Being a city person, I used to think birding, or let me just call it bird watching before you chicken out of this blog, dry joke???Anyway in my head I thought bird watching could only be done deep in the forest or in the thickets of some wilderness area. So when I was asked to join Nature Kenya for a bird watching activity at the museums of Kenya in Nairobi City, I immediately prepared myself psychologically, and maybe spiritually, to do some dead bird watching of stuffed birds behind glass casings or watch birds that look like death itself like the marabou storks and crows.
What I was not prepared for however, is that our beautiful city Nairobi is home to over 600 (alive) bird species, a number that is probably one of the highest than any city of the world, adding to the uniqueness of Nairobi as the only city with a national park. And here I was ready to point my binoculars at crows.
WHY THE NATURE KENYA BIRDWALKS STAND OUT
Every Wednesday, The Nature Kenya Bird Walk brings together birders from different ages and interests, the experienced and the newbies, to see and learn about the birds of Nairobi without leaving the lovely city and also to spend time to reconnect with nature. As the birdwatchers meet every week, it’s easy to create a network of birders and learn not only about the birds, but also fascinating facts about the environs.
These bird walks are guided by Fleur Ngweno, a conservationist with a keen love and extensive knowledge of birds. They are offered at different locations around the city but people usually meet at the Nairobi National museum.
HOW TO JOIN
The walks are offered every Wednesday by Nature Kenya, an environmental society that seeks to promote the study and conservation of nature in East Africa. Their offices are located at the National Museums of Kenya, which is 10 minutes away from the city center along museum hill road. You can also choose to walk as it’s a 15 minute walk from the city.
Or organize with Uniglobe Lets’ Go Travel
The charges are completely free if you are a member of Nature Kenya, which comes with a myriad of other exciting benefits too. However, they provide temporary membership for 200 shillings for the bird walk.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
The walks last for around four hours in the morning and are situated in locations near the city. This provides a variety of hotels to choose from, ranging from luxury five star hotels to budget hotels in the city.
There is however a restaurant near the Nature Kenya offices, where you can pop in for a bite before/after the bird walk.
I arrived for the walk at 8:30 am, that is when the bird walks are scheduled to start. The bird watchers usually meet at the car park of the Nairobi National Museum and are briefed on the plan of the day. The walks are usually carpooled (being responsible right there) to different locations, such as the Nairobi Arboretum or the City Park, with people volunteering to offer their cars. However, if the number is too much or the cars aren’t available, the walks are done within the vicinity of the National museum.
On this particular day, we were unable to carpool and therefore had to do the bird watching at the environs of the Nairobi Museum. Before we were even done with the briefing by our bird expert, Fleur Ngweno, we had already spotted two species of birds, namely the Lesser striped swallow and the Baglafecht Weaver. As we walked around the nature trail of the museum, we managed to identify several species of other birds and trees. Our group was composed of about 25 people, and they all shared the knowledge they had willingly.
I, being a first timer, was very green about the birds and the trees and sometimes even needed assistance spotting some birds hidden in the trees. One of the experts, reassured me that most newbies leave only seeing half the birds the rest of the group has seen. True to his word, another first timer, like me that I talked to after the walk told me she had not spotted most birds. So when going birding for the first time do not be afraid to ask or don’t pretend you saw that dodo bird.
(The thicket inside Nairobi National museums grounds)
TIP: Carry your binoculars if you have them to have a better sighting of the birds
We spotted endemic birds of all sizes, from the olive thrush, to the uniquely looking speckled mouse bird, to the great herons. I got to see the common Marabou Stork, famously joked for being the replacement to chicken in these fast food outlets in the city. The Marabou stork, nicknamed health inspector in some areas, hangs around garbage sites and helps clean up the environment by reducing dirt and carcases. Do not ask me about the Olive thrush and where it hangs out. We were even lucky to see a couple of sparrow weavers building a nest, and witnessed an exciting fight between the long crested eagle and a harrier hawk. The fight lasted for quite some time and quite an aggressive augur buzzard joined in for a piece of the pie-fight.
The walk ended after about three hours and we had a small briefing before dispersing. To become an avid birdwatcher, I would recommend attending several of the bird walks as one simply doesn’t suffice. Being a regular also helps you easily identify the different types of birds, and you get to visit different locations each week. Plus the bird crew is pretty fun!
THE GUIDED WALKS
Best experience ever, the interpretation and education about birds by our guide was amazing. The only thing I did not learn is to speak bird.
Nairobi national museum’s garden and surrounding environs has plenty of trees and other plants, which makes it an ideal place for birds. We managed to spot about thirty species in about two hours, so imagine how many species you could see in a day?
The garden is also good for learning about different types of plants, and quite a spectacular sight if you are a lover of nature. The sounds of the famous Nairobi river as it wound its merry way through adds to the aesthetic feel of the garden.
I would rate it a 9/10
The nature trails at the gardens in the museum are well established. However the litter bins in the area aren’t enough and some people end up littering.
I’d give them a rating of 5/10
If you do one thing this month, let it be this low impact travel activity, bird watching. The world would be a better place if there were more people practicing bird watching as it is not only a leisure activity, but it is also concerned with the welfare of the environment and the conservation of threatened species. These winged creatures are used by scientists as bio-indicators of nature as they can indicate disease outbreaks, pollution, habitat quality among many others.
The birding experience was quite nice, our guide was knowledgeable with a good sense of humor. Plenty of birds to see in the forest and the nature is undisturbed. I would give them an overall rating of 8/10.
Review by Sharon Wangari