By Will Knocker:
It is dry in the Park, so water-holes are at a premium …
By Will Knocker:
A giraffe in the Sosian Valley: King of all he surveys….
Zebras were crossing the Empakasi river to come back into the Park
My favourite spot: the Athi Dam
Nursey herd of Easternwhite-bearded wildebeest at the Athi Dam
Which contains (sometimes hidden) dangers
Eland Hollow, with the city as a backdrop
By Will Knocker:
Things are getting very dry in Nairobi National Park & several sources of water like this gravel pit are now dry: shouldn’t they be scooped out now, ready for the Rains?
Driving into the Mokoyeti valley gives the impression of a dessicated landscape…
The Acacia mellifera is in flower: it only does so when provoked by a dry period: food for bees & other insects…
This is a good time for the scavengers such as these vultures: NNP is a refuge for these Masters of the Skies…not a cloud to be seen
The large mammals such as the 150 or so Masai giraffe we have in the Park are hungry & wandering far in search of browse: they cannot go too far into the humanised world outside the Park: they are constrained…
A victim of drought, strangely untouched by scavengers…
Wildlife ,such as this tommy, stay close to sources of water (Empakasi river)
The wildebeest are giving birth in this unusually dry year: will the precious calves survive? Only a few thousand of this sub-species of gnu exists: about 500 of them in NNP
Nursery herd of Eastern white-bearded gnus
The Plains zebra are foaling too: it’s tough for the youngsters & their lactating mothers too..
The Athi dam is receding & a magnet for all forms of wildlife..
Like these thirsty zebras…
This old Grant’s gazelle will not survive this bitter season
But in the receding dams, new life emerges: White-faced whistling duck & ducklings
Aquatic birds like the splendid Saddle-billed stork look out of place on the dry plains…
Whilst impalas stay in the shade at mid-day
The dams are frequented by thirsty herds…
And the Empakasi river flows very slowly. We all await the Life-giving Rains…..
By Will Knocker:
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…
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.
Brand new house & fence in this area, supposedly leased by the Wildlife Foundation as open rangeland suitable for wildlife.
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.
The area, especially in the woodland within the Park, has been taken over by the dreaded invasive weed Parthenium.
The boundary road along the edge of the Park.
The Athi Plains were rich & very biodiverse, especially in species of large grazers. These are now confined to the Park.
The Last Gnu? We’re nearly there….
A vision of the Future: urbanization & a world in which wild grazers have been replaced by cattle.
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?
This just about sums it up……
The Park boundary….
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 .
By Will Knocker:
It looks like the Rains have failed in Southern Kenya & the Park is getting very dry, causing the wildebeest population (c.250 animals) to come into the Park proper from the Sheep & Goat land across the Empakasi.
Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus). This is a rare sub-species of gnu which consists of less than 5000 individuals East of the Rift Valley. In this respect Nairobi National Park is a very important haven for these creatures.
Plains zebra watering at the Athi dam.
Zebra & gnu in the Athi Basin.
Gravel pits become useful water points in dry years like this.
A wet August was not great for nesting ostriches, but these guys seem to be alright. Sadly very heavy mortality amongst young ostrich means that almost certainly these chicks will be eaten!
By Will Knocker:
In the current dry spell, bustards are more visible as the long grass dissipates.
NNP is a haven for at least 4 sp. of bustard (see Bustards category on the menu on the left for more stories.)
This is a male White-bellied bustard..
And the female (White-bellied)….the loud braying ventriloquial calls of this sp. are a typical sound of the plains.
Cryptic in her colouring & blending perfectly into her grassland habitat…
A male Black-bellied bustard…
By Will Knocker:
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).”
Hope for the future? A yearling (born March 2012)……
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).
‘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 .
Cows & yearlings in the Athi Basin yesterday…
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
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.
Story & pics by WILL KNOCKER:
On wednesday this week, Ed & Jeremy Hildebrand & I spent all day in the Park in superb weather & saw the best that the constantly surprising NNP has to offer….. first, these rhinos, note the bull on the right marking his territory with a horizontal blast of pee…
Early morning along the Empakasi was like a Vision of Eden…..
Then we came across this nursey herd of eland (calves suckle from any lactating female they find, an adaption to the nomadic way of life of these antelopes, who are constantly on the move.) NNP contains one of the most significant herds of eland in Kenya & the population is rising…
We definitely had a rhino day: we saw several unusual herds of Black (Browse) rhinos at close quarters….
We stopped for coffee at the Athi Dam, where zebra were watering & this kongoni posed for us. The kongoni population in NNP is exploding, bucking the trend in the rest of Kenya, where this sp. is in steep decline..
A spiral of large raptors brought us to this dramatic site: a kill…..
Ant the perpetrator, a stuffed lioness….
A pair of jackals tried to drive off the estimated 80 vultures gathered for the feast: an eland….but were ignored…..
But all soon moved off at the ‘owner’ returned to protect her kill….
There was masses of ‘plains game’ in the Athi Basin & on the top plains, where we found these zebra twins….
The Rains have not been good so far & so most biomass is in the park owing to overgrazing in the rangelands where they usually go at this time of year. The return of both Gran’ts & Thomson’s gazelles to the Park after many years of a ‘long grass’ regime is heartening. But where are the cheetah?
Ostriches under a big blue sky….
Proved to be a group with an adolescent chick: the last survivor (there is very heavy mortality amongst young ostriches…)
Then clever Ed spotted no less than six Black backed jackals: a pair of adults & four grown up cubs: great news for these little canids, which are not common in NNP…..
A bull Grass (White) rhino…..was this the individual translocated from the Mara after all his companions were killed?
As usual the Park was A1 for birds……this is a Superb starling, though we also saw the aptly named Hildebrandt’s……
And yet another bull rhino……
This was all BEFORE lunch, when we returned to Silole Cottage, where these piggies were enjoying a cooling wallow.
In the afternoon, yet more (Browse) rhinos…..
And in the Langata forest, Jeremy spotted this pair of magnificent Bateleurs, the only pair in the Park!!
And on our way home, in the distance, a new baby rhino…we couldn’t make out which type….
What a day! What a Park!