIDE PROFILE: John Ndungu
The birding safari is led by John Kago Ndung’u a renowned and talented ornithologist and wildlife guide .This classic birding Kenya safari seeks to unhide the beauty of Kenya’s best kept gems.
Whether you are an armature bird-watcher/wildlife enthusiast or a professional seeking a thrilling wildlife experience, John will be there to feed you the information you require, without missing the drama in the Africa Savannah!
Born and raised in the bird-rich Naivasha region of the Rift Valley, John fell in love with birdlife and wildlife at a very young age growing up on the lower slopes of Mt. Longonot. After school he studied to become a qualified guide at university in the Rift Valley and followed this academic training with a professional guides’ course at Nature Kenya where he was able to sharpen his birding skills. He is a KPSGA Bronze Guide member and is currently preparing for the Silver Award.
Throughout his career he has guided international groups from all over the world. Our professional naturalist takes great pleasure showing you the best of Kenya’s wildlife, as well as the rich tapestry of local communities, including his own.