Samburu | Bufallo Springs & Shaba Reserves
These reserves are in the north of Kenya, about 200 miles from Nairobi. All three are fairly small; Samburu and Buffalo springs which started life as one park are adjacent to each other and Shaba is a few miles east of them. The area is semi-arid, with a lot of scrub and some acacia trees, except along the banks of the Uaso Nyiro river where there's a narrow band of doum palms which quite often contain groups of Orange-bellied Parrots. The parrots are noisy but shy so you often hear them before you can see them. Brown or Meyer's parrot can also be seen. Samburu is noted for the presence of both the Common Zebra and the far more rare Grevy's Zebra. It's also home to Gerenuk, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe and a lot of crocodiles.
The three areas do differ slightly in character. Shaba is the driest, almost barren seeming in except in the North along the river, Buffalo Springs is the least arid seeming and is mostly rolling plains while Samburu is more rugged with a number of rocky outcrops. The reserves are on the southern end of the range for birds of the arid northern bush.
The Uaso Nyiro river runs through all three reserves and in parts is the border between the Samburu and Buffalo Springs. There is usually plenty of bird life in the Acacias and Doum Palms along the river banks. The shade provided by the trees also makes them a favorite place for elephants in the middle of the day. The river is generally wide and shallow but vanishes completely in very dry seasons while it rises high enough to flood both banks after especially heavy rains. In drought or very dry spells the weavers which normally nest along the banks seem to become less common, while birds such as the Yellow-billed Hornbill seem to move down closer to the river. The Isiolo river which runs mainly through Buffalo Springs keeps flowing after the Uaso Nyiro has dried up. When that happens the meeting point of the two rivers is a good place to find snipe and other waders while stretches of the Isiolo with overhanging grass are good for small herons. If you're looking at maps or signs for the river beware - the spelling is highly variable. Take your pick from Ewaso, Waso or Uaso combined with Nyiro, Ngiro or Ng'iro.
Birds commonly seen in Samburu include the Bristle-crowned Starling, Vereaux's Eagle-owl, Night Heron, Palm-Nut Vulture (sometimes called the South African Fish-Eagle) and Pygmy Falcon; Verreaux's Eagle has also been seen in the park and Samburu/Buffalo Springs is also one of the best places to see Donaldson-Smith's Sparrow Weaver which is fairly common in some locations. At Samburu Game Lodge you may even get to see the somewhat uncommon Red-headed Weaver which has been nesting in the grounds for the last couple of years. In January 2000 it was constructing a nest just by the bar - birding in comfort with a cold beer - pure heaven. Shaba's birdlife is fairly similar to Samburu/Buffalo Springs bit it also includes the rare and endemic Williams' Lark about which very little is known.