Depressing Developments in NNP

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 30TH September 2013

Mike Davidson, Heather Elkins, Salma Watt and myself met at the Main
Entrance to Nairobi National Park at 6.30am. It was a bright and sunny
day, and remained as such all day. There was evidence of recent rain
with drying puddles, and dams higher than last week. The gate was very
efficient and we were through in little time.

Our first call was to KWS Mess gardens, where in spite of being a
beautiful morning there was not initially much activity. Eurasian
Bee-eaters could be heard not too far away, an Eastern Honeybird was
displaying, two Pale Flycatchers have returned after an absence, the
Black-collared Apalis sang alone, and some very nice Violet-backed
Starlings glowed on the lawn. There were five Suni around the gardens,
and later in the day another on the Main Entrance Road.
From here we had a few African Firefinches on the road to Ivory
Burning Site, which proved an uneventful pause, and continuing on to
Nagalomon Dam we were delighted to see that three Spotted Thick-knees
had returned to the drift, and whilst all three had yellow eyes, one
bird looked as if it might have been a younger bird.
At the dam there was much activity from the Black-crowned Night-Herons
as they set up territories, a pair of adult Darters were perched on
the other side, two Little Grebes were the first I had seen here, and
a couple of Green Sandpipers fed along the edge.

Along the back road to Hyena Dam there were African Water Rails
calling at the swamp, where the first Whinchat of the season was
found. This was soon followed by a second on the track to Hyena Dam
and a further two on the run-off. There were a pair of adult Darters
here, having just left the adult pair at Nagalomon Dam we were not
sure if they had come in ahead of us, but with the convolutions of our
route today we passed both dams again and both had Darter adults. So
either they have a strange sense of humour or there are two adult
pairs present!
A surprise here was an adult Striated Heron, whilst a resident
breeding species along the Mbagathi, this was in fact the first I had
ever seen in the north on any of the dams in this area, and whilst
watching it the stunning adult male payesi Little Bittern shot its
head up for a look right alongside it. African Water Rails called from
the typha but stayed hidden, and on each side of the dam there were
single adult with single very large grey and white Swamphens. There
were one Green and three Wood Sandpipers along the edge and several
groups of Wattled Starlings were coming to bathe in the feeder stream.

With the barred access to Karen Primary School and Eland Hollow Dams,
there was no point taking the often monotonous long drive through the
grasslands to the Athi Basin, so we opted to take the short cut to the
south road. It might be added that whilst KWS have been asked by
Fonnap and Nature Kenya as to why the roads have been closed over a
major portion of the Park, they have not come back with any
explanation and no expletives will be used in the preparation of this
report!
On the Mokoyeti Bridge there was a Wahlberg’s Honeybird hiding well in
the bushes, an adult Martial Eagle was at the nest, with the chick
almost its size already, a pair of noisy White-bellied Bustards, and a
stop at Leopard Cliffs provided just one of the two Barn Swallows
today. Very strange after the passage last Tuesday, maybe these are
just the survivors of a large contingent that tried to pass through
Egypt, and finished up in Cairo restaurants instead!

Along the Mbagathi the Pearl-spotted Owlet was present in the same
place, not too much activity around him although we did hear a Willow
Warbler calling. There were a few Eurasian Bee-eaters flying high, and
our only Secretarybird seen today. This is not necessarily a reduction
in numbers, but reflective of the prime Secretarybird habitat now
access-barred by KWS.

We continued to Athi Dam, there was a gathering of Marabous, four
Yellow-billed Storks and four African Spoonbills, and two adult
Open-billed Storks associating with them. There was one Black-crowned
Night-Heron on the Causeway, where two dead Cattle Egrets were
entangled in the acacia thorns. Maybe they are using this as a roost,
but then who knows as the KWS policy of us all having to be checked
out of the park by 6.00pm means that all of the interesting bird and
mammal activity is never witnessed, the second most interesting part
of the day spent in the Park. Still no expletives! There were three
pairs of Spur-winged Plovers and some fifteen Kittlitz’s, migrants
being seven Little Stint, two Common Sandpipers and four Greenshank
only. A Speckled Pigeon dropped in to feed on the weeds bordering the
dam.
Whilst on the Causeway with coffee occupying one hand, and a
comestible in the other, a group of waders flashed past through a gap
in the trees and was not seen to land. On terminating the
refreshments, it was now essential to locate this group, as the
trailing bird was larger and had very flashy white bands on the wings.
We retraced our route back towards the north end of the dam, and
amongst a group of Kittlitz’s Plovers was a very handsome Sanderling.
There are historical records from the Park, we don’t know if relating
to very white Little Stints or the real thing and so they were
disregarded from the main part of the Nairobi National Park Bird
Checklist, and relegated to unsubstantiated historical records. This
bird is fully documented (see image) and there is no question of there
being a Sanderling in NNP. Not so extraordinary inland, with annual
passage through the Rift Valley Lakes, all records have been on very
large water bodies, and a record from a small dam is very unusual. It
was very tired, eye-lids determined to close, and not feeding.
We retraced our track back to Nagalomon Dam, via the top of Athi
Basin, without finding anything much of further interest although it
was hot by now. A pair of adults Ostriches that showed some indication
of Somali in their make-up had eight small chicks with very bright
orange-rufous crowns.
Taking the Kisembe Forest track for the first time since the flooding
earlier in the year we thought we would have our late picnic lunch at
the “Drinking Pond,” on the edge of the forest. This can be a very
rewarding place for birds coming in to slake their thirst in the
hottest time of the day when other areas are very quiet. Migrant
Sylvia warblers are particularly drawn to this water, and all four
species have been seen drinking at the same time, although Gardens are
by far the most abundant. It is the only site where Lemon Doves have
been seen in modern times, again arriving to drink, but a whole host
of other species come out of the forest like Placid and
Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls etc., Madagascar Pond Herons like to chase
frogs in the shallows, and it is pleasurable to sit there for several
hours and watch the comings and goings. So it seemed to be an ideal
place to spend an hour or so as it was warm and the place had grown
quiet. IT HAD BEEN BLOCKED OF BY KWS!!!!!! They really do seem to be
out to make birding far less enjoyable than it used to be. At least
they are successful in this one thing.
As we continued there were eight Eurasian Bee-eaters flying around the
vlei, and finally we came to the Langata Dam, again not visited for
some time as having to be out of the gate at 6.00pm really eats into
the day. Here there was an African Jacana, and a surprise of four
large fully winged Spur-winged Geese, probably the Eland Hollow/Karen
Primary School brood. It was very thick in the sedges and whilst we
saw four there could have been more. Just along the road from here was
a Northern Wheatear, really a late first date for a migrant Wheatear
in the Park. Maybe the bird-slaughtering Egyptians again have consumed
the first birds that should have been here.
We departed at 4.00pm to avoid the worst of the traffic arriving from
town, but soon maybe (supposed to be completed in four days time), we
should have the traffic more free-flowing once again.

Game was poor, in the parts of the Park we were allowed in just a few
Zebra, Hartebeeste and the usual plains game but no numbers.
Highlights today were a Side-striped Ground-Squirrel along the
Mabagathi, and charming Bush Hyraxes at Baboon Cliffs.

As the KWS is the body charged with the mandate for conserving the
integrity of the Park for its citizens, I reserve the right to comment
on the work I observe there by these public servants. If there was
something of an improvement, I would report as such, but everything I
see taking place in Nairobi National Park is retrogressive and handled
dictatorially.

Back to birds, there still have not been any Lesser Striped Swallows
coming back, Black-shouldered Kites seemed down, with only five or
six, but again it could be the lack of area visited. Interestingly we
encountered Augur Buzzards eight times, maybe duplication, but this is
more observation than usual.

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2 Comments

  1. Neal Aggarwal
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Excellent writing as always Will. Thanks – you had me there in the park before the start of my day!

  2. willknocker
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks Neal, but this is actually written by Brian Finch, the famous birder…..thanks for following blog, though & if you have any KWS contacts, please pass on concerns expressed above…

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