Birding Without Borders

Day 224: Listening for Elephants by Night

Birding on Africa's second-highest mountain.

August 12, 2015: Mount Kenya, Kenya  Joe, Alan and I arrived at Castle Forest, on a flank of 17,000-foot Mount Kenya, in time for lunch. We spent the afternoon birding in the surrounding woodland and will stay one night here.

Mount Kenya is Africa's second-highest mountain (after Kilimanjaro). Its slopes are covered in wet forest that supports a diversity of different bird life, including a few regional endemics I won’t find elsewhere on this trip. This afternoon we saw some good stuff, including a jazzy Tacazze Sunbird, sharp-looking Double-collared Sunbirds, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatchers, and a beautiful Hartlaub’s Turaco.

The accommodation is in rustic cabins spread around a picturesque lodge on a hilltop. When I arrived at my cabin, there was a note inside about elephants. “They may seem approachable, but elephants are very fast and can be aggressive when angered,” the note said. “In this forest, you must be accompanied by a guard at all times. After dark, a guard will escort you from the lodge to your cabin for the night. If for any reason you need to leave your cabin after dark, signal with your flashlight to the guard at the lodge, and he will let you know if it is safe to come out.”

It was easy to blow off the warning, but elephant signs were everywhere this afternoonmuddy, dinner-plate-sized footprints and piles of watermelon-sized dung clumps. I asked our guard if he’d seen any elephants recently, and he said that one had wandered past the swimming pool just a couple of days ago. We didn’t see any today, and it was hard to imagine an African savanna elephant in this dense forest (the forest elephant, sometimes considered a separate species, is not found in Kenya). As I fall asleep this evening, locked securely in my cabin, I can hear the sounds of tree hyraxesa type of small furry mammal which, bizarrely, may be the elephant's closest living relative.

New birds today: 25

Year list: 3,955

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