Vultures: Eurasian Griffon in NNP ?

By Adam Scott Kennedy:


These vultures were at the murram pits at the top of the Athi Basin…



Brian Finch poses the question: is this an immature Eurasian Griffon or one of our African Ruppell’s?



Simon Thomsett or Munir Virani, any ID guesses?


Thank goodness NNP remains an oasis for vultures of many species…..


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.


International Vulture Awareness Day in Nbi Nat Park



NNP is a haven for Kenya’s vulture population…


Vultures like protected areas, where there is plenty of food & space to be……….vultures.


Masters of the air, these raptors can soar for hundreds of miles……


A White Backed vulture showing why it is so called…..


An adult Ruppell’s Griffon on the left: is that a juvenile on the right (help! Simon Thomsett)


The mean dude of the Vulture World  (can appearances deceive?) the Lappet Faced or Nubian……

Long live all vultures!!!!

Dams are Drying Up…..


Scavengers feast on a dead cow, of which there are plenty in the park as the drought continues to bite: we’ve still got an estimated month to endure.

Historically Nairobi National Park was always a dry season refuge for the creatures of the Athi – Kapiti ecosystem. Why? WATER -permanent dams, rivers & springs, whatever the weather……

As you can see, this year is no exception, with  deadly drought affecting most of the country. The question is, will our water points hold out?


Cattle in the park. KWS continue to be unable or unwilling to keep cattle out of the park, which is littered with stray herds, especially calves, untended & with the bodies of those which die…..


The Athi Dam. This area of the park has been seriously neglected by KWS & is seriously overgrazed, covered in wind blown litter & full of livestock.

A precedent has been set & the local people freely graze their livestock in the park.

KWS do nothing. Doing this article there were calves in the parking lot at the Hippo Pools. I don’t think visitors payong 40$ wull think they are getting their money’s worth….


The drought has brought in the thousand or so gnu we have into he park. How they manage to survive (they look very healthy!) in the moonscape above the Athi Basin shows they well adapted to short grass plains they are….even in the dry season!


A thin & thirsty waterbuck sucks up some of the last water in a pool still miraculously to be found on the top plains, which are covered in thousands of grazing kongoni, gnu & zebra.


Luai (which is the Maa word for Acacia drepanalobium -whistling thorn) -or Empakasi – Dam, getting very low, but with lots of thirsty zebra lurking in the thorn thickets nearby.


One of the double dams (Karen Primary Dam) on the way to East Gate, with marabous fishing for catfish in the rapidly diminishing water….


The water in Middle Dam -its not marked on my map of the park -is nearly gone.


Despite the cattle invasions, we have at least 2  groups of new ostrich hatchlings -I think this small clutch had been attacked, because one of the young birds had lost a wing & in addition, ostrich clutches are usually more numerous than what we see here…


Wildebeest & other grazers using the wetlands along the stream below Hyena Dam, which flows into the Mokoyeti, which is still flowing (just.)


Hyena Dam, overgrown with water weeds owing to nitrate enrichment from outside the park…… hippoes eat this stuff?


Nangolomon Dam below the Langata Forest. Even if all water sources were to dry up, the park would still have this large body of fresh water,the source of the Mokoyeti River.


Olomanyi Dam is nearly dry -the water you see is just inches deep…..


A Bohor reedbuck at Olomanyi.Because the park is so opened up by grazing (mainly cattle) these skulkers are much easier to spot. Many of them were translocated into the park from Western Kenya.


Kingfisher Dam still has some water in it.


Warthogs have made a spectacular comeback to the park. Here a couple enjoy the last pool in one of the 3 dams in the glades of the Langata forest in the west of the park, all of which are about to dry up…..


Drought Crisis


Apologies for not posting for so long:school holidays & power cuts in Nairobi owing to the drought we are currently enduring.

The only winners in this situation are the scavengers, who are doing extremely well.

The fact is that Nairobi National Park has been invaded by thousands of head of hungry cattle from the overgrzed & drought stricken rangelands to the south.

What are the effects of this? Firstly, the grass resource of the park, which includes the last remaining pristine (?) corner of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem, one of the richest grassland habitats in the world, has been grazed to the point of degradation by hordes of cattle. At this time of the year & in these exceptional dry conditions, all of the grazers in the ecosystem are also in the park:about 3,000 zebra, 1,000 wildebeest, 800 hartebeest & 600 eland, not to mention the resident rhinos (35?), buffaloes (1000) giraffe & the many different species of antelope (12 sp. in total.)

All of these creatures have suffered from this cattle invasion. Ostrich (NNP has the densest population of wild ostrich anywhere) have not nested this year;presuably displaced by the thousands of head of cattle grazing illegally at night. 2 rhinos are reported as having died due to “anthrax” -unlikely for a browsing species-much more probable is that these were males killed by territorial fighting as the rhinos have been squeezed into the areas of the park ungrazed by cattle, such as in the Langata forest.


Tourists in the battered tourist industry (wholly dependent on the network of “protected” areas “managed” by KWS) are paying 40$ a time to see sites such as this & forlorn herds of abandoned cattle in the overgrazed, cowpat littered park.

More serious is the health risk posed by carcasses of cattle left on riverbanks such as the Empakasi River shown here, whose toxic juices drain into a water source used by thirsty people downstrem at a time of acute water stress.


Anthrax, foot & mouth disease & East Coast Fever (ol tikana n Maa) are all reported in the herds of cattle coming to graze in the park, not all of which belong to suffering pastoralists, who are in crisis in this horile year. It is reported by KWS that many of these cattle belong to rich folk:prominent Kenyans & politicians…..

Here is the body of a dead impala -IN the river…..


Many parts of the park stink with many carcasses of starved/diseased cattle littering the dusty plains.

Litter is never collected in the park by those who manage it, who concentrate on revenue collection……this cattle has been eating plastic, which is an eye sore & a major health risk to the grazing animals in the park.


Whlist most illegal grazing happens at night, in the eastern part of the park close to Athi River, hundreds of cattle graze openly on the plains.

Notice the Athi Dam, which threatens to dry up completely this season…..


KWS seem unwilling or unable to keep cattle out of the park.

Yesterday (Wednesday 26th August) KWS moved in 4 white rhino into Nairobi National Park from Nakuru National Park. (6 more are to be translocated in during the coming weeks, to make a total of 10.) Is this sensible when 2 BLACK rhinos have died of anthrax, a bacteria which lives in the ground & is dispersed in dry conditons?

White rhinos are of course GRAZING animals, very susceptible to anthrax spores…..


Nairobi National Park Wet Season


Although the dry cycle continues & Kenya north of Central Province is still horribly dry, in Nairobi we have had some (less than average) rain.

Unlike many parts of the country (Mara -Laikipia), the vulture population of the NNP ecosystem remains healthy. The population of White Backed vultures which nest in the park is of especial importance, but we also have visiting Griffons from the Rift Valley & at least one pair of Lappet Faced, seen in this picture…..


Most of the large mammals (such as this bull eland) are now concentrated in the Athi Basin & on the plains of the Sheep & Goat land just to the south east of the park, though hundreds of zebra, true to their natures, have wandered farther afield.They will be back soon, because the dispersal area is terribly overgrazed & there has not been enough rain for the grasslands (in the past one of the richest rangelands in the world) to recover.


You never know what you might come across in the park, such as this steinbok in the Athi Basin, seen clearly in the background…


The breeding season for ostrich is here again (July/August) & the cocks are red-necked with excitement. In this picture is a flock of last year’s chicks,now yearlings. NNP has the highest density of wild ostrich in Africa……


The most wary (could we deduce the most intelligent) of the antelopes- eland- have sensibly decided not to leave the park this year: there is simply nowhere for them TO go & they run a very high risk of being hunted for meat outside the park….


NNP is a quite exraordinarily diverse bit of country, given it’s small size (120 square kilometres.) As well as protecting classic savannah plains & dry highland forest & several river valleys, in the wet season, after rain, tiny intricate little wetlands occur such as this pool in the Athi Basin. A whole little aquatic cycle of life plays out with the existence of life giving water until the equatorial sun reasserts itself……


The big cats are doing well & we have 3 known cheetah in NNP, including a female with a single cub. Here is the scarey male – he’s a survivor- & you can see why: look at the industrial conurbation adjacent to the plains which are his home. The last of the Athi Plains, now surrounded by a humanised landscape.


The Athi Plains were home to coutless thousands of gazelles in the past, including Grantis like these, whom the Maasai call “oloibor siadi” -the white behinds. You can  clearly see why in this picture. Gazelles are more & more moving back into the park, which now , in this dry cycle, contains their preferred short-grass plain habitat. But they have to be aware of the one animal faster even than they:cheetah.


NNP is an island of biodiversity showing what the Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem really is, now surrounded by overgrazed &  environmentally degraded & increasingly urbanised plains on all sides. The last habitat, therefore, for these Jackson’s whydahs, respendent in their breeding plumage. This species is dependent on long grass, where the males create dancing grounds where they bob up & down a couple of feet at each jump- an extraordinary sight – in order to attract the females!

Getting Drier……..


With no sign of rain on the horizon, things in the Nairobi National Park are getting ever drier. Most of the smaller dams are drying up & water is becoming an issue for the thousands of head of herbivores in the park.Eland Hollow has been dry for a year now & the 2 dams at the East Gate junction are about to dry up. Even the huge Athi Basin dam is as low as I have ever seen it & as a reservoir for the thousands of cattle which have grazed the Athi Basin into short grass plain, will it empty?

Above is Karen Primary School Dam. Notice last year’s yearling wildebeest drinking & the vultures drinking & bathing…


Kongoni (Coke’s Hartebeest) are in sharp decline throughout their range. According to new research, they are adapted to living on coarse (unburnt) grassland. Will they adapt to the new regime of short grass over much of the park?

With so many kongoni in the park, there is plenty of argy-bargy amongst the bulls, defending their territories (see pic below.)


Here’s a fine portrait of a vulture -white backed or Ruppell’s -could a reader enlighten me? Like all creatures in the park, incredibly approachable & therefore easy to photograph..


A flying kongoni, a bull chasing a rival….


A snoozing saddlebill stork -male or female anyone? -patiently waiting for the rains & the reinvigoration of the park’s wetlands which are this species’ habitat.

Below a pair of Plains Zebra, with the Ngong Hills in the background.

The GOOD NEWS is that the long dry spell (3 seasons long so far) should soon be over as the ITCZ moves north over Kenya  & gives us vital RAIN…..