Located within the world famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, Ilkeliani Camp prides itself in providing the African bush experience with all the trappings of modern comforts and great service. It is the ideal go-to location for today’s birder that wants to indulge in some bird-watching whilst engulfed in some of the best sceneries nature has to offer. Nestled on the banks of the Talek River, the camp boasts of having designs that incorporate the traditional safari style with modern amenities while adhering to eco-friendly principles. Its location has commanding views of the Maasai Mara plains where one gets to see wildlife at their elements from the comfort of one’s tent.
Though it is known for big game watching, the Maasai Mara is another location in Kenya to tick off birds of the Savannah. Excess of 470 migratory and resident birds have been recorded here which include over 50 raptor species and 7 different vulture species. The vultures are the African White-backed Vulture, Rüppell's Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Hooded Vulture and the European Griffon Vulture. With the aid of the tour guides, one can get to track raptors and view them from vantage points on the Mara plains as they wreak havoc on small game. Of spectacular interest will be the Martial Eagle, Africa’s largest eagle. It hunts big birds like the Kori Bustard and mammals such as small impalas and dikdiks. Other raptors found in the Mara include the African Fish-eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, Bateleur and the Common Buzzard. Another notable species is the world’s largest bird, the Ostrich.
Others are the range-restricted Jackson’s Widowbird, Secretary Bird, Grey-crested Helmet-shrike and the Rufous-tailed Weaver. November to April is the best time for birding due to the arrival of migrant birds from North Africa and Europe like the Caspian Plover and the White Stork.
Habitats within the Mara vary from open grasslands to swamps, riverine forests, slopes and scrubs. These conditions conspire to bring some of the most spectacular birdlife interactions. Besides the more prolific grasslands, the wetlands also have a lot in store. Turacos make an appearance along the riverine forest while the swamps are well littered with crowned cranes, stocks and herons. The endangered Madagascar Squacco calls the Mara’s Musiara Marsh home between October and May. In Kenya, the Rufous-Bellied Heron is known to only breed in this marsh. The Mara River on the other hand hosts a picturesque array of birds. Included in this list are 7 species of Kingfishers, notably the Giant Kingfisher and its much smaller counterpart the Pygmy Kingfisher.
The Mara’s uniqueness as a birding hotspot is further enhanced by the availability of endangered species. Besides the Madagascar Squacco and the Jackson’s Widowbird, a birder may be lucky enough to chance upon a Corncrake, Pallid Harrier, Lesser Kestrel and the Red-throated Tit.
Attention to detail and personal service at Ilkeliani Camp is exemplified in meals and camp activities. When going for day long exploration safaris, picnic meals can easily be prepared. In the evening, guests have the chance to interact with each other around a camp fire. There they can swap stories, observations and experiences while enjoying a cold drink. To be able to have the stories to share though, game drives may need to be undertaken. The camp has resident drivers, guides and naturalists that are highly trained. They conduct daily nature walks, cultural excursions and will help in tracking and spotting birds. Through them, you can get to walk along the river Talek where further training on bird identification and tracking can be done. Visiting the camp affords one an opportunity to not only interact with nature but also immerse oneself on the culture of the Maasai community.
Ilkeliani camp can be accessed via road through a 4.5 hr drive from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Also available is the Olkiombo airstrip, the nearest airstrip, 25 mins from the camp.
As with other birding trips, remember to carry a bird list and to record and share your observations.