Kenya Breaks The World Bird Watching Record ~ Baringo Safaris | Tours LTD

Kenya Breaks The World Bird Watching Record

(As published in the 1984 Swara Magazine)

Every year around the world teams of bird- watchers enter into a friendly competition to see how many birds can be recorded in a single 24-hour period. The teams are generally small three or four people at the most and are governed by strict rules: midnight to midnight, each team member must see 95 per cent or more of the total, and birds that are only heard can be counted.


On 6 December 1975 Zambia set the scene with an impressive score of 288: an almost unbelievable figure achieved through a very carefully planned itinerary. The news flashed around the birding world like a bush fire, and teams in all continents set out to break the Zambia record. In 1978 a North American record of 231 was set in California, while in May 1979 a team in Texas attempted with the help of a Lear jet, to break the magic figure of 300 only to be thwarted by landing in Arizona for jet fuel and finding none available.

In December 1979, John Gerhart and I attempted Kenya's first Big Day and came up with 264 species, a good effort but still not good enough, the route needed better planning. We tried again in January 1980 only to finish with the same 264 score the Zambians' Africa and world record still stood.

In October 1981, a South American record of 254 was achieved in Peru while in the same month in Australia a score of 158 set a new national record. In Great Britain the idea has caught on as a major fund-raising campaign for charity, and in April 1983 two teams of well- known personalities set an all-time UK record of I55 while at the same time raising a staggering £30,000 for charity.

On 25 February 1984 a three-man team comprising myself from East African Ornithological Safaris, Terry Stevenson from Lake Baringo Club and Dave Richards a photographer and ornithologist set out to try and break the almost magical Zambia record of 288 species in a single 24-hour period.


Starting just after midnight at Lake Baringo we had picked up five nocturnal species by dawn and then the rush was on. When we left Baringo at 10.00 a.m. we had reached 1 50 and next stop was Lake Nakuru with its multitude of water- birds. By noon we had found 204 - that magic figure of 300 seemed almost possible. Leaving Nakuru at 1.30 p.m. with 228 species on our list and heading fast for Nairobi, a lull set in: we added only two new birds between Nakuru and Limuru and by the time we reached Nairobi at 4.00 p.m. our score was 247.

After a quick visit to the Langata suburbs it was into Nairobi National Park for the last three vital hours. The record was still possible, the previous Kenya best of 264 was passed at 4.45 p.m., but with conditions in the park drier than expected, it was obvious the last 30-odd species would be difficult, particularly with only two-and-a- quarter hours of daylight remaining.

At 6.00 p.m., and with a total of 275, we decided to rush to the Langata forest on the north side of the park. It paid off. We encountered three or four groups of birds and by 6.45 the total had climbed to 288 the Zambia record at long last. Out of the park at 7.00 p.m. and with an olive thrush at 7.15 and a truly superb African wood owl at 11.30 p.m the 24 hours came to an end. A total of 535 km had been covered, 290 species of birds recorded, and the new Kenya, Africa and world records had been achieved.

If nothing else this new record further emphasises that Kenya is undoubtedly the finest bird-watching destination in Africa, unrivalled anywhere in the world. Kenya can boast of having more bird species than any other African country 1,055 - so maybe after all that magical figure of 300 is possible in a single 24-hour period.