Birding at the Racecourse

What fun outdoor activities can you possibly undertake on a cold day? The kind of weather that is synonymous with a hot cup of cocoa, being tucked in your blankets watching a good series? Few things appeal to me at such times. The older I get, the more I appreciate staying home to chill. The struggle is real.

Would you be outside on such a chilly morning?

One of the few things that can get me out of the house on an icy day is- birdwatching. Yes! Observing these feathered friends dispels any gloom instantly. And so on the 10th of this month, I went for my first Nature Kenya birdwalk. Every Wednesday morning at the National Museum of Kenya, bird enthusiasts meet to observe and record the species seen. The walk is open to all, but if you’re not a Nature Kenya member you pay a small fee.

Common bulbul in tree.
Shy Common bulbul.

On this day it was sooo cold, there was actually a drizzle at home. I debated whether to go back to my warm bed or not, but I’m not one to quit easily on my plans. I armed myself with several layers of warm clothing and headed to the walk. My dad dropped me some distance away from the museum and went to work. My decision to walk instead of taking a matatu was rewarded greatly: I spotted some Speckled mousebirds and the walking got me warm. So warm infact, that I removed my coat upon arrival and didn’t wear it again until late evening!

When I arrived at 8.30, some early birds (get it?) had already assembled for the walk. They were engrossed in watching a pair of Little sparrowhawks flying around. This provided pleasant entertainment as we waited for the latecomers (can’t people just keep time? Sigh). After the long wait though, we had quorum to proceed. One of the members was awarded a bird book and an all-expenses-paid game drive for winning a certain contest. Who said birding wasn’t useful? For this morning’s birdwalks there were two locations: the Museum and Ngong Racecourse. I chose the latter just to see what kinds of birds would be there.

A section of Ngong forest, looking towards Ngong Hills.
A section of Ngong forest, looking towards Ngong Hills.

Given that I only go to the Racecourse for the annual Concours d’elegance, it was hard to picture the place as a birding location. I was soon proved wrong upon getting there. We recorded 26 species in the first half hour! The birds were feasting on fruits and nectar in the tree flowers. The most beautiful one of the day was a Hurlaub’s turaco couple. You should have heard the collective ‘Wow!’ from the group when the turaco flew, exposing the red under their wings. They did this several times as if showing off for us. We noticed they were carrying nesting material to a nearby bush though. I didn’t even know such a bird existed in Kenya.

Hurlaub’s turaco in tree.
The majestic Hurlaub’s turaco.

More treasures awaited us in an acacia tree nearby. The birds were enjoying something at the tree, probably insects. They weren’t even startled by our presence. It must have been an appetizing buffet! We spotted the Common bulbul, White-eyed slaty flycatcher, African pied wagtail, Baglafecht weaver and the elusive Ruppel’s robin-chat and Singing cisticola, all on that tree.

Ruppel’s robin-chat in acacia tree.
Ruppel’s robin-chat trying to look mean.

I earned some bragging rights that day, by (finally) capturing the Singing cisticola. I was ready to go home after this victory. But even more awaited us ahead.

Singing cisticola in shrubs.
Singing cisticola looking sweet.

A cheerful Tropical boubou was so busy feeding that it didn’t mind our approach. Apparently it’s not commonly seen in the open so this was quite a treat. A short while later some Cinnamon-chested bee eaters emerged. As well as a small flock of Egyptian geese, a Hammercop and a Common sandpiper. Whatever doubts I had about birding at the Racecourse were dispelled that day.



Tropical boubou feeding in a bush.
Lunch time: the Tropical boubou. 


Cinnamon-chested bee eater couple.
Cinnamon-chested bee eater couple looking all sweet and cute.

We saw and heard so many other birds which I didn’t manage to capture. The Chinspot batis, Lesser honeyguide, Black cuckoo shrike, Ayres’ hawk-eagle, Spot-flanked barbet, Black kite, Common fiscal, Cabanis’ greenbul, Amethyst sunbird…. and probably many others that I’ve forgotten to mention!

Hammercop bird on pond shore.
The odd-looking Hammercop.


Egyptian goose taking off from a pond.
Watch me walk on water! The Egyptian goose.

It was midday by the time we were winding up. I was tired, dusty and hungry but happy. Getting to see new bird species and identifying others by their calls was very satisfying. And of course meeting other people who share the same interest. The Racecourse is definitely a location to revisit!

Egyptian goose pair on a pond.
Time for a drink.



6 thoughts on “Birding at the Racecourse

  1. 1,2,3,4,5,6…that is the number of birds u’ve mentioned I’ve never seen. I am impressed and I never seem to get the shot of the turacos. Next challenge…try getting one flying. P.S. have to join Nature Kenya.


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