Birding From Home – Global Big Day, May 2020

Yesterday, 09 May 2020, was eBird’s Global Big Day. A day when birders from around the world do their best to see as many species as possible in 24 hours. The total number of bird species seen in each country is then tallied to see which country got the most birds.

Looking at the stats as I write this, I am excited to see that Kenya is in the global top 10 (so far! People are still submitting their lists and the final tally isn’t out yet). Kenya is also no. 1 in Africa yet again (!) and although the final tally isn’t out yet, our enormous lead suggests that we will most certainly keep our top spot!

I did my birding for the day with two friends in Kabete, Nairobi. Here’s a brief overview of the day’s highlights…

The first bird on my list was the nocturnal Montane Nightjar, which I heard calling in the early hours of the morning before sunrise.

The only half decent photo I’ve ever gotten of a Montane Nightjar was this partially visible roosting bird near Rongai in 2017. I see these birds quite often but they always fly before I can get a good shot!

On my way out of the house, with mask on, I got lucky as an African Goshawk was performing a territorial display flight almost at eye level (I live in apartments so can see flying birds at eye level!).

I walked to the University of Nairobi’s Upper Kabete Field Station, and on my way there I added Baglafecht, Village and Speke’s Weavers, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Grey Parrot (feral birds), Stout Cisticola, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Tropical Boubou, Black (Great) Sparrowhawk and several other birds to my list.

The unmistakeable Silvery-cheeked Hornbill

At the Field Station, I met up with my friends. Social distance maintained, we enjoyed several good sightings throughout the day. As I recorded the eBird list, my friend recorded the list on BirdLasser to later submit to the Kenya Bird Map.

The biggest surprise for me was seeing Little Bee-eaters in the farm, which I have never seen in Kabete and are generally found in dryier and more open areas. Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater is the typical bee-eater that you see in Kabete and the upper Nairobi area. Another good sighting was a pair of Cape Wagtails; only the second time I’ve seen them in Kabete. In central Kenya they are found at high altitudes, usually over 2000m. Kabete is around 1800m so is probably at the extreme lower end of their range.

Cape Wagtail

With all the recent rain, the grass was very tall and procucing seeds. Seed-eating birds were therefore abundant. Large mixed flocks of Bronze Mannikin, African Citril, Red-collared Widowbird, Common Waxbill and Yellow-bellied Waxbill were quite common.

Yellow-bellied Waxbill enjoying the bountiful seeds
The Red-collared Widowbirds were in full breeding plumage

We had some waterbirds on the list, including African Black Duck, Egyptian Goose, Little Grebe, Hamerkop, Malachite Kingfisher, Black Crake and a Great Cormorant (seen breifly flying overhead). We could have had a few more but the big dam on the property was inaccessible. Heavy rain had washed away some stepping stones that we usually use to cross the dam’s runoff and get to the best spot.

Other birds seen and heard this Global Big Day included African Harrier-Hawk, Augur Buzzard, Grey Crowned Crane, Kikuyu White-eye (Montane White-eye), Grey Apalis, Little Rush Warbler, African Grey Woodpecker, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul and Hartlaub’s Turaco.

African Black Duck in a seasonal wetland

We ended the day with 97 species, which isn’t bad but was a bit lower than I had expected to get. Kabete can easily produce 100+ in a day. The rains had made a couple of places inaccessible and this definitely contributed. We also missed a few birds that are usually regulars including Jackson’s and White-winged Widowbirds, Red-throated Wryneck, Collared Sunbird and Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle. The Kenyan endemic Hinde’s Babblers, which had recently settled in the Field Station, seem to have moved away due to agricultural intensification.

Regardless, it was a good day of birding.

May 9th was also World Migratory Bird Day and I wrote a post about the migratory birds of Africa. Check it out here: The Migratory Birds of Africa.

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About Sidney Shema

Sidney is a Kenya-based ornithologist and photographer specializing in the birds of Africa, with an especially keen interest in the birds of prey (raptors) of Kenya.
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