Eland in Nairobi National Park

pictures-Aug-2008-049

A cow eland in the Nairobi National Park, an oasis for the largest antelope in the world.

These animals are your writer’s particular favourite animals, large, beautiful, gentle & perfectly adapted to living in the vagaries of Africa’s savannah ecosystems, of which the NNP is a perfect example.

Grazing 25% of their food in the scarce wet seasons, making use of the abundant grass resource when it is available & then browsing in the dry season, or in dry areas, eland traditionally wandered over huge areas at will……

P1070187

An eland bull- a truly massive animal -heavier even than a buffalo according to Kingdon-& formidable, as demonstrated by bulls’ ability to graze in long grass areas without fear of lion predation.

Generally however, the eland’s primary response to danger is to run away or jump: they are spectacular leapers able to jump over fences with effortless ease (especially the cows:bulls are a little too massive!)

We have 500 + eland in the park & I see this population rising over time as their shyness & alertness prevents them from wandering out into the fast-diminishing ‘dispersal area’ outside of the park, which is increasingly humanised by the day & where delicious eland meat is at a premium in a country where the poor cannot afford to but meat in butcheries = plenty of illegal hunting for bushmeat.

In the park they are safe…..& to successfully breed as well…..

P1060884

A bull eland looks down at the writer’s cottage in the Silole Sanctuary, just outside the park.

P1060432

A bull eland browsing. Not only can they make use of available plant nutrients, eland are very efficient in their use of water & can live in arid areas or exist without drinking for long periods . Compare their dry droppings to the wet pats of cattle…..

P1050319

A bull & youngsters, which have an intense attraction for one another & so are found in (usually large-especially in NNP) nursery herds where they seem to communally suckle from lactating cows . ( Might an expert enlighten us on this thesis?)

Eland milk is one of the richest milks in nature (like whale milk) & young eland grow rapidly as  result.

Africa has not been innovative in using it’s wildlife eg. hippoes are the creatures which are most efficient in turning grass into meat (protein) in comparison to inefficient & resource gobbling domestic animals. ┬áIn contrast,eland have been domesticated on the steppes of Russia, where their milk is fed to the sick in local hospitals…..

P1040488-1

Long live these elegant & beautifully adapted animals in Nairobi National Park…….

The Haughty Race

P1030226

Masai giraffe in the Nairobi National Park: one of the emblematic creatures of the African savannah….

P1040435

A group of young giraffe in the park: giraffe are breeding well despite high mortality owing to the 35-40 lion currently in the park…

P1040528

Superbly adapted to browsing the treetops, giraffe are able to make use of browse far beyond the reach of any other mammals. As there are no elephants in NNP, their only competetion is the park’s black (or browse) rhino. The above pic shows that long acacia thorns are NO PROBLEM!!

P1050493

What would the African landscape be like without these extraordinary, graceful & dignified creatures?

P1050607

Mother & calf in NNP

P1050616

The calf above: a few days old: notice the umbilical cord.

P1070450

We have about 150 giraffe in NNP & dispersal area. Unlike other migrating sp. (zebra, gnu) giraffe do not appear to be killed outside the park. The only worry is that we may run out of browse in the long run, unless predators keep the population stable……giraffe can often be seen out of the park, browsing on whistling thorn amongst the Masai cattle.

P1070482

Not only does NNP harbour significant numbers of rhinos (black & white), ostriches, lions, Coke’s hartebeest & many other sp. it also provides a haven for gentle giraffe: exterminated by man in many African countries.

And this in the middle of a city of 5 m………

Wet Season Wonders

P1070383

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……

P1070392

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……

P1070399

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

P1070401

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!

P1070402

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’.

P1070407

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??

P1070422

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!

P1040234

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…….

Birding with Brian Finch 27th March

To complement yesterday all of the birding was from the Main Entrance
keeping to the east and south. This is still the more interesting area
to visit at present.
I met up with Patrick Lhoir and his son Johann at the Main Entrance at
6.30am, and we proceeded to Ivory Burning Site. There was a Suni on
the way.
There was a good variety of migrants but no numbers, a single Tree
Pipit, two Spotted Flycatchers (about eight today), one growl from a
Nightingale was the only indication of the species continued presence,
one Marsh, two Olivaceous, two Garden, a Barred and four Willow
Warblers, and three Whitethroat. Also there were ten Eurasian
Bee-eaters, and a Nairobi Pipit flew over singing and disappeared in
the direction of the Army Camp, a Giant Kingfisher called from
Nagalomon Dam.
On the back road there were two more Spotted Flycatchers, Willow
Warblers and Whitethroat, the African Water Rail was on the small
swamp, and the first of a dozen Red-tailed (of both forms) and an
attractive nominate male Red-backed Shrike. There was nothing at Hyena
Dam, but on the run-of were the pair of Saddle-billed Storks and the
usual Rosy-breasted Longclaws, interestingly along the Mokoyiet was
the first Black-winged Kite since the drought ended. On the inside
road towards Karen Primary School Dam we found a female Western Marsh
Harrier, a Hartlaub’s Bustard displaying, and amongst the Cattle
Egrets was one with a bright red-bill and orange-yellow tip, red
facial skin with bright purple-lilac patch below eye which was red.
The legs were all carmine-red, but the only buff was a very small
patch on the crown which was completely crestless. I have never seen a
Cattle Egret as colourful as this before, I wonder how long it lasts.
Also there we found the only Whinchat of the day, several singing
White-tailed Larks were only a part of the chorus of large numbers of
grassland species, numerous Pectoral-patch with plenty of Desert and a
few Zitting Cisticolas, (and Stout and Winding of course), all three
Longclaws, innumerable Rufous-naped Larks and Grassland Pipits. At the
dam were an adult Black Stork with pale pink legs, and a male
Yellow-crowned Bishop, finally a pair of Blacksmith Plovers had two
chicks. Continuing along to Athi Basin we had a male Kori followed by
the female and the fast growing chick, the only Eurasian Roller of the
day and a dozen Chestnut Weavers all in non-breeding dress. Last week
there were over three-hundred Wattled Starling and flock after flock
of Speke’s Weavers, today there were only five Wattled Starlings seen,
and the weavers have vanished from the south of the Park. Entering the
basin there was a female Northern Wheatear, the first returning Lesser
Grey Shrike, a nice adult but only pinkish on the flanks, eighteen
Lesser Kestrels, incredibly yet another Red-and-Yellow Barbet (that’s
the fourth time already this year), some very obliging Long-billed
Pipits, hordes more Cisticolas including a few noisy Croaking, and
even though the area is quite open, clusters of bushes manage to
support Siffling. As we descended to Athi Dam we could see that there
had been a great transformation. The huge rain than had dropped on
Muthaiga (I heard 6 inches), also fell in the dams catchment and the
dam is back and healthy. The grassy-topped island is an island again,
the whole basin is under and this might only be the start of the long
rains! Birds have trickled back in, there was a Little Grebe already,
but the poor Black-crowned Night-Herons on the causeway have lost much
of their roosting area, and there was only one adult, there was a
Great Egret in breeding dress; all black legs and bill, whilst the
facial skin was blue-green not yellow contrary to Stevenson &
Fanshawe. Otherwise an immature Black Stork paid a visit but did not
stop, with the ten African Spoonbills were two Glossy Ibis, sixteen
White-faced Whistling Ducks and two Red-billed Teal were the only
waterfowl apart from pairs of Egyptian Geese one of which had a tribe
of goslings. There was an immature and two adult Fish Eagles, under a
bush by the causeway an immature Spotted Thicknee. I used to see these
on most visits to the Park in many different locations, they then
mysteriously vanished and this is my first in the Park for over three
years. Of the usual waders, there were three Black-winged Stilt, no
less than five Spur-winged Plovers (which is the largest number to
date), the Kittlitz’s Plovers (one pair with a large chick) had been
joined by a couple of Ringed Plovers, other migrants were poor with
just eight Little Stints, one each of Wood and Common Sandpiper and
two Greenshank. Towards the “Orange” Tower there were a pair of
Temminck’s Coursers, a happily solitary singing Athi Short-toed Lark,
the only Isabelline Wheatear of the day and a second Lesser Grey
Shrike, this bird still having a grey cap and forehead. At the tower a
pair of Lanners looked very comfortable, the days only Common Buzzard
flew over, the highlight here was flushing, relocating and getting
some very nice images of a female Plain Nightjar. This is the third
time I have seen them in the Park, all late March but the other two
were both road-kills. Migrants consisted of a two each of Olivaceous
and Willow Warblers, two Whitethroat and three Spotted Flycatchers and
one Sand Martin flying by with Barn Swallows.
On checking the dry scrub near Cheetah Gate there was an African
Hoopoe, couple of Tree Pipits, two Spotted Flycatcher, three
Olivaceous and Willow Warblers, a Whitethroat and two Marico Sunbirds.
I heard something familiar that should not have been in the area, we
tracked it down and secured photographic evidence of Nairobi NP’s and
the whole Nairobi districts first ever record of Bare-eyed Thrush!!!
It even started to sing whilst we were there. Another wanderer from
the dry, there have been so many since the start of the drought. Rhino
Circuit was very wet and treacherous, there were some Eurasian Golden
Oriole noises from down the healthier looking river, but with so many
mimics pouring forth we could not be sure. At Hippo Pools the place
was so green and attractive there was a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl calling
all the time we were there, but it was only on leaving that Johann’s
sharp eyes located it in a tree on the other side of the river from
the car-park. Other nice birds were no less than seven African Hoopoes
in a flock, a male Von der Decken’s Hornbill, another Tree Pipit, two
more Spotted Flycatchers and a similar number of Olivaceous and Garden
Warblers, three Willow Warblers but no sign of last weeks bird,
Red-faced Cisticola still here, three Eurasian Golden Orioles with
some stunning males, five Speckle-fronted Weavers, two male and a
female Village Indigobird and plenty of White-winged Widowbirds along
the river.
On the drive back out of the Park, the only bird of interest was a
male koblyni Red-backed Shrike whose entire back was greyish with the
rufous only along the edge of the wings, and the edges of the
secondaries. The tail was black, a very strange individual.
Birds once again exceptional, mammals in large numbers in Athi Basin,
movement of Zebra back into Park. Better species were White
Rhinoceros, Hippos in Nagalomon Dam, two at Hippo Pools and the
strangest site of one running through the grassland above Leopard
Gorge, the Suni already mentioned and seven Mountain Reedbuck in a
valley before the more usual site.
Some species of migrants have already left us, but the variety is
still good. There was a reasonalble Barn Swallow passage all day
mainly to the east, whilst Quailfinch were fairly common in the
grasslands and we saw nest material being collected again.