Preparing for an African Birding Safari

The Best Guide for Your Birding Safari

Expert Birdwatching
from Kisumu City

Kenya is one of only 15 countries globally where over 1,000 bird species have been recorded, and it lies third on the African avian diversity list after DR Congo and Tanzania. Birds of Kenya list includes the world’s two largest birds (Common and Somali ostrich, now regarded as separate species) and its bulkiest flying creature (Kori bustard), along with a wealth of raptors and a dazzling array of colorful bee-eaters, turacos, parrots, rollers, sunbirds and passerines.

We organize well-curated luxury birding safaris that are rewarding everywhere in Kenya. For dedicated custom luxury birdwatching on a safari in Kenya, a well-planned luxury three-week itinerary is likely to result in a trip list of 350–450 species, a figure that compares favorably well with anywhere in the world.

From the open savannahs of  Kenya’s vast national parks and reserves such as the Maasai Mara and Tsavo to the plains of Laikipia and the high altitudes of Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon, Kenya  provides an excellent ornithological expeditions to even the avid birders and the perfect introductory to East Africa’s birds.

The urban centers, rivers to forests and on the coastal strips birding opportunities are super. Down to the Rift Valley, lakes Naivasha, Elementaita, Nakuru and Bogoria famed for their overwhelming congregations of waders with Lake Baringo arguably offering even better birding opportunities.

For curious luxury bird-watching safari guests, a region of particular interest is Western Kenya circuit and, in our opinion is well worth a visit for any serious birders and curious tourist out there. We recommend that you consider putting aside a 4-6 day stay to get the very best from this amazing part of Kenya where reasonable biome restricted specialties are to be found. Further to the north, where Samburu-Buffalo Springs-Shaba hosts a high quotient of  arid country species whose range is otherwise restricted to less accessible parts of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Luxury Birdwatching Safaris from Kisumu

#1. Kisumu and Lake Victoria Birding Safari

This is a short excursion within a day and enables you see key bird species as well as some of the target species of Lake Victoria and the surrounding. While on the boat trip, we’ll have an ideal time to appreciate natures jewel as we enjoy the horizons against the backdrop of Kenya’s only lakeside city.

If we’re lucky, we will encounter hippos, spot-necked otters and many bird species. It will also be the best time to meet anglers as they prepare to either offload their overnight catch to land or casting their fishing nets for those who are embarking on their daytime fishing expedition.

Both on the lake and on land, we shall explore a couple of beautiful birding destinations from the shore, swamps, riverbanks, farmlands, thickets and the lush Impala Park. Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest fresh-water lake and the second-largest fresh-water lake in the world.

Lake Victoria freshness supports a very healthy ecosystem especially along the riparian zone that forms our major target. Our birding daytrip will be conducted by boat, foot and some sort drives to other hotspots where our expertise coupled with the best local bird species knowledge will help us to investigate even the least known habitats.

Target Bird Species

Although it’s possible to have a checklist of over 75 bird species onwards from the lakeside birding, our main aim is to spot Lake Victoria biome restricted bird species and the papyrus endemic species. We therefore advise you not to restrict yourself to the most sought after bird species but have an open mind for the total enjoyment of your birding experience.

Eastern Grey Plantain Eater, Papyrus Gonolek, Black-headed Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, Woodland Kingfisher, Slender-billed Weaver, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Long-toed Lapwing, Double-toothed Barbet, Black-billed Barbet, African Marsh-Harrier, Blue-headed Coucal, Red-chested Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Rufous-chested Swallow, Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle, Swamp Flycatcher, Greater Swamp Warbler, White-winged Swamp Warbler, Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Carruther’s Cisticola, Winding Cisticola, Red-faced Cisticola, Water Thick-knee, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. Please, check on possible bird species on EBird for this itinerary or see a detailed itinerary here.

This 120 square kilometer Ruma National Park is sandwiched in Lambwe River Valley, the Kanyamwa Escarpment and the Gwasi Hills. The park is characterized by a mosaic of landscapes, ranging from riverine woodland and rolling savannah to magnificent escarpments and towering cliffs and volcanic plugs offering stunning views of Lake Victoria and the surrounding landscape.

Ruma’s pristine nature makes it a suitable home to a wide variety of biodiversity. It is the last remaining sanctuary for the nationally endangered Roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) in Kenya. Ruma is an important bird-watching destination hosting more than 400 bird species. It is also the only protected area in Kenya where Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea), a globally vulnerable and scarce intra-African migrant, is regularly recorded. 

The park is the only protected area in Kenya where the globally threatened intra-African migrant Montane Blue Swallow has been recorded which depends upon moist grassland for both feeding and roosting, arriving in Kenya from their breeding grounds in Southern Tanzania around April and departing again in September. Ruma National Park has the highest population of the uncommon Nubian Giraffe.

Ruma lies on the flat floor of the seasonally watered Lambwe River Valley bordered by the Kanyamwa Escarpment to the southeast and by the volcanic plugs of the Ruri Hills to the north. The topography is mainly rolling grassland, with patches of open woodland thickets. The soils are largely “black cotton” clay which is very challenging during the wet season.

Birding in Ruma is easy, and the birds are easy to find and very approachable, throughout the year..  Ruma offers a pleasant combination of birding and wildlife experiences, birds are everywhere and present great photographic opportunities which makes it a genuine paradise for ornithologists. Ruma is a marvelous and must-visit birding destination with superb birdwatching in a range of habitats, a wealth of bird species, and striking scenery.

Target Bird Species

Inside the Park, the Long-crested Eagle will be sitting on the tall trees waiting patiently to catch its prey, on the road flocks of the Red-necked Spurfowl will be seen busy feeding, and the spectacular Black-winged Red Bishop will be displaying on the bushes, trying to impress the females and Trilling Cisticola with a distinctive call perched prominently on top of tall grasses. The list of splendid birds in Ruma is endless- Bishops, Eremomela, Eagles, Bustard, and Secretary Bird, there is so much to see in Ruma National Park, from the incredible range of wildlife sightings such as the elegant Oribi, both Black and White Rhinos, Leopard, Common Zebra, Hyenas, and Topis.

#2. Ruma National Park Birding Safari

#3. Lake Nakuru National Park
Birding Safari

Gazetted as a bird sanctuary in 1960, Lake Nakuru got its national park status in 1968 purposely to protect the huge flocks of the lesser flamingoes that inhabit the site. A northern extension to the park was added in 1974.

Over 1 million flamingoes in the park turn the shores of Lake Nakuru into a floating pink carpet when the ecological diversity of the lake which comprises of a very shallow, strongly alkaline lake, with surrounding woodland and grassland allow.  

The lake catchment is bounded by Menengai Crater to the north, the Bahati Hills to the north-east and the Lion Hill ranges to the east, Eburu Crater to the south and the Mau Escarpment to the west.

The foundation of the lake’s simple food chains is the cyanophyte Spirulina platensis, which often occurs as a unialgal bloom. At such times, it supports huge numbers of Lesser Flamingos and Kenya’s endemic fish- Graham’s Cichlid, which was introduced in 1960 from Lake Magadi to curb mosquitoes. The fish, in turn, support a number of secondary consumers namely pelicans. The lakeshores are mainly open alkaline mud, with areas of sedge Cyperus laevigatus and Typha marsh around the river inflows and springs, giving way to grassland and a belt of Acacia xanthophloea woodland. Rocky hillsides on the park’s eastern perimeter are covered with Tarchonanthus scrub and magnificent Euphorbia forest.

Target Bird Species

Lake Nakuru National Park birding tour offers exceptional close-up views of birds and mammals, where you can find huge flocks of the Lesser Flamingos feeding on the lake’s shore (subject to prevailing alkaline conditions) and a large concentration of the Great White Pelicans that fish in unison. The lake is home to over 100 species of migratory birds and supports globally important populations of Black-necked Grebe, African Spoonbill, Red-necked Phalarope, Saddle-billed Stork, African Darter, Pied Avocet, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Widowbird, Southern Ground Hornbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Black-winged Stilt, Grey-headed Gull, and Gull-billed Tern.

Many Palearctic migrant birds arrive each year to over-winter and feed at the lake, which includes colossal numbers of species of waders, ducks, terns, gulls, raptors, and different species of warblers. For the wildlife lovers, Lake Nakuru is a breeding sanctuary for both black and white rhinos, tree-climbing lions, and the ever-elusive leopard, which can be spotted resting in the Acacia trees in the forested areas near the lake’s shores. The park has other wildlife too giving a perfect combination for a perfect luxury wildlife safari.

Kenya, known for the diversity of its native wildlife, and rightfully for the iconic culture of the Maasai community in the Maasai Mara. However, there is more to this jewel of the magical Kenya than the Big 5.

Kakamega Forest stands as one of the few remaining ancient rainforests in Kenya, boasting an exceptional diversity of birdlife. Formerly a part of the expansive Guineo-Congolian forest that once blanketed Central Africa, Kakamega Forest retains its magnificence, offering a glimpse into the past.

Within its borders, you will find treasures to awaken the mind and fill the heart. You will see birds that do not exist anywhere else in Kenya, mysterious primates, and rare forest-dwelling mammals while walking deep in the forest trails that seem carved from another century.

Apart from birds, other inhabitants of the forest are several mammal species, including the Bush Pig, Giant Forest Hedgehog, Colobus Monkey, Debrazza Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey, and Pottos. For birdwatchers, Kakamega Forest is renowned primarily for its stunning birdlife with the Blue-headed Bee-eater, Great Blue Turaco, Ross’s Turaco, Turner’s Eremomela, and the endangered Grey Parrot being the most sought-after. If you’re coming to Kenya or already in the country, we would strongly recommend a daytrip birding tour to this jewel of nature.

Target Bird Species

Kakamega is one of the Easternmost Guineo-Congolian Equatorial forests, which span from the Congo River basin, through Central Africa to Western Kenya. This unique birding biome is full of unique bird species that can only be found here. This makes our birding daytrip to the Kakamega Forest one of the best birding highlights in Kenya. We therefore advise you not to restrict yourself to the most sought after bird species but have an open mind for the total enjoyment of your birding experience.

Grey-throated Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Sharpe’s Drongo, Kakamega Greenbul, Joyful Greenbul, Toro Olive Greenbul, Plain Greenbul, Little Greenbul, Black-billed Weaver, Vieillot’s Black Weaver, Forest Weaver, Luhder’s Bush-Shrike, Bocage’s Bush-Shrike, Pink-footed Puffback, White-chinned Prinia, Black-faced Prinia, Chubb’s Cisticola, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Turner’s Eremomela, Uganda Woodland Warbler, Olive-green Camaroptera, Blue-headed Bee-eater, White-spotted Flufftail, Snowy-headed Robin-Chat, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, Jameson’s Wattle-eye, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrike, Great Blue Turaco, African Broadbill, Bar-tailed Trogon, Equatorial Akalat, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Brown Illadopsis, Mountain Illadopsis, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Red-headed Bluebill, Dusky Tit, Olive-bellied Sunbird, White-tailed Ant-Thrush.

#4. Kakamega
Forest Birding Safari

#5. Maasai Mara National Reserve Birding Safari

An endemic bird area, Maasai Mara has all the three of Serengeti Plains and one of the eight species of the Kenya Mountains Endemic Bird Areas that occur in Kenya. Seven globally threatened species have been recorded here; they include the Madagascar Pond-Heron, Pallid Harrier, Jackson’s Widowbird, Red-throated Tit, Grey-crested Helmet-shrike, Corncrake, and Lesser Kestrel. Regionally threatened species include Circaetus cinerascens, Hieraaetus ayresii, Anhinga rufa, Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, Trigonoceps occipitalis, Polemaetus bellicosus, Stephanoaetus coronatus, Coturnix adansonii which is a rare intra-African migrant, Buphagus africanus, Casmerodius albus, Podica senegalensis, Neotis denhami, Scotopelia peli, and Porzana pusilla.

With over 500 bird species grassland birds are exceptionally well represented alongside a large numbers of Palearctic migrants that winter in the area, including Caspian Plover and the White Stork. No matter what your interests are, there will be something to please everyone. From the world’s largest bird (the ostrich), to the world’s most numerous bird (the red-billed quelea). From Africa’s heaviest flying bird (the Kori bustard) to the dazzling array of tiny sunbirds that flit between the flower blossoms. From Africa’s largest raptor (the martial eagle) to its smallest (the African pygmy falcon) as well as from the elegant Secretary Bird to the bold and bizarre looking Marobou Stork – there’s no end to the assortment of birds that call Maasai Mara ‘home’.

Target Bird Species

White Stork, Martial Eagle, Kori Bustard, Bateleur Eagle, Southern Ground Hornbill, Wattled Lapwing, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Tawny Eagle, Lappet-faced Vulture, Saddle-billed Stork, Coqui Francolin, Magpie Shrike, African Quail Finch, Lilac-breasted Roller, African Marsh Harrier, Woolly-necked Stork, Melodious Lark, Black-backed Cisticola, Karamoja Apalis

For those with some good number of days around birding the Northern sections of Busia County at the Katotoi Hills along the Malaba River valley that also marks the boundary between Kenya and Uganda will be rewarding.

Katotoi Hills offer so much more than just your ordinary holiday expectations! Briefly, Katotoi is more than a cocktail of experiences. Expect more than the drive to get here, so, we don’t have game drives but preciously cherished walking options and it’s not just about game drives and the stunning landscapes that sweep beyond Kenya’s frontiers with Uganda!

While you are with us, you can immerse yourself into the community, our culture; experience the villages’ serenity, superb views of Kenya’s second-highest mountain, Mount Elgon from several breathtaking viewpoints. A visit to Katotoi offers exhilarating opportunities for hiking, walking safaris, bird watching, and amazing skies.

Our flexibility allows you to choose what you would like your day to look like and we’ll be more than delighted to guide you through the available options. At Katotoi, your pace and your taste contributes to the weaving of your experience.

Target Bird Species

An investigative birding along the rocky sections yields Foxy Cisticola (this small bird was a great fit for the species; and lacked the eye-ring-look portrayed by Siffling Cisticola. This must have been a first record for the species in the locality, and more visits will help uncover more). Others notable species include the Garden Warbler, Speckle-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, African Firefinch, Red-headed Lovebird, Common Swifts. Whistling Cisticola, Steppe Buzzard, Black-headed Waxbills and much more. Please find the Katotoi Hills Ebird checklist for detailed species observations.

#6. Katotoi Hills
Birding Safari

#7. Ochilata Wetlands and Malaba River Banks Birding Safari

These late rites and shallow incised swampy systems that are densely covered with Papyrus swamps and the hippo grass along the banks of Malaba River at the border with Kenya and Uganda often cap these.

The area forms a colony of papyrus growth broken by irregular water channels and occasional small lakes with grassy islands. These are interspersed by a peneplain marked by low flat divides of approximately uniform height, often capped by lateritic and a shallowly incised swampy drainage system often creating seasonal floods plains.

Target Bird Species

These moist grasslands, wetlands and swamps probably have close biodiversity connections with Ugandan ecosystems and hold key species that are not found anywhere else in Kenya. Here is the list of some target species Magpie Mannikin, Red-headed Lovebird, Senegal Coucal, Compact Weaver, Speckle-breasteded Woodpecker, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Green Crombec,  Blue Swallow, Purple Starling, Black-rumped Waxbill, Great Snipe, Yellow-backed Weaver, Brown Twinspot, Red-chested Sunbird, Marsh Tchagra, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Zebra Firefinch and much more.

Slender-billed Weaver, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Golden-backed Weaver, African Openbill, Blue-cheeked and Eurasian Bee-eaters, Angola and Lesser Striped Swallows, Red-chested Sunbird, and Swamp Flycatcher in the riparian areas. Within the papyrus, Carruthers’s Cisticola, White-winged, Greater and Lesser Swamp Warblers, and Papyrus Gonolek, Little Bittern, Palm-nut Vulture among other species. Birding these wetlands could be very rewarding with some unique species.

Mount Elgon is located app. Located 470 kilometers from Nairobi and 140 km north-east of Lake Victoria Mount Elgon National park is bisected by the Uganda and Kenya border.

It is an ancient, eroded volcano with a huge caldera and, on its summit, the spectacular flat-topped basalt column known as Koitobos at 4,200 meters. Another unique feature of the mountain is the ‘lava tube’ caves, some over 60 meters wide.

The mountain soils are red laterite, and rainfall is 1,200 mm/year on the mid-slopes. Mount Elgon is an important water catchment for the Nzoia River, which flows into Lake Victoria, and for the Turkwel River, which flows into Lake Turkana.

The park boasts over 260 bird species having three of the eight Kenya Mountains Endemic Bird species, five of the thirteen species of the Sudan-Guinea biome species, 19 of the 43 Guinea-Congo Forests biome species, 47 of the 70 species of the Afrotropical biome, and a number of the Sudan-Guinea Savannah biome species that occur in Kenya have been recorded here.

Target Bird Species

The park also favours one globally threatened species- Sharpe’s Longclaw along with some regionally threatened and range-restricted species; Gypaetus barbatus, Stephanoaetus coronatus, Francolinus streptophorus, Sarothrura affinis, Bubo capensis, Glaucidium tephronotum, Indicator conirostris, Phyllastrephus baumanni, Kakamega poliothorax, Sheppardia polioptera, Campephaga quiscalina and Cisticola hunteri, Francolinus jacksoni respectively.

#8. Mount Elgon National Park
Birding Safari

#9. Samia Hills
Birding Safari

The southern part of Busia is covered by a range of hills comprising the Samia and Funyula Hills which run from the north-east to the south-west terminating at Port Victoria. These form a very conspicuous topographic scape.

Samia Hills are sandwiched between Sio Port and Port Victoria and are the most prominent of Busia’s volcanic igneous rocks, which underlay most of the county.  These pyramid like hills and their associated colluvial basin stand out prominently to the east and southwest areas of Funyula and Bunyala and are marked by deep valleys made by the major rivers – Nzoia, Yala, and Sio – on their dendritic drainage to Lake Victoria.

Target Bird Species

Samia Hills are well known for bird species like the Bronze-tailed Starling, Whistling Cisticola, Purple Starling, Bar-breasted Firefinch and many more.

Birders to Yala Swamp wetland should be looking forward to the vistas of the open water of Lake Victoria from sundry vantage points spread out around the wetland, the cultural passages to Swila and Seje, and boating experience at Lake Kanyaboli.

Yala Swamp, which is situated in the southwestern corner of Busia County, is one of Kenya’s most important wetlands.  Covering about 200 km2, it is a major natural resource for wetland eco-tourism. Its formation is a result of backflow of water from Lake Victoria as well as flooding of the Rivers Nzoia and Yala.

The swamp is mainly fed by River Yala which flows right through the swamp with a small contribution from River Nzoia in the north-eastern section of the swamp. Contiguous with Siaya County, this ecosystem also encompasses three lakes namely; Kanyaboli, Sare and Namboyo all in Siaya County.

Yala Swamp is one of Kenya’s Important Birding Area (IBA). Much to the delight of birders, it is almost impossible to keep up with the diverse and fascinating species of birds at Yala estimated to be over 200.

Target Bird Species

This list include endemic species like Great Snipe, Baillon’s CraKe, Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, Papyrus Yellow Warbler and the White-winged Warbler. A sort drive to River Nzoia with the main quest being exploring the rocky islets in the river is for less observed Rock Pratincole.  This species is quite rare in Kenya and sightings in this part of the country is a priceless treasure.  

#10. Yala Swamp and River Nzoia Birding Safari

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Luxury Bird Watching Safaris From Kisumu
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Entrust our experts to plan for your luxury birding safaris from Kisumu

Are you in or planning to visit Kisumu for a business meeting, leisure or one of those big conferences? Oluokos Signature team is available to organize for you customized memorable Kisumu, Kenya excursions and safaris. You can also explore other parts of Kenya and beyond with us.

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