The Watamu–Malindi area is extremely rich for it’s diversity of birds. Over 450 species have been recorded within 30 km of Watamu, including some rare and little-known species that have made the area known world-wide amongst birders and ornithologists. Since many species of birds are restricted to particular habitat types, a major reason for this diversity around Watamu and Malindi is the wide range of habitats that occur within the area.
The scrub and forest along the East African coast is unique and as such a significant number of birds are only found in the narrow coastal strip where this habitat occurs. The beaches, reefs, creeks and open ocean support another group of birds not found elsewhere in Kenya. Sand dunes, open woodland and mangroves, all add to the diversity of birds to be found along the Kenyan coast, not least around Watamu. During years of good rain, many seasonal freshwater pools form in the area, some the size of small lakes. These attract large numbers of waterbirds and can be particularly impressive for birding. Lake Chemchem and Lake Jilore are two of the larger ones located inland from Malindi. These are surrounded by bush land and open woodland which also hold interesting species. Seasonal pools in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and in particular Arabuko Swamp on the northern edge of the forest can be humming with birds when flooded. As one moves inland away from the coastline towards Tsavo East National Park, a number of dry-country, thorn-bush species of the Somali-Maasai biome can be seen, adding to the attraction of the area.
Seasonal movements of migrant birds are also quite marked, with Palaearctic species such as Osprey, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Eurasian Bee-eater, Rufous Bush Chat, Spotted Flycatcher being quite common, and it is one of the easier places in Kenya to find Eurasian Honey Buzzard. The coast is also especially good for Afro-tropical migrants such as African Pygmy Kingfisher, Carmine Bee-eater, White-throated Bee-eater, Red-capped Robin Chat, Yellowbill, African Paradise Flycatcher, and Black Cuckoo-shrike.
The Watamu area is not only good for plain birding, but is also internationally important for the continued survival of a significant number bird species. Under BirdLife International criteria (www.birdlife.org), one species in the area is listed as Globally Endangered, five Globally Threatened, and a further 33 listed in the Regional Red Data list of endangered species. Within a radius of just 10 km there are four internationally recognised Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and a further two within 35 km. These are the strongholds for a number of species, either those which have a highly restricted range or which gather in significantly large concentrations in these sites. The six sites are:
- Arabuko-Sokoke Forest — ranked among the most important forests in Africa for it’s bird conservation value with six globally threatened species.
- Gede Ruins forest — a site for the Globally Endangered Spotted Ground Thrush in the non-breeding season
- Mida Creek — wintering and passage feeding site for several thousand waders including over 1,000 Crab-plovers.
- Malindi – Watamu coastline including Whale Island — a stretch of reef and beach which holds up to several thousand roosting terns and gulls at certain times of year. Whale Island is the largest breeding colony on Kenya coast for Roseate Terns (up to 1,500 pairs) as well as some Sooty Terns and one or two pairs of Brown Noddy.
- Sabaki River Mouth — feeding grounds for thousands of waders, regular roost for many thousands of gulls and terns. Main wintering site in Kenya for Broad-billed Sandpiper.
- Dakatcha Woodlands — The only other place in the world that Clarke’s Weavers can be found outside of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest; recently found (June 2001) to also hold a small population of Sokoke Scops Owl. Sokoke Pipit also known to occur there.
Turtle Bay Beach Club has teamed up with spinetail Safaris, a locally run eco-tourism company of professionally trained guides.
One of the many advantages of birding at Turtle Bay Beach Club is that one-birder families can go out guilt free safe in the knowledge that the family will be well entertained back at the hotel.
Each package also allows time to spend with the family, or on additional trips for repeat visits to particular sites.
Any of the trips can be taken separately as long as sufficient people are interested to go.