Birding Nairobi National Park During The Lockdown (Birding From Home #6)

The coronavirus may have put a stop to many things but birding is not one of them. I spent this past Thursday (June 4th) birding Nairobi National Park with two fellow birders (and a few others met with briefly inside the park). Birds were not super abundant but it was still a great day regardless! We were trying to cover as much of the park as possible in different vehicles and see how many birds we can find.

As I have said countless times, Nairobi National Park never disappoints, especially if you are not just looking for lions and are happy to appreciate the diversity of life that is around. And if you’re a birder, every day in the park is a pure delight.

After a quick temperature check and sanitising at the main gate, we entered the park around 6.30 am. Here are the day’s highlights …

On our way in, the forest was fairly quiet as the sun wasn’t out yet. Although Rüppell’s Robin Chats, Grey-backed Camaropteras, Cabanis’s Greenbuls, Grey-capped Warblers and Tropical Boubous were vocal. As we drove on, we heard a Black-crowned Tchagra singing. After confirming that it was indeed the one by comparing what we heard to the audio recording from the Birds of East Africa e-Guide, we added it to our list and moved on. Later on we found out that it was the first ever record of Black-crowned Tchagra in Nairobi National Park! We regretted not having stayed a little longer to get an audio recording or photo as solid evidence!

Black-crowned Tchagra in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. September, 2017

Further down the road, a big female Little Sparrowhawk was on the hunt, and just ahead a Long-crested Eagle quickly zoomed past.

We briefly checked the Club House where we found White-bellied Tit, Egyptian Goose, Slate-coloured Boubou, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove and a few others but missed several target birds that are usually there. We drove down to the Ivory Burning Site and turned left onto the back road to Hyena Dam.

White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher not far from the Club House. We also added Black-headed Heron, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Tambourine Dove, Purple Grenadier, Black Saw-wing, Holub’s Golden Weaver and several other birds on our way to the Ivory Burning Site.

Past the Burning Site, Winding Cisticolas became very common and seemed to be on every other bush. Our first Blue-naped Mousebirds, Brimstone Canary, Little Bee-eater and African Black-shouldered Kite (Black-winged Kite) of the day also turned up. Many Cattle Egrets and Sacred Ibis were among a large herd of buffalo. Our only Northern Fiscal of the day was also here.

Northern Fiscal. This bird was previously called the Common Fiscal, but that species has now been split into two. Southern Fiscal is not found in Kenya.

As we neared the northern fence line we added Pin-tailed Whydah, Red-collared Widowbird, Stout and Singing Cisticolas, Banded Martin, Lesser Striped and Red-rumped Swallows, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and White-browed Sparrow Weaver among others. Just across the fence on the roofs and balconies of the nearby apartments were Village Indigobird, House Sparrow and Speckled Pigeon.

Nearing Hyena Dam, Spotted Palm Thrush was heard but not seen. Grosbeak Weaver, Common Waxbill, Red-billed Firefinch, Gabar Goshawk, Helmeted Guineafowl, Augur Buzzard and African Fish Eagle all made their way onto our growing list.

A beautiful pair of Grey Crowned Cranes was feeding close to the dam …
… while a Yellow-throated Longclaw sang nearby.

Around 10 Yellow-billed (Black) Kites were perched in the big tree on the dam’s edge. A White-browed Coucal showed itself briefly. Water levels at Hyena Dam were fairly high but waders and waterfowl were few, with only a handful of Egyptian Geese, Spur-winged Plovers (Lapwing), Blacksmith Plovers and Sacred Ibis seen. The only heron was a Black-headed Heron. Long-toed Plover (Lapwing) was missing at the dam but one bird was at the marsh in the flat area just downstream of the dam and looked like it was sitting on eggs. Highland Rush Warbler was singing from the reeds.

Spur-winged Plover at Hyena Dam

White-winged Widowbird, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Grey Heron, Hamerkop, African Quailfinch and several other birds were all added not far from the marsh. Along the Mokoyeti, a juvenile White-backed Vulture was on its nest, as were several others in the park.

White-backed Vulture juvenile on nest

We crossed the Mokoyeti River and drove down to Olomanyi Dam, adding several birds along the way including Common (Maasai) Ostrich, Rufous-naped Lark, Long-tailed Fiscal, Rattling Cisticola, and Northern Pied Babbler. There wasn’t much at the dam, though we did see our first Three-banded Plover here. The park’s lone male Bateleur glided past.

African Black-shouldered Kite near Olomanyi Dam

We navigated the small little-used tracks from Olomanyi and eventually emerged near the Ololo Lodge junction. Crossing the Olomanyi stream, we added our day’s only Malachite Kingfisher.

Malachite Kingfisher

We then drove eastwards past the SGR, quickly adding African Grey Flycatcher, Marabou Stork, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, White-bellied Bustard, Pectoral-patch Cisticola and Rüppell’s Vulture before Mokoyeti Picnic Site. We stopped briefly at the picnic site, where Snowy Barbets (White-headed Barbets) were calling in the Mbagathi valley below. A big troop of olive baboons ascended the cliff. The bush hyraxes were missing from their usual hangouts.

White-bellied Bustard

We carried on towards Hippo Pools, adding White-bellied Go-away-bird, White-browed Scrub Robin, Fischer’s (Hybrid) Lovebird, Chin-spot Batis, Common (Fork-tailed) Drongo, Speckle-fronted Weaver and a few others.

Speckle-fronted Weaver

Sadly, we found a dead White-backed Vulture hanging from a tree at Hippo Pools. It seemed to have fed on a poisoned carcass somewhere outside the park and then returned and died on the tree. Poisoning is one of the greatest threats to Africa’s vultures and has driven most species to the brink of extinction, including the White-backed Vulture, which is Critically Endangered.

White-backed Vulture dead in tree at Hippo Pools. Below it is an active nest and to the left is a bird preening itself. Nairobi National Park is a crucial breeding site for this highly threatened species. A member of the local community south of the park did a thorough search of the area and found no other dead birds.

(Please take a moment to sign this petition to the government of Guinea-Bissau, where more than 2000 Hooded Vultures (Critically Endangered) have been killed through poisoning this year)

With time not on our side, we skipped the Hippo Pools walking trail and went straight to Athi Dam.

At Athi Dam, two Southern White Rhinos had just finished a refreshing mud wallow. We saw 6 rhinos on this day (three Black Rhino and three White).

Athi Dam was also low on birds, with a few African Open-billed Storks, Cattle Egrets, Egyptian Geese, Blacksmith, Spur-winged and Crowned Plovers and a couple of other birds. At least two Black-crowned Night Herons were at their usual roost. We quickly had our packed lunch and then began our drive back towards the main gate to make it home before the curfew.

The plains were rather quiet, both bird-wise and mammal-wise. We quickly checked the vulture bathing pool, where a few White-backed Vultures were relaxing by the pond-side, but most had clearly left by now. Heading back north, a large Martial Eagle soared high above us.

A juvenile African Black-shouldered Kite, with a herd of buffalo behind it. Buffalo were in good numbers but many of the other grazers are currently outside the park in the Naretunoi Conservancy to the south, which is part of the Kitengela wildlife dispersal area that is crucial to the park’s wildlife.

On our way out, we checked Nagolomon Dam, where Black Crake, African Darter, Great and Reed Cormorants, Yellow-billed Egret and Pied Kingfisher added to our day’s list. A few Nile crocodiles were basking at their usual spot. Proceeding towards the gate, our day’s only Crested Francolin was at the forest edge.

Crested Francolin

As we neared the gate, we noticed that a pair of White-backed Vultures had taken over the nest that was previously used by Verreaux’s Eagle Owls (which themselves had no doubt taken it over from another bird, possibly a Yellow-billed Kite). And, amazingly, right across the nest on the other side of the road was a hunting Crowned Eagle! A fitting end to another fantastic day birding Nairobi National Park!

Crowned Eagle, aka “leopard of the sky”. Monkey hunter par excellence, and the most powerful bird of prey in Africa. We had therefore seen the park’s two top avian predators on this day: the Martial Eagle, king of the savanna, and Crowned Eagle, king of the forest.

We exited the park at 5 pm with 123 bird species recorded. If you add what the other birders in the park saw, the list comes to 213 birds seen and heard in the park in one day! Yet this was a fairly average day by NNP’s standards. This park is truly a treasure that Kenya needs to conserve, both for tourism and the rich ecological, aesthetic, recreational and cultural value it holds.

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Camera used: Nikon P900

We recorded our bird list using BirdLasser and submitted it to the Kenya Bird Map project.

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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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Doreen
Doreen
4 months ago

Great job…can one join you on the next birding!?

Herve N. M.
Herve N. M.
4 months ago
Reply to  Sidney Shema

I wish to as well.

Sidney Shema
Sidney Shema
4 months ago
Reply to  Herve N. M.

Please contact me on info@shotsbyshema.com

Sam
Sam
4 months ago

This is wonderful.

Fleur Ng'weno
Fleur Ng'weno
4 months ago

Well written, well linked, well balanced!