By BRIAN FINCH:
Nigel Hunter and myself spent the day in NNP, arriving at 6.45am. The day was overcast but mild, this degenerated quickly to drizzle and unseasonally cold! There was a Willow Warbler singing in the car-park at the Main Entrance (the only other individual recorded was one at Hippo Pools, and this constituted all the migrant warbler presence NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 18th November 2012 for the day). At the KWS Mess garden we were amazed to see two Nightingales feeding amongst tin cans and cardboard packets on the rubbish-tip, sharing this with two Egyptian Mongooses. There were no other interesting species to be seen, although two Banded Martins flying over the area seemed to be leaving the Park. At Ivory Burning Site we found a Eurasian Hobby but nothing else, and Nagalomon Dam had no Night-Herons where they were on Monday, although ten could be seen at the back of the dam. Otherwise a few Green Sandpipers, the Booted Eagle seen on Monday with the missing primaries, and a Fan-tailed Grassbird singing from the adjacent grassland. Along the back road the African Water Rails were calling (and also from Hyena Dam), but the only observation of mild interest was a Red-billed Teal (the only wildfowl seen today that was not an Egyptian Goose). Nothing was happening at Hyena Dam, there were ten Wood Sandpipers, and the African Jacana still present, a few Barn Swallows and that was it. On the run-off we had the first Common Snipe of the season, a couple of Whinchat, Red-collared and Jackson’s Widowbirds were in breeding plumage. There were a dozen Eurasian Bee-eaters along the Mokoyeti River and a pair of the only Lesser Striped Swallows of the day, whilst Eland Hollow produced a Ruff, a female type plumaged Montagu’s Harrier, a young male Pallid Harrier, another Whinchat and a Sand Martin. In the grasslands were a couple of Rosy-breasted Longclaws, whilst the Karen Primary School Dam produced nothing. The grasslands from here onwards were quite dull, but five Chandler’s Reedbuck were on their usual territory, where there was a Long-billed Pipit and a couple of Parasitic Weavers. There was also a single Hartlaub’s Bustard. Some Ostriches had young, and the plains game were in good numbers. At the Vulture-washing pits above Athi Basin there was a Greenshank and a Short-tailed Lark which dropped to the ground and was never relocated. Athi Dam was attracting birds along the northern shore, the most surprising being a concentration of 25 Spur-winged Plovers and a single young bird, which is an amazing number for the Park. Blacksmith were in similar numbers, and Kittlitz’s Plovers also much the same. With the waders were seven Common Ringed Plovers. Also two Common Greenshank, a Wood Sandpiper, a Ruff, a dozen Little Stints and eight Black-winged Stilts. Other birds included a Glossy Ibis with three African Spoonbills, and a young Eurasian Marsh Harrier. A surprise find was six African Silverbills on the causeway, this is hardly a drought year. There was nothing of interest on cutting through towards the Cheetah Gate road, but then came the great surprise of finding a pair of African Silverbills fashioning the interior of an old Vitelline Masked Weaver nest, and joined by a third bird. I had no idea that they used other birds nest for their own, but there it is in print in Zimmermann & Turner….. “usually uses old weaver nests for breeding!” Most surprising that this species is now breeding in Nairobi! Another three kilometres along the road we found another party of eight birds. At Cheetah Gate towards the river, we added a few of the dry country species such as Marico Sunbird, Speckle-fronted Weavers, Lesser Masked singing and in full breeding plumage, and some extravert Black-faced Waxbills sitting on a fence. At the ex-Orange Tower site there was an adult female Eurasian Golden Oriole and a noisy Banded Parisoma. The Rhino Circuit was not too birdy but did provide the only Spotted Flycatcher for the day, and along the road towards Hippo Pools was a stunning Pangani Longclaw, two Northern Wheatears and an adult Turkestan (phoenicuroides) Shrike. There was a party of thirty Red-billed Quelea in non-breeding dress also. Hippo Pools was quiet, the only Common Sandpiper of the day was here though! Recent floods have again wreaked havoc, with very many felled trees in the river. There was a party of Crimson-rumped Waxbills that contained a pair of Black-faced with an immature that showed a pale crown. Near Kingfisher were two Northern Wheatears, and a Nairobi Pipit close towards Langata Gate where we exited… more on that incident later! Several other species deserve mention, there were up to eight Black-shouldered Kites seen during the day scattered over most of the Park, this is a high number in recent times. There also appeared to be many White-backed Vultures, but with them ranging over the Park there is a high probability of duplication, but they did appear to be in good numbers. There were three Lappet-faced Vultures seen also. In incredible numbers through much of the scrub in the Park were Purple Grenadiers, we conservatively had eighty birds during the course of the day. Where on earth have they come from? Another surprise were the Cinnamon-chested Buntings, they were all along the roadside in singles to threes and probably amounted to fifty during the course of the day. I have said this before, the buntings do not nest anywhere in the Park, the only one ever heard was singing from the rocky barren hill on the Kitengela side of the Hippo Pools, so they must surely be migrants. Maybe from the Middle East where they are a migrant breeder, this almost makes them palearctics! It would be good to have some more knowledge of the species movements in East Africa, or anywhere in fact. Rufous Sparrows are a common bird in the Park, usually pairs and small groups around acacias. A flock of fifty feeding on the grass strewn rocks at Karen Primary School Dam was a surprising number, after this we became aware of very many more Rufous Sparrows over much of the area. Whilst we are conditioned to noticing the arrivals of known migrants, we don’t take the same interest in the comings and goings of the Afrotropicals, and what brings about these temporary local incursions. We arrived at the Langata Gate at 6.07pm. The KWS ranger explained that the gate closed at 6.00pm and the lady had gone home. We would have to come back tomorrow to have our cards exited. Nigel went back today and we hope has successfully exited the cards… we shall see! This brings several things to comment about; why have the hours been reduced back to 6.00pm when especially for mammal watchers, the animals are active and the chances of seeing something special, greatly improved? Why are the cards not exited at the point of entry as they always were in the past. There is a tented camp in NNP now, and there will be people overnight, obviously but why should this result in a penalisation to the “day tripper” resulting in less hours in the Park and a reduced chance of seeing something really worthwhile…. And why we are at it, why has the area next to Kingfisher Picnic Site been ploughed up and planted with seedlings, making it look like a vegetable garden!