Birding in Kenya: Eburru Forest day trip

I thought my day of birding in Nairobi National Park would be hard to top, but a day trip to Eburru Forest with the Onsight Expedition Team was a fantastic experience and it offered a whole suite of new birds for me. Onsight Expedition run regular monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) day trips to locations within a few hours of Nairobi. The focus of the well-priced trips are usually hiking, but this is dependent on the group as the guides are all experienced birders so they’re happy to focus on birding for those interested.

Nairobi-Naivasha Screenshot

Lake Naivasha. Google Maps image.

Eburru Forest is about a 2.5 hour drive to the north-west of Nairobi; the mountain flanks Lake Naivasha National Park.

Eburru Forest

Eburru Forest. Google Maps image.

Eburru Forest is better known as a site where you can find Mountain Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus ssp. isaaci) a critically endangered sub-species of antelope. Here is some more information from the IUCN Red List:

Historically, the Mountain Bongo occurred in and around forested zones of Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares, Mau forest, Cherengani hills and Chepalungu hills in Kenya and Mount Elgon in Kenya and Uganda (Elkan and Smith in press). The Mountain Bongo was exterminated from the Uganda side of Mount Elgon around 1913-1914 (Kingdon 1982). It is now confined to four completely isolated populations in patches of forest on Mt. Kenya, the Mau and Eburu forests, and the Aberdares in Kenya (Elkan and Smith in press). The current population estimate (2007) for the Mountain Bongo is ca. 75-140 individuals: Aberdare Mts (50-100); Mt Kenya (6-12); Mau Forest (6-12), Eburu Forest (6-12) (M. Prettejohn and L. Estes in litt to ASG 2007). [more here]

We unfortunately didn’t bump into a Mountain Bongo, but as they’re nocturnal and only an estimated 6-12 individuals at Eburru Forest, I wasn’t holding out much hope. We did however have an armed soldier walk with us as buffalo are known to occur in the forest on occasion. Thankfully, another species we didn’t encounter.

Eburru Forest Walk

Eburru Forest Walkers

Our group for the day mostly comprised of walkers, but that suited me fine because our route was a return walk along the main forest trail so this allowed me to dawdle along behind the group to bird and take pictures. My net result of new birds was likely less than if I’d remained with one of the guides, but I enjoyed the solitude of finding different bird parties and trying to work out what I was seeing and hearing (sans field guide again!).

Eburru Forest Trail

Eburru Forest Trail

When I was trying to decide whether I should join the day trip I “Google Imaged” the search terms “Eburru Forest birds” and was super excited when images of Golden-winged Sunbird appeared. I was sold. The trail we walked started in scrubby, secondary growth and slowly developed into more mature forest as we progressed. The secondary growth was dominated by Leonotis nepetifolia, a favourite food source of Golden-winged Sunbird.

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Golden-winged Sunbird

I was a very easy customer to please that day as essentially the first bird we recorded when alighting from the vans was Golden-winged Sunbird. The Leonotis bushes were practically dripping with males and females feeding and chasing each other, as only sunbirds can. I’m afraid Bronze Sunbird, which were also in attendance and are also an attractive species, were relegated to the category of “shabby cousin” as the Golden-wingeds were just superb!

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Golden-winged Sunbird

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Golden-winged Sunbird – sans central tail feathers

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Golden-winged Sunbird – immature

My photos certainly don’t do them justice, but you’ll have to believe me when I say they are by far the best looking sunbird I’ve ever seen.

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Bronze Sunbird

I had to tear myself away from the sunbirds as I knew I’d be missing out on other species if I didn’t. Forest birding can be an acquired taste as there are often periods of very little bird activity followed by a flurry of different species at once, if you’re lucky. Birding by ear is another important tool if you want to stand a reasonable chance of seeing anything, but if you don’t know what you’re listening to it can be tricky.

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Doherty’s Bush-shrike

I was lucky with this Doherty’s Bush-shrike as it first called from some dense scrub and was thankfully incredibly responsive to “spishing” as I had no idea what it was until it stuck it’s gorgeous head above cover.

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European Blackcap – male

This male European Blackcap had me going for a while. I initially thought it was a Garden Warbler as it warbled away very quietly in a dense tangle, but it finally revealed its true identity when it popped out onto a branch. I’m used to hearing the rather loud song of Blackcap in its summer territory rather than this very subtle version. Perhaps a good rule of thumb when separating the two species on song is, if you think you’ve got a Blackcap it should eventually reveal itself (as they’re far more “showy” than Garden Warbler), but if you think you’ve got a Blackcap and it doesn’t budge then perhaps you’ve got a Garden Warbler? Mmmh, or perhaps just study the calls a bit more carefully :)

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Black-billed Weaver

I recorded two pairs of Black-billed Weaver, a species that the Onsight bird guides were quite surprised about. Apparently it’s not a species they’ve seen in the area before. They also responded very well to spishing.

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Black-collared Apalis

I enjoyed tracking down and finally photographing and recording this Black-collared Apalis. I’m used to the more typical calls one hears from southern African apalis species so I was quite surprised when I finally managed to connect the bird with the call I was hearing.

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Grey Apalis

Here’s another apalis call, this time Grey Apalis, a call type much closer to that of Bar-throated Apalis, a common species from my home patch in Cape Town. I thought I was picking up most of the birds around me, but the value of home ground advantage was highlighted when one of the Onsight Expedition guides easily pointed out a few new species just based on call, like this Brown Woodland Warbler.

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Brown Woodland Warbler 

Below are the balance of my photos from the day:

David Winter

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