Catherine Ngarachu, the author of 50 Top Birding Sites in Kenya, had an exclusive chat with Clinton Moodley about her book and travels. This is what she had to say:
First things first, tell us more about the book?
It describes the most popular birding sites in Kenya and showcases the stunning places to see birds. It also includes many of the hotspots for birders, places like Kakamega Forest, Kenya's only remnant rainforest, where birds like Chapin's Flycatcher, Blue-headed Bee-eater and a myriad other forest species of western Kenya can be found.
Some sites are national parks and reserves.
When did you plan on writing it and why?
Birding brings together my love for travel and birds. I thought it would be a great idea to write about the sites birders visit to show what great places there are around the country, and what beautiful and interesting birds we have.
I was also involved for many years in developing avitourism for the country and attended the British Birdwatching Fair (the largest such fair in the world) for many years. There I saw how many countries had 'where to watch birds' type guides for their country and it impressed me that we should have something similar for Kenya.
I did not know Kenya was a birding spot, how did you research the sites and how long did it take?
Kenya is the place for year-round birding. We have 1060 different birds including 11 endemics – that is birds like Sharpe's Longclaw, Aberdare Cisticola, Taita Apalis, Hinde's Babbler and Clarke's Weaver, that can be found only in Kenya.
But the big attraction of birding in Kenya is how 'birdy' it is — big bird days and getting 80 or more species in a day is not unusual. I've been birding in the country for more than 20 years and that is the real base of the book. I started jotting notes to trips years ago, but the final run took about a year and a half.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Writing up for 50 sites and have it all finished and submitted with photos and maps in such a short time was definitely the biggest challenge! I'm very grateful for friends and colleagues who reviewed and contributed to sites.
Do you have any cool stories you would like to share when compiling research on this book?
Interesting! You know I may have come to know our birds better. Reading up different species and checking on their distribution gave me a few surprises. Like I long thought I'd recorded the amazing Golden-breasted Starling in the bush south-west of the country, only to find out it is restricted to the east. With so many birds there are always things to learn — part of what makes birding so interesting.
When did your love for birding start?
I was birding before I knew it was 'birding'. I was young and had joined the Wildlife Club in school and I remember a couple of times when the club took us on trips and pointed out birds to us. It must have made an impression on me as years later after I started working and got a chance to join a group going birding, it immediately clicked.
How would you recommend a birding enthusiast spend their holiday in Kenya?
I'd recommend they plan to visit a few different habitat areas: pass by the rice paddies at Mwea and travel up to montane forest on the southern slopes of Mount Kenya, then go north to the semi-arid areas of Samburu and Shaba before coming across and down into the Rift Valley to visit Lakes Bogoria (alkaline) and Baringo (freshwater).
They might then wish to end by going west to the Kakamega Forest and finally the well-known Masai Mara. That is one routing and all these sites are in the book. I strongly suggest reaching out to a specialised birding tour company and ask about bird guides, they will greatly boost your birding success.
What can people expect next from you?
50 Top Birding Sites in Kenya was just out in July, but there is certainly more I'd like to write about on travel and birding in Kenya.