For years, bird watching has been an extraterrestrial activity for most Kenyan tourists. There was little to no fun seeing weaving sparrows or snake robins in the wild or watching the male black-capped lapwing perform courtship displays and a sound which is memorable but very difficult to capture.
But now bird watching is attracting enthusiasts who travel to different places to spot rare species and others are expanding their experiences to something bigger by organizing bird photos.
Kenyans even use apps like BirdLasser, where they post photos and record their sightings and share them with friends and other birders. To woo more guests, especially Kenyans, game parks with an abundance of rare species have started selling bird watching as a new outdoor adventure.
Muraya Githinji, the senior custodian of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) at Meru National Park, one of the popular wildlife sanctuaries for birding, says they are positioning the park as an attraction for bird watchers.
On a sunny day at Meru National Park, I left in the morning with Mishek Kathenya, a guide, and Muraya looking for birds.
We should have started the safari at 6am to see a show of birds chirping upon waking up, but I thought the first few rides were meant to spot a cheetah hunting and a lion pride licking the blood of its mane. I was wrong.
We see birds that Muraya says are immigrants. That they came from as far as Europe. Others come to stay a few moments in the park before leaving for Tanzania.
âThis is what attracts researchers, students, individuals and groups of Kenyans who view birds as a hobby. The number of bird watchers visiting the park has increased dramatically, âhe says.
Bird watching requires patience as the difference between some species is minor. For example, when a bird is in flight, it is not easy to identify the exact type. In addition, you must have some knowledge of different species to enjoy bird watching.
âA common characteristic with birds is that the males are more colorful, a characteristic used to attract the female,â he adds.
Meru Park has around 400 species of birds. During our visit, we spotted at least 60 species of birds, which Kathenya identified.
He adds that the birds exhibit some interesting characteristics in addition to their alluring colors.
While the white-browed sparrow is known for its morning chirps that wake you up, the bird also makes a nest with two ‘doors’, one for emergency. The hammer cop who has a large head and a long built beak. a large nest with a very small hidden entrance to ward off predators, âhe says.
âIt takes a long time for the predator who doesn’t know about this trick to locate the entrance. Watching the bird enter the nest is interesting as it tilts its head and weaves its way through the small entrance, âsays Kathenya, adding that common drongos that produce an interesting whistling sound have an interesting mating characteristic.
They mate in flight and sometimes fall into a “hug”. You would think the birds were injured but they are having fun. He points to the long-legged bird secretary “walking cat” in pairs, taking off and landing like an airplane.
Listening to birdsong is a calming effect and watching them is calming.
To give the domestic market a taste of this outdoor adventure, Titus Murungi, the tourism manager in Meru, said the county government is working with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to market the tourism segment.
“We are targeting the domestic market and we are receiving a lot of positive feedback about bird watching at Meru Park,” said Mr. Murungi.
âMeru has enormous potential as we have some of the largest bird-friendly habitats in East Africa. We have several forests which create a good habitat for birds, including the forests of Nyambene, Ngae, Ngare Ndare and Imenti where the birds breed and where there is sufficient food. We are also in the middle of the migratory route where most of the migrating birds follow the equator, âhe says.