Over 100 bird species observed during bird watching in Yala Swamp

bird watching in yala swamp

It started with a call from one of the bird guides living around Yala swamp informing me of the intended bird watching and excursion for a period of four days. Ibrahim the bird guide wanted to know if I can get time to be part of the local guide to tour the vast Yala Swamp and its environs, and after looking at my Itinerary and engagement for the said days and date I gladly agreed.

Our guests were no just ordinary visitors doing birding but comprised of a team from the National Museum of Kenya and China Zoo. The two governments currently undertaking a joint project mapping out birds through bird count and bird ringing and the project covered both mammals and butterflies but I will stick to our experience during birding.

The arrival of our visitors were delay due to heavy rains in the earlier project site, but made it though late and on arrival it was time for the birders to set up their camping tents at the Yala Swamp view camp. a place cool enough for visitors to reside as if you’re putting up outside your home. At the Camp you have the full view of Lake Kanyaboli while seated on the rocks.
The team divided into two comprising of a three persons, doing different transects. The birding transects were designated by Nature Kenya and help in bird monitoring and counting. The bird transect are used by local birders during their monthly bird watching activity.

It was time for us to assemble our birding equipments; I brought with me a birding book titled “Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania” by Dale A. Zimmerman, Donald A. Turner and David J. Pearson. This guide book is very informative and useful for bird watchers whether veteran or young ornithologist getting started in the world of watching birds. The book is organized in a pictorial section known as plate showing particular bird in picture and its locality. I also had my binoculars and Smartphone for photo taking.

bird watching in yala swamp
Birding and bird ringing in Yala Swamp

Our day one started at 6.00am Kenya’s time with the teams diving into two with each team having a bird guide showing the routes and possible places to find the birds. The teams were equipped with both recording data sheets and GPS taking coordinates of every sighting point. The weather was very favorable and it was the best time of the day to do bird watching and bird counts. With the sun rays hovering over the water of Lake Kanyaboli and water birds slowly were coming out to feed. And within no minutes the Pied kingfisher was already dancing up the sky and below it was the Hamerkop Scopus u. umbretta. A good start for the team as 10 birds were recorded at the starting point, at every point we watch birds and recorded species for a period of 10 minutes before moving to the next point. We had a total of 100 bird’s species spotted for team one in just three hours of birding and these species included the following. The birds potted are some of the most common in the area and some migrants due to short rains the region is experiencing so far.

1. Hamerkop Scopus u. umbretta
2. Pied kingfisher Ceryle r. rudis
3. White browed coucal Centropus s. superciliosus
4. Winding cisticola Cisticola galactotes
5. Grey-backed fiscal Lanius e. excubitoroides
6. Common bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
7. Ban swallow Hirundo r. rustica
8. Lesser striped swallow Hirundo abyssinica unitatis
9. Nubian woodpecker Campethera nubica
10. African mourning dove Streptopelia d. perspicillata
11. Speckled mouse birds Colius striatus kikuyuensis
12. Blue-naped mousebird Urocolius macrourus pulcher
13. Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash brevirostris
14. Little egret Egretta g. garzetta
15. Cattle egret Bubulcus i. ibis
16. Black-headed heron Ardea melanocephala
17. Purple heron Ardea p. purpurea
18. Grey heron Ardea goliath
19. Red-eyed dove Streptopelia semitorquata
20. Blue-spotted wood dove Turtur afer
21. African green pigeon Treron calva gibberifrons
22. Laughing dove S. s. senegalensis
23. Beautiful sunbird Nectarinia pulchella
24. Red-chested sunbird Nectarinia erythrocerca
25. Marico sunbird Nectarinia suahelica
26. Scarlet-chested sunbird Nectarinia Senegalensis lamperti
27. Green-headed sunbird Nectarinia verticalis viridisplendens
28. White-browed robin-chat Cossypha h. heuglini
29. White-browed scrub robin Cercotrichas leucophrys
30. Olive thrush Turdus olivaceus tephronotus
31. Black headed gonolek Laniarius erythrogaster
32. Papyrus gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri
33. Malachite kingfisher Ispidina p. picta
34. Grey-headed kingfisher Halcyon c. senegalensis
35. Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon s. senegalensis
36. Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle m. maxima
37. Pied kingfisher Ceryle r. rudis
38. Ruppell’s starling Lamprotornis purpuropterus
39. Common drongo Dicrurus a. adsimilis
40. Bronze manikin Lonchura cucullata scutata
41. Brown twinspot Clytospiza monteiri
42. Yellow -fronted canary S. mozambicus
43. Double-toothed barbet Lybius bidentatus aequatorialis
44. African paradise flycatcher Terpsiphone viridis
45. Swamp flycatcher Muscicapa aquatic infulata
46. Arrow-marked babbler T. jardineii emini
47. Black-lored babbler T. sharpie
48. Brown babbler T. plebejus cinereus
49. Plain martin or African sand martin Riparia paludicola ducis
50. Lizard buzzard Kaupifalco . monogrammicus
51. White-browed sparrow-weaver Plocepasser mahali melanorthynchus
52. Red-cheeked cordon-blue Uraeginthus b. bengalus
53. African firefinch Lagonosticta r. rara
54. Long-tailed cormorant Phalacrocorax a. africanus
55. Yellow crowned canary S. canicollis flavivertex
56. Double toothed barbet Lybius bidentatus aequatorialis
57. Slender-billed weaver Ploceus pelzeini
58. Village weaver P. cucullatus
59. Common waxbill Estrilda astrild
60. Black shoulder kite
61. Chasnet weaver
62. Spur wing plover
63. Purple grenadier
64. Red-billed fire finch
65. Long crested eagle
66. Banded snake eagle
67. Plain-backed pipit
68. Southern fly catcher
69. Grey headed sparrow

The morning birding ended at around 12pm with each team covering a distance of one kilometer, it was time for the team to meet at the starting point to take notes of the exercise and then left for the camp site for lunch. After lunch the team left to survey a possible bird ringing site along Lake Kanyaboli, it was at this site that we managed to spot two Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle m. maxima. It was a surprise sighting as the Giant Kingfisher in Kanyaboli as it’s known to be in Lake Naivasha. After carefully identified possible net trapping sites the team retread to have some tasty watermelon at the shore of the lake.

Day two birding Excursion
With a successful day one birding exercise, the team was upbeat for a greater bird study exercise. The guides decided to take the bird twitchers to one of the furthest transact fearing being caught up by heavy rains the following day. It was all system go, as we had our guidebooks and binocular ready for task. The site covering part of the Dominion farms and the manmade Lake offered some of the spectacular water birds with first sighting being the black crake Amaurornis flavirostris. In day two the team recorded over 60 bird species. The two teams headed back to the camp site for lunch and later set off to survey the second possible bird ringing site. On our way back the team stumbled on a rotting Python which seem to have been killed by local fishermen. Our second potential site was selected near day one birding transects and with that the team’s day birding activity ended. It rained heavily in the evening making some parts of the swamp inaccessible by small vehicles.

Day three: Bird ringing
Bird ringing exercise started at 5.45am with the team converging together and setting up trapping nets along the identified site. What a successful start of the ringing exercise with sixty birds ringed. The ringing specimen included, the ring number which is a unique serial number for bird identification, bird species were being noted, age of the bird, measurement were taken on the wing, head, Tarsus sizes. Weight of the birds measured and recorded other biometrics such as fat, bp primary and secondary wings, tail and body molt, the time of capture being recorded and initial of bird ringer lastly blood samples were taken too. The nets were left for overnight stay to enable the team have a smooth starting the following day. The evening wasn’t that smooth as mosquitoes started biting the team, Yala swamp being a watery place sometime experience a lot of mosquitoes during the night, any birding activity should be concluded just minutes after the sunset.

Day four: Bird ringing continues
During day one ringing exercise the team managed to ring over 60 birds, an exercise that took almost 8 hours but with surprises. This the day we managed to capture the brown crown Tchagra and the brown twin spot. In the afternoon I received a call that an owl have been spotted in the rocky caves 6 kilometers from the ringing site. It was again time to catch up and identify the owl species. We left for the site and drove for 15 minutes to the site and the surprises continues here was the spotted eagle-owl Bubo africanus in the cave which is common and widespread. The owl has a somehow a dull or brownish on the breast. This time we managed to spot only one but we were informed by the locals that they live in pairs and sometime up to four being spotted.
It was time to join the team and finish bird ringing exercise, it was around 6pm when we started folding the nets, it took us 15 minutes to bring the nets down and call it a day.

bird ringing bronze mannikin
bronze mannikin

Day five: Birding at Lake Kanyaboli peninsular
Lake Kanyaboli offers some great sites to do bird watching and monitoring, rocky places, swampy areas and the shrubs are just among sites to choose from. The peninsular is enclosed by water, shrubs and the papyrus. The team then divided themselves into two heading in different direction. Some of the species observed were the water thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis inornatus, Common sandpiper, Catitis hypoleucos, and the Black-crowned night heron, Nycticorax n. nycticorax. To have a successful birding event always remember to carry your twitcher binoculars, a pen, a guidebook and a notebook and if in a position have a camera for photo graphing the birds. When birding with young ones don’t forget to carry children’s binoculars to assisting them in bird watching as it makes birding more exciting for the children and helping become better birders in the future. It was time to say bye to the visiting team as they head to Kakamega rainforest to capture forest birds and sceneries. When visiting Yala Swamp for bird watching and other related activities consider carrying birding boots to help when it rains, carry with you a water proof notebook as birding trip may require you boarding a boat. A bird guide as explained helps make birding easier and help in identification of birds faster saving time. Bright clothes scares birds, consider putting on dull or green colored clothes. Always have a local bird guide to assist traversing the area, the swamp is too big and without local knowledge you might get into deep water points, these section are known by the local bird guides.

What do you do when you find an injured bird?

injured marabou stokeBird injuries are very common and everyday hundreds or thousands of birds get injured due many reasons, many people don’t apply the right bird handling techniques and as a result we’ve decided to to outline on how to hold a bird in your hands. Remember that a bird may contain contagious diseases and if not handle well one may end up being infected with such diseases associated with birds

In the figure below as you can observed a very poor handling techniques of marabou stoke due to lack of knowledge by these young ones and are exposing themselves to diseases or parasite from the injured bird.

1. Always avoid touching sick or injured birds with bear hands, This helps prevent the bird from further injuries and also protecting yourself from other diseases and pests
marabou stoke
2. Always prepare a clean and safe contain without liquid to help keep the injured bird in a safe place and to avoid other injuries, once you’ve your contain ready pick the bird gentle and place into the container box and close the box with a light clothing.
3. Giving the bird water and food isn’t recommended as it will cause the bird to strain and cause more injuries, instead keep the bird warm
4. Call the nearest bird rescue center in your area or contact the wildlife mandated agencies for further direction

Why Yala Swamp is one of the best places for bird watching in kenya

bird watching in kenya

Yala Swamp is known as a birders paradise with arrays of varieties of bird species, and its one of the best bird watching destination site in Kenya. It’s one site with unique ecological characteristics inhabiting several plant and aquatic animal species. The Swamp is found both in Siaya and Busia county surrounded with many satellite and an Ox-bow lake called Lake Kanyaboli and covers over 200 square-kilometer along Lake Victoria. Its one of the Important Bird Area, as designated by BirdLife International with it being an Important Bird Area many would love to see what the swamp offers for bird watchers and travelers.

bird watching in kenya
When planning a visit to the swamp, one has to consider the available accommodation facilities within the region, we have some excellent hotels both in Bondo and Kisumu this to help have an adequate time in the swamp as a one day tour might not provide a better opportunity to watch as many birds as possible. When organizing for a trip to Yala Swamp for birding one is encouraged to carry with them the necessary birding tools such as bird watching binoculars and guides. With the binoculars you’ll be able to observe birds from areas submerged in water and with dense Papyrus habitation. Also carry with your lighter clothes as it might get hotter as the day progress. Before heading for bird watching in the swamp, birders are encouraged to carry packed lunch as walking back and forth in the dense papyrus may prove just difficult
bird watching in kenya

It host water bird species some of which are migratory birds traveling as far as North America, with migratory of birds to the swamp its offer an opportunity for bird ringing and observing already ringed ones. As a bird be prepared to watch the bee eater and notably the most common being the blue breasted, the most endemic birds are also found and a walk around the swamp will give you a chance to watch the papyrus gonolek, papyrus yellow wabler. Papyrus yellow wabler is one of the rare birds and in most cases isn’t easy to observe but in the vast Yala Swamp you’ll be able to watch them. The swamp flycatcher a bird not scared by the presence of people and will freely move from one papyrus stem to the other in search of flies as the name suggest. The papyrus canary has got a home within the swamp and is found where other the swamp places other unique birds found includes the baillor’s crane, white winged warbler, great snapper among others and provide a place for students study ornithology.

If you want to carryout the bird count on water birds then you’ll have a number of bird to record in your birding list, its also a conducive environment for the waterfall bird counts that happens annually. The wetland International in the recent years decided to celebrate the 50th International Water Bird Census on March 21 that brought participants from various countries in Africa in recognition on the importance of the swamp as a home for birds

Why Camping In Hells Gate Naivasha Is a Must for Bird Watchers

About Hells Gate
Hell’s Gate is one of the National Park found in Kenya situated around Lake Naivasha with an area cover of 68.25 square km with an outstanding sceneries characterized by the towering cliffs and the water gouges. The venue is suited for bird lovers, rock climbers, mountain biking, picnics, horse riding, game drives, nature walk and team building activities. The park is accessible by a well maintained tarmac road 90km from Nairobi and also from the naivasha air strip
The park’s topography is a combination of a rugged terrain and breathtaking scenery.it is mainly made up of grasslands and shrublands composed of acacia and euphorbia trees. The park has two entrances: the main Elsa gate and the olkaria gate. There are two towers in the park; Fischer tower and the central tower which are good for rock climbing. The park has a beautiful collection of wildlife i.e. the Thompson gazelle and a total of 103 species of birds i.e. the rare lammergeyer vulture.

The national park has got unique features such as the FISCHER TOWER which is a 75ft consisting of rocky tower formed due melting of rocks, its best for rock climbers, bird watchers among other scenic views
Birds at Hells Gate
There are a number of bird species found at hell’s gate from eagles and buzzard, if a birder wants to have a glimpse at some of the rare birds’ species such as Verreaux’s eagle and the Lammergeyer, the Ruppel’s griffon and hooded vultures. The caves and gorges provide one of the safest site for roosting and nesting keeping predators at bay. To have a better sighting birders advice to carry with the birding binoculars and book guide, and the best time to sight the birds includes the morning and evening hours.

At Hells Gate you’ll have a spectacular time watching the Ruppel’s griffon and hooded vultures feeding on the carcasses and one thing to observed among the vultures is the pecking order, the older well build vulture are given priority and when they arrive all the others have to stay aside and way. In some cases the older vultures have stronger beaks to penetrate through the hard skin of the dead animals all these time the other birds have to wait patiently for the arrival of the older bird. Birds of prey are plenty to watch over the cliffs and gorges with a very spectacular view. Then the moment comes when the vulture returns for roosting it’s a memorable time and for bird twitcher to have a view you must wait till evening for the arrival of these vultures

Sometimes weather can be unpredictable and one have to be prepared for the hot sun and it’s advisable to carry with you drinking water to quench your thirst when the need arises. With the many wildlife grazing in the park as a birder you’ll have a glimpse at the ox-pecker, the cattle egrets among other beautiful birds but not forget the swallows flying over the cliffs. Carry with you a note, a camera and a sharp binoculars and if a companied by your child never forget the kid’s binocular to help them have a wonderful birding time. When at the park be cautious of the noisy hyenas which moving from one end of the park to the other chasing away the vulture.
It’s a vulture’s paradise due to the ability to provide them with plenty of food, roosting safe sites and the favorable weather condition and other than the vultures hells gate hosts Augur buzzard, common fiscal, Northern anteater chat, secretary bird and other bird species

How to use Kids Binoculars

To have a generation that cares for birds and their habitats we must encourage our kids to take part in various bird watching activities in their early ages. One way to get children interested in birding is by introducing kids binoculars as young ones love playing with gadgets. Many parents might not be comfortable with their kids handling birding binoculars fearing breakages due to carelessness but you may consider introducing toy binoculars to enable your child get to know how to handle the binoculars.
Kid’s binoculars are no different from other binoculars save for the size.
It’s a birder equipment helping in observation and identification of birds during birding sessions such as morning bird watching, waterfall birds, world migratory bird day celebration among others. It aids their ability to observe, watch and observe features that necked eyes aren’t able to identify.
There are simple safety precautions measures for our kids to adhere to while handling the binoculars as discussed below.
1. Teach your kids the basic parts of the binocular, as this will ensure the kid master various parts and their functions. Knowing functions of various parts help them have a better focusing in the field.
2. Let your child know where the objective lense is found which refers to the front part of the binocular through which light enters for magnification. It’s very important for the child to be aware of the risks associated with touching the objective and magnifications lenses. This part is the easiest and most attractive area for the young ones. Many a times even adult birders are tempted to wipe or clean the lenses using non recommended materials as this will reduce the power of magnification and interference.
3. Binocular trap, is the loose piece of handle embended on the binocular for its safety usage. The first precaution is for your child to put on around the neck to help prevent it from falling off to the ground. Any thing can happen during nature walk events and without wearing the trap you’re risking the binocular.
4. Children should always handle the binocular with their two hands. Never let your child handle it with one hand during birding or at any time using the bino
5. Always use binocular case before, during and after usage as the case prevent it from gathering dust
6. Teach your child how to adjust the binocular. This helps them know where to touch while birding on their own.
7. When not using the binocular, let your child lay them flat instead of having them stand. They are stable while laid and unstable when standing resulting into easy breakages.
8. Don’t run with them while in the field, always be calm as much as possible.
9. Children like throwing objects while passing on to someone. It should be avoided with these equipment.