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16 May, 2024
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the rare skimmer

The Rare Skimmer!- Article by Gareth Jones

The Rare African Skimmer

We arrived at the Hyena dam early on a lazy Sunday afternoon and parked our vehicle as we often do when watching birds. Suddenly a movement on the edge of the dam caught my eye, WOW!! A very rare sighting of a seasonal visiting species. I could almost not believe my eyes, it was an African skimmer sitting calmly very close to us. As we sat quietly and observed, the skimmer stretched its wings and opened its beak as if preparing for action. Then the skimmer took off and landed on several occasions, and swooping low over the water and repeatedly skimming the surface. Their beaks are amazingly created with a longer lower scissor-like mandible that is designed for sensing and catching mainly fish as it skims over the surface of the water, mainly at dawn and dusk when fish are feeding. African skimmers fly in lines over calm waters and dip their lower mandibles in the water to feed. When the mandible touches a fish, the skimmer snaps its mouth shut. It is interesting to note that their wings are large in proportion to their body, as having wide wings has a “gliding effect” allowing them greater control as they expertly skim the surface of the water.

The African skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris) is a near-threatened species of bird belonging to the skimmer genus Rynchops in the family Laridae. It is found along rivers, lakes, and lagoons in Sub-Saharan Africa.

When watching birds, it is always useful to have a good pair of binoculars, and if possible a good camera. A bird identification book for East African species is also useful to keep in the car when driving. The park has a great variety of birds, with over 500 different species at certain times of the year. Some of them have beautiful colors, like the bee-eaters, Kingfishers, Narina Trogons, Bush Shrikes, Grey Crowned Cranes, Saddle-billed storks, various ducks, and many more.

I always find it a joy to see birds when driving in the park, God has created such amazing diversity. So remember, when we go on into the Nairobi National Park with the attitude of  “bird watching”, all too often the larger species like Rhino, Buffalo, and even Lions, just “get in the way!”. Next time you visit the park, look out for the unexpected special species, like the rarely seen African skimmer.


the rare skimmer
Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer