Thursday, October 25, 2012

East Africa Trip Wrap-Up

The trip home from Kenya proved uneventful--two 9 hour flights changing in London.  The worst part was the sinus infection that I had developed the last few days of the trip because of all the red dust I had inhaled.  It finally cleared up within a week of being home in Chapel Hill.  I believe that it took me over a month after returning for my body's digestive process to return to normal as a result of having taken anti-malarial medicine for 45 days.

It was fun for me to relive this amazing trip thru the blog.  As I have said to many people since being back home, it was definitely the trip of a lifetime that I am thrilled to have done, and also don't need to do again.  31 out of 32 days of non-stop birding from dawn to dusk is challenging even for the most hard core birders.  Even Brian was more than ready for the trip to finish up.  I called my good friend, Marty, as soon as I got home to say I was glad he chose not to make the trip.  Being a casual birder, he would have been more than fried by the experience.

Some other take aways would be that a trip like this is definitely more in the "collecting" mode rather than the simply birding mode.  Some of my favorite times during the trip was when we were just seeing what was around the lodge where we were staying.  That said, seeing so many new and amazing birds plus all the animals was truly wonderful.

We drove over the 4+ weeks about 5000 KM which is a bit more than 3000 MI.  The roads were often very poor which made you feel worn out much more quickly than we are used to here in the U.S. We also flew within E. Africa about 1000 KM.

The food was mostly edible and generally we had plenty of it, but even the best meals were nothng to write home about.  Roast potatoes every day at both breakfast and dinner for a month gets quite old.  And as I have bemoaned, the bag lunches were in all but a couple of cases really poor.

The lodging varied with most simply being adequate with a few outstanding properties to a few you would never want to return to. Of course, if you wanted to increase the cost of the trip significantly, you could stay at only 4 Star places.

Bob, Stu and I really did not know each other, and fortunately we ended up traveling well together.  Brian also was unknown to us except by birding rep.  He proved to be as good a birder as I have ever met.  His knowledge of E. Africa, his encyclopedic memory for bird calls, and his desire to show us the birds were the reason we were able to see so many different bird species in just a month.

So what was our final bird species count?  For the entire trip, there were 807 different bird species seen, and 31 heard only for a trip total of 838.   About 1400 different bird species have been recorded in E. Africa. For myself, I felt only good about counting 797 seen and 24 heard only for a personal total of 821.  One of the birds, an Ayre's hawk-eagle, was not confirmed until after returning home from a photo Bob had taken in the W. Usambaras of a soaring raptor.

To put these numbers in perspective for predominantly U.S. birders, there are less than 100 living birders who have seen and/or heard over 800 different bird species in the ABA area, and many of these birders have been birding the ABA area for decades!  My own ABA area life list is somewhere between 750 and 775 birds seen and/or heard, and my own big year lower 48 states total in 2010 was 704.  The total number of bird species in the world is just over 10,000.

As for the birds we did see, there are so many different bird families in E. Africa that we do not have in the U.S.  The ones that really stand out for me are the sunbirds, hornbills, turacos, weavers, hoopoes, barbets,  bustards, bee-eaters, bushshrikes, greenbuls, robin-chats, cisticolas, whydahs, and waxbills.  Starlings, raptors, lapwings, storks, cuckoos, owls and owlets, kingfishers, and woodpeckers are families that we see here as well.  If I had to pick a bird family as my favorite on the trip, I would with great difficulty settle on sunbirds of which we saw 41 different species.

All the photos in today's post were taken by Bob who has been so helpful in sharing his photos with me to make the blog much more colorful and interesting. In order from top to bottom today: malachite sunbird, sooty boubou, tropical boubou, red-chested sunbird, scarlet-chested sunbird, straw-tailed whydah, and golden-winged sunbird (click on any photo to enlarge).

The total cost for this birding extravaganza including round trip airfare to Kenya ($2500), shots and meds ($500), visas ($300), and on the ground expenses--lodging, food, guide and driver, gorilla trek, park entrance fees, transportation and tips ($13,700)--came to $17,000.  As a reference point, my big year cost me $40,000 which meant I spent about $57/bird species seen while birding for about 260 days.  Each bird species on this trip cost only about $21 while birding for only 31 days.

It was truly an incredible birding adventure because of the birds and the location.  My main advice to others is that you should think twice about taking such a long trip.  If you can afford the extra airfare, I would suggest breaking a trip like this in half which should reduce the exhaustion/burnout factor, and probably make for even more birding enjoyment.  Also, we had tried to have a total of 6 birders on our trip which would have reduced the base trip cost by $2,000, but because of the length of the trip, we were unable to find 3 more birders to join us.

My next post will probably not be until early December after I return from the first ever gathering of the 700+ Club--those very few birders who saw 700 or more bird species in the ABA area during their big year.  Stay tuned!


  1. Wow! Chris. I enjoyed your epic tale of this peaceful pursuit.

    Am amazed with Brian's brains for birds. Am thankful to Bob for giving life and color to those otherwise odd yet entertaining combinations of syllables (you called them bird names).

    I have to admit that it got exhausting at times just reading about your long days. What incredible stamina it took to keep that up for so long.

    Welcome home, glad you are recovered. Thanks for taking us along- in a more comfortable fashion.

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  3. Brian’s brilliant! To be able to memorize different kind of birds is an amazing skill. There are different kinds of birds that can be seen in East Africa, which is why it is one of the favorite destinations of birdwatcher from all over the world. Were you able to see the African Penguin in Cape Town? They’re awesome!

    ~Jordan Hood

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