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.

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