Birding with Brian Finch 25th November

Mike Davidson kindly conducted Heather Elkin, Karen Plumbe and myself
around Nairobi National Park on 25th November 2009.
We met at 6-30am at the Main Entrance, there had been light rain, and
this continued as we drove down to the Ivory Burning Site but soon
cleared up for the remainder of the day which for much of the time was
overcast.
At Ivory Burning Site there were a few migrants, but the hoped for
fall didn’t eventuate and the migrant presence was rather poor. There
were a few Eurasian Bee-eaters calling somewhere, many Nightingales
and one Sprosser in the bushes, several Willow Warblers, a Garden
Warbler, the first of three Spotted Flycatchers met with today, a Tree
Pipit and a trio of Northern Hobbies in the area.
Along the back road, a Croaking Cisticola was a surprise in this part
of the Park, a few more Nightingales, a Marsh Warbler and a Black
Rhino with a calf suddenly appeared before us and gave us a mock
charge with considerable snorting. We lost our concentration on a
small group of birds that were mobbing something cheer-led by a
Moustached Warbler! At Hyena Dam there were a Spur-winged Goose, two
Common Kestrels, a couple of Eurasian Marsh Harriers and a flock of
Jackson’s Widowbirds. On the circuit through the run-off and back
round to Hyena Dam we found a Squacco Heron, two Great Egrets, a Fish
Eagle, two males and a female-type Pallid Harriers, a couple of Common
Buzzards, a pair of displaying Kori Bustards, a couple of Common Snipe
dropped into cover, at least eight Rosy-breasted Longclaws (and others
elsewhere), five Whinchats, the first of only three Red-tailed Shrikes
all day, and a couple of Parasitic Weavers. We passed birdless
Nagalomon and Olmanyi Dams across to Kingfisher Picnic Site. In this
area we had a pair of Eurasian Rollers, the first of eight Isabelline,
first of five Northern and first of four Pied Wheatears. At the site
a very attractive pale-phase Booted Eagle came over low, and disturbed
some Black-winged Plovers that we did not see. The female
Saddle-billed Stork was at the neighbouring swamp and a Green
Sandpiper. Driving around to Hippo Pools area, we had an adult
Black-chested Snake-Eagle, then we stopped at the ford below Baboon
Cliffs to look for the Finfoot that we did not find, but there was a
single Mountain Wagtail and a Nightingale. Whilst we waited the Parks
third record of Grey-olive Greenbul appeared and started displaying
with wing and body shivering in a horizontal pose, there was one
calling somewhere above the car, so the bird was not alone. Athi Dam
was low but we had an immature White Pelican, only one adult
Black-crowned Night-Heron, a dozen White-faced Whistling-Ducks, a pair
of Red-billed Teal, three Hottentot Teal, six Northern Shoveler, the
same five Avocet and Black-winged Stilt, on Spur-winged and fifteen
Kittlitz’s Plovers, fifteen Little Stint, one Ruff, ten Marsh and
three Common Sandpipers, three Greenshank and a Fish Eagle.
At Hippo Pools the first bird we looked at was a bird I had never seen
in the Park before, although it is found almost all around Nairobi, a
Green Wood-Hoopoe was feeding on a trunk and the shiny green back was
very obvious. Then, only thirty metres away a pair of Violet
Wood-hoopoes were feeding young in a nest in a dead tree! There were
single Greenshank, Green and Common Sandpipers along the river, a
number of Nightingales, a few Willow Warblers and a singing Red-faced
Cisticola. On the drive back there was a Long-billed Pipit on the Athi
Basin ridge, and in short grass there were a pair of Temminck’s
Coursers and a Hartlaub’s Bustard near the “Beacon.” There were a few
Barn Swallows but only in the northern parts.
The more interesting mammals were five Black and eight White
Rhinoceros, five Mountain Reedbuck, a Side-striped Ground-Squirrel
below Baboon Cliffs and an Egyptian Mongoose near Hyena Dam run-off.
There were plenty of plains game all through the Park and about fifty
cows were in the Athi basin.
We were through the gate at 4-15pm having had a great day

Another Cheetah!!

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After posting yesterday’s cheetah story & writing an online prayer for more cheetahs an astonishing event: ANOTHER cheetah was spotted this morning…..could she be a female??

Above is the resident male (we think – a very large individual.)

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The ‘new’ cheetah: can we now look forward to cubs?

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In any case the advertised presence of cheetahs through the mysterious world of scent can only encourage individuals (especially of the opposite sex) to seek each other out in NNP…

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Another shot of the big resident male on his kongoni kill yesterday.

Photos by Rob Allen, Dave McKelvie & Will Knocker

Happy Hippoes

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One of the most popular destinations in NNP has always been ‘The Hippo Pools’, an interesting walking trail where one could usually guarantee a sighting of hippoes in their element.

In recent years however hippo sightings have become increasingly rare, perhaps because of the fact that the Empakasi River (the southern boundary of the park -where the Hippo Pools are located) has become a stream & has in some periods recently, stopped flowing altogether.

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So I was quite amazed, in the last few days to count no less than 4 hippoes in the Hyena Dam, which, suffering from nutrient overload (sewage from the city) has been overgrown by waterweeds, so that a previously open body of water was completely covered.

Hooray for hippoes, they are now pushing side the weed & open water is now appearing again.

The Warden informs me that 14 hippoes were translocated into NNP in September/October from Ruai Dam in the Doonholm area of the city, which is where waste is processed, so these animals are well adapted to wallowing in, well, you know what…..

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Above is a picture of a happy hippo grazing in broad daylight (these animals normally graze at night) indicating they have happily settled down in Nangolomon Dam & in Hyena Dam, where Gareth Jones, who took this picture, reports a new born calf.

This replaces the hippo that wandered through the fence to the north of the park & into a township on the edge of the city, where it was shot & eaten….

So we have at least 14 hippoes in NNP, not counting those (very few) that were already here.

Did you know that of all mammals, hippoes are reported to be the most efficient at converting grass into protein ?(themselves…) -(Jonathan Kingdon)

Birding with Brian Finch 14th November

After an absence of six weeks, I was looking forward to getting back
into Nairobi National Park, when a visit was suggested by Rupert
Watson the previous evening.
There had been much bad news relating to the invasion of the Maasai
and their cattle on the net of late, and the indifference of KWS. We
spent the whole of Friday 13th November in the Park, and this is what
we found.
Wild mammals were in very impressive numbers scattered in large
concentrations in various corners of the Park but the numbers coming
in to drink at Karen Primary School Dam was most impressive. The north
is grassy and attractive, but parts of the southern parts still arid
and very bare though some new grass shoots are appearing. In spite of
the greenery many dams are dry, Forest Edge, Empakasi and Langata have
all but gone with just damp mud remaining.
We saw cattle only in the south-east and all day no more than forty
were seen, whilst dead cattle were at least three times this. Of the
native mammals, the only mortality was a Giraffe near Kingfisher, and
this could have been weeks old, and totally unrelated to any drought
problems. It would appear that KWS may have been pushing the herds
out, or that the people have recognised a futility of incursion as the
cattle are not able to survive the drought anyway, contrary to the
endemic plains game. It’s still a fantastic destination… do not be put
off by anything you may hear.

We arrived about 6:40am and made for the Ivory Burning Site. Here we
found a few migrants, one of the Upcher’s Warblers is back in it’s
Acacia gerardii already, and will probably stay there for the next six
months, and a Tree Pipit flew over calling. There were two
Nightingales, but no sign of Willow Warblers or Spotted Flycatchers. A
Giant Kingfisher was calling on Nagalomon dam, and an African
Firefinch feeding under the scrub.
From here we drove along the road to the back of Hyena Dam, and found
an Eurasian Hobby, Red-backed Shrike (the first of three seen today),
and a Red-tailed Shrike (the first of eight), non-palearctics
consisted of a Rufous-crowned Roller, and a noisy Nairobi Pipit
singing from the roof of the Pump House. At Hyena Dam there has been a
remarkable die back of Typha resulting in some superb looking habitat
and total visibility of the open water. The die off seems natural, and
the same situation showed at other clumps in the Park. Possibly all of
the reeds were of the same age, and have run their course. We saw an
Eurasian Marsh Harrier, two Green Sandpipers ( many of both Green and
Common Sandpipers were seen in many parts of the Park), a few Barn
Swallows (only five all day) and an African Jacana with a
Rosy-breasted Longclaw singing in the adjacent grassland where there
were mixed Yellow-billed and Black Kites.
Taking the run-off we found two each of Great and Yellow-billed
Egrets, sixteen Common Snipe, two Whinchats (the first of four seen),
a male Pallid and two Montagu’s Harriers, additionally on the back
road into Karen Primary School Dam, a displaying Kori Bustard, the
first of ten Isabelline and first of three Northern Wheatears. At the
dam were single Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. Two female flava
Yellow Wagtails trailed the mammals.
Nothing additional was seen on the way to Empakasi Dam where we found
an adult male Pied Wheatear. There is still water in Athi Dam and
this was proving attractive to waterside species. As in the previous
two seasons Pied Avocets have arrived, there were seven present. The
possibility of these regular visitors being palearctic migrants cannot
be ruled out. There were also eight Black-winged Stilts and a
Spur-winged Plover. Palearctic waders consisted of two Greenshank,
seven Marsh, three Common Sandpipers and ten Little Stints. Ducks were
very low but nine Northern Shovelers were present. Other species were
an Eurasian Marsh Harrier and six Yellow-throated Sandgrouse. Along
the river on the Rhino Circuit was the only Spotted Flycatcher of the
day.
Next came the Hippo Pools walk, personally I have nearly always come
away from here disappointed. Not this time though! There was a nice
pair of Finfoots (feet?) on the river. There was a male Blue-capped
Cordon-bleu in low scrub along the river and whilst pointing this out
to Rupert I saw another movement and on checking this found that it
was an African Penduline-Tit. My first in the Park, but there is a
historical Van Someren record from about forty years ago. A pair of
adult Fish Eagles were in the figs, one barely adult having a flew
black splotches on the breast. Two Violet Woodhoopoes might already be
planning on another family, a male Namaqua Dove flew over as did
Eurasian Bee-eaters. There were two Nightingales, a single Sprosser
and the only Willow Warbler of the day. On the return we bumped into
the tame solitary African Penduline-tit again, and had a very noisy
pair of Red-faced Cisticolas.
It was quiet and hot across the southern parts towards Kingfisher
Picnic Site. Near here we found an adult Black Stork, and adult
blackish Steppe Eagle, more wheatears and shrikes, and on the small
swamp near the site which is another place that usually rewards nada
were a female Saddle-billed Stork which we watched catch many
Louisiana Crayfish and swallow them whole. I had no idea that they
(crayfish) were in the Park, two Yellow-billed Ducks shared the swamp
margins with seven Wood Sandpipers, whilst a female type Eurasian
Rock-Thrush bounded on the boulders. There is a new track alongside
the small swamp and well worth a look, we found a Lion hiding in the
reeds there.
We left at 4-30pm not visiting the Nagalomon or Olmanyi Dams or the forest.

We had a superb time, and were most relieved to see the major
reduction in the incursion of domestic livestock.

The Last Cheetah and other unusual sightings…

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As far as I can judge, this is our last cheetah in NNP. I have seen him on & off for several years now:alone.

Even if she is a female, she has not had cubs all this time,presumably because of the lack of a mate.

All is not lost, though -NNP is now prime cheetah habitat-short grass plain-with plenty of gazelles & other mediun sized mammals available as prey. The story of the gnus -see below -must give us hope!

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I hope you like this shot of yellow-billed oxpeckers (tickbirds) at home…….

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NNP is full of wind-blown litter from the city.This graphically illustrates the risk to grazers……

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Warthog are doing just fine & their numbers going up & up….

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Competition with the cattle still in the park (though less than in previous months;many have died) is leading to stress. This poor old zebra mare, like many other old & diseased individuals will not survive.

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NNP is astonishing in the diversity of it’s mammals, such as these Mountain reedbuck. Can a geneticist amongst our readers explain how our population of  just 20 or so of this sp. has survived quite happily since the ’60’s without outside blood/genes?

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The wildebeest are back. We have a population of approximately 900 now resident in the park:an excellent core population for the 120 square kilometres where thay are likely to have to live in the future….

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A translocated oribi. Many sp. of mammals to be found in the NNP have been brought in from areas where they or their habitat are threatened….

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You never know what you might see in the splendid Nairobi National Park: a wild leopard tortoise……

White Rhino Calf Update

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Mother & calf doing well, although Paula watched lions stalking them a day or two ago……

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These grazing megaherbivores are so very different in looks & temperament to the resident black rhinos, which remain shy & elusive….

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Forgive this rather blurry image of our young star….

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Is it a he or a she :could some expert enlighten us – or a cold Tusker for the first correct answer……

Apologies to NNP blog readers!

Please forgive me y’all, as I only today realised that it is up to me to clear the comments you kindly post on this blog.

The reason your informative responses have not appeared is because of techno ignorance on my part for which many apologies!!

So keep those responses flowing & thanks for reading & taking the time to comment about Our Super Fantastic & Unique Nairobi National Park!!!!

Impunity Rules in NNP

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The authorities in NNP are having to struggle with a mass invasion of livestock:sheep & goats as well as cattle have invaded the park from the north (where the electric fence is not live & livestock, woodcutters & even hunters break through at will) & the south, which is unfenced…..

Photo: Courtesy Gareth Jones

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A cattle ‘highway’ fanning out into the park.There are plenty of these along the southern boundary, mostly used by thousands of cattle at night.

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What your average 40$ an entry visitor gets to see in NNP today.

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Competition with grazing livestock is causing mortality amongst vulnerable sp. such as this kongoni, in decline throughout it’s range because of…………competition from cattle.

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One of the park’s estimated 35(?) black rhino making it’s way through a herd of cattle. The NNP used to be a vital breeding sanctuary for this sp. of which not much more than 500 occur globally. To breed, rhinos need minimum disturbance….

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Nature works in mysterious ways however & it ain’t all bad.

As every available blade of grass has been scoffed by the grazers in the park (both wild & domestic) the Thompson’s gazelles are back with a vengeance……they like short grass plain!

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And this Crocuta crocuta loves carcasses-mostly dead cattle, which litter the park……

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There are park rules in ‘force’ & customers are harassed if they are seen ‘out of their cars’, but what about this guy??

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And these, with their hundreds of cattle?

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Tourism is one of the major employers in Kenya & visitors come to see sites such as this. KWS is playing with fire by allowing pastoralists (with whom we all sympathise in this horrible drought) to graze in the park. The only consequence of overgrazing in the park will be the destruction of livestock & wildlife as well…….

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And then what hope for this young male lion, worth, some say, a million dollars to the country’s economy?

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NNP remains a very beautiful sanctuary with rules that prohibit human activities…….Carissa edulis in flower..

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With space for this coalition of young male lions to compete with the dominant male Ujonjo…..

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Nearly half way through the Short Rains, dams are still empty & rivers have not run. This is scarey: could the drought continue? And how will NNP fare with no grazing reserve & with it’s entire biomass in the park during the dry season?

Below: a rare aardwolf (a termite eating hyena) photographed in the early morning…….

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Numbers & Commentary on Game Count…..

KWS organised  game count in NNP on 4th October. Do bear in mind that these numbers are MINIMUMS!

Herewith are the results (scrubbed by a faulty internet commection yesterday…)

Buffalo -250. I think this is well under half of the number of buff we have in NNP.

Bushbuck -16. Ditto -bushbuck are common in the park, especially in the Langata forest.

Dikdik -3. I wonder where these were counted as I’ve never seen one IN the park.In the Silole Sanctuary we have several pairs (just outside the park!)

Eland -45.There are many more eland than this in NNP, with a breeding herd of cows & calves which must number close to 100 individuals!

Grant’s gazelle -58. These gazelle are slowly  coming back to the park after many years. But where is their main predator -the cheetah?

Thompson’s gazelle -116. As above. Now that much of the NNP is a short grass plain habitat, this sp. should do well!

Masai giraffe -120. Difficult to miss these huge animals!

Coke’s hartebeest (kongoni) -377. Kongoni ar doing well in the park BUT as outside the park, where they are in major decline owing to competition with cattle, illegal grazing by cattle in NNP threatens this last population on the Athi Plains….

Reedbuck -3. KWS mean Bohor reedbuck in this case, currently easily visible thanks to illegal grazing which has led to the denudation of vegetation in the park. We also have 10-20 Chandler’s Mountain reedbuck in the park, which occur on either side of the Sosian Gorge….

Suni (dwarf antelope) -2. This sp. is common in the Langata forest.

Waterbuck -9. This sp.has been badly hit by the drought…..

Wildebeest -517. This is a respectable number, but in the last count there were 900 or so. Where are the missing 400? Owing to the onset of the Rains,this sp. is currently on the move out of the park, but TO WHERE?????

Warthog -32.In the nineties this sp. suffered major declines from rinderpest & then from pressure from lion predation, but are now bouncing back!

Impala -269. A resilient & adaptable species.

Black rhino -5. I estimate 35 of this sp. in the park, KWS 65. We also have 11 White rhinoes.

Plains zebra -2103. A respectable number but we know we have at least 3,000 zebra in & around NNP (from previous counts).

Baboon -78.

Vervet monkey-90. We also have Sykes monkeys in the Langata forest & Greater galagoes too.

African hare -1. A noctournal species.

Rock hyrax -1.

Spotted hyena -3. This sp. has dome very well in the dought with the plethora of carcasses on the plains & in the park:mostly cattle……

Silver backed jackal -9. This is a FANTASTIC number as jackal numbers got very low in the last few years. Let’s hope this sp. will build up it’s numbers!

Lion -2. Of an estimated 25-30 lions in NNP in total.

Slender mongoose -1. This is the commonest sp. in the park though we also have White-tailed mongooses & Ichneumons in the park.

Crocodile-3. The 3 beasts often seen at Athi Dam appear to have migrated to the Athi/Empakasi river owing to the drought…..

Ostrich -107. NNP is reputed to harbour the densest wild population anywhere!

Kori bustard -4. These birds have come into the NNP from the Kapiti Plains now it offers short grass plain habitat. Let us hope they breed this year!

This morning I saw an aardwolf in the park…….

Not counted were the hundreds of illegal livestock in the park which have changed the habitat so dramatically in the last few years………….