Kenya Bird Map Expedition to the Mara region and Lake Victoria basin

In order to fill gaps in coverage, the Kenya Bird Map project regularly conducts bird mapping expeditions aimed at collecting data from as many pentads as possible. One such expedition was conducted on the 7th to 17th June 2018 (11 days) in south-western Kenya, where target areas in the greater Masai Mara, Trans Mara and Lake Victoria basin (including Yala Swamp) were atlassed. A total of 60 pentads were covered, of which 29 were full protocols and 31 were ad-hoc protocols. 301 bird species were recorded in the process. The team was comprised: Sidney Shema, John Gitiri, Nelly Ogada, Kennedy Sikenykeny, Frank Juma and Samuel Njihia. We also collaborated with several local guides and liaison people throughout.

We are very grateful to the managers of Naboisho, Enonkishu, Mara North and Oloisukut conservancies and to the warded at Musiara Gate (Masai Mara National Reserve) for allowing us free access to their areas for bird mapping. A big thank you to Stratton Hatfield and Titimet ole Nampaso as well for sharing the contacts of some of the conservancy managers.

When we arrived in Talek on the first day, we conducted a brief afternoon bird mapping training workshop for a few of the local guides and a conservancy manager…

Some of the participant of the workshop
…bird atlassing session in the field

We then proceeded to visit several areas over the coming days. This post is simply to share photos of some of the sightings and highlights from the expedition.

Masai Mara

African Marsh Harrier - Masai Mara (S. Shema)
One of our earliest sightings and also among the top highlights of the trip was an African Marsh Harrier! Considered one of the rarest birds of prey in Kenya (seen in Ngorengore, on our way to Talek)


White-bellied Canary - Masai Mara (S. Shema).JPG
White-bellied Canary – common throughout
Secretarybird - Masai Mara (S. Shema).JPG
Secretarybird (sub-adult) – Naboisho Conservancy
Ovambo Sparrowhawk - S. Shema.JPG
Distant shot of what seemed like a dark morph Ovambo Sparrowhawk. Another rare raptor in Kenya. (exact ID yet to be fully confirmed. It could also be a dark Gabar Goshawk) – Naboisho Conservancy
Red-necked Spurfowl near Aitong
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Tawny Eagle in Mara North Conservancy
African Wattled Plover - Masai Mara (S. Shema).JPG
African Wattled Plover – Enonkishu Conservancy
Golden-winged Sunbird - S. Shema.JPG
Golden-winged Sunbird near Lemek centre
D'Arnaud's (Usambiro) Barbet - S. Shema.JPG
D’Arnaud’s Barbet of the usambiro race (considered a unique species by some authors – Usambiro Barbet). They were common and highly vocal throughout the Mara.
Black-chested Snake Eagle - S. Shema.JPG
Black-chested Snake Eagle – Ngorengore
Yellow-throated Sandgrouse - S. Shema.JPG
Yellow-throated Sandgrouse (male left, female right) – Mara North Conservancy
Ostrich - S. Shema.JPG
Ostrich (female) – Mara North Conservancy


Sooty Chat - S. Shema.JPG
Sooty Chat – Masai Mara National Reserve
Straw-tailed Whydah - S. Shema.JPG
Straw-tailed Whydah – Masai Mara National Reserve
Bare-faced Go-away-bird - S. Shema.JPG
Bare-faced Go-away-birds. The common go-away-bird of western Kenya.

Trans Mara

Common Drongo - S. Shema.JPG
Common Drongo – Oloisukut Conservancy
Nyakweri Forest - S. Shema.JPG
Nyakweri Forest – a large and impressive forest, but greatly threatened by deforestation which has reduced its size significantly in recent years.
Equatorial Akalat - S. Shema.JPG
Equatorial Akalat – Nyakweri Forest. We birded the edges of the Nyakweri Forest but unfortunately were unable to visit the interior as planned due to an unexpected circumstance that derailed us on one of the days
Slender-billed Greenbul - S. Shema.JPG
Slender-billed Greenbul seen in a heavily-logged section of Nyakweri Forest
Western Banded Snake Eagle (juv) - S. Shema.JPG
Western Banded Snake Eagle (juvenile) – Nyakweri Forest
Ashy Flycatcher - S. Shema.JPG
Ashy Flycatcher – Nyakweri Forest
Crowned Eagle - S. Shema.JPG
Crowned Eagle, aka ‘leopard of the sky’. We saw this one in Trans Mara and had also seen one on the hills north of Lemek.
Grey Cuckooshrike - S. Shema.JPG
Grey Cuckooshrike – a shy forest specialist. Seen near Nyakweri


Joyful Greenbul - S. Shema.JPG
Joyful Greenbul hidden in some dense vegetation along the Migori River
Grey-throated Barbet - S. Shema.JPG
Grey-throated Barbet – seen in Trans Mara and later at Yala Swamp
Red-billed Oxpecker - S. Shema.JPG
Red-billed Oxpecker on a sleeping cow
Violet-backed Starling - S. Shema.JPG
Large flocks of Violet-backed Starlings were very common in Trans Mara. They must have been in their thousands.
Southern Ground Hornbill - S. Shema.JPG
Female of a pair of Southern Ground Hornbills. A species that seems to be in decline.
Double-toothed Barbet -  S. Shema.JPG
Double-toothed Barbet – seen in Trans Mara and Yala Swamp
Crowned Hornbills were fairly common in Trans Mara

African Harrier-Hawk hunting at a Little Bee-eater nesting site

Brown-throated (or Common) Wattle-eye female – near Lolgorien
Village Indigobird.JPG
Village Indigobird (breeding male) – common throughout
Ross’s Turaco in the shadows. According to several locals, this is the most common Turaco in Trans Mara. But it proved quite elusive for us, with Schalow’s Turaco being seen and heard much more frequently. More regular coverage of pentads in this area will show a clearer picture of which species is the most prevalent
Schalow's Turaco (Trans Mara) - S. Shema.JPG
The beautiful Schalow’s Turaco – seen and heard severally throughout Trans Mara and the western Masai Mara in a variety of wooded habitats
Sunrise birding - S. Shema.JPG
Sunrise birding near Kirindon Resource Centre
Scanning the horizon - J. Gitiri.JPG
Oloisukut Conservancy, along the Oloololo Escarpment, offers a great elevated view of the Masai Mara. We also spotted a leopard from this viewpoint on the day we arrived and had encounters with lions and elephants in the conservancy as well.
Familiar (or Red-tailed) Chat - S. Shema.JPG
Familiar (or Red-tailed) Chat – Oloisukut Conservancy

Lake Victoria Basin

Yellow-billed Storks - S. Njihia.JPG
Our first stop in the Lake Victoria basin was near Ahero, where a large number of Yellow-billed Storks (pictured) and Black-headed Herons were nesting along the Sondu River
Black-headed Herons - S. Njihia.JPG
Black-headed Herons and Yellow-billed Stork on their nests. We came across several heronries of different species around Lake Victoria
Augur Buzzard (dark morph sub-adult) - S. Shema.JPG
Dark morph immature Augur Buzzard at the Sondu River Mouth. This was perhaps the raptor we encountered most frequently during the expedition.
Ruppell's Starlings - S. Shema.JPG
Ruppell’s Starling – common throughout
Black-lored Babbler - S. Shema.JPG
Black-lored Babbler was the common babbler at Lake Victoria, whereas Arrow-marked Babbler was common in the Mara
Swamp Flycatcher - S. Shema.JPG
Swamp Flycatcher – common around Lake Victoria
African Pygmy Kingfisher - S. Shema.JPG
African Pygmy Kingfisher – seen frequently throughout the expedition
African Mourning Dove - S. Shema.JPG
African Mourning Doves were the commonest dove around Lake Victoria
Long-crested Eagle - S. Shema.JPG
Long-crested Eagle silhouette
Black-headed Gonolek - S. Shema.JPG
Black-headed Gonolek – also very common around Lake Victoria
Yellow-backed Weaver - S. Shema.JPG
Yellow-backed Weaver – among the commonest weavers around Lake Victoria’s reedbeds
Dwarf Bittern - S. Shema.JPG
Dward Bittern – Nyando River Mouth. Also seen at Lake Sare.
Papyrus Gonolek - S. Shema.JPG
Papyrus Gonolek. One of the Lake Victoria endemics. Papyrus Canary, White-winged Warbler and Carruthers’s Cisticola were also seen, though we missed the Papyrus Yellow Warbler.
African Jacana - S. Shema.JPG
African Jacana aka ”Lily Trotter”
[Jackson's] Golden-backed Weaver - S. Shema.JPG
[Jackson’s] Golden-backed Weaver
Fulvous Whistling Ducks - S. Shema.JPG
Fulvous Whistling Ducks
Gull-billed Tern.JPG
Gull-billed Tern. A Palearctic Migrant. A few others were seen among thousands of resident Whiskered Terns.
Silverbird - S. Shema.JPG
Silverbird – common around Lake Victoria and the Mara
Collared Pratincoles - S. Shema.JPG
A flock of Collared Pratincoles in the rice fields north of the Nyando River
Fan-tailed Widowbird - S. Shema.JPG
Fan-tailed Widowbird – common in the Masai Mara and Lake Victoria
Beautiful Sunbird - S. Shema.JPG
Beautiful Sunbird
Angola Swallow - S. Shema.JPG
Angola Swallow
Eastern Grey Plantain-eater - S. Shema.JPG
Distant shot of an Eastern Grey Plantain Eater
Blue-breated Bee-eater - S. Shema.JPG
Blue-breasted Bee-eater. Very similar to Little Bee-eater but has white cheeks and purplish  throat patch – Lake Sare (Yala Swamp)
Northern Brown-throated Weaver - S. Shema.JPG
Northern Brown-throated Weaver (adult male)
Purple Heron - S. Shema.JPG
Purple Heron near Usenge
Slender-billed Weaver (female) - S. Shema.JPG
Slender-billed Weaver (female) – Lake Sare
Southern Red Bishop - S. Shema.JPG
Southern Red Bishop – seen numerous times around L Victoria and near agricultural fields at Ngorengore in the Masai Mara as well
Swamp Nightjar - S. Shema.JPG
Swamp Nightjar – Lake Namboyo (Yala Swamp)
Senegal Plover - S. Shema.JPG
Senegal Plover – Lake Namboyo
Blue-spotted Wood Dove - S. Shema.JPG
Blue-spotted Wood Dove. The other wood doves – Emerald-spotted and Tambourine Dove-  were also seen
African Open-billed Stork - S. Shema.JPG
African Open-billed Stork – numerous in rice fields
Water Thick-knee - S. Shema.JPG
Water Thick-knee – Seen at Yala Swamp and Oloisukut Conservancy in Trans Mara
Cormorant breeding site - S. Shema.JPG
Breeding colony of Great and Reed Cormorants – Lake Victoria
Lake Kanyaboli - Yala Swamp.JPG
Lake Kanyaboli (Yala Swamp), with the Papyrus vegetation typical of the Lake Victoria Basin
Blue-headed Coucal - S. Shema.JPG
Blue-headed Coucal – Lake Kanyaboli
Woodland Kingfisher - S. Shema.JPG
Woodland Kingfisher – Lake Kanyaboli. Seen severally throughout the expedition.
Pied Kingfisher - S. Shema.JPG
Pied Kingfisher fishing at Lake Kanyaboli. This species was very abundant around the entire Lake Victoria basin

All in all, the expedition was a success and we covered several new pentads as well as getting some already covered pentads to turn green (4 full protocol cards – this is the minimum required to allow for analysis of relative abundance and other statistics for any pentad). The important thing, however, is that these areas continue to be atlassed long after this trip, which will allow for monitoring of bird distribution and relative abundance throughout the year. We therefore encourage all you Kenya Bird Mappers to continue going out and mapping birds wherever you are in Kenya!

If you are an interested birder and not yet signed up for the Kenya Bird Map project, simply send your name, email address and phone number to to get registered.

– Author: Sidney Shema (Project manager – Kenya Bird Map) –

6 thoughts on “Kenya Bird Map Expedition to the Mara region and Lake Victoria basin

  1. How many Rufous bellied herons did you see, in the Mara and the elsewhere on the trip.
    Curious because thrice I’ve been to musiara and only seen a handful


  2. Hello Kenya Bird Map,
    Many thanks for updating I have really enjoyed the photos by (shema)please keep up for the good work Mr, I also usually go birding on the shores of lake Victoria and many other lakes, swamps especially Mabamba swamp for shoebills, papyrus gonolake and many others

    Like our Facebook page for those who like Uganda and those who would like to see the Shoebills and many other Uganda birds
    (Mabamba swamp shoebill Bird watching)
    Wishes you all the best

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very good initiative for enhancing tourism industry in Kenya (for bird lovers). You can share such experience (bird mapping) with other friends of nature in other EAC countries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Oscar. The bird mapping project is now expanding into an African Bird Atlas, which covers the entire African continent. We are definitely in the process of getting other countries in East Africa engaged in the project.



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