Author Archives: willknocker

Wildlife Flourishing in NNP

By Will Knocker:

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Birding with Brian Finch 31st March

By Brian Finch:

On the morning of the final day of March, Mike Davidson, Heather
Elkins, Karen Plumbe and myself arrived at the Langata Entrance to
Nairobi National Park at 6.40am having had a fairly open Magadi Road.
At the gate we were all processed efficiently and cheerfully by
Customer Services, and through in no time.

It had been dry recently and the road around to Nagalomon Dam did not
have the mudholes of the previous week. As we passed the Langata
Forest dam there was an African Jacana, presumably the same individual
for the past couple of months.

We arrived at the Main Entrance and collected Jennifer, whilst Fleur
was there she had her daughter with her, and they went mainly
mammaling!

Not a lot was happening at KWS Mess, the usual Eastern Honeybird was
calling, a Spotted Flycatcher was on the fence, this being our first
of ten today, the Black-collared Apalis was noisy and that was about
it. Ivory Burning Site was also quiet with just the first of three
Olivaceous Warblers, but on the causeway at Nagalomon Dam were single
Great Reed Warbler (which could have been the wintering bird as no
more were seen today, and it was in the identical place), and a Garden
Warbler. The dam itself provided the first Great Cormorant in a long
while, an impressive five Darters, ten Black-crowned Night-Herons, the
small Great Egret, a pair of Swamphens, and a pair of Spotted
Thick-knees were back at the drift.

There was not a lot of activity along the back road to the new swamp,
one of just two Eurasian Hobbys, the first of three Willow Warblers,
the first of only three Red-backed Shrikes, whilst at the swamp there
was an African Water Rail, fifteen Wood and two Green Sandpipers.

Retracing, and on to Hyena Dam for anxiously awaited coffee, we found
the first of just four Black-shouldered Kites, a female Eurasian Marsh
Harrier, another African Water Rail, another Swamphen, another dozen
Wood Sandpipers with two Ruff of which one had just one leg, a Sedge
Warbler called from concealment, whilst a Eurasian Reed Warbler was
very showy sitting in the open basking and preening on a reed for a
long period. We tried along the side road, but the water was still
flowing from the new swamp, and just had our first of seven Whinchats.

Taking the run-off we found the grassland full of bouncing Jackson’s
Widowbirds, and a pair of very few Quailfinches were seen. Mbuni was
quiet, just a Willow Warbler, and no sign of the Tawny Eagles at the
nest, but they were probably not far away. The Crowned Crane was still
incubating, and four Yellow-crowned Bishops were in the sedges. Eland
Hollow Dam had nothing new, the African Jacana still there, as was a
Spotted Thick-knee, the same Greenshank that has wintered was still
here, with a few Wood Sandpipers, then in the sedges were three Sedge
Warblers and four more Yellow-crowned Bishops.

Driving through the grassland we had our first of three
Secretarybirds, single Lesser and Common Kestrels, two individual Kori
Bustards, and an additional female with two very small chicks above
Athi Basin, the first of two Turkestan Shrikes, and the first of only
three Lesser Grey Shrikes. At the Murrum Pits was a Red-throated Pipit
getting some colour, but only five White-backed Vultures were in to
bathe, and after quite a long time White-tailed Larks were singing
again.

Athi Dam had a few birds, an adult Pink-backed Pelican, fifteen White
Storks with a party of five Open-billed Storks, five Black-winged
Stilts, six Spur-winged and eight Kittlitz’s Plovers, two
summer-plumaged Ringed Plovers, ten Little Stint, a Common Greenshank
and three Common Sandpipers. There were two roosting Black-crowned
Night-Herons on the causeway where the wintering Olivaceous was still
present in the same tree, and in very good voice.
Although not much of the Park had seen rain, Athi had obviously had a
downpour, and the dam was quite high again, and peripheral weeds were
inundated.

It was not very eventful towards Cheetah Gate, but men were working on
the pylons again, and the closed road was open. Presumably just to let
the stima people in through Cheetah Gate, with their heavy machinery.
We had a look but nothing rewarded us apart from a few Speckle-fronted
Weavers.

Driving along the river we had our only Bateleur of the day, and the
same for Fish Eagle, there was also the first African Hoopoe in quite
a while. Near Rhino Circuit we had our best mammal of the day, with
only my second ever Kirk’s Dik-Dik in the Park!

It was quiet all around to Kingfisher, where on earth are all the
shrikes that should be here? There were eight Black-winged Plover on
the burnt piece, both they and Crowned Plovers had nested and had
single chicks.

We were out by 4.30pm and the traffic was flowing smoothly.

It had been a fairly disappointing day for migrants, just scratchings.
Barn Swallows were flowing through in fair numbers but nothing
dramatic.

Hippos were at Nagalomon, Hyena and Athi Dams, a few Black and White
Rhinos were seen. Plains game concentrated along the southern border
and the burnt area.

Diceros bicornis michaeli

By Will Knocker:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_black_rhinoceros

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Chui Spotting…

By Will Knocker:

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On sunday afternoon  I was at the Masai Gate (which borders on the Silole Sanctuary) when the KWS ranger on duty - Jackson ole Kuyioni- looked over my shoulder down towards the brodge over the Empakasi River…”Do you want to see a chui?” he asked in Kiswahili

“Look up in the big acacia!” Can you see the leopard here?

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The binoculars revealed the cat just 75 m away, listening to us chatting: suburban leopard!

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Hopefully the leopard population in NNP is going up since two  of the big cats were poisoned by a new neighbour near the Sanctuary a year or two ago….

Clash of the Titans

By Will Knocker:

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Two bull Black (Browse) rhinos go nose to massive nose on who’s territory this is…

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Massive pachydems face off to determine who is the Boss…in the middle of the road…

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We kept our distance….(have you ever been charged by a rhino?)

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And watched in fascination  as the two protagonists got on with their confrontation…
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Good old KWS had to spoil the show..

 

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Visitors who had obviously NOT been charged by a rhino hoved in for a closer view & the rhinos, honour satisfied, trotted off back from the disputed border, back deeper into their territories….

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Happy World Wildlife Day 3rd of March……..

Dreaded Parthenium Threatening Nbi Nat Park

By Will Knocker

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Close-up of Parthenium weed, an invasive species rapidly encroaching on Nairobi National Park..this is in the Park, at the Athi dam… I have also seen  invasions along the Athi River -Namanga highway & along the shores of Lake Victoria.

IF YOU SEE THIS PLANT PULL IT UP, (though gloves are advisable for big infestations)

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Originally from Central America, this “noxious annual herb appears to have entered the Park in water flows , as well as on the wheels & radiators & under-carriages of vehicles & earth-moving equipment.

Parthenium infestations have CAUSED THE COLLAPSE OF MANY GRASSLAND ECOSYSTEMS AROUND THE WORLD in lands as widely spread as India & Austalia.”

“The FONNAP Natural History Guide to Nairobi National Park”

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“No more than half a metre tall, Parthenium releases toxic allelo-chemicals into the soil that inhibit gowth & germination of other species. Its abundant seeds are readily dispersed by the elements.  Each seed can grow within one month into a mature plant capable of producing another 25000 seeds viable for 2 years or longer…

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Parthenium contains potent allergins harmful to the health of ungulates & people.”

Contact with this plant causes dermatitis and respiratory malfunction in humans,  in cattle and domestic animals, due to the presence of toxin parthenin.

“Even in mixed forage, the unpalatable leaves,” which blister the mouths of grazers,”taint the flesh & milk of grazing animals. The extent of the potential disruption to the foodchain in incalculable.”

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These pictures are taken on the Magadi Road, next to the Media College bumps, but Parthenium is now established (forever…that is the reality of Invasive Species) along all of Nairobi’s new highway & bypass verges. This is within a few yards of the Park…

Thankfully, Parthenium finds it difficult to establish itself in pristine grassland, but alarmingly, it is spreading along the roads & rivers of NNP & especially in the Athi Basi with the new pylon lines. ( No thanks to KWS.)

What can be done?

‘ If the population in cultivated field is light, it should be removed manually. Otherwise it will spread very fast and the population will reach beyond control’… a situation already reached in some parts of the Park.

Last year I organised an Invasive sp. workshop at Silole Sanctuary through FONNAP: it was well attended & we told KWS we were ready to collaborate on removing this dangerous invader from the Park.

The response: nothing.

As far as I am aware there are no efforts being made to eradicate Parthenium, or any other Invasive sp. from the Park…..

More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenium_hysterophorus

At the Athi Dam

By Will Knocker:

Pictures from the Athi Dam: surely one of the best corners (amongst many)  in NNP:

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Yellow-billed storks, with an African spoonbill in the background..

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Why O why have KWS allowed pylons to be built & the ENTIRE Athi Basin aesthetically spoilt in an undeveloped area (ie this would be a perfect place for future tourist development) ? Who allowed this? So short-sighted….

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Diederik cuckoo: what a beautiful bird!

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Egyptian goslings have to beware……

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The aptly-named Black-winged stilt ….

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European storks have been numerous this year….

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And this is for you to ID: sorry out of focus…..palearctic migrants….ruffs??

New Fence at Main Gate

By Paula Kahumbu:

I was horrified today to see that KWS have started fencing off a huge piece of the Nairobi National Park for the major expansion of the Nairobi Orphanage. The fence follows the main road from the entrance all the way to the club house – which is almost to the ivory burn site.

I am writing to request that you help me to demand an immediate halt these plans. I have identified the following arguments; you may have others

1. Expanding the orphanage violates the very original purpose of the orphanage – to home orphans and act as a half way house before they are released. The orphanage was never intended as a zoo which is what it seems KWS wants to create. The Safari Walk on the other hand was created as a zoo – there is no need for two zoos in the same place in Nairobi. Moreover, wilderness in the National Park should not be sacrificed for the creation of or expansion of a zoo, instead a wholesome education experience through visitation to the park should be promoted as it is far more valuable.

2. The area for expansion will require the destruction of a sizeable piece of Nairobi Park. We are not aware of any EIA having been conducted, nor are we aware of any stakeholder consultation having taken place. As you know, FoNNaP which is 19 years old, has always defended the park and although our board meets regularly with the warden, there has been no consultation of these plans, and we have not been informed of these or any other plans for developments in the park.

3. We believe that these developments are in violation of the management plan of the park which is already out of date having expired a few years ago. It is also therefore a violation of the new Act which requires parks to have management plans that are developed through a stakeholder consultative process.

4. The area of land that is being fenced off will result in the destruction of highly endangered tropical highland forest including habitats for endangered add endangered species, as well as species of concern including lions, jackals, leopard, Crowned eagle (one of the only 2 nesting pairs in Nairobi nests in these trees), Suni, duiker, black rhino and bush pig all live in this part of the forest. I am sure there are also plants, birds and other animals that will also be threatened. By degrading this habitat and alienating it from the park the KWS will be violating the EMCA, and failure to consult the stakeholders is in violation of the constitution.

I have written to the Director KWS, NEMA Director and the CS to respectfully request the immediate halt to the ongoing fencing of the park, as it is not too late to restore any damage already caused.

I have also asked for an investigation to be initiated into how this proposal was developed and passed without any stakeholder consultation or EIA.

Please help by sending your own letter to the Cabinet Secretary, KWS Director (Director@kws.org) and NEMA DG on this issue so that they can see how serious this is.

Tracks Open Again!

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 13th January 2014

On the beautiful and cheerful sunshiny 13th January, Mike Davidson, Jennifer Oduore, Karen Plumbe and myself met up at 6.30am at Nairobi National Park Main Entrance. The traffic had been smooth, until arriving at the NNP new roundabout, where there was a tail-back towards the direction of the city.
Our first port of call was KWS Mess Gardens, three Suni were there to welcome us. Two Tree Pipits were feeding on the lawn, a couple of Nightingales were vocalising intermittently, a Spotted Flycatcher was along the fence and the lonely Black-collared Apalis now has a mate! It was fairly quiet, and we left for Ivory Burning Site, which was also not too active with a pair of Brown Parisomas in the Acacia gerardii above the picnic table, and a Common Buzzard that we flushed from there on our arrival. An Eurasian Reed Warbler scolded from dense cover.
On to Nagalomon Dam, the male Red-collared Widowbird who lives near the junction, and has been present when all others have departed and returned, is still in this same strange arrested plumage. All brown and streaky, but with a full tail and a red collar. Another feature that marks him as the same bird is that he is unbelievably tame and just feeds unconcernedly when parked literally only a couple of feet from him. There was nothing on the drift, and the dam itself was very quiet. But good news for interested parties is that the young Greater Spotted Eagle is still in the same area, and on this occasion was perched on the little peninsula where the Darters usually perch (and were not there today). We had out first of three different Eurasian Marsh Harriers, and that really was it.
Along the back road to Hyena Dam (still the flood necessitating a return but long may it remain this way), there was a Tree Pipit, and the Red-throated Wryneck seen on 30th November and 2nd December last year, in exactly the same place. Four hybrid Lovebirds were checking out potential sites on the new buildings. At the swamp we found an obliging African Water Rail, forty Wood Sandpipers, five Green and three Ruff, and to show that at this time of year migrants are on winter territories, the same Yellow Wagtails of the races lutea, flava, dombrowski and beema as last week. There were three Red-throated Pipits, and feeding over the area were about ten Eurasian Bee-eaters.
We retraced our way back round to Hyena Dam, and amazingly in the immediate vicinity were seven different Whinchats, with only two other recorded elsewhere in the Park. The Dam was quiet, if you can call a pod of nine Hippos quiet, but bird wise it was not very productive. The same Little Egret was still present, Water Rails were calling from two locations, two separate pairs of Secretarybirds were feeding in the grass, and we also had three other single birds today elsewhere, a Steppe Eagle fed on an unidentified something in the large acacia, whilst the other tree had a Martial Eagle. A Great Sparrowhawk was flying over with deliberation of reaching a destination, and a Bateleur passed overhead. There were a few Wood and Green Sandpipers, watching a small crocodile which seems to favour the same muddy patch. Whilst a large crocodile was being eyed by Sacred Ibis, who seemed intent on prodding it, until one slipped towards it and they backed off, without the crocodile showing any signs of awakening. A Speckled Pigeon manage to land to drink after several nervous circuits. Continuing along to the other side of the swamp we had a group of Buffalo flush two Common Snipe that we would otherwise have missed, and a group of four Quailfinch were the first for some time, feeding openly on the track. On the run-off was the same very young looking Black Stork and little else. The drive around to Karen Primary School Dam was so very quiet, as was the dam, but Eland Hollow had a single White Stork, the recently arrived African Jacana and a Spotted Thick-knee in its usual group of rocks.
Whilst continuing to Athi Dam, we had a female Hartlaub’s Bustard, the first of two Isabelline and first of four Northern Wheatears, and just one Long-billed Pipit.  The flooded murrum pit was attracting bathers with one Steppe Eagle, twenty White-backed and ten Ruppell’s Vultures. Athi Dam was also not very exciting, there were a couple of hundred Marabous giving synchronous sunning displays which is very impressive and 105 White Storks amongst them. Apart from a plethora of Egyptian Geese, maybe over 70 excluding chicks, the only other waterfowl were ten White-faced Whistling Duck and a pair of Red-billed Teal. Of the waders there were two Black-winged Stilts, ten Spur-winged Plover and eight Kittlitz’s, palearctics being reduced to eight Little Stints, four Greenshank, three Common Sandpipers and a few Woods. Three Black-crowned Night-Herons were roosting on the causeway.
Towards Cheetah Gate was also quite dull, maybe too hot for much action by this time, apart from a Harrier Hawk, a single Grey-headed Silverbill and a few Speckle-fronted Weavers, we did have our first of three Turkestan Shrikes and first of two Pied Wheatears. It was much more interesting by the Mbagathi on the Rhino Circuit. Here there were two Violet Wood-Hoopoes, an Olivaceous and two Willow Warblers together with residents including Lesser and Vitelline Masked Weavers. Not far from here Jennifer’s sharp eyes picked up a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl.
Driving towards Kingfisher was also hot and fairly birdless, our best being six White-bellied Bustards a stunning male Pallid Harrier and a Pangani Longclaw.
On the burn-off there were some fifty Crowned Plovers with seven Black-winged with them, and on the return a pair of Saddle-billed Storks below Impala Lookout.
Overall Barn Swallows were in very low numbers, but plains game were abounding especially in the Athi Basin. We had five White Rhinos, five more Hippos in Athi Dam, but otherwise good numbers of Eland, small Zebra representation and so very many baby Kongoni.
We were through the gate at 5.00pm having had a great day, and the traffic was moving nicely.
It must be said that the roads that were closed off so abruptly are now once again open access.

Hyenas in NNP

By Will Knocker:

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One of the most reviled of the African mammal species, but to my mind, one of the most interesting: the highly social, very intelligent, noisy, matriarchal Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)…….

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Now that the Park is so full of wildlife, the hyenas are doing well & they also have the southern suburbs next to the Park to forage in at night. They do very well in the Silole Sanctuary where I live (adjacent to Ongata Rongai) where they love to scoff an occasional dog if they can catch one!

Here they are investigating something they can smell: like all mammals & especially carnivores, smell is key to their view of the world…

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Hyenas are dominated by the female of the species, who is pumped full of testostorone. Males (smaller & inferior to the dominant females) come way down the scale in Hyena society & are mere sex-slaves…

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Tail up is a sign of aggression/excitement: they probably smelled lions, or  competing hyenas. At night, excited hyenas emit the most extraordinary noises, including the far-carrying whoop which is one of the most evocative sounds of the African bush….

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For many years, misunderstood by people & poisoned, killed & persecuted, these amazing (& generally inoffensive: they are highly intelligent & steer clear of trouble) large carnivores are becoming much more numerous & visible in Nairobi National Park, a haven for this sp. as for so many others…..