Category Archives: Athi Kapiti Ecosystem

Great Gnews from NNP

Pictures by Alexandra Spyratos:

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This is an Eastern White Bearded wildebeest, of which there are once estimated to have been 100,000 in the Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem of which Nairobi National Park is a part…

According to http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/5229/0

there were still 90,000 or so of this Kenyan sub-species of gnu in existence in the late 1990’s.

However, estimates of Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest indicate a steep decline in the subspecies’ populations to a current level of perhaps 6,000-8,000 animals. Apart from NNP, the other haven for this sub-species is the Shompole Conservancy.

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For many years now, there have been about  250 individuals in the Park & the fast-dwindling dispersal area to the South.

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It has been a dry year in Kajiado generally & especially in the  intensively grazed Sheep & Goat Land which these short-grass plain grazers like & many wildebeest have moved into the Park  with the rain of recent days.

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The fantastic news is that the photographer & I counted 450 individuals, many of them young yearlings: the NNP population is INCREASING & will continue to do so in the future given the massive grazing pressure on the Park  nowadays: gone are the days when one had to consider burning the Park to manage the grazing: innumerable buffaloes, zebra, kongoni & cattle are seeing to that: the days of grass as a super-abundant resource are well & truly over…

 

Dispersal Area

 

By Will Knocker:

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For many years now, folks concerned with Nairobi National Park & it’s future have discussed the “migration” of wildlife in & out of the Park through “corridors” to a “conservation area” somewhere in the Kitengela. The fact is that NNP is now, to all intents & purposes, surrounded by the city & my purpose in this photo-essay is to show that this is the sad truth…

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The only area unfenced along the Southern boundary of the Park is in the Athi Basin, west of Athi River town, where a Block of the Park exists in fact ACROSS the Empakasi river. This Block adjoins an area called the Sheep & Goat land which is supposedly government land but is in fact occupied & grazed by the local Maasai.

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Brand new house & fence in this area, supposedly leased by the Wildlife Foundation as open rangeland suitable for wildlife.

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This area is vital for the Park’s population of Eastern White-Bearded wildebeest, of which about 250 individuals exist in the Park from an estimated population of 100,000 in the Athi Kapiti ecosystem a hundred years ago…. they give birth to their calves outside the Park.

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The area, especially in the woodland within the Park, has been taken over by the dreaded invasive weed Parthenium.

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The boundary road along the edge of the Park.

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The Athi Plains were rich & very biodiverse, especially in species of large grazers. These are now confined to the Park.

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The Last Gnu? We’re nearly there….

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A vision of the Future: urbanization & a world in which wild grazers have been replaced by cattle.

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The Sheep & Goat Land today (all that is left of the ‘Dispersal Area’): homesteads, roads, ploughed areas, livestock, people, dogs,boda-bodas….is this really suitable for wildlife?

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This just about sums it up……

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The Park boundary….

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This image shows the extraordinary richness of the grasslands of the Athi-Kapiti ecosystem, if it were protected, as this is, by fencing, paradoxically death to the population of wild grazers which once made this area a second Serengeti.

The parcelling out of the plains continues apace: you can buy yours by looking for ‘Kitengela Plots for Sale’ in your paper today.

Luckily, we still have the whole 120 square kilometres of the Park without people, livestock  or fences as a last refuge .

 

 

 

On the Athi Plains

By Will Knocker:

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Is there a better place to be than on the African Plain?

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On the Athi Plain in particular where grass is a super-abundant resource….

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NNP & what is left (very little) of the dispersal area is home to a herd of 4000 Plains zebra…

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and 18 species of Bovidae (buffalo & antelopes..)

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And all this in a city of 5 million H. sapiens………WOW !

Wildlife Flourishing in NNP

By Will Knocker:

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

By Will Knocker:

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Yellow-throated sand-grouse watering at the Athi Dam…

 

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This is the largest species of sangrouse in Kenya & found on the High Plains of the Mara & Athi-Kapiti, unlike other sp. found in lowland semi-desert….

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They have a distinctive gutteral call when flighting in to drink: ” TIRI KOKO”….their name in Maa….

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Two male birds….

 

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The difference between male & female birds…

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C’est tres magnifique !!

Dreaded Parthenium in NNP

By Will Knocker:

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The dreaded Parthenium Weed -spread by human activities such as road building -has gained a foothold in Nairobi National Park, especially in the Athi Basin area, where a pylon line is currently being constructed….floodwater also spreads the seeds, so we can expect mega-infestation after the current Rains…

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Each single plant is said to be able to produce 25,ooo seeds -if you want to see the end result, look on the verges of the new by-pass from JKIA heading to the Thika Highway: what a mess….

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The experts tell us that this is a plant (it is of the Feverfew family) which poisons its neighbours, including grass & is a major threat to African grassland ecosystems…in Ethiopia (where it first arrived in Famine Relief supplies) it has compromised thousands of acres of rangeland.

Parthenium causes allergic reactions in people & animals, so pull it up with gloves or a handkerchief…..if you see this plant: DESTROY IT!!

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Parthenium is not to be confused with one of our commonest & most widely spread wild flower species Heliotropium (see above)

For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenium_hysterophorus

Consider the lilies of the field….

By Will Knocker:

“And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these……..”

So says the Good Book & this year’s rains in Nairobi National Park has brought out the wild flowers in all their glorious profusion:

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Wild harebells:Cyphia glandulifera…..

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Pentanesia ouranogune

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Ipomoea jaegeri

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Hypoxis obtusa

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The glorious, scented Gladiolus candidus….

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The ubiquitous Heliotropum, one of the commonest wildflower geni in Kenya:

The word “heliotropium” is the Latin name for an ancient plant which had
the unique habit of turning to face the sun at all times. The plant’s name is
derived from two Greek words: helio, meaning “sun,” and tropos, meaning “turn.”

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Pentas parvifolia

 

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One for you Flower Fundis out there…..

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Come on, readers….what have we got here?

Below, Commelina reptans….

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Commelinia ecklonia ssp. nairobiensis

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Bauhinia sp..

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The aptly named Gloriosa superba…

The Last Gnus

By Will Knocker:

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C. t. albojubatus (Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest), of which species the IUCN says: ” However, recent population estimates suggest that the future prospect of some subpopulations or subspecies is of some concern, particularly that of the Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest (which, it seems, may have undergone a precipitous decline in numbers).”

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Hope for the future? A yearling (born March 2012)……

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This species was once one of the most numerous herbivores wandering the vast high plains of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem of which NNP is the last remaining pristine corner: it has been estimated that there were 100,000 at the beginning of the Twentieth century.

Now: “Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest, 94,000 (with about two-thirds in and around protected areas)”, of which we in NNP have about one hundred & fifty individuals (144 counted in February game count).

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‘Our’ gnus tend to live on the rapidly dwindling Sheep & Goat Land between the park & the ever-burgeoning New Town of Kitengela south of the Park, which is heavily grazed short-grass plain habitat. The question must be: will they move into the Park once this last stronghold goes the way of the rest of the ecosystem?

The majority of the gnus in the Athi Kapiti live south of the Athi-Namanga highway, which they cannot cross to get to the Park. These will find it difficult to survive in an increasingly humanised & truncated ecosystem .

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Cows & yearlings in the Athi Basin yesterday…

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Our last few Eastern White-bearded gnus, for whom the Nairobi National Park is their last refuge…..

For more info on on-going research: http://www.nrel.colostate.edu/projects/gnu/nnp.php

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 25th February 2013

By Brian Finch:

Mike Davidson, Fleur Ng’Weno, Jennifer Oduore, Karen Plumbe and myself met at the Main Gate to Nairobi National Park at 6.50am having had some traffic difficulties. We were expediently processed and through the gate on the hour. It has been dry for a while now, and the Park is showing the signs of dehydration. There is still much grass, but all the green has gone and it looks sunburnt. The dams are still in fine condition, but the muddy margins are now appearing. Although cool in the mornings it has been of late warm at night, and quite hot during the day. Today was not hot, but a strong wind. Four of us stayed in the Park, and did not leave until 7.00pm having been checked out on entry. The evening was very spectacular and the traffic was moving well and we were not held up.

Our first call was KWS Mess gardens. Some five Blackcaps were coming in to a fruiting tree we have to identify (Strychnos is suspected), and there were two Nightingales in the hedge. The Black-collared Apalis was still present but recently has been calling from inside the Army Camp. There was a Suni on the lawn. From here we went to Ivory Burning Site which has been quiet this year, and yet used to be so interesting, with a host of good sightings. Today we were not disappointed, a male Pallid Harrier flew through, as strangely did a Secretarybird. We had seven different Secretarybirds today, they are obviously doing very well in the Park. Long may it continue. In the bushes were one Nightingale, and singles of Common Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler and Marsh Warbler. There was another Acrocephalus singing a sub-song that was thought to be an Eurasian Reed Warbler. There were a number of Red-collared Widowbirds around, some of which are already sporting red collars. There was another Acro singing softly and intermittently when we visited Nagalomon Dam, this was thought to be a Marsh Warbler but was not seen. There were two very impressive Crocodiles being visited by three Green Sandpipers and a couple of pushy Egyptian Geese, a pair of Orange-breasted Waxbills flew by without stopping and a Fan-tailed Grassbird was singing from a corner near the Mokoyeti River. Instead of circling back to Hyena Dam, we continued into the Kisembe Valley along the beautiful forested stream. On the way there was another Acro singing, thought to be a Marsh, and this was seen and confirmed. The immature Bateleur was circling with the first rising White-backed Vultures, a dark Booted Eagle was soaring over a clearing, a near adult Lesser Spotted Eagle came over us near Langata Gate, some ten Bee-eaters fed over the dam which had a Little Grebe with chick, and Moorhens also had a family. The old drinking pond that should be attractive to many Sylvia warblers and other birds, just had a pair of Little Grebes. There is far too much water around for this to be a magnet this year. We circled round back to the main gate to drop Fleur off, and an immature Fish Eagle had arrived on Nagalomon Dam.

After leaving the gate we took the back road to Hyena Dam, the Crowned Cranes were taking good care of their two chicks, and not seeming too worried about the diving Yellow-billed Kites which soon gave up. Out first of six Whichats were here, and a couple of Banded Martin were over the little swamp. Hyena Dam was quiet but we were much later than usual, there were three Wood Sandpipers and African Water Rail which refused to show themselves. There was a reasonable sized Crocodile hauled out on the bank. A Great Egret, which looks small and I believe has been visiting us for many years, was also there. The Run-Off was dry and did not produce anything, and the inside road to Eland Hollow was also very quiet. At this dam there were a pair of Spur-winged Geese, our only Red-billed Teal of the day, a Yellow-billed Egret, four more Wood Sandpipers, a Common Greenshank starting to show some attractive patterning, and the pair of Spotted Thick-knees were on their usual territory. Heading off to Karen Primary School  Dam we had a male Lesser Kestrel on a bush, and at the dam which was spectacular for bathing Zebra, the drinking Barn Swallow had a Sand Martin accompanying them.

Now it was time to head south, the vultures were at the drinking pool above Athi Basin, there were nineteen White-backed and nine Ruppell’s, nearby we had just seen a pair of Lappet-faced Vultures.

There were two Northern and two female Pied Wheatears along the top road and a nice Kori Bustard sheltering under a small acacia barely larger than itself. On the track to Athi Dam we found a full adult male Turkestan Shrike this was our only migrant shrike seen today, and a female-type Pallid Harrier was over the grassland. Whilst there was not a huge variety of birds on Athi Dam, the sight was nothing short of amazing. There were 1500 Marabou Storks, amongst these we individually counted 530 White Storks, which must be the largest number ever recorded together in Nairobi, poor Yellow-billed Storks were a  bit left out with only four! The storks surrounded the resident giant Croc who made even the Marabous look so small. Big croc number two was as usual on the island now joined back to the mainland. There was a single adult Pink-backed Pelican, a Great Egret of normal size, an immature Montagu’s Harrier, fifteen Yellow-throated Sandgrouse came in whilst we were there as did six Speckled Pigeon which is hardly a rare species, but I believe all the other records always involve a maximum of one pair. There was a male lutea Yellow Wagtail who had bright breeding plumage underparts but the head was still saying it was winter! In the wader line, there were four Black-winged Stilts, fifteen Spur-winged Plovers, a compact group of thirty Little Stints, but the only other palearctic waders were single Common Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. We had our traditional Carrot Cake on the Causeway, the Black-crowned Night-Heron adult was in his roosting tree, and a Western Marsh Harrier went over without stopping.

We carried on in the direction of the Cheetah Gate road, there was a stunning spring male Pied Wheatear, but our best bird of the day was a species I had never seen before in the Park. By the track was a female Black-faced Sandgrouse which posed for us. There is a historical record, this means over forty years ago but there are no details. On the road towards the Hippo Pools there was another female Pied Wheatear, an adult Fish Eagle along the river and a noisy Pangani Longclaw. Our last bird of note was a male roadside Hartlaub’s Bustard as we climbed up out of the Mbagathi Valley.

As we passed Karen PS Dam on the way back we stopped to look at a Black-headed Heron who had caught an unfortunate Battersby’s Green Snake, this was swallowed with surprising ease.

There was a sprinkling of Barn Swallows but nothing that looked like any passage, and there was evidence that Quail-finch were returning. We were out of the Park at 7.00pm.

 

It was a great day, nothing in writing can convey the stork spectacle of Athi Dam. This is probably a daily event, and it is necessary to be there at 3.00pm. Presumably the Whites are coming in from the Kitengela.

 

The game has returned in really impressive force as the dry sets in, Zebras in most impressive numbers, but a group of seventy Wildebeest in the Athi basin is a good number nowadays. None of the special mammal species were seen today, they were all in hiding. Hippos were in Nagalomon, Hyena, Eland Hollow and Athi Dams.

 

The Herds are Back…

By Will Knocker:

After months of greenery & long grass, the Park has turned tawny & the migratory herds are back: eland do not go far: across the Empakasi into the Sheep & Goat land. This is one of Kenya’s significant populations..

The NNP kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest) population is a conundrum: it used to consist of 2 populations, resident & migratory. As the migratory population has been confined to the Park (the remaining dispersal area is short grass plain-unsuitable for this sp. which is adapted to long grass areas) the population has shot up, in spite of record numbers of lions, for whom kongoni are a favourite prey sp.  …

The Plains zebra are back! In a year of good rain such as this, our population of up to 4000 roam as far as they can in the remaining dispersal areas. However it seems that even these remarkably adaptive creatures, able to deal with the suburban conditions (fences, people, dogs) outside the park have had to overcome their fears about lions & have come back in small family groups & some bigger migratory mobs consisting of hundreds of animals…the lions will be happy!

Up until the turn of the century, such sights would have included thousands of wildebeeste, but alas the last few hundred like the short grass plain of the Sheep & Goat land & only venture into the park if pressed by drought conditions….

NNP remains the last pristine corner of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem, now a truncated shadow of what it once was. It is so encouraging to see the herds of migratory species come back to the park safe & sound after the Rains…..