Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nairobi - abundance

I've written before about the abundance if birds that you see in Equatorial Africa. I've been lucky enough to bird in tropical South America as well, but it can't compare with Africa, or at least East Africa. No doubt the overall levels of diversity are the same or greater, but presumably it's the habitat or, I like to think, perhaps, a longer history of cohabitation with humans, but in any case they're certainly easier to see in Africa than South America, in my limited experience.

To give an example, I think my overall list on my first visit to Amazonia was around 120 species. Bear in mind that this was proper rainforest birding, which is not straightforward, and that I was the only birder on the expedition, so I wasn't overwhelmed with help, but, still, it's not a vast figure for three weeks in the "torrid zones" (as they used, charmingly, to be called). By comparison I've seen 110 species in one day in Nairobi National Park, and my year list by this stage last year, which was almost all spent in Kenya, was almost 400 species.

Still, not all locations are created equal, and Nairobi does seen to have some sort of magic. Perhaps it's the altitude; at almost 2000 metres it makes for a near-perfect climate, neither too hot nor too cold, and ideal for spending a whole day in the field. Try that in Amzonia and you'll be exhausted pretty quickly. It's also perhaps the fact that Nairobi spans at least two distinct ecosystems - the open grasslands of the Athi plains, dotted with acacias, to the South, and the highland forest to the North. If you play your cards right, and even if you simply drive from the airport to the centre, you're going to bridge those two ecosystems and see birds from both habitats.

I had a day in Nairobi between my visits to Sudan and Somalia, and another day there after Mog. I spent most of that time in the leafy suburb of Karen, named after Karen Blixen, whose farm was there. How did it measure up?

My friend's hideaway in Karen

Well, I won't go into the usual list of species, partly because I'm on the road and can't be bothered to check their taxonomic names, but I'll add the list later. Suffice to say that having spent 5 days in Sudan, and seen 21 species, within 10 hours of arriving in Nairobi I'd seen 38, and had 45 before I left, and this without any real effort beyond sitting in my friend's garden with a beer.

All the effort I put in. Garden, binoculars and beer.

Amazingly this list included a LIFER - a bird that had eluded me all the time I lived here; a Common Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas), which made sure I saw it by repeating its loud song so long, so insistently, and so close that I couldn't ignore it. And perhaps even more amazingly it included a species I managed to tick off while basically asleep after the early morning flight from Khartoum - the unmistakable and unmissable sound of a flock of migrating European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster). Good luck to them. They've a long way to go and according to all the emails I've seen from my old Kenyan birding networks, the migration is very late this year.

Anyway, as I said, Nairobi has a certain magic, which perhaps comes across with my enthusiasm. But I mentioned that I'm on the road again. Where to? Well, the clue's in the photo below - a book I never would have believed in a million years that I would ever need. To my enduring amazement this is a work trip, but I'm taking the time to explore as much as I can while there. I'll post in due course.

Never, ever, thought that I would need this book. Not in a million years.

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