Will KWS really Allow SGR to Destroy NNP?

By Brian Finch;

On the main road in, there were Nightingales singing in the scrub, and
others were at five other locations in the north, and on the way to
Ivory Burning Site was the first of only two Spotted Flycatchers. The
Site failed to produce anything of interest, although there was an
Irania singing from a patch of thick scrub nearby, attempts to lure it
into sight failed miserably. Whilst looking for it, a pair of
Dark-capped Yellow Warblers was nest building. On the way to Nagalomon
Dam there was no sign of the Spotted Thick-knees, but on the dam it
was all go in the Sacred Ibis rookery. There were a few chicks but
most were incubating. Towards the top of the rookery were three
African Spoonbills which were displaying. If these were to breed then
it would be a new nesting species for the Park. The few Cattle Egrets
present showed no sign of nesting, but the scattered Black-crowned
Night-Herons already had flying young. The margin was quiet with a few
Green and Wood Sandpipers, but on the sand spit was a smart young male
Knob-billed Duck and an adult African Jacana. Crowning the top of the
tree only a few metres from the nesting Ibis was an adult Fish Eagle,
whilst the only Darter present sought a quieter perch off to the side.

Taking the back road to Hyena Dam, there was a Thrush Nightingale
singing in the scrub but it remained in cover. Not a species that
usually winters in NNP. Passing the apartments where someone keeps a
pigeon loft, the birds were receiving much attention from a Great
Sparrowhawk. Usually there is a chase and either success or failure
and the bird moves on, but on this occasion the pigeons only kept
flying between a tree and the loft, and the raptor kept in the area
and persistently swooped on them. We left the bird there with the
nervous pigeons. In the swamp at the back of Hyena Dam there was an
African Water Rail, a few Wood and Green Sandpipers and a short-billed
fairly dark Snipe (see image). Of the two Yellow Wagtails one was a
young male lutea and the other indeterminate. Our first of six
Whinchats was along here, all birds today were in dull plumage, but
the best bird was the adult Great Spotted Eagle perched on a small
acacia and later flew right over us several times affording superb
views (see images). At Hyena Dam the water is receding but the
assemblage was varied with a female Darter, pair of White-faced
Whistling Ducks and a Red-billed Teal, two Yellow-billed and an
attractive adult Open-billed Stork, an adult Glossy Ibis and two
non-breeding Squacco Herons. A Fish Eagle perched in the large acacia,
an African Water Rail sauntered across the road, just one Swamphen and
the same for Long-toed Plover, but the two Spur-winged were present.
Two African Jacanas, but no sign of the immatures, whilst migrant
waders consisted of a dozen Wood and five Green Sandpipers and two
Common Snipe. In the lantana along the causeway were three Sedge and
two Eurasian Reed Warblers, the last were both singing, and one was in
exactly the same little clump where one wintered last year, suggesting
the same bird and site fidelity, but then maybe the Sedge are also
returnees. The reeds held ten Yellow-crowned Bishops, but today only
three Red-collared and one breeding male Jackson’s Widowbirds were
seen indicating a massive withdrawal from the Park.
We continued along the run-off and made a circuit crossing the
Mokoyeti Bridge where there was a pair of Wahlberg’s Honeybirds giving
aerial chase.

We then looked at the most scenically beautiful piece of the Park,
which is the Kisembe Forest with the small rocky river of the same
name. There was a reason to take this route, and that was to take
images to make people aware of what we are about to lose if the Kenya
Government gets its way to destroy it with the railway-line carving it
up with irreversible damage. In addition the destruction of the river
which is the source of the water courses that flow southwards through
the Park to the Mbagathi River. The area is home to the most important
of all Black Rhinoceros territory in East Africa. The species has
always survived well in NNP, it is not a reintroduction but the
original descendants of animals that were widespread but now
exterminated. It is from this core area for the species that important
reintroductions were successful in other Parks, Reserves and Game
Ranches. Were it not for the Nairobi Rhinos, there would be far far
fewer in East Africa and the continent would be all the poorer.

When Nairobi was first populated, the area had extensive
Brachylaena-Olive-Croton Forest, but soon the town and later city
engulfed the unique habitat, it is only with the timely creation of
Nairobi National Park that a small representation of this attractive
mix of forest, glades and open vleis was saved. Once this has gone the
unique habitat will be lost for ever, to say nothing of the Black
Rhinoceros resident there, and the abundant and varied life forms that
call Kisembe Forest their home. So I thought that a collection of
images of the habitat would make a nice memento of the future “what
once was!”

Earlier I took a photo of the plaque on the small monument
commemorating the visit of the Chinese Premier, and his excellency
President Uhuru Kenyatta for the ceremonial second Ivory burn at Ivory
Burning Site. It states on the plaque…. no, best to read the
Presidential proclamation for yourself, it is the centre of the
montage remember this was just twenty months ago.

As we drove slowly along the tracks there were numerous butterflies,
scattering Suni and a very attractive pair of Ayre’s Hawk-Eagles, as
well as a Bateleur. This is the only breeding pair left in Nairobi,
and today it is a long drive to the nearest Bateleurs, the most
stately, and most attractive of our eagles. The only migrant Common
Buzzard was also here. The Hippogrebe Dam, Langata Dam and the
Forest-Edge Dam each had a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes, four other
small dams today held paired Crowned Cranes, Karen Primary School Dam
has one unattached bird. Undoubtedly we did not see every pair of
cranes in the Park. Grey Crowned Crane numbers are falling at an
alarming rate outside of protected areas, on an Africa-Wide
classification the species is now considered threatened with
extinction, and everything should be done to protect it. Nairobi
National Park has a very healthy population that annually produce
young successfully, hopefully this iconic species will receive all the
protection it requires and deserves, and will continue to be a
familiar sight for future generations.
Langata Dam held the days only Little Grebe, and a few pairs of
White-backed Vultures were perched near nests in that area, but it
could not be ascertained whether they were currently using the nests
or not. Next to Forest-Edge Dam we did watch a vulture nest-building.
Interestingly it would break branches off neighbouring trees, which
was a revelation and explains why you never see vultures as with other
birds of prey collecting sticks off the ground, but I wonder why this
is. White-backed Vultures have declined by 95% throughout Africa in
the past decade, Kisembe Forest and other parts of Nairobi National
Park have the most successful breeding population of the species left
on the planet. It would be a travesty to lose a single pair of this
greatly endangered species.

From Kisembe Forest we continued to Kingfisher Picnic Site, another
important site if only for a picnic in idyllic peaceful surroundings,
but maybe soon the railway going through it will change any sense of
either idyllic or peaceful. There was a pair of Tawny Eagles nest
building, with much cavorting and display. Also a pair of Meyer’s
(Brown) Parrots was well concealed in the acacia canopy. On the old
burn area were two Northern Wheatears, with another on the inside road
near Maasai Gate passing old currently flooded murrum pits. The area
also had our only two Turkestan Shrikes and a pair of Speckle-fronted
Weavers, whilst a little further towards Leopard Cliffs was an
immature Great Spotted Cuckoo with attractive reddish-orange flight
feathers (see image). Rosy-breasted Longclaws were frequent, but as
can be seen on the montage, the colour is fading fast. We had our
lunch by the Mbagathi directly below Leopard Cliffs, with a pair of
Fish Eagles and wing-waving displaying Striped Kingfishers for
company.

Athi Dam was fairly quiet with high water still. Quiet apart from the
500 or more Marabous that were dropping in and landing on the shore.
The high water has dropped enough to reveal a narrow ribbon of the old
track around the dam, but the edge was crowded with the Marabous. We
drove slowly through the Marabou flock, not one took flight and all
only stepped to the side to allow our passage. There is something
surreal about driving through a large flock of huge birds that just
walk away to no more than a couple of metres from the car, and close
the road again as soon as the space is left vacant!
Accompanying the Marabous were single each of White and an immature
Open-billed Storks. Waders included six Spur-winged Plover, three each
of Common Sandpiper and Little Stint and one Greenshank.

On the Vulture bathing pools at the head of Athi Basin were some
thirty White-backs and five Ruppell’s enjoying the procedure until an
idiot got out of his vehicle to flush them for his wageni, they didn’t
go far though. There was a Laughing Dove on a small Acacia mellifera,
these are usually confined to the Cheetah Gate area, and three
Quailfinch were the only ones seen today. At Eland Hollow we found a
handsome Spur-winged Goose at the site where they bred successfully
two years ago, and on a small un-named flooded murrum shallow a female
Saddle-billed Stork was also enjoying a vigorous bathe. This closest
Saddle-billed Storks to this only pair in Nairobi are Amboseli to the
south, Naivasha to the north, Maasai Mara to the west. The bird is
endangered and now few pairs are found in Kenya. Out over the
grasslands, Barn Swallows were in rather small numbers, and only three
Banded Martins were seen. The dehydration of the grasslands in the
north is more advanced than the south, where the rains were
considerably much later.

We departed through the Main Gate at 4.00pm, having had, as we always
do without any exception, a superb day in Nairobi National Park having
recorded 179 species of birds.

 

CAN IT REALLY BE TRUE THAT ALL OF THIS IS TO BE SACRIFICED TO THE SGR??

A Genetic Conundrum: Reedbuck in NNP

By Will Knocker:

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A young female Mountain reedbuck.

The  NNP  population of this uncommon antelope (30-40 individuals max) poses the question: how is genetic viability ensured in such a small population?

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Adult female..

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This population has existed from the 1960’s up until the present on the rocky upper reaches of the Sosian Valley.

A second species of reedbuck (Bohor) is more plentiful & widespread elsewhere in the Park.

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Little Pigs

Images by Ian & Sammy Licence:

 

 

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Fire in NNP

By Will Knocker:

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A couple of weeks ago at the height of the drought I could see a huge fire in the Park from my home in the Silole Sanctuary…

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Plumes of smoke drifting towards Wilson Airport

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What the heck was going on?

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My daughter Lucy & I decided to investigate…

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Driving into the Park we could see that the plains above Olomanyi Dam were on fire..

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Fire is scarey & one could only imagine what was happening in the several thousand acres of grassland now ablaze..

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But fire is an absolute feature of the savannah & some of the grassland areas of the Park could do with a Controlled Burn to remove the tall, rank, inedible grass ….

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A large part of the plains below the Langata forest (Narok Omom, meaning Black Head in Maa: mangled into the ‘Nangolomon’ known today) was burnt…

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KWS were backburning & controlling the blaze on the verges of the tracks, which acted as windbreaks.

Luckily the wind had died down…

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Within a few days, hungry zebra made thin by the recent drought, were in the Burn area, grazing on the fresh green shoots…

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Within a few weeks & a downpour of rain from one of the localised storms which has been the norm so far these Short Rains & there were hundreds zebra, kongoni & gnus enjoying the new growth of grass, free from predators, on the clean short-grass plain….

THE END

Simba’s Picnic

By Will Knocker:

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Early morning at Mokoyeti picnic site…

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The King is looking to have either baboons OT tourists for breakfast…

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The Queen on the lookout…

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Do not mess…..

 

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Seen it all before…..

Wetlands of NNP

Images by Trish Heather-Hayes

“The grandfather of birding lists is the Nairobi one, with 605 sp. rdecorded from the city & environs. NNP is the nest with 529 sp.” So writes Stephen Spawls in his epic tome, KENYA, A Natural History…& the reason for this huge biodiversity is variety of habitat..

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NNP (& Nairobi, including the Karura & Ngong Road Forests) boasts an incredible array of habitats, from the dry plains of the Athi Basin to the Langata Forest in the west..

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The most important & fragile (dependent of the source of water) are the Park’s wetlands, such as Hyena Dam, pictured here: full of nutrients for this Yellow-Billed stork (the sewage from the blocks of flats upstream!)

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A moorhen feeding it’s chick

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Black-headed heron, otherwise known as a Snake bird owing to it’s propensity for gobbling snakes: this sp. is not always associated with water or wetlands..

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Beautiful & elergant White-faced Whistling ducks

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A Purple Gallinule or Swamphen (not such an elegant name): easy to spot at Hyena Dam…

 

Cheetah in NNP!

By Nikhil Patel, image by Chirag Patel

It was a crisp and misty Sunday morning when we arrived at the main gate of Nairobi National Park at 6:30 am. After getting our safari cards we thought it would a good idea to drive back out and enter via the forest gate. This is never a good idea as either the warden here has not arrived or he has “forgotten” the card too activate his smart card. Disappointed and mildly irritated we turned back around, drove back to the main gate and made straight for Impala View Point where we set upon our ART café croissants and coffee/orange juice with ravenous intentions (Chirag gets cranky if he doesn’t get orange juice and croissants for breakfast). The contrast of the hot coffee and the crisp morning breeze, carrying with it the smell of Africa, we felt charged and set off with a determined focus akin to that of pack of hunting dogs. The Eagerness to see something was almost palpable as after we had been driving for a while one of our group members (Kunal Patel) enthusiastically shrieked….STOP!!!!  We all grabbed a pair of binoculars and scanned the brush with a predatory focus…..alas the subject of our focus was just a bush, which swayed from side to side in a mocking wave. However, in my experience I have found that if something seems out of place, it usually is and deserves a closer look. As I panned my binoculars to the right of the bush a stark white flash came into focus. Surprised, I refocused my binoculars, and there came into focus one of the most elusive and graceful cats we have in the park…..I could barely believe what I was looking at and had to re-adjust my position to confirm the sighting. The excitement was contagious, some of us had binoculars glued to our eyes and others trying to get a picture of this phantom.

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The soft rumble of a water tanker in the distance distracted us for a brief instant and as I peered in the rear view mirror I saw it closing in on us. I started the car to make room for the tanker to pass. It could not have been more than a 5second window where we had all turned our focus on the tanker, when we looked back it had disappeared just as magically as it had appeared….a true phantom of the savannah. In a mad panic we scanned the area, but to no avail. It wasn’t until the tranquillity of morning was disrupted by the snort of an impala and our photographer Chirag, spotted a herd of impala dash off in the distance. Making a calculated decision we made drove off in the direction of the commotion. With a combination of some keen spotting (Anjli Patel) sheer luck we found it again walking in the tall grass some distance from the road.

Like most of their kind, this individual was extremely shy and wary of us, I suppose this is what has kept it alive thus far, as it kept looking back at us and gradually made its way into thicker taller grass. We did not want to bother the animal and so hung back for a while in the hopes that it may cross the road or come out in the open. Unfortunately this did not happen……..and just suddenly as this enigma had appeared it disappeared, the tall grass closing behind it like a protective cloak.

Incomparable NNP

By Will Knocker:

Apologies for paucity of updates recently, but am now back in the saddle…

The Park is looking amazing this year after record rains in April May & June.

Yesterday I took a turn around the Park & this is what I found:

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Dawn in the Park is always the best time for me…

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I found 3 lions: 2 lionesses & a male asleep after the night’s activity asleep at the bottom of the Sosian valley

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A Browse rhino in it’s natural habitat..

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And a separate bull at closer quarters…

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A cow hippo at Athi dam (notice her calf in the water.)

Sadly she is grazing on the dreaded Parthenium weed which is taking over the area…& Nairobi.

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Athi Dam: my favourite place….

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A ‘tirikoko’ (Maa): a Yellow-bellied sandgrouse

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There are hundreds, if not thousands of impala in the Park.

Gazelles, without any space to wander outside the Park, are also increasing in number..

 

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Kongoni (a species in steep decline elsewhere owing to competition with cattle: this is a species evolved to living in long-grass environments) are increasing in numbers in NNP.

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Amazingly well-adapted & intelligent Plains zebras are now in the Park in their thousands.

They DO go out of the Park, but it is increasingly dangerous owing to the Bushmeat trade.

Better to stay in the Park in spite of the danger from lions…

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It is mating season for Masai ostriches, of which there are masses in the Park: we hope for plenty of chicks in September/October…

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The Ngong Hills from the Park: this is Big Sky country..

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Plenty of grazers in the ocean of grass this year: outside in the pockets of ‘dispersal area’,  once super-productiver rangelands like these have been converted into a Man-made desert….

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At Eland Hollow, I came across 3 lionesses & 5 large cubs watching the lines of zebra filing into drink…

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Learning to watch………and wait…..

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Nairobi Before & After….

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At lease there is some competition for the skyscrapers!

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NNP remains an amazing & precious & incomparable wildlife area,

full of Nature’s marvellous evolved bounty.

 

 

 

 

Visitor Experience at NNP

By Will Knocker:

Fifty USD is a lot of money in anybody’s book & for overseas tourists visiting the Park, the authorities (KWS) should ensure that they are getting Bang for their Buck.

Left to itself, Nairobi NationalPark cannot fail to amaze, it’s catalogue of wonders too diverse to go into here (just scroll down for more details..) and of course it is Kenya’s foremost Rhino Sanctuary and as such, deserves all the protection it can get.

BUT….is it worth sacrificing visitor experience (for it is visitors that ultimately pay the bills here) for wildlife protection & the need for round-the-clock vigilance against rhino killers?

I throw this question out there for users of the Park to debate.

As a Guide in the Park, my visitors are regularly disappointed by seeing rangers on patrol & ugly structures in the otherwise pristine Park.

As for the pylons in the Athi Basin……… that was a fait accompli…..

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What is this tent for & why is it located right next to a major crossroads in the Park?

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A rhino was spotted running away from this group of patrolling rangers…

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KWS need some lessons on Park aesthetics & what visitors pay for in a National Park (answer: wild landscapes, undisturbed wildlife & no people..)

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Not what you expect to see when entering NNP from East Gate..

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Outpost at Eland Hollow, out on the pristine African Plain….

 

Water Buffaloes

 

By Will Knocker:

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It is dry in the Park, so water-holes are at a premium …

 

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