Obviously, there is much more to the wildlife of Kenya than just the Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino), and for those who don’t get obsessive about tracking those big fellows down, I advise you to take pleasure in the incredible variety. For birders, Kenya will chip away heavily at your life list; there are 1,132 species here. The best time to go is from October to April when the migratory birds arrive from up north, but we were there in May and plenty happy about what we saw.
But you don’t need to be a serious birder to enjoy the show of feathers. We visited four national parks in Kenya: Amboseli, Samburu, Maasai Mara, and Lake Nakuru. The following two pages are not an exhaustive list of the birds we saw, but rather just a gallery of the best bird photos. The hornbills are my favorite, and for that reason I’ve put them in their own separate African hornbill gallery. (For stories from our safari adventures, check out the blog posts about Kenya on The Mad Traveler blog)
Amboseli was filled with grey-crowned cranes, the cranes with the funky haircuts. Prior to this trip, I had only seen these cranes once, back in Wisconsin, in fact, at the International Crane Foundation (recommended!). There are only two species of crowned cranes, the black-crowned being the other and also a resident of Africa. But archaeologists have found fossil evidence for at least 11 species in North America and Europe.
Seeing the cranes, getting a photo, checking them off the list — all well and fine. But seeing them dance in the wild? That’s some priceless stuff.
In Maasai Mara we were there before the Great Migration. But we still saw plenty of cape buffalo. And with the buffalo comes the yellow-billed oxpecker. This particular buffalo had some serious tick population I’d fathom.
We didn’t always need to head out in the safari van to see birds. Much of what I saw at Samburu was actually right outside my tent. We stayed in Larsen’s Tented Camp and enjoyed it very much. This gray woodpecker was tapping a tree between our tent and the river. (See more about our Kenya safari accommodations on the blog)
Kingfishers were in abundance along the river in Samburu. With the safari van, this was about as close as we could get to this gray-headed kingfisher. The vans make good blinds.
A gray-backed fiscal. If that little hook on the end of the beak looks like a shrike’s that’s because they are part of that genus.
This golden-tailed woodpecker was also within the Larsen’s Tented Camp. I saw three species of woodpeckers just within 20 meters of our tent.
This was a lucky shot. We spotted this fish eagle as we were returning to our camp in Amboseli, and a shout to Steve our driver compelled him to slam on the brakes. We stopped, shaken and stirred, at exactly the spot we needed to see between the trees and capture Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.
Again in Samburu, right near our tent at Larsen’s. (I think you can guess which park I felt was best for birding.) This Egyptian goose flew down river as I approached the water.
In Maasai Mara, we spotted many birds of prey. This dark chanting goshawk sat right in the middle of the road. We even drove around it to get a better angle.
An elephant made a nice neutral backdrop for a shot of a gray-headed kingfisher in Samburu.
We crossed the river that border Samburu National Park, and explored Buffalo Springs National Park. We found a sort of gully where a lot of storks and cranes were taking shelter and feeding at the water’s edge. This grey heron never ventured out of the shade and kept its distance.
Back near our tent in Samburu, the hadada is very common, strolling the grounds pecking in the grass and dirt for its meals.
This hamerkop was found in Maasai Mara, one of the few we saw on the Kenya trip.
Helmeted guineafowl are common in large flocks and we saw them in Maasai Mara and again in larger numbers in Samburu. Nice colors in the sun.
We came upon this hoopoe plunging its head into holes in the ground in search of its dinner on the Buffalo Springs side of the river at Samburu. I’ve seen these in Thailand as well.
It was hard to miss Klaas’ cuckoo when the sun struck its green plumage. This one had brought home a meal for the chicks. The nest was in a tree overlooking a river in Maasai Mara. (We had just seen a lion moments before, and a leopard moments before that. See our Kenya safari photo galleries and posts on The Mad Traveler blog.)
Try as I might, I couldn’t capture one of these playful fellows in the lens. That is, until we came upon this little bee eater perched in the early morning sun so close to the road that our SUV was almost scraping the branches he was perching on. FTW!
A martial eagle having his feathers ruffled by a strong breeze up in his perch in Samburu. We saw several of these over the four days.
A secretary bird in Maasai Mara.
OK, this is “just” a starling. A superb starling, in fact. As common as a pigeon or a starling back in the US. But the colors never ceased to draw my attention. The iridescent feathers were marvelous in the sun, and these little scavengers and beggars could be found everywhere. Much more beautiful to look at than a North American starling. I deleted a lot of starling photos. That blue! It’s hypnotic! Photograph me, it says.
Our guide said they were just sitting on a clump of dirt and we were too far away to get a clear look, but I have to say if two fish eagles are on top of it and not budging, doesn’t it have to be carrion or something? Not much of a vantage point from that perch.
Also across the river from Samburu in Buffalo Springs, we crept right under a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl at about mid-morning. Our guide spotted it when we were right on top of it. Notice its pink eyelids.
Go to Page Two of our African Bird Photo Gallery
Go to Kenya Birds for a more comprehensive list of bird species in Kenya.
Going to Kenya for the birds? Be sure to bring a great field guide: