Above: Crocodile at Michuki Park Nairobi 8 May 2021Credit Joy Arividza

Published: Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 12 June 2021

The clouds threatened to burst on the Saturday morning in Nairobi but did not, for it would have made birding very hard in the rain.

Standing at the entrance of Nairobi Museum that is nearly a century old with galleries to fascinate ranging from Africa’s big mammals to its ancient human history, the birders had by now logged in the beautiful Paradise Flycatcher and a colourful Variable sunbird on the hunt. The tiny predator had caught a moth in its beak and devoured it for breakfast.

Grey Heron at MICHUKI Park on Global Big Day 8 May 2021 Credit: John Mwacharo at Nature Kenya

We continued along the trail to the Peace Garden adorned with a circular maze on the ground lined with sculptures bordering on surrealism. The birders continued to search and log in the different species by a gigantic fig tree in the midst of the bustling city. The sun began to warm up, and the mist rose from the logs.

Past the pond, the snails had crept out of the bushes to enjoy the sun. The trail meandered into Michuki Park.

And suddenly without any warning, the birders sprinted into the bush.

Under normal circumstances, birders are slow-paced, taking in every detail except when an UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) flies by so fast that it demands speed. 

Osprey near Nairobi in Juja. Copyright James Kashangaki

“They think it’s an Osprey,” said 11-year-old Emmanuel Imboma. At his young age, the kid knows more birds than l do. “I love birding,” he said. “Children stay at home doing nothing when they can come birding.”

The Osprey is the bird that made headlines in the media in January 2020. This powerful raptor had made its annual migration from Finland flying 6,948 kilometres, information gleaned from the ring on its leg.

Caught in a fishers’ net in Siaya, the bird was reported by Walter Oloo to the KWS Siaya County office. Unfortunately, the fish-eating raptor died after a long road journey to Nairobi, 400 kilometres away. Had there been a raptor rehab site closer, its chances of survival would have been good.

The birders emerge. They have a shot of the bird – the best they could get. After a lot of deliberation and enlarging the image, it turns out to be a Palm-nut Vulture.

“The gardens in the National Museums of Kenya and Michuki Park are like an island in the city,” informed Titus Imboma, a bird researcher at NMK.

Since 1996, he’s been ringing birds at NMK to understand their migratory movements. Enrolled for a doctorate degree in birds in a Chinese university in China, Imboma has been making headlines there as a birder of note – appearing on Chinese TV and newspapers.

We’re now walking along Nairobi River lined with groves of bamboo with benches to relax under. The river is clean unlike in many parts of the city. From its source in the Ngong Hills it drains into the Indian Ocean via the Sabaki delta north of Malindi.

“You know, there is a crocodile in the river,” said my 11-year-old guide.

I give him that look of – l don’t believe you.

Crocodile at Michuki Park Nairobi 8 May 2021 Credit Joy Arividza

And as if on cue, there was a crocodile lying on the banks of the river. Surreal, just a few metres from the busy Kijabe Street and Globe Cinema roundabout, with traffic, people and matatus.

Our crocodile remained oblivious of us and proceeded to treat us with a swim in its ‘private pool’.

Michuki the late minister who founded the urban garden must be proud of this for it shows that his ambitious plan to clean the river and turn the dumpsite into a public garden is a success when wild creatures find a home in it.

And here’s a fact: Birds are closely related to crocodiles.

The walk along the river toward Boulevard Hotel is animated with monkeys in the bamboo groves and the natural grassland. Then there’s another excited cry – the birders are logging in a Button Quail. The eBird app flashes red – it reveals that the bird is ‘out of range’ and hence this is a very rare sighting in Nairobi.

By the end of the day, we’ve logged 51 species which goes to show that the museum’s gardens are a hotspot for nature lover and a great place for even just a refreshing walk in the heart of a busy city of four-million plus.

Baglafecht Weaver at Nairobi Museum Credit John Mwacharo /Nature Kenya

The Gardens of the National Museum of Kenya (NMK)

Apart from the galleries inside the Nairobi Museum which stands on the grounds of NMK, take a walk in the different gardens like the Peace Garden, the Kaya, the Succulenta, the grasses and sculptures…and you can become members of different groups like the Succulenta to discover Kenya’s fascinating array of dryland plants.

Global Big Day birders in Peace Garden at Nairobi Museum. Credit John Mwacharo/Nature Kenya

Birders meet every Wednesday morning at 8.30 for birding in Muchuki Park and the museum’s gardens, Log on to Nature Kenya for details and be enjoy the natural world.

Birders around the world are using the eBird app which acts as a global library for all bird lists created by anyone, anywhere.

On the Global Big Day, May 8, eBird ranked Kenya 6th in the world, the only African country to make it to the top ten with 811 species recorded. All you need is a smartphone to start logging.

 “Global Big Day is for birders all over the world to appreciate the diversity of birds in their locality,” says Richard Kipngeno, Nature Kenya’s Birding and Membership Officer. “People can bird watch from their gardens and even their workplace and submit the sightings via the eBird app.”