By Brian Finch:
Mike Davidson, Fleur Ng’Weno, Jennifer Oduore, Karen Plumbe and myself met at the Main Gate to Nairobi National Park at 6.50am having had some traffic difficulties. We were expediently processed and through the gate on the hour. It has been dry for a while now, and the Park is showing the signs of dehydration. There is still much grass, but all the green has gone and it looks sunburnt. The dams are still in fine condition, but the muddy margins are now appearing. Although cool in the mornings it has been of late warm at night, and quite hot during the day. Today was not hot, but a strong wind. Four of us stayed in the Park, and did not leave until 7.00pm having been checked out on entry. The evening was very spectacular and the traffic was moving well and we were not held up.
Our first call was KWS Mess gardens. Some five Blackcaps were coming in to a fruiting tree we have to identify (Strychnos is suspected), and there were two Nightingales in the hedge. The Black-collared Apalis was still present but recently has been calling from inside the Army Camp. There was a Suni on the lawn. From here we went to Ivory Burning Site which has been quiet this year, and yet used to be so interesting, with a host of good sightings. Today we were not disappointed, a male Pallid Harrier flew through, as strangely did a Secretarybird. We had seven different Secretarybirds today, they are obviously doing very well in the Park. Long may it continue. In the bushes were one Nightingale, and singles of Common Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler and Marsh Warbler. There was another Acrocephalus singing a sub-song that was thought to be an Eurasian Reed Warbler. There were a number of Red-collared Widowbirds around, some of which are already sporting red collars. There was another Acro singing softly and intermittently when we visited Nagalomon Dam, this was thought to be a Marsh Warbler but was not seen. There were two very impressive Crocodiles being visited by three Green Sandpipers and a couple of pushy Egyptian Geese, a pair of Orange-breasted Waxbills flew by without stopping and a Fan-tailed Grassbird was singing from a corner near the Mokoyeti River. Instead of circling back to Hyena Dam, we continued into the Kisembe Valley along the beautiful forested stream. On the way there was another Acro singing, thought to be a Marsh, and this was seen and confirmed. The immature Bateleur was circling with the first rising White-backed Vultures, a dark Booted Eagle was soaring over a clearing, a near adult Lesser Spotted Eagle came over us near Langata Gate, some ten Bee-eaters fed over the dam which had a Little Grebe with chick, and Moorhens also had a family. The old drinking pond that should be attractive to many Sylvia warblers and other birds, just had a pair of Little Grebes. There is far too much water around for this to be a magnet this year. We circled round back to the main gate to drop Fleur off, and an immature Fish Eagle had arrived on Nagalomon Dam.
After leaving the gate we took the back road to Hyena Dam, the Crowned Cranes were taking good care of their two chicks, and not seeming too worried about the diving Yellow-billed Kites which soon gave up. Out first of six Whichats were here, and a couple of Banded Martin were over the little swamp. Hyena Dam was quiet but we were much later than usual, there were three Wood Sandpipers and African Water Rail which refused to show themselves. There was a reasonable sized Crocodile hauled out on the bank. A Great Egret, which looks small and I believe has been visiting us for many years, was also there. The Run-Off was dry and did not produce anything, and the inside road to Eland Hollow was also very quiet. At this dam there were a pair of Spur-winged Geese, our only Red-billed Teal of the day, a Yellow-billed Egret, four more Wood Sandpipers, a Common Greenshank starting to show some attractive patterning, and the pair of Spotted Thick-knees were on their usual territory. Heading off to Karen Primary School Dam we had a male Lesser Kestrel on a bush, and at the dam which was spectacular for bathing Zebra, the drinking Barn Swallow had a Sand Martin accompanying them.
Now it was time to head south, the vultures were at the drinking pool above Athi Basin, there were nineteen White-backed and nine Ruppell’s, nearby we had just seen a pair of Lappet-faced Vultures.
There were two Northern and two female Pied Wheatears along the top road and a nice Kori Bustard sheltering under a small acacia barely larger than itself. On the track to Athi Dam we found a full adult male Turkestan Shrike this was our only migrant shrike seen today, and a female-type Pallid Harrier was over the grassland. Whilst there was not a huge variety of birds on Athi Dam, the sight was nothing short of amazing. There were 1500 Marabou Storks, amongst these we individually counted 530 White Storks, which must be the largest number ever recorded together in Nairobi, poor Yellow-billed Storks were a bit left out with only four! The storks surrounded the resident giant Croc who made even the Marabous look so small. Big croc number two was as usual on the island now joined back to the mainland. There was a single adult Pink-backed Pelican, a Great Egret of normal size, an immature Montagu’s Harrier, fifteen Yellow-throated Sandgrouse came in whilst we were there as did six Speckled Pigeon which is hardly a rare species, but I believe all the other records always involve a maximum of one pair. There was a male lutea Yellow Wagtail who had bright breeding plumage underparts but the head was still saying it was winter! In the wader line, there were four Black-winged Stilts, fifteen Spur-winged Plovers, a compact group of thirty Little Stints, but the only other palearctic waders were single Common Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. We had our traditional Carrot Cake on the Causeway, the Black-crowned Night-Heron adult was in his roosting tree, and a Western Marsh Harrier went over without stopping.
We carried on in the direction of the Cheetah Gate road, there was a stunning spring male Pied Wheatear, but our best bird of the day was a species I had never seen before in the Park. By the track was a female Black-faced Sandgrouse which posed for us. There is a historical record, this means over forty years ago but there are no details. On the road towards the Hippo Pools there was another female Pied Wheatear, an adult Fish Eagle along the river and a noisy Pangani Longclaw. Our last bird of note was a male roadside Hartlaub’s Bustard as we climbed up out of the Mbagathi Valley.
As we passed Karen PS Dam on the way back we stopped to look at a Black-headed Heron who had caught an unfortunate Battersby’s Green Snake, this was swallowed with surprising ease.
There was a sprinkling of Barn Swallows but nothing that looked like any passage, and there was evidence that Quail-finch were returning. We were out of the Park at 7.00pm.
It was a great day, nothing in writing can convey the stork spectacle of Athi Dam. This is probably a daily event, and it is necessary to be there at 3.00pm. Presumably the Whites are coming in from the Kitengela.
The game has returned in really impressive force as the dry sets in, Zebras in most impressive numbers, but a group of seventy Wildebeest in the Athi basin is a good number nowadays. None of the special mammal species were seen today, they were all in hiding. Hippos were in Nagalomon, Hyena, Eland Hollow and Athi Dams.