The Current Status of Kenya’s Bird Atlas: Part 6 of 7 – The North

As we continue analyzing the current coverage of the Kenya Bird Map, we now shift focus to northern Kenya. This is another major section of Kenya’s dry county, dominated by dry savannahs, scrubland and deserts. Several of the dryland endemic and near-endemic birds of the Somali-Masai biome already mentioned in the previous post on southern Kenya also occur here, along with others that are restricted to the far northern reaches of the country; e.g. Crested (Galerida cristata), Thekla (Galerida theklae) and Masked (Spizocorys personata) Larks, Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex), Somali Sparrow (Passer castanopterus), Brown-tailed Rock Chat (Cercomela scotocerca), Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse (Pterocles lichtensteinii), Bruce’s Green Pigeon (Treron waalia) and Long-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus climacurus).

This is the area immediately north of the central and western Kenya highlands; comprised of Baringo, Laikipia, Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit, Turkana and West Pokot counties. It is characterized by fairly flat dry plains interspersed with several isolated mountains and mountain ranges (Mt. Marsabit, Mt. Kulal, Mt. Nyiru, Karisia Hills, Ndoto Mountains, Matthews Range, Huri Hills, Mt. Loima etc). Most of these isolated mountains have montane forest on their higher slopes, which support several endemic species of flora and fauna (e.g. Kulal White-eye Zosterops kulalensis on Mt. Kulal). Other features of note in northern Kenya include the northern Rift Valley and its associated lakes (Turkana, Baringo and Bogoria), the Laikipia Plateau, the Chalbi/Dida-Galgalu deserts, the Northern Ewaso Nyiro River (incl. Lorian Swamp) and the northern reaches of the Cherengani Hills.

The North.jpg
Northern Kenya

The Coverage

The current coverage of northern Kenya on the Kenya Bird Map is extremely sparse. It is, in fact, the second least covered region of Kenya. Only the east (which we will look at next week) has less coverage.

Nothern Kenya coverage.JPG
The coverage of northern Kenya

The best-covered areas in this region are the Samburu-Buffalo Springs-Shaba reserves, parts of the conservancies immediately north of these reserves, part of the Samburu/Karisia Hills and various parts of Laikipia (areas immediately west and north of Nanyuki, Rumuruti and some private conservancies).

Laikipia-Samburu coverage.JPG
Laikipia-Samburu coverage

The area from lakes Baringo and Bogoria west to the southern section of the Kerio Valley around Kabarnet also has some fairly good coverage. A few pentads north of Kapenguria are also mapped.

Baringo - Kapenguria coverage.JPG
Baringo-Kapenguria coverage

Moving northwards from here, the coverage becomes extremely sparse. Mapped pentads (mainly singles and small groups of 2-4) are scattered widely in the area between the Marsabit-Moyale road and the eastern shore of Lake Turkana. A single pentad partially touching Central Island in Lake Turkana also has some records, as do a few pentads between Lokichar and the South Turkana National Reserve. Notice that nearly all the pentads in this area have less than 4 full protocol cards (i.e. yellow or orange). Only two at Mt. Marsabit have at least 4 cards (green), which is the minimum recommended for detailed analysis to be done for a pentad. Notably, there are a few pentads at Moyale, Huri Hills and Sibiloi National Park, right on the border with Ethiopia, that have full protocol cards! A great achievement by the atlassers who managed to get there and complete full protocols!

L Turkana-Marsabit coverage.JPG
Lake Turkana-Marsabit coverage

The Gaps

Like the previous post on southern Kenya, the gaps in the north are extensive and pretty obvious. I will therefore not dwell much on the gaps, but I will briefly highlight three of the main ones that stand out most. The first is the huge area west of Lake Turkana, from the South Sudan border (Ilemi Triangle) to the Kerio Valley and the northern tip of Lake Baringo. This area includes Mt. Loima and the Turkwell and Kerio rivers.

West Turkana gap.JPG
Lake Turkana to Kerio Valley gap

The other two are:

  • the area encompassing the Chalbi/Dida-Galgalu deserts and Mt. Marsabit; and
  • the Lorian Swamp

These areas have almost no records yet they are of potentially high conservation (and research) value for several birds of the north.

Chalbi Desert and Lorian Swamp gaps.JPG
Chalbi-Marsabit and Lorian Swamp gap

Covering the pentads in northern Kenya with full protocol cards is very challenging due to the remoteness and insecurity of most of this region. Therefore, even the little coverage that has been achieved is still a great effort by bird atlassers and I congratulate all who have submitted records from northern Kenya so far.

For anyone who can manage it, please continue to record and submit birds from the north. Even fairly well-covered areas still have several pentads that have little or no records. Visit the coverage map to see these areas in more detail. (NB: if your browser is having issues viewing the KBM coverage map, you can still view it through the SABAP2 website).

If you are a birder who lives/works in or visits northern Kenya and are not yet registered on the Kenya Bird Map, kindly send an email to to join this vital bird conservation project as a citizen scientist!


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

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