A Day of Birding at Silole Sanctuary – on the Wild Outskirts of Nairobi

A few days ago, a few friends and I visited Silole Sanctuary for a day of birding in Nairobi’s wilder side. Silole Sanctuary is a small wildlife sanctuary that lies at the confluence of the Kiserian and Mbagathi rivers on the southern boundary of Nairobi National Park. Wildlife crosses freely between the park and Silole, making it an exciting place to explore for any birder or nature enthusiast (just watch out for the buffaloes!). There is a 2-bedroom cottage (Silole Cottage) that is ideal for a relaxing weekend away from the city, with the sound of traffic replaced by the sound of roaring lions at night. There is also a nice lodge (Masai Lodge).

We got to Silole around 9 am and began our birding at Masai Lodge. The birds were very active and we quickly racked up nearly 40 species in quick succession in the parking lot alone.

This Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu taking a bath in a small rock pool was one of the first birds on our list.

One exciting and a bit unusual sighting was of a Bateleur and Martial Eagle flying together, as if following each other. It was likely pure chance that they were in the same place at the same time, moving in the same direction, but it was definitely exciting to see them both at such close quarters.

Martial Eagle (top left) and Bateleur (bottom right). At about the same time as this sighting, about 30 White-backed Vultures were rising from their roost in the nearby Rimpa Conservancy and formed a nice circling kettle slowly gaining altitude and then dispersing in different directions.

The Bateleur (or Bateleur Eagle). Clearly a male, from the broad black band on the secondary feathers.

Bronze Sunbird. These were common throughout the day.

Chin-spot Batis (female) near the lodge reception. The male was nearby but didn’t want to let me photograph him!

From the parking lot we went down to the back end of the lodge, where it borders the Mbagathi River. Here we added a few more birds, although the riverine area was a bit quieter than we had expected.

Overlooking the Mbagathi (or Empakasi) River

White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher in a tree on the river bank

A highlight in this area was this cuckoo. We initially thought it was a Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo, but a closer look at the amount of yellow in the bill and the barred under-tail revealed it to be an African Cuckoo. This was my first ever sighting of this species anywhere in or around Nairobi National Park.

This massive Mugumo Tree (Strangler Fig) did not have many birds on this occasion but it often attracts plenty, especially in the dry season. Even without birds though, it is a magnificent tree!

We slowly made our way to the open plains above the river valley and added White-browed Scrub Robin, Brubru, Spotted Flycatcher and a few other birds along the way.

In the open, near the main road, we were greeted by Common Eland (pictured above), Plains Zebra, Impala, Warthog and a single Masai Giraffe…

… and across the Mbagathi Valley, in Nairobi National Park, we could see three distant Southern White Rhino (not visible in this photo). The view of the park and the Nairobi city skyline is amazing from Silole.

Speckle-fronted Weavers were feeding along the road

On the main road, we met with our ranger and proceeded to slowly walk down towards NNP’s Masai Gate. The ranger told us that a week ago they had watched a pride of Lions devour an eland just on the other side of the river, and that this morning the lions were seen at Silole near Masai Gate. We had to be careful near the gate as they were apparently sleeping in the dense bush nearby. Birding in areas that still have ‘megafauna’ (large wild animals) roaming the landscape is always very exciting.

This Black Stork (a Palearctic migrant) was being hassled by a small falcon (small bird on the left) that was too far away to identify with confidence. Other Palearctic migrants we saw on this day included Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, Isabelline Wheatear, Eurasian Bee-eater, Willow Warbler and Common Swift.

Little Bee-eaters were common, and photogenic as always

Walking along a game trail towards Masai Gate

We walked down to Masai Gate, along the Mbagathi River, and added several birds to our list, with the highlight here being Red-throated Tit – a lifer for all (except me) in the group! We then diverted into the woodlands along the Kiserian River, which joins with the Mbagathi near Masai Gate.

At the confluence of the Mbagathi and Kiserian rivers, we saw Reichenow’s Seedeaters (pictured), and both Common and Crimson-rumped Waxbills, feeding on the invasive plant Parthenium. Whether this helps control it or helps it spread, I do not know.

Common Waxbill (left) and Crimson-rumped Waxbill (right) didn’t mind sharing the same bathing spot in the river.

As we explored the riparian woods looking for a nice spot to have our packed lunch, a huge female Martial Eagle soared passed us looking like it was also in search of lunch.

We got a nice place to sit and have our lunch as we enjoyed sightings of several birds including Willow Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird and more Red-throated Tits. Eurasian Bee-eaters flew high overhead, calling loudly as they went.

After lunch, we kept on walking and the birds of prey kept on coming. This one here is our common everyday raptor of Nairobi – the Yellow-billed Kite (resident Black Kite)

This curious young Tawny Eagle flew in to take a close look at us…

… and then decided we were not that interesting …

… and went off in search of something more worthy of its time

A White-backed Vulture then followed suit …

… and finally a dark-morphed Augur Buzzard came through but quickly dived into the Mbagathi valley before I could get a photo of it.

We then proceeded to the Kitengela Hot Glass bridge on the Kiserian Gorge, where we were hoping to see one or two cliff-dwelling birds, like the Mocking Cliff Chat.

We saw no Cliff Chats, but we did see these cliff-dwelling mammals – the Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax (or Bush Hyrax) …

… and this rock-dwelling reptile – the Red-headed Rock Agama (either a female or non-breeding male)

But my favorite sighting at the gorge was this – a close-up eye-level view of a male Scarlet-chested Sunbird

The light was great and his colors were looking very vibrant. He was mating with a female who was building a nest nearby.

We spent some time at the gorge and then doubled back to Masai Lodge to see if we could add a few more birds to our list before calling it a day.

We added this White-headed Barbet and a couple of others to the list …

… and this Southern Black Flycatcher paused perfectly for a photo

An African Paradise Flycatcher was ‘fly-catching’ nearby

Just outside Masai Gate we got a nice look at an Isabelline Wheatear (also a Palearctic migrant), which we had also seen earlier on.

This Desert Cisticola was one of the last birds we saw before leaving, along with Speckled Pigeon and Rufous-naped Lark. We also heard a Klaas’s Cuckoo calling in the distance.

We left just after 4 pm with 95 species of birds recorded at Silole! A very good day indeed, as is always the case at Silole Sactuary! We were recording our bird list on the BirdLasser app, to submit the records to the Kenya Bird Map project, and on our way home we managed to add five more species (House Sparrow, Hadada Ibis, Olive Thrush, Baglafecht Weaver and Sacred Ibis) to the list before we had left the pentad (atlas square) which Silole is located in. This made it 100 birds for the whole trip! It was a day well-spent.

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About Sidney Shema

Sidney is a Kenya-based ornithologist and photographer specializing in the birds of Africa, with an especially keen interest in the birds of prey (raptors) of Kenya.
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2 years ago

I always enjoy following your post they are so detailed and informative.. Big up.