Birding Without Borders

Day 226: Night Becomes Day

Nocturnal birding gets flipped.

August 14, 2015: Lake Baringo, Kenya  Our posse arrived at Joe’s home, Lake Baringo, this afternoon, and Joe immediately picked up a longtime friend named Wilson who joined us for several hours. This, Alan and I soon learned, was a good move. “Wilson knows where to find owls and nightjars,” said Joe, and I immediately replied, “Oh, should I bring a flashlight?” At this, Joe grinned. “You won’t need it.”

“We’ll go for the nocturnals first,” said Wilson, which seemed odd at two o’clock in the afternoon. The forest around Lake Baringo is hot, dusty, thorn scruba near opposite of the cool forest where we started this morning at 8,000 feet. Wilson led the way, and we set out in blazing sunshine to find Baringo’s most secretive nighttime birds.

“Here,” Wilson said, a half mile down the road from our accommodation, and set up a scope on the shoulder of the road. He focused it on a dense acacia tree and gestured for us to look. When I peered through, a Northern White-faced Owl was peering back with sleepy eyes, filling the view. Whoa!

“Does this owl always sleep in the same tree?” I asked.

“No, it moves around a lot,” said Wilson, and, that settled, we moved to the next stakeout.

Another half mile, and Wilson quietly led us into the forest. “Here,” he said, and it took a minute to spot a well-camouflaged Slender-tailed Nightjar sitting on the dirt in front of us. “It’s on a nest with eggs,” Wilson said; “I found it a couple of weeks ago.” An owl and a nightjartwo for two! Alan and I shook our heads in wonder.

But he wasn’t done yet. Wilson walked a little farther and pointed to a bush which, on close inspection, was empty but had several bird droppings on the ground underneath. Joe and Wilson fanned out in different directions, and, five minutes later, Joe called us over. A few dozen yards away, a pair of Three-banded Coursersa type of secretive, nocturnal, terrestrial shorebirdcrouched under a similar shrub, so well camouflaged that any normal human would have missed them.

Wilson took us to another tree and pointed out a pair of African Scops-Owls sleeping the day away, then marched us into a ravine where he deftly picked out two Grayish Eagle-Owls snoozing in a rocky crevice. Finally, as dusk approached, he hurried us to one final stakeout where, within a minute, we had scope-filling views of a Pearl-spotted Owlet, Africa’s answer to the pygmy-owl.

I’ve seen roosting owls before, but this was a ridiculous demonstration. Six nocturnal birds (four owls, a nightjar, and a courser) in one sunny afternoon! That, I think, is a record of its own, and quite a testament to the power of local knowledge.

New birds today: 20

Year list: 3,986

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