NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 25th February 2013

By Brian Finch:

Mike Davidson, Fleur Ng’Weno, Jennifer Oduore, Karen Plumbe and myself met at the Main Gate to Nairobi National Park at 6.50am having had some traffic difficulties. We were expediently processed and through the gate on the hour. It has been dry for a while now, and the Park is showing the signs of dehydration. There is still much grass, but all the green has gone and it looks sunburnt. The dams are still in fine condition, but the muddy margins are now appearing. Although cool in the mornings it has been of late warm at night, and quite hot during the day. Today was not hot, but a strong wind. Four of us stayed in the Park, and did not leave until 7.00pm having been checked out on entry. The evening was very spectacular and the traffic was moving well and we were not held up.

Our first call was KWS Mess gardens. Some five Blackcaps were coming in to a fruiting tree we have to identify (Strychnos is suspected), and there were two Nightingales in the hedge. The Black-collared Apalis was still present but recently has been calling from inside the Army Camp. There was a Suni on the lawn. From here we went to Ivory Burning Site which has been quiet this year, and yet used to be so interesting, with a host of good sightings. Today we were not disappointed, a male Pallid Harrier flew through, as strangely did a Secretarybird. We had seven different Secretarybirds today, they are obviously doing very well in the Park. Long may it continue. In the bushes were one Nightingale, and singles of Common Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler and Marsh Warbler. There was another Acrocephalus singing a sub-song that was thought to be an Eurasian Reed Warbler. There were a number of Red-collared Widowbirds around, some of which are already sporting red collars. There was another Acro singing softly and intermittently when we visited Nagalomon Dam, this was thought to be a Marsh Warbler but was not seen. There were two very impressive Crocodiles being visited by three Green Sandpipers and a couple of pushy Egyptian Geese, a pair of Orange-breasted Waxbills flew by without stopping and a Fan-tailed Grassbird was singing from a corner near the Mokoyeti River. Instead of circling back to Hyena Dam, we continued into the Kisembe Valley along the beautiful forested stream. On the way there was another Acro singing, thought to be a Marsh, and this was seen and confirmed. The immature Bateleur was circling with the first rising White-backed Vultures, a dark Booted Eagle was soaring over a clearing, a near adult Lesser Spotted Eagle came over us near Langata Gate, some ten Bee-eaters fed over the dam which had a Little Grebe with chick, and Moorhens also had a family. The old drinking pond that should be attractive to many Sylvia warblers and other birds, just had a pair of Little Grebes. There is far too much water around for this to be a magnet this year. We circled round back to the main gate to drop Fleur off, and an immature Fish Eagle had arrived on Nagalomon Dam.

After leaving the gate we took the back road to Hyena Dam, the Crowned Cranes were taking good care of their two chicks, and not seeming too worried about the diving Yellow-billed Kites which soon gave up. Out first of six Whichats were here, and a couple of Banded Martin were over the little swamp. Hyena Dam was quiet but we were much later than usual, there were three Wood Sandpipers and African Water Rail which refused to show themselves. There was a reasonable sized Crocodile hauled out on the bank. A Great Egret, which looks small and I believe has been visiting us for many years, was also there. The Run-Off was dry and did not produce anything, and the inside road to Eland Hollow was also very quiet. At this dam there were a pair of Spur-winged Geese, our only Red-billed Teal of the day, a Yellow-billed Egret, four more Wood Sandpipers, a Common Greenshank starting to show some attractive patterning, and the pair of Spotted Thick-knees were on their usual territory. Heading off to Karen Primary School  Dam we had a male Lesser Kestrel on a bush, and at the dam which was spectacular for bathing Zebra, the drinking Barn Swallow had a Sand Martin accompanying them.

Now it was time to head south, the vultures were at the drinking pool above Athi Basin, there were nineteen White-backed and nine Ruppell’s, nearby we had just seen a pair of Lappet-faced Vultures.

There were two Northern and two female Pied Wheatears along the top road and a nice Kori Bustard sheltering under a small acacia barely larger than itself. On the track to Athi Dam we found a full adult male Turkestan Shrike this was our only migrant shrike seen today, and a female-type Pallid Harrier was over the grassland. Whilst there was not a huge variety of birds on Athi Dam, the sight was nothing short of amazing. There were 1500 Marabou Storks, amongst these we individually counted 530 White Storks, which must be the largest number ever recorded together in Nairobi, poor Yellow-billed Storks were a  bit left out with only four! The storks surrounded the resident giant Croc who made even the Marabous look so small. Big croc number two was as usual on the island now joined back to the mainland. There was a single adult Pink-backed Pelican, a Great Egret of normal size, an immature Montagu’s Harrier, fifteen Yellow-throated Sandgrouse came in whilst we were there as did six Speckled Pigeon which is hardly a rare species, but I believe all the other records always involve a maximum of one pair. There was a male lutea Yellow Wagtail who had bright breeding plumage underparts but the head was still saying it was winter! In the wader line, there were four Black-winged Stilts, fifteen Spur-winged Plovers, a compact group of thirty Little Stints, but the only other palearctic waders were single Common Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. We had our traditional Carrot Cake on the Causeway, the Black-crowned Night-Heron adult was in his roosting tree, and a Western Marsh Harrier went over without stopping.

We carried on in the direction of the Cheetah Gate road, there was a stunning spring male Pied Wheatear, but our best bird of the day was a species I had never seen before in the Park. By the track was a female Black-faced Sandgrouse which posed for us. There is a historical record, this means over forty years ago but there are no details. On the road towards the Hippo Pools there was another female Pied Wheatear, an adult Fish Eagle along the river and a noisy Pangani Longclaw. Our last bird of note was a male roadside Hartlaub’s Bustard as we climbed up out of the Mbagathi Valley.

As we passed Karen PS Dam on the way back we stopped to look at a Black-headed Heron who had caught an unfortunate Battersby’s Green Snake, this was swallowed with surprising ease.

There was a sprinkling of Barn Swallows but nothing that looked like any passage, and there was evidence that Quail-finch were returning. We were out of the Park at 7.00pm.


It was a great day, nothing in writing can convey the stork spectacle of Athi Dam. This is probably a daily event, and it is necessary to be there at 3.00pm. Presumably the Whites are coming in from the Kitengela.


The game has returned in really impressive force as the dry sets in, Zebras in most impressive numbers, but a group of seventy Wildebeest in the Athi basin is a good number nowadays. None of the special mammal species were seen today, they were all in hiding. Hippos were in Nagalomon, Hyena, Eland Hollow and Athi Dams.


Cranes of NNP

By Will Knocker:

The Grey Crowned Crane is one of Africa’s iconic birds…

In NNP, we are lucky to have many of these fabulous birds..

Each wetland -& there are may dams, swamps & seasonal pans in the park, is a potential breeding spot for a pair of cranes….

This is a gravel-pit dug by KWS as part of road maintenance in the park, now part of NNP’s many & varied habitats….

In these days when so many fabulous forms of life are endangered because they have NOWHERE TO LIVE, NNP remains an oasis……..

In the wet season, cranes pair up, but in the dry they can be found in quite large flocks on the plains…..

A young bird: this years exceptionally good rains has meant that many pairs of cranes have raised 2 chicks each!!

NNP Wet Season


The Rains this year have been ok, if not dramatically good…….

The waterfall on the Mokoyeti River….


Water gets the cycle of life going at a goodly rate: fungus breaking down black rhino dung…..


An unlikely Wet Season Club at Hyena Dam…



The Spotted Thick Knees are breeding……


Grantis in the Mood…..


But some of the dams still need water…..

I flew over the ‘Dispersal Area’ today….it looks more like a suburb of Nairobi than a wildlife area….


529 sp. Birds & Counting…….



Brian Finch the NNP afficianado & bird expert has just identified the 529th sp. of bird for NNP.

Above a Crowned eagle with it’s leopard-like talons…..


Kori bustard, the world’s heaviest flying bird…..


Marabou stork which breeds in the city centre & feeds at the city rubbish dump…..


Malachite kingfisher on the Empakasi river….


The park is a major breeding area for Crowned cranes….


Great white pelicans pass through from time to time……..


Hamerkop- a frog-eater, in it’s element……


There are currently large numbers of Helmeted guineafowl in the park after a successful breeding year: food for Martial eagles (2 pairs at least in the park: see next post………)

Life at the Waterhole……

Story & pics by WILL KNOCKER:

Last sunday I went into the park for my customary’ blog-hunt’ & came across the huge gravel pit that has been dug by the roadbuilders improving the tracks above the Athi Basin.


A large herd of buffaloes had meandered up from the Athi River to the plains above.


They were having a whale of a time….


A family of Crowned cranes were using this new wetland area to forage for food… Brian Finch the birder has just identified his 539th sp. of bird in the park, showing how extraordinarily rich (& unspoilt by man) NNP habitats are……


Cranes or ‘kongoyings’ as they are known in my family, have bred well this year in the first 6 month period of good rain: it now seems set to get drier….


Here comes a black rhino: a male (females nearly always have calves for company….)


Zebras join the melee……


Whilst the rhino hangs out with buffalo chums…..timeless scenes on the African plain…….

Wet Season Wonders


Rain has been falling in NNP since January & was particularly heavy over Easter…wet weather often means it is unusually clear & for a few minutes last week the mass of Mount Kenya (17,000 foot) was visible over the usual smog of the Industrial Area. On a VERY clear day one can also see Mt Kilimanjaro far to the south……


A Crowned Eagle in the Langata forest. At least one pair of these magnificent forest eagles nests in the park. Leopards of the air (notice talons in this pic), these birds eat fully grown monkeys & small antelope……


All over the park, seasonal wetlands brim with water & with life.


Water lilies in the top Langata dam. Brian Finch reports at least 8 pairs of Crowned Cranes (see previous post) have raised chicks in the park this season & conditions are so fecund most pairs have managed to raise more than one chick!


Apart from resident large mammal sp : giraffe, buffalo & rhino & the kongoni that have now decided to stay in the park permanently, the most numerous sp., plains zebra, are mostly out of the park now. Out of an estimated population of 4,000, only a few hundred are now in the park. Of the est. 1,000 gnu, which calve in March, we saw just a couple yesterday along with a large nursery herd of eland (see above) in the Athi Basin where most wildlife is now concentrated owing to the short grass & proximity of the fast diminishing ‘dispersal area’.


The Athi Dam -nearly empty in the drought -is now full up, though no sign of the large crocs that used to be there: have they migrated to the river??


The park is one enormous ocean of long waving grass right now, full of the sound of buzzing grasshoppers trying to attract mates: all life seems to be displaying, mating & breeding as the ecosystem is transformed by rain into a bountiful natural bread-basket for all life……this hen Kori bustard had a half grown chick with her!


We saw several large herds of buffalo on the plains & hopefully their increasing numbers will help to keep the long grass grazed, otherwise the gnu & the gazelles will be tempted to stay out on the overgrazed areas outside the park.

Still no cheetah cubs alas…….

Crowned Cranes Breeding in Nairobi National Park


NNP is an oasis for all forms of life, but not least for birds: the park has more sp. of birds than the British Isles……..

Amongst these are Crowned Cranes, magnificent large birds dependent on wetlands for breeding & feeding….

In the Nairobi area, many wetlands have disappeared forever, compromised by development, building, pollution, human interference & so on.

But in the park are numerous dams & wetlands & in each site this year, crowned cranes are breeding!

Above, a courting pair of adults…….


A henbird on the nest, incubating up to 3 eggs……the nests are surprisingly visible & exposed & the hen will crouch down & hide when large mammals or other visitors come to water.


The nest -on an island-how do the chicks get to dry land? Can they swim?

The male feeds nearby -on guard- bravely fending off the curious or the hungry.


Chicks hatch & begin to feed with their parents in nearby grasslands & reedbeds.


Proud parent!


And so this superb sp. continues into the future- it’s fate utterly dependent on the habitats to be found in the superb Nairobi National Park…..

Birding with Brian Finch 12th March

An average day in Nairobi National Park is an extremely good days bird
and mammal viewing, today was above average. Having not been in the
park for over five weeks, it was good to spend an entire day in the
confines, although there were not enough daylight hours to cover it
all. I was at Main Gate at 6:20am and there were already tourist
vehicles ahead of me.
My first call was Ivory Burning Site, some half-a-dozen Nightingales
were exuberant in their welcoming of the new day, and a Spotted
Flycatcher was busy looking for insects. Warblers were skulking in the
bushes, but as the dawn light intensified and took the chill off the
air, were more obliging. There were single Whitethroat, Garden Warbler
and a female Blackcap, the distinctive ratchet-like churr led me to
two handsome Barred Warblers and there were a couple of Olivaceous
Warbers. Along the back road were a Jacobin Cuckoo, another
Nightingale and another couple of Barred Warblers. The back of Hyena
Dam had the only Wood Sandpiper of the day, as well as the only
Red-backed Shrike and the first of eight Red-tailed Shrikes. There
were large numbers of Barn Swallows feeding over the grasslands but
apart from parties of Red-collared Widowbirds there was nothing at all
at the dam. The Hyena Dam run-off revealed a handsome pair of
Saddle-billed Storks (maybe winter breeding soon), a Squacco Heron, a
few Rosy-breasted Longclaws, a couple of very handsome Whinchats, a
male Yellow-crowned Bishop displaying to a single female and a number
of plumaged Jackson’s Widowbirds. Along the back road to Karen Primary
School Dam were some thirty Lesser Kestrels, a Pallid Harrier, Steppe
Eagle, a few singing White-tailed Larks, the first of six Isabelline
and first of four Pied Wheatears and a scattering of Quailfinch. The
dam was as sterile as Hyena Dam, though very full. Continuing on to
the Athi Basin was rather uneventful, a quick look at Empakasi Dam
showed that it was full, but as far as birds were concerned, empty!
The approach track to Athi Dam gave up a Hartlaub’s Bustard (the only
bustard all day), a few Athi Short-toed Larks, and the dam itself had
improved in water area, but still very low, the islands still being
joined to the mainland. The waterbirds were a disappointment, a single
adult Pink-backed Pelican, two roosting adult and one immature
Black-crowned Night-Heron, an adult migrant Black Kite dropped in to
slake its thirst, whilst the waders had dropped to a meagre three
Black-winged Stilts, a pair of Spur-winged Plovers, an impressive
group of forty Kittlitz’s Plovers, a dozen Little Stints still in
winter dress, as were two Greenshank and three Ruff. A dazzling lutea
Yellow Wagtail brightened up the assemblage. At the end of the
causeway was a Temminck’s Courser with a chick, and before arriving
out on the Cheetah Gate road another pair of coursers with a juvenile.
Also there was a Capped Wheatear on the plains. It was lunch time now,
and I stopped for a snack at the “Orange” Tower. On arriving I heard
an Icterine Warbler, and after a while tracked down this bright yellow
gem in the profuse flowering Acacia mellifera which are putting on a
fine show at present. This is the first Icterine in the Park for some
seven years or so. The only other bird here of any note was an
Olivaceous Warbler. Just before arriving at the Cement Factory I
spotted a Red-and-Yellow Barbet in another mellifera, and whilst
watching it could see tail wagging frantically, deeper inside. The
bird was the most dish-washing Upcher’s Warbler I had seen, and came
briefly to the edge swinging its rear end wildly before fading back
into the depths. I continued on towards Cheetah Gate checking out the
roadside thickets, there was an African Hoopoe, and I was videoing an
eclipse Marico Sunbird when I heard a rasp “tlllllt” like an
Acrocephalus but lasting a little longer. I spished frantically (I had
done a lot of very rewarding “spishing” today), and an Olive Tree
Warbler hopped into view. That was all four Hippolais warblers in a
few hundred metres! This is the first time that I have heard any call
that could be called specifically distinctive from this species,
(other than the song of course). Further spishing showed that
Olivaceous Warblers were in the area in numbers, many silent. The only
other migrant was another Spotted Flycatcher. Checking the Rhino
Circuit would have been little return were it not for a male Paradise
Whydah. This is only my second in the Park, the last being more than
ten years ago. Also there was a young Red-chested Cuckoo with all
charcoal hood and chest, and widely spaced barring, the only Fish
Eagle of the day was here as were a couple of Tree Pipits. Heading
towards the Hippo Pools there were a Long-crested Eagle, a flattened
male Dusky Nightjar on the road and the second Whitethroat of the day.
At the Hippo Pools was the days only Common Sandpiper, and a couple of
Rufous-tailed (Eurasian) Rock Thrush, another Nightingale and Spotted
Flycatcher, a Eurasian Reed Warbler singing and feeding along the
margins, more Olivaceous Warblers and at last a few Willow Warblers,
and a Red-faced Cisticola was singing announcing it was still residing
here. I crossed the bridge and meandered along the river on the other
side as far as being opposite the car-park. This side has thick scrub,
and a growth of young acacias on a sea of verdant grass. This opens up
into more open meadows. The area turned out to be far more interesting
and revealed a whole host of species, the more noteworthy being a pair
of African Hoopoes with two young, the first of four Northern
Wheatears, three Wattled Starlings, five Speckle-fronted Weavers,
numbers of nesting Vitelline Masked Weavers, a couple of Village
Indigobirds, but pride of place went to an adult male Straw-tailed
Whydah. Only my second in the Park the last being seven years ago.
Three Whydah species in one day in Nairobi National Park, who would
ever have thought it? Interestingly the only White-winged Widowbirds
seen all day were along the river where there were many territories.
Continuing on to the end of the main track I was rewarded by a
Finfoot. It was late afternoon now and time to head back to the north,
there was an immature Black Stork flying over near Baboon Cliffs and a
Common Kestrel near Leopard Cliffs. Kingfisher Picnic Site was full
and on a Friday evening, so I did not call in and went to the nearby
swamp. There was a Crowned Crane with two chicks and two separate
Black Crakes each with a chick in tow, a couple of Black-winged
Plovers, the only Banded Martin of the day, three Whinchat and a Sedge
Warbler making the eleventh palearctic warbler of the day! A party of
twenty-two Long-tailed Cormorants flew over to a roost site, but it
was not Nagalomon Dam as there was nothing at all here. As a point,
Long-tailed Cormorant is a solitary animal when feeding. How do
twenty-two get into a flock. Does a bird fly off then as it passes
over a swamp picks up another then another at another location en
route, and so on until a flock forms, like an avian bus-service? !!! At
the Kisembe Forest Edge Dam there was a Crowned Crane on a nest,
sharing the dam with a Hippo, my first ever in Langata! Langata Dam
had another incubating Crowned Crane, and the only Little Grebe of the
day was here.
So I exited the gate having had a very full and very exciting days
birding, once again in our own back-yard!
Mammal wise, in the Hyena Basin area it was almost all Kongoni,
however the Athi Basin had a great variety and numbers, there were
four White Rhino at Empakasi Dam, and the aforementioned Hippo on
Kisembe Forest Edge Dam. Kingfisher area also had a nice selection of
plains game as did the plains below Impala Lookout, and on leaving
Lions chorused from somewhere along the Kisembe River.