When it comes to tropical birding, field guides regularly deal with well over a 1000 birds and tend to be on the hefty side. Travel guides are mostly lighter, but this “where to watch birds guide” is truly lightweight and traveller friendly. It easily fits in your jacket pocket, even a side pocket of your cargo pants; hence you are certain that you will carry it with you, check it during a flight or a long transit drive.
When you mention “Africa” to a birder, it is likely that at least two thirds will instantly think “Kenya”, and for a good reason: it is home to over 1,060 bird species and boasts many globally important birding areas. Catherine Ngarachu’s “50 Top Birding Sites in Kenya” (published by Penguin Random House South Africa) is the first detailed guide to the country’s best birding sites.
50 Top Birding Sites in Kenya starts with contents on the left hand side and a Kenya map opposite to them (above), marked with site numbers for easy orientation. The Introduction deals with major habitats (including a box on Important Bird Areas) and planning your visit (covering climate and the best birding seasons, park entrance rules and regulations, finding local guides, booking accommodation and local contacts, especially regular bird walks).
The rest of the guide is organised per regions, e.g. Around Nairobi or Into the Rift Valley, for each sited depicting the key species, habitat, getting there (info on roads, turn-offs and driving; no buses or other transportation options are mentioned), the super practical visitor info and the birding (the longest section), ending with other wildlife (mainly mammals), accompanied with a basic map and several bird and habitat photos. Each site gets from 2 to 5 pages (but mostly 3-4). The birds mentioned in the text are shown in bold, while the key species uncommon elsewhere stand out being both bold and brown. Endemics are indicated with a bracket “(E)”.
The guide ends with a glossary, references, and separate indexes to scientific and common bird names. The scientific names are not mentioned through the book, but it is certainly useful to have them included here.
The author, Catherine Ngarachu, is the founding editor of Kenya Birding, the country’s only magazine dedicated to birdwatching. She has been active in conservation, working for the East Africa Natural History Society.
There are loads of travel guides to East Africa and Kenya in particular. Among the many options, there are shorter highlight guides, as well as various wildlife-watching safari guides. While Kenya’s spectacular birds are mentioned in them, they are not dealt in detail and this portable edition fills that gap successfully.
One of the big advantages of 50 Top Birding Sites in Kenya is that it was written by a local birder who has clearly visited most of the sites many times and has an insider’s type of knowledge, as opposed to a somewhat superficial knowledge collected en route by visiting birders.
Secondly, most travel guides deal with the more famous safari parks and do not mention the majority of the smaller reserves and birding sites that Ngarachu depicts.
Finally, checking the Internet for any similar editions, the only one that jumped out was Raymond David Moore’s Where to Watch Birds in Kenya, originally published in 1982. Also, Kenya is covered in Nigel Wheatley’s Where to Watch Birds in Africa from 1995. (Wheatley calls Kenya “possibly the best overall wildlife experience in Africa and the world”), so, the only competition is practically 3 to 4 decades old and the time was ripe for Ngarachu’s guide. The only thing left for me is to test this guide within Kenya.
50 Top Birding Sites in Kenya
Paperback, Nov 2017
By Catherine Ngarachu
168 pages, 180 colour photos, colour maps
Publisher: Penguin Random House South Africa