Category Archives: Athi Kapiti Ecosystem

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…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eland in NNP

By Will Knocker:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mating Ostriches

Pictures by Ravi Ram:

It is ostrich breeding season in NNP: this cock is hot to trot: he’s a redneck!

On espying his hen, he crouches down for a mating dance…

He rushes towards her…

And she indicates she is ready to mate….

And crouches down herself….

In the throes of passion….

Looks like he is enjoying!

She is completely covered….

And off she goes ready to produce the next generation of ostriches…

It is said that NNP contains the densest population of wild ostriches in the world!

 

 

 

NNP Dispersal Area

Photos & Story by Will Knocker:

The dispersal area for nairobi National Park is being severely overgrazed by livestock, partly due to rangeland loss to developments.

The dispersal area is severely overgrazed by livestock, partly owing to rangeland loss to development.

The Last Wildebeest? The Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem, of which the Park & dispersal area are the northern park, was once one of the world’s richest grassland ecosystems: it is estimated to provide a home for 100,000 wildebeest. We counted 2 bulls out on the plains at Sholingei..

Looking east down the Kitengela river valley; a major ‘mlango’ for wilflife to move to Top Plains at Sholingei; this is a humanised landscape not suitable even for passage by large grazers.

Heliotrope flowers in bloom where grass no longer grows….

Roads gouged out of the good earth by the stone trucks serving the quarries that take up the river valleys in the dispersal area, ceaselessly removing tons of blocks of stone with which to build the city of Nairobi & particularly the fast growing dormitory towns of Ongata Rongai & Kitengela (in picture.)

“Community Land”? This is government land: the old livestock holding ground for Athi River. It is now used for grazing by local herders, but permanent settlements there (of which there are quite a few) are illegal. At least the herders stop the area from being built over by the fast-growing Kitengela township…….& pastoralism is of course very compatible with wildlife as far as land-use is concerned.

When the park lions venture onto the ‘Sheep & Goat Land’ as this essential bit of the dispersal area is called, it is a very different story: if they kill livestock, there is a major conflict of interest & they will be killed in retribution……

New (built last year) temporary (there is no one living there now) homestead designed to hold livestock to illegally graze in the park during dry spells.

Giraffe in the block of the Park across the Empakasi, adjacent to Sheep & Goat Land

The breeding herd of eland across the river: the instincts of this highly migratory species tell them to move out of the Park; but they have nowhere to go…….

If we do not take the Sheep & Goat land seriously, we might lose the last few gnu we have in NNP…..

The amazing Athi Basin, where all “the migrants” go to after rain…..thankfully, sp. such as kongoni now stay in the Park & their population is increasing by leaps & bounds: elsewhere in Africa, all hartebeest are in steep decline wherever there are cattle (with whom they compete) & therefore overgrazed rangelands, which is not hartebeest habitat…

The dispersal area across the river is vital to NNP & ESPECIALLY TO WILDEBEEST: this is where they live & calve…..

Suburban wildebeest: the pressure is on for this species, both in the Park & in the rest of the Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem…..(remember there used to be 100,000…….!!!!)

The Dispersal Area is riddled with quarries & the air filled with the blasting of dynamite…..the plains of the Athi-Kapiti are , below a miniscule layer of earth, are in fact solid rock!

Tuala, a typical frontier town where land speculation is the main activity: the plains of the Dispersal Area is being rapidly parcelled out: townships & suburban areas will completely encircle the Park within, I would estimate, 10 years…..

For reference:http://nairobinationalpark.wildlifedirect.org/2011/04/12/sheep-goat-land/

One idea: if a part of the northern bit of the Park is to be excised to make way for the Southern Bypass, as seems likely, can the authorities not look to formalise the Sheep & Goat Land as an integral part of NNP, forever??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kori bustards in NNP

Images by Will Knocker……

NNP Predators Gather At Kill…

Images by Dave McKelvie:

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The Nursery Herd

This is the third post on the same theme: new young in NNP. Nothing is as heartening as to observe new forms of life, in whichever ecosystem……

NNP contains one of the largest populations of eland in Kenya.

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Young eland show an intense attraction for each other & form nursery herds after the initial lying up period soon after they are born, when they hide. Very rich milk ensures rapid growth & young eland appear to suckle from any lactating female at this stage…

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They are very vulnerable now & mortality is high (eg from the feral dog packs at Athi River…..)

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Lactating cow on the alert: eland have great sight & hearing & are usually very hard to approach.

As with most sp. in NNP, they have become habituated to vehicles..

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Eland used to migrate out of the Park & they still go ‘out’ to the Sheep & Goat Land, but there is too much human activity in the remaining dispersal area & so they now stay in the Park throughout the year. I think one can expect their numbers to go up (count the numbers of calves in these pictures…) as has been the case with Hartebeest, in steep decline elsewhere owing to competition with livestock (lack of habitat.)

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Sometimes suckling can be TOO much of a good thing…..

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Another  (different) herd in the Eland Hollow valley……this sp. is doing WELL in NNP!

The Last Wildebeest & the Sheep & Goat Land

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Recent pics of the few wildebeest currently in the park…..

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The Last Wildebeest? Gnu are true creatures of the plains, having evolved in the great plains of Africa.

Certainly they have not adapted well to changes in habitat around NNP: fences, human activity, meat-hunting & so on.

It is estimated there could have been at least 100,000 of this sp. in the Athi Kapiti ecosystem, but we are down to the last 500 in NNP: the rest are cut off by the Athi-Namanga Highway….

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Gnu on the move. Scientists have been studying how & where they move in the NNP dispersal area:

http://www.nrel.colostate.edu/projects/gnu/track_nairobi2.php

What seems to be very clear is that our last few gnu spend most of their time centred on the Sheep & Goat Land (see previous posts in the category menu to the left…..

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Gnu at the Athi Dam.

Surely it must be a priority to look very closely at how to integrate the Sheep & Goat Land more securely to the Park.

Or else we will lose the last of these peculiar but wonderful creatures in one of their main habitats……

Kaputiei Plains

Pics by WILL KNOCKER:

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I spent Easter at Kilima Kiu near Konza, at the south of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem of which NNP is a part & drovev the Kapiti (properly Kaputiei) plains to get there…..

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The Kaputiei Plains, looking south west…

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Many cattle died in the drought of 2009 & sheep do well on the short grass plain (heavily grazed.) Ngong Hills in the bachground.

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Tommies, looking west.

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The brand new town of Kitengela: Kenya’s Brave New World…….

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Looking over the Park: the Empakasi river in the Athi Basin