Crowned Cranes Breeding in Nairobi National Park

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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…….

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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.

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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.

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

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Proud parent!

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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.

New Born Hippo

Photographs courtesy Major Max:

These photos were taken in Nangolomon Dam in the west of the Park, though hippoes can be seen in several of the dams after the translocation from Ruai Sewage works….. (see blog archives)

Another hippo was brought into the park at the weekend after having trapped itself in a culvert at Ruai. (See Standard newspaper last weekend.)

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NNP Migration?

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Nairobi National Park is looking fantastic at the moment, with massive grassland regeneration throughout the park & especially in the western, wetter end.

In the past, in conditions like these, the large species of grazers -plains zebra, kongoni & eland usually migrated out of the park into the ‘dispersal area’ to the south of the park.

The sad fact is that this ‘dispersal area’ hardly exists any more & the biomass of the park is now restricted to the park & an area adjacent to the Athi River/Kitengela conurbation called the ‘Sheep & Goat Land’ which used to be a stock quarantine area & is now a vital calving ground for the last gnu which have access to the park….

Above, large herds of zebra in the Athi Basin area of the park, with large numbers also congregating in the Sheep & Goat Land outside the park.

The few zebra to have wandered further into the increasingly urbanised ‘dispersal area’ are falling prey to poachers: apparently there is a (Chinese?) order out for zebra skins….

Luckily we have c. 4,000 zebra in the park & surrounding areas, so maybe there are a few to spare …….bear in mind though, that even the resilient plains zebra is disappearing in much of it’s range (see separate WildlifeDirect story on translocations to Amboseli….)

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The commonest antelope in NNP is the impala, which did well despite the recent drought.

This sp. are browsers, though they graze green grass when it is available. They do well in the diverse habitats characteristic of Nairobi National Park, comprising as it does short grass plain, long grass savannah, highland dry forest & rocky river valleys with riparian woodland…..

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These ostrich have wondered out of the park into the Sheep & Goat Land……

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The Athi Plains were once covered in thousands of gazelles -Grant’s & Thomson’s, which have increasingly been squeezed out by fencelines, quarries, agriculture & property development. The last few thousand -of both sp.- are found o the short grass plains of the Athi Basin -in the park & immediately adjacent to it……

Above, tommies, their tails incessantly wagging……..

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A lioness (notice her teats: has she got cubs somewhere?) on the prowl in the Athi Basin , where most of the wildlife in NNP is now concentrated………this gives the grazing in the rest of the park a much needed rest.

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There were several hundred eland around the Athi Dam when these pictures were taken (March 8th) including this fine bull.

This sp. no longer leaves the park- shy animals, they cannot take the level of human activity & disturbance now prevalent in what used to be their wet season ‘dispersal area’.

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A pic of the Athi Basin, where most of these pictures taken (you cannot say I do not keep you up to date on this blog!)

Notice the rooftops of Kitengela township on the horizon……

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A seasonal wetland on the plains so important to th fantastic biodiversity in NNP.    Outside the park, such spots have been built over……..

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Such as in this picture, where the reality of our fabulous park is quite clearly demonstrated: the Last of the Athi Plains, surrounded by the City……

Kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest) are another sp. now entirely confined to the park: they are breeding well & herds of cows & calves can be found all over the park.

We must have close to 1,00o 0f this sp. making NNP an important haven for these large grazers -in decline elsewhere from competition with cattle.

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Pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes are nesting in most of the wetlands in the park at present.

Here’s a splendid male just for you, wherever you are…………