Birding the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest area, Kenya, 23rd-24th Sept 2006

Published by Dave Gandy (dave.gandy AT


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Sokoke Scops Owl
Sokoke Scops Owl

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest has been ranked by BirdLife International as the second most important forest for bird conservation on mainland Africa and is part of the East African coastal forests Endemic Bird Area. More than 230 bird species have been recorded including nine globally threatened species. The area is also home to the endemic Golden-rumped Elephant–shrew.

I briefly visited Arabuko-Sokoke in 1990 with John Fanshawe who was then doing his PhD on one of it’s most sought-after endemics, Clarke’s Weaver – we didn’t see the weaver, or in fact very much else. I did however manage to see Spotted Ground Thrush at the nearby Gedi Ruins on that trip.

Going to places with good birds but not having the time or the luck to see them always leaves one feeling a bit hard done-by, so when I was asked to go to a meeting near Mombasa in September 2006 I instantly started to think that it was time for another visit to Arabuko-Sokoke. Thankfully Kenya Airways only fly a few times a week between Kenya and Bangkok, where I live, so it was easy for me to justify staying on for a couple of days after my meeting!


As I only had two days available I decided to pay for a guide to help me find Arabuko-Sokoke’s special birds and booked Albert from Spinetail Tours ( as my guide. The price was KSh 2,000 (US$ 28) per day for guiding, plus KSh 4,000 ($56) per day for transport – I arranged for Albert to drop me at Mombasa airport at the end of our birding, which required an additional KSh 2,000 for petrol. Albert’s local knowledge made a huge difference to our birding, he was very good on vocalisations and on explaining the subtle variations in habitats which the casual visitor could easily overlook. I felt I learned a huge amount about this forest from him in a very short space of time. Entry fees to the Forest are US$20 per day for non-Kenyans.

There are various swanky and other rather over-priced hotels in Watamu (a coastal resort 10km from Arabuko-Sokoke) and on the advice of friends I ended up renting a small beach house for the weekend through I found out subsequently that I may have been able to stay much move economically at A Rocha’s Mwamba Bird Observatory in Watamu, see

Notable bird species

In the two days that Albert and I went birding we visited Brachystegia, Mixed and Red Sand forest, as well as open plantation, all within the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest complex, and additionally we visited nearby Mida Creek for the high tide wader roost, well known for its Crab Plovers. Birding included the following highlights, globally threatened species are noted by there threat category in brackets:

Madagascar Pratincole (Vulnerable)
A pair seen high over Brachystegia forest (!)

Crab Plover
The high tide roost at Mida Creek did not disappoint, with about 100 Crab Plovers in front of the hide. Additional species in the roost included Terek Sandpiper, Lesser and Greater Sandplover, Curlew Sandpiper, Yellow-billed Stork and Western Reef Egret.

Southern Banded Snake-eagle (Near-threatened)
Two birds heard calling to one another early morning, with one tracked and eventually seen well.

Sokoke Scops Owl (Endangered)
Easily bird of the trip. One individual found roosting in the middle of the day in an area of red sand forest which is well known for the birds. Very close views of this bird were gained (down to 2 metres!).

Bohm’s Spinetail
A pair of these fantastic swifts low over the forest canopy, seen from the main Mombasa – Malindi road, just north of the Mida Gate into Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.

Narina Trogan
Seen three times in Brachystegia forest

Mangrove Kingfisher
One bird seen in the grounds of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest visitors’ centre.

Mombasa Woodpecker
Seen once in a mixed flock in Brachystegia forest

Scaly-throated Honeyguide
One seen in Brachystegia forest.

Pallid Honeyguide
One bird seen on forest edge near the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest visitors’ centre.

Sokoke Pipit (Endangered)
Seen at least five times, including excellent views on the ground and perched. Always initially picked up on call.

Eastern Nicator
Seen at least five times, usually with mixed flocks.

Pale Batis
Seen three times in mixed flocks

Red-capped Robin Chat
Seen once at close range and two others heard.

Scaly Babbler
A small flock seen on forest edge near the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest visitors’ centre.

Amani Sunbird (Endangered)
Seen twice with mixed flocks, they tended to move through quickly.

Plain-backed Sunbird (Near-threatened)
One male seen in Brachystegia forest

Four-coloured Bush-Shrike
Seen twice in Brachystegia forest.

Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrike
A very common and vocal flock species in Brachystegia forest

Retz’s Helmet-Shrike
Seen several times in flocks, usually with Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrike.

East Coast Akalat (Vulnerable)
Heard calling and glimpsed three times in thick undergrowth in mixed forest, but only untickable views!

Red-tailed Ant-thrush
Two birds seen together in Brachystegia forest.

Target species dipped

We unfortunately didn’t connect with Clarke’s Weaver (Endangered), but it was seen by another guide and his group of non-birders on my second morning. We did not try for Spotted Ground Thrush (Endangered) as this is a bird I saw on my previous trip, however it is worth noting that Albert told me that this species cannot be seen at Gedi Ruins any longer as there is now excavation of the archeological site underway which is causing too much disturbance for the birds to be seen – there is a site for them close to the Arabuko-Sokoke Visitor’s centre however.

Notable Mammals

Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew
A pair of these wonderful endemic rodents were seen crossing the track through Brachystegia forest.

Pug marks found along trail through open plantation forest. Albert said that he sees this cat regularly (perhaps once per month).