November 13, 2015
We had a morning to kill in Nairobi when immigration processing took less time than anticipated. We drove over to Nairobi National Park, connected with our guide (a friend of a friend), paid our resident fees, and entered the park before 8:30. We did not have hopes nor expectations for what we would find and just used a small sedan for our excursion. Again, without having planned the trip, we were just happy to have a few hours in the wild with cell phones turned off. The park does boast the Big 5, less elephants. But realistically, the park’s reputation is based on herbivores, primarily giraffe. Additionally, due to the privatization and parcelization of the southern boundary of the park, most of the migratory corridors have been closed. This means that the migrations of the past between Amboseli and Nairobi or the southern herds and Nairobi are no more. Encroachment and development have dealt NNP a tough hand, and it’s expected that the park will soon be a fully enclosed wildlife preserve that acts as more of a giant zoo than anything else. In fact, this same dilemma is found in Nakuru National Park as well, but there the fencing is more an issue of rhino poaching than land development.
The good news about NNP is that it has recorded over 600 bird species, and with numerous habitats close to the main gate, we could easily encounter a decent number of avian species without fear of getting the small car stuck in the mud. The eastern side of the park hosts forests thickets, plains, dams, and wetlands, making it the more bio-intensive sector. We first visited the ivory burning site where the KWS facilitates burns a few times a year. Here we found woodpeckers, bulbuls, swallows, swifts, European bee-eaters, and sunbirds. We made our way over to one of the dams and spent an hour with malachite and pied kingfishers, a very industrious grosbeak weaver, African spoonbills, yellow-billed storks, various egrets, moorhens, crakes, sandpipers, plovers, and other aquatic specialties. Surprisingly absent from view were ducks, though there were three Egyptian geese preening and sunning themselves. From there we drove over to the Hyena Dam, which is the most famous birding site in the park…and with good reason.
The short drive provided us great views of a Jackson’s widowbird, the very present larks, a couple male ostrich, and our first mammals: the Coke’s hartebeest, buffalo, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles, and the famous giraffes.
Though the hyena are long since gone from this watering hole (their numbers are greatly diminished in the park), this small pond was teaming with life. Lapwings, plovers, crakes, moorhens, ibis, an African fish eagle, marabou storks, a lone male saddle billed stork, egrets, kingfishers, and more were present.
After another hour or so here, we departed for the central section of the park (as far as our little car would take us). We found little bee-eaters, a multitude of different fiscal and shrike members, more larks, helmeted guineafowl, many weaver bird species, a small group of purple grenadiers, more ostrich, white backed vultures, and a crowned eagle. We did not find a rhino but again, had no expectations. We traversed a few muddy sections, had to get out and push once, but all in all, the last 36 dry hours had hardened the roads sufficiently for us. Making our way to the forests, we found more of many of the aforementioned species with the highlight being a 20-minute session with a flock of European bee-eaters. Though they rested high atop the trees, their gliding always makes for nice viewing. We made one more round of the dams and ivory burning site with a large leopard tortoise taking the cake for best find of the day. Though these guys are common, they are often passed over without being seen.
Having had a good day, we decided to call it around 12:30 as the temperatures were rising, the birds were resting, and the rains were coming. We probably saw around 100 species during this short drive, but the time away from cell phones and emails was what really mattered.
Bird List (incomplete):
Common Ostrich, Long Tailed Cormorant, African Darters, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Black Headed Heron, Yellow Billed Stork, Hammerkop, Saddle Billed Stork, Marabou Stork, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Spoonbill, Egyptian Goose, Black (Yellow-billed) Kite, African Fish Eagle, White Backed Vulture, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, Crowned Eagle, Helmeted Guineafowl, Shelley’s Francolin, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Grey Crowned Crane, Black Winged Stilt, Spotted Thick-knee, Blacksmith Lapwing, Long-toed Lapwing, Spur-winged Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Three-banded Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-Eater, European Bee-Eater, White Headed Barbet, Rufous-naped Lark, Tropical Boubou, Common Bulbul, African Thrush, Common Fiscal, Long Tailed Fiscal, Lesser Grey Shrike, Black Crowned Tchagra, Grosbeak Weaver, Jackson’s Widowbird, Purple Grenadier, Pin-Tailed Wydah, African Citril, Various Swallows, Swifts, & Saw-wings Various Cisticolas, Various Weavers