Elusive sighting

Great Sparrowhawks have been nesting in a tall eucalyptus tree at the Nairobi National Museum for about a decade. In 2020 the nest disappeared, perhaps destroyed by heavy rain. The sparrowhawks, however, were still sighted at the museum.

For three separate days this April, John Mwacharo and I have been visiting a particular spot at the Nairobi National Museum grounds looking for a nesting Great Sparrowhawk. Today was no different. As usual, we set out early in the morning, armed with a pair of binoculars and a camera.

Like all our previous attempts, this hunt disappointedly yielded no result. Having abandoned this quest, for now, we decided to take a stroll at the adjacent Michuki Memorial Park.

Our leisurely walk took us downstream, on a path along the Nairobi River. Some months back, during a similar bird walk, we were amazed to find a crocodile basking on the river bank at this very spot. Today’s stroll was different. A few pairs of Hadada Ibises probed the green grass in search of food not far from a group of Bronze Mannikins. Up in the sky were a few Black Kites spiralling. The occasional chirping of Singing Cisticolas serenaded our beautiful morning.

Suddenly, two Black-backed Puffbacks appeared. One of the puffbacks, apparently a male, perched on a tree branch and put on a display. It started fanning its pure white plumes on its back in the shape of a powder puff. Not so far away, the other individual put up a similar display. Could it have been some form of competition, perhaps to win over the attention of a female? Or maybe a tussle over territory? We were left guessing.

Further ahead, we came across a lone male Red-backed Shrike. This Palearctic migrant kept hopping from one tree to another. Luckily for us, we managed to get a few shots of the bird before it flew away.

After spending a while downstream, it was time to head back. Colourful displays of blooming wildflowers brightened our path. A distinct bird call drew us to a canopy of tall trees. Unmistakably, it was that of a Black Cuckoo. For days I had been on the trail of this cuckoo – hardly ever recorded in Nairobi – at that particular area. All of my previous attempts to secure a sighting of this treetop dweller had ended in disappointment. On this day, we were determined to see the bird.

Several scans of the treetops once again yielded no visuals. Concealed, amidst the tree branches, lay the cuckoo. While we were unable to pinpoint its exact position, the bird insistently tormented us with its call. Perhaps a change of location would do the trick?

Strategically, we relocated to a spot directly under an avocado tree. Once again, we meticulously scanned the tree branches for any movement. Our efforts bore fruit this time around! Camouflaged between the topmost avocado branches sat the elusive bird. After several attempts, we barely managed a few not so clear snaps.

A feeling of triumph swept over us as we reviewed the photos we had taken that morning. The morning outing was refreshing. All in all, our impromptu morning bird walk recorded 28 species. Not bad, huh?