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Kenya, Kisumu, 8th - 9th October 2011

Published by Charles Davies (daviesc1973 AT hotmail.com)

Participants: Charles Davies

Kisumu is the large town in western Kenya, peaceful and green, on the shores of Lake Victoria. An easy flight of less than an hour from Nairobi, Kenya Airways operates several flights daily as do some of the other airlines. I was referred to a very competent guide called Samuel through the Imperial Kisumu Hotel (Samuel’s phone is +254722118956).

The flight arrived just before 8am on Saturday morning, so we missed the best time the first day. After checking in at the hotel, Samuel (who had hired a motorbike for the day) took me to the edge of town, where we walked past an area of fish ponds with a few White-faced Whistling-Duck, a lone Yellow-billed Stork and some of the common marsh birds (Yellow-backed Weaver, Red-chested Sunbird, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Winding Cisticola). After passing through a small village, we crossed a channel on a concrete bridge and followed it on a path that gradually became muddier and eventually impassible. But despite the late hour, we were rewarded with several Papyrus Canaries perching at the edge of the marsh and in groves of trees along the canal, and a Papyrus Gonolek that showed brilliantly at the edge of a field someone was clearing into the swamp. Some great birds right on the edge of town!

After returning to the hotel for lunch (adorned by caked mud up to our knees), we drove past the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary to Hippo Point, where you can rent boats for a ride on the lake. The papyrus around the dock wasn’t bad at all, and we got even better views of a group of Papyrus Canaries feeding on some kind of dandelion; when we returned later, they had been replaced by a couple of Yellow-fronted Canary. A small flock included a Nubian Woodpecker, and a pair of Black-headed Gonolek were calling from a thick thornbush next to the docks and emerged from time to time—this is a rather common bird of cultivated areas in this part of Kenya.

The boat ride took us past to a couple of hippo hanging out and yawning by the dock, then around the side of the lake to a beautiful area of papyrus swamp called Dunga Swamp, about 10km from town. The papyrus looked enticing but the interior (where White-winged Bush-Warblers were calling) was flooded and impossible to access, so we had to make do with flocks of Northern Brown-throated Weavers feeding around the water’s edge. Eventually the boatman found a small channel and took us to a tiny, muddy fishing settlement on the shore of the lake, where he and Samuel negotiated to allow me to walk around for a couple of hours. Another ankle-deep muddy path through an area of shorter papyrus, some of the best habitat we were able to access the whole time, and the only place where Carruthers’s Cisticola outnumbered Winding (which I don’t remember hearing once at this site). Lesser Swamp-Warbler was also common in this area and we found a Black Heron standing next to a muddy pool in the middle of the papyrus—a bird that Samuel said is difficult to see these days in the more open parts of the lake.

A beautiful ride back to the docks with the sun setting over the lake, hundreds of Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret and White-faced Whistling-Ducks flying to roost, and Whiskered Terns hawking insects over the lake (we eventually noticed that none of them were breaking the water surface).

An earlier 5am start on Sunday morning for a drive (in a regular car) to Yala Swamp, which looked very close on the map, but ended up being over 2 hours (over 1 hr on a paved road, and the rest on dirt). The road eventually travelled above the shore of a small lake, and we parked and walked down through some fields (Black-lored Babbler etc.) to the lake shore, which was fringed by more beautiful papyrus, with plenty of Winding and some Carruthers’s Cisticolas, and many White-winged Bush-Warblers calling from the inaccessible, flooded interior. After walking for a kilometer or two along the edge of the swamp, we came to a papyrus-fringed pool right by a small grove of banana trees and a sweet potato field in which a man was working. As we turned the corner, a Papyrus Yellow-Warbler flushed into a small clump of papyrus in the middle of the pool, but then flew into the main body of papyrus and never emerged again—the only thing calling was another maddening White-winged Bush-Warbler well inside the swamp. A few Papyrus Canary were feeding at the edge of the field, for good measure.

It was getting hot, so we walked back the car and drove a short way along the road to a patch of shade. Quite peaceful apart from a few cyclists that craned their necks around to look at us—we were eating boiled eggs and bread—as they passed, and an old woman who stopped and informed us that we were parked next to her brother-in-law’s nephew’s house, and that she would be returning in the evening to engage in Commerce.

About 10am now, getting quite hot and humid. We’d seen many row boats parked along the lake and visited a lot of houses near the lakeshore to look for one of the owners, with no success. After waiting around for half an hour with some children tending goats while a promised owner failed to appear, we decided to head back to Kisumu a bit early. The drive started along the edge of some rice fields with a couple of Banded Snake-Eagle perched on the telephone wires.

After lunch, a final visit to Dunga village, the land-side of the swamp area we’d visited by boat the first day. Some families had cleared areas along the edge of the swamp and established houses surrounded by very unpleasant-looking ponds and canals with red algae and trash, one man brewing some kind of toxic alcohol in big steel vats. More nice papyrus—we could see the edge only, lots of Swamp Flycatcher and more White-winged Warbler calling from the interior, out of sight, a couple of Striated Herons and one Little Bittern flushed. Unsuccessfully tried to avoid stepping in some really horrible slimy muck by the side of the canal we were walking along. But in the end (perhaps because it was mid-afternoon), we didn’t see too much, and headed back to the hotel for a final time to get cleaned up for the flight home.

NB: I have nice photos of Papyrus Canary and Papyrus Gonolek available on request.

Species Lists

• White-faced Whistling-Duck—about 80
• Egyptian Goose—8
• Pink-backed Pelican—5
• Great Cormorant—3
• Long-tailed Cormorant—15
• Little Bittern—1
• Black-headed Heron—15
• Purple Heron—3
• Great Egret—1
• Intermediate Egret—1
• Little Egret—about 50
• Black Heron—1
• Cattle Egret—about 150
• Squacco Heron—5
• Striated Heron—2
• Glossy Ibis—about 150
• Sacred Ibis—about 40
• Hadada Ibis—7
• African Spoonbill—4
• Hamerkop—about 25
• Yellow-billed Stork—4
• Black Kite—about 15
• African Fish-Eagle—2
• Banded Snake-Eagle—2
• Eurasian Marsh-Harrier—1
• Long-crested Eagle—1
• Black Crake—3
• Gray Crowned-Crane—2
• Water Thick-knee—3
• Long-toed Lapwing—1
• Spur-winged Plover—about 20
• African Jacana—about 35
• Common Sandpiper—about 20
• Gray-hooded Gull—2
• Whiskered Tern—about 130
• Speckled Pigeon—about 10
• African Mourning-Dove—5
• Red-eyed Dove—about 12
• Ring-necked Dove—3 identified but probably many more
• Laughing Dove—1
• Blue-spotted Wood-Dove—3
• Dideric Cuckoo—1 heard
• White-browed Coucal—1
• Little Swift—about 20
• African Palm-Swift—about 20
• Speckled Mousebird—about 25
• Malachite Kingfisher—about 10
• Gray-headed Kingfisher—3
• Woodland Kingfisher—2
• Pied Kingfisher—about 15
• Blue-breasted Bee-eater –2
• Little Bee-eater—2
• Nubian Woodpecker—2
• Black-headed Gonolek—about 8
• Papyrus Gonolek—1 and a few heard
• Red-backed Shrike—1 juvenile
• Gray-backed Fiscal—about 15
• Common Fiscal—1
• Fork-tailed Drongo—about 5
• Pied Crow—about 5
• Plain Martin—3
• Bank Swallow-1++ (possibly more)
• Barn Swallow—about 15
• Angola Swallow—1 (possibly more)
• Common Bulbul—about 30
• Papyrus Yellow Warbler—1
• Lesser Swamp-Warbler—3
• White-winged Scrub-Warbler—several heard
• Green-backed Camaroptera—1
• Winding Cisticola—about 40
• Carruthers’s Cisticola—about 10
• Gray-capped Warbler—1
• Northern Black-Flycatcher—1
• Swamp Flycatcher—about 40
• White-browed Robin-Chat—2 heard
• African Thrush—3
• Black-lored Babbler—8
• Rueppell’s Glossy-Starling—4
• Beautiful Sunbird—1
• Mariqua Sunbird—1
• Red-chested Sunbird—about 60
• Copper Sunbird—1
• Western Yellow Wagtail—2
• African Pied Wagtail—about 10
• Yellow-fronted Canary—3
• Papyrus Canary—8
• Reichenow’s Seedeater—1
• Gray-headed Sparrow—2
• White-browed Sparrow-Weaver—2
• Slender-billed Weaver—about 20
• Northern Brown-throated Weaver—about 40
• Village Weaver—about 40
• Black-headed (Yellow-backed) Weaver—about 125
• Fan-tailed Widowbird—about 40
• Common Waxbill—about 10
• Red-cheeked Cordonbleu—5
• Purple Grenadier—2
• Red-billed Firefinch—4
• Bronze Mannikin—about 25
• Pin-tailed Whydah—4