Thirsty Herds

By Will Knocker:

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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.

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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.

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Plains zebra watering at the Athi dam.

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Zebra & gnu in the Athi Basin.

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Gravel pits become useful water points in dry years like this.

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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!

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No Answers from KWS…..

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 7th OCTOBER 2013

Mike Davidson, Heather Elkins, Fleur Ng’Weno, Karen Plumbe and myself
met up at 7.00am at the Main Entrance to Nairobi National Park. The
reason for the late start was that the traffic was appalling with the
construction still continuing past its completion date. The transition
through the gate was speedy and efficient, and we made straight for
KWS Main Gate after stopping to appreciate a Willow Warbler that had
survived the gauntlet of Mediterranean bird killers and was busily
feeding in a flowering Milletia.
It was a bright and sunny day and remained so, though never actually
got that hot.

Apart from a pair of Suni, the garden was not at all rewarding. The
usual birds were present, with additionally five Violet-backed
Starlings and a flock of forty Eurasian Bee-eaters flew over. From
here we went to the Ivory Burning Site with nothing at all to make us
linger.

The Thick-knees were not on the Nagalomon drift, but the Red-collared
Widowbird that lives in a very small area, and has managed never to
lose its tail, was. It is such an incredibly tame individual and feeds
alongside quite unconcerned. The dam itself was very quiet, there were
a couple of Darters, a few Black-crowned Night-Heron were loafing in
the waterside woodland, but it was too much like daylight for any
nest-building activity. With them was what was presumably the same
Madagascar Pond Heron seen resting on this same perch a number of
times over this season. But now it had greatly changed and was going
white, (see attached image), as it progresses into breeding plumage,
and soon to leave us.

Nothing was encountered along the back road to Hyena Dam, apart from
three Green and a Wood Sandpiper along the creek, and at the dam we
were to be confused by the presence of three Darters (were there still
darters at Nagalomon Dam?). It was a nice coffee break entertainment
watching their tilapia-catching success. Other than this we could only
muster a couple of White-faced Whistling-Ducks, a noisy African Water
Rail, three more Wood Sandpipers, and a few Barn Swallows that
remained a common sight all through the Park today. The only Whinchat
of the day was on the run-off and two Long-crested Eagles along the
Mokoyeti, and as these had all primaries accounted for and we had seen
one with several primaries missing near Nagalomon Dam, then there were
three birds in the area.

Then we took the long and boring drive from here all the way to Athi
Basin. It must be so frustrating for visitors to see all the plains
game such a long way off and not being able to get anywhere near them
for a photograph. Soon the word will get out that Nairobi National
Park is now a most frustrating place to see the wildlife, and no
chance of photographs at all, and will go elsewhere. One has to wonder
about the sensitivity to customer requirements by the people are in
tasked to manage the Park, they are certainly very quiet,
non-responsive to enquiries as to why all the roads have been closed,
and show no interest in replying to the questions sent to them both by
Fonnap and Nature Kenya.
So we drove through seeing dot-like Kongoni, dot-like White Rhinos,
dot-like gazelles etc. Birds were equally mundane with our confinement
to the main highway, though we found the first of four Secretarybirds,
of course the reliable Martial Eagle was at its nest, the Tawny Eagles
at Mbuni Picnic Site have fledged, and there was a group of five
Orange-breasted Waxbills flying ahead of us and feeding quite openly.
Although with bright red rumps, none of them showed anything other
than pale buff underparts and were thought a family of fledged
immatures. We did have a magnificent male Saddle-billed Stork that
could have put its bill through the window, and after very close
admiration we drove away leaving it still attending to its appearance.

Finally after the long long drag, thankfully after the speeding
commuters were already through the Park, and did not have to suffer
their dust along with all the poor suffering visiting tourists who get
their lens coated, thanks to them, in a dangerous abrasive film…. we
arrived at Athi Basin and at the murrum pits (road closed) we could
see a pair of Crowned Cranes who knows what else was in there.
Vultures were coming in to bathe (this used to be such a daily tourist
spectacle before the road was closed off), but now they land behind
the gravel hills, again who knows what was in there.

Athi Dam greeted us with a stunning vista of thirteen illegal giant
pylons, but worse than this was a smell that was so acrid it tingled
the nasal passages. It was like being in an over-chlorinated
swimming-pool. Because there was quite a wind, we could not tell
whether this was a contamination at the dam, or was noxious odour
blowing in from outside of the Park. It could be quite serious.
However there were no dead birds or mammals, but then again the dam
was as birdless at I have ever seen it at this time of year. The first
Common Buzzard of the season was feeding over the grasslands, a dark
bird. Later on we had a pale Common Buzzard near Leopard Cliffs. Of
the larger African species, there were single Crowned Crane,
Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Grey Heron, and only a handful
of Marabous. Waders were four Spur-winged, eight Blacksmith and
fifteen Kittlitz’s Plovers whilst migrants were just three each of
Little Stints, Common Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers and a Green
Sandpiper. Six Speckled Pigeon fed on the foreshore weeds, and three
Black-crowned Night-Herons roosted on the Causeway. Whilst we had
lunch, Eurasian Bee-eaters could be heard somewhere. We saw a few more
bee-eaters along the Mbagathi and at Kingfisher Picnic Site.

Nothing along the road towards Cheetah Gate, apart from an incubating
Secretarybird, the Pearl-spotted Owlet was calling in the usual place
along the river, but could not be induced out into the heat of the
day. There were six stunningly all blue and black Violet Wood-Hoopoes
here, feeding low and glistening in the sunlight, and a couple of
Wattled Starlings fed on the backs of Zebra. Just above the Hippo
Pools was a group of three Speckle-fronted Weavers and the final birds
of the day were a pair of unseen noisy Brown Parrots calling down the
valley at Kingfisher, where they were two weeks ago. Possibly they are
nesting along there.

Black-shouldered Kite numbers might be dropping away now, with ten
seen, and no Lesser Striped Swallows have come back yet.

As far as the more interesting mammals are concerned, we had Hippos on
Nagalomon, Hyena and Athi Dams, a female Steinbok above the Athi
Basin, a Syke’s Monkey on the Mokoyeti just below Nagalomon, a
Side-striped Ground-Squirrel at Baboon Cliffs where there were nine
Bush Hyrax.

In the Rhino Circuit area we counted over 150 Cattle and three
cowherders inside the Park. We reported this to the ranger at Hippo
Pools. It took a long time to wake him up as he was in deep slumber,
he listened rolled over went back to his siesta and did absolutely
nothing. Cattle along the Rhino Circuit are a stake out, blind Freddie
could not miss them, but it seems a blind spot for KWS.

Just a little east from the Massai Gate turn-off we saw a woman
walking along the valley heading towards Lion Dip carrying a large
white sack.

At Nagalomon Dam having not long been in the Park, we were harassed by
a surly group of rangers led by a smile-less woman, that wanted to
check our tickets. Quite honestly I can think of far more pressing
issues that checking the damn tickets. If we are in there every week,
isn’t it obvious that we are in there having paid, if they check our
tickets and find them in order every time, is it likely that we have
tried to buck the system on this occasion?

The previous day was the organised game count. Some friends of mine
have been doing the count on the same block just north from Baboon
Cliffs for the past thirty years. Of course it is a service provided
freely in every respect by the interested citizens of Nairobi for the
benefit of KWS. There had always been an arrangement that rather than
drive all the way up Magadi Road and down to the Main Gate, that they
would enter Langata Gate (originally it was Banda Gate down the bottom
of our road, but they stopped that). They arrived and there was not a
soul stirring, after banging on the gate, a woman came to the gate and
said there was no-one there and they could not come in. So they had to
drive all the way round to Main Entrance. They advised me that there
was an official looking woman at Main Gate who was very neatly
dressed, obviously in charge and they took as the Warden. They told
them their problem with no-one at Langata Gate, in the politest of
manners, but the woman stormed of in a huff without acknowledging the
problem, and was most abrupt.
(All this is as it was reported to me, and I trust it implicitely).
Then they were doing the same block, counting game as they always had
on every organised game count, and a KWS vehicle drove up to them and
told them they were “Off Road Driving!!!!!!!!”

It will be most interesting to see the figures, they have to be down a
conservative 70% as there is no way to get to the animals to count
them now. If the numbers remain similar to before, then the accuracy
has to be seriously questioned.

As the Park continues its management spiral downhill, all these issues
now have to be addressed very urgently. The Director of Wildlife need
be aware of the problems, and Fonnap really needs to do something
positive in finding out what is going on with the administration of
the Park.

We were out of the Park just after 4.00pm and the traffic moved
steadily…..

Depressing Developments in NNP

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 30TH September 2013

Mike Davidson, Heather Elkins, Salma Watt and myself met at the Main
Entrance to Nairobi National Park at 6.30am. It was a bright and sunny
day, and remained as such all day. There was evidence of recent rain
with drying puddles, and dams higher than last week. The gate was very
efficient and we were through in little time.

Our first call was to KWS Mess gardens, where in spite of being a
beautiful morning there was not initially much activity. Eurasian
Bee-eaters could be heard not too far away, an Eastern Honeybird was
displaying, two Pale Flycatchers have returned after an absence, the
Black-collared Apalis sang alone, and some very nice Violet-backed
Starlings glowed on the lawn. There were five Suni around the gardens,
and later in the day another on the Main Entrance Road.
From here we had a few African Firefinches on the road to Ivory
Burning Site, which proved an uneventful pause, and continuing on to
Nagalomon Dam we were delighted to see that three Spotted Thick-knees
had returned to the drift, and whilst all three had yellow eyes, one
bird looked as if it might have been a younger bird.
At the dam there was much activity from the Black-crowned Night-Herons
as they set up territories, a pair of adult Darters were perched on
the other side, two Little Grebes were the first I had seen here, and
a couple of Green Sandpipers fed along the edge.

Along the back road to Hyena Dam there were African Water Rails
calling at the swamp, where the first Whinchat of the season was
found. This was soon followed by a second on the track to Hyena Dam
and a further two on the run-off. There were a pair of adult Darters
here, having just left the adult pair at Nagalomon Dam we were not
sure if they had come in ahead of us, but with the convolutions of our
route today we passed both dams again and both had Darter adults. So
either they have a strange sense of humour or there are two adult
pairs present!
A surprise here was an adult Striated Heron, whilst a resident
breeding species along the Mbagathi, this was in fact the first I had
ever seen in the north on any of the dams in this area, and whilst
watching it the stunning adult male payesi Little Bittern shot its
head up for a look right alongside it. African Water Rails called from
the typha but stayed hidden, and on each side of the dam there were
single adult with single very large grey and white Swamphens. There
were one Green and three Wood Sandpipers along the edge and several
groups of Wattled Starlings were coming to bathe in the feeder stream.

With the barred access to Karen Primary School and Eland Hollow Dams,
there was no point taking the often monotonous long drive through the
grasslands to the Athi Basin, so we opted to take the short cut to the
south road. It might be added that whilst KWS have been asked by
Fonnap and Nature Kenya as to why the roads have been closed over a
major portion of the Park, they have not come back with any
explanation and no expletives will be used in the preparation of this
report!
On the Mokoyeti Bridge there was a Wahlberg’s Honeybird hiding well in
the bushes, an adult Martial Eagle was at the nest, with the chick
almost its size already, a pair of noisy White-bellied Bustards, and a
stop at Leopard Cliffs provided just one of the two Barn Swallows
today. Very strange after the passage last Tuesday, maybe these are
just the survivors of a large contingent that tried to pass through
Egypt, and finished up in Cairo restaurants instead!

Along the Mbagathi the Pearl-spotted Owlet was present in the same
place, not too much activity around him although we did hear a Willow
Warbler calling. There were a few Eurasian Bee-eaters flying high, and
our only Secretarybird seen today. This is not necessarily a reduction
in numbers, but reflective of the prime Secretarybird habitat now
access-barred by KWS.

We continued to Athi Dam, there was a gathering of Marabous, four
Yellow-billed Storks and four African Spoonbills, and two adult
Open-billed Storks associating with them. There was one Black-crowned
Night-Heron on the Causeway, where two dead Cattle Egrets were
entangled in the acacia thorns. Maybe they are using this as a roost,
but then who knows as the KWS policy of us all having to be checked
out of the park by 6.00pm means that all of the interesting bird and
mammal activity is never witnessed, the second most interesting part
of the day spent in the Park. Still no expletives! There were three
pairs of Spur-winged Plovers and some fifteen Kittlitz’s, migrants
being seven Little Stint, two Common Sandpipers and four Greenshank
only. A Speckled Pigeon dropped in to feed on the weeds bordering the
dam.
Whilst on the Causeway with coffee occupying one hand, and a
comestible in the other, a group of waders flashed past through a gap
in the trees and was not seen to land. On terminating the
refreshments, it was now essential to locate this group, as the
trailing bird was larger and had very flashy white bands on the wings.
We retraced our route back towards the north end of the dam, and
amongst a group of Kittlitz’s Plovers was a very handsome Sanderling.
There are historical records from the Park, we don’t know if relating
to very white Little Stints or the real thing and so they were
disregarded from the main part of the Nairobi National Park Bird
Checklist, and relegated to unsubstantiated historical records. This
bird is fully documented (see image) and there is no question of there
being a Sanderling in NNP. Not so extraordinary inland, with annual
passage through the Rift Valley Lakes, all records have been on very
large water bodies, and a record from a small dam is very unusual. It
was very tired, eye-lids determined to close, and not feeding.
We retraced our track back to Nagalomon Dam, via the top of Athi
Basin, without finding anything much of further interest although it
was hot by now. A pair of adults Ostriches that showed some indication
of Somali in their make-up had eight small chicks with very bright
orange-rufous crowns.
Taking the Kisembe Forest track for the first time since the flooding
earlier in the year we thought we would have our late picnic lunch at
the “Drinking Pond,” on the edge of the forest. This can be a very
rewarding place for birds coming in to slake their thirst in the
hottest time of the day when other areas are very quiet. Migrant
Sylvia warblers are particularly drawn to this water, and all four
species have been seen drinking at the same time, although Gardens are
by far the most abundant. It is the only site where Lemon Doves have
been seen in modern times, again arriving to drink, but a whole host
of other species come out of the forest like Placid and
Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls etc., Madagascar Pond Herons like to chase
frogs in the shallows, and it is pleasurable to sit there for several
hours and watch the comings and goings. So it seemed to be an ideal
place to spend an hour or so as it was warm and the place had grown
quiet. IT HAD BEEN BLOCKED OF BY KWS!!!!!! They really do seem to be
out to make birding far less enjoyable than it used to be. At least
they are successful in this one thing.
As we continued there were eight Eurasian Bee-eaters flying around the
vlei, and finally we came to the Langata Dam, again not visited for
some time as having to be out of the gate at 6.00pm really eats into
the day. Here there was an African Jacana, and a surprise of four
large fully winged Spur-winged Geese, probably the Eland Hollow/Karen
Primary School brood. It was very thick in the sedges and whilst we
saw four there could have been more. Just along the road from here was
a Northern Wheatear, really a late first date for a migrant Wheatear
in the Park. Maybe the bird-slaughtering Egyptians again have consumed
the first birds that should have been here.
We departed at 4.00pm to avoid the worst of the traffic arriving from
town, but soon maybe (supposed to be completed in four days time), we
should have the traffic more free-flowing once again.

Game was poor, in the parts of the Park we were allowed in just a few
Zebra, Hartebeeste and the usual plains game but no numbers.
Highlights today were a Side-striped Ground-Squirrel along the
Mabagathi, and charming Bush Hyraxes at Baboon Cliffs.

As the KWS is the body charged with the mandate for conserving the
integrity of the Park for its citizens, I reserve the right to comment
on the work I observe there by these public servants. If there was
something of an improvement, I would report as such, but everything I
see taking place in Nairobi National Park is retrogressive and handled
dictatorially.

Back to birds, there still have not been any Lesser Striped Swallows
coming back, Black-shouldered Kites seemed down, with only five or
six, but again it could be the lack of area visited. Interestingly we
encountered Augur Buzzards eight times, maybe duplication, but this is
more observation than usual.