BIRDING AROUND NAIROBI…………OVER 250 SPECIES OF BIRDS IN DIFFERENT LOCATIONS WITHIN 100 KMS OF NAIROBI

Worldly re-known for the most remarkable mammal fauna and birds on Earth, Kenya has an amazing diversity of birdlife with over 1089 recorded species and some currently being split into different sub-species and perhaps more waiting to be either re-discovered or newly discovered.

Kenya’s birdlife makes Kenya to be one of the top 10 World Best Birding Countries with about 11% of the World’s bird’s population and about 60% of the Birds of Africa. It is not unusual for birding groups to record more than 150 species within a day of comfortable birding and more than 600 species within two weeks.

These amazing diversity has been made possible by a number of reasons for example; favorable equatorial climate, a remarkable variety of habitats- anything from High-altitude Forests,- extreme deserts, wonderful collection of swamps, seasonal pools, great lakes, magnificent rivers and of course the Indian Ocean. Here in Kenya birds are everywhere you go and you cannot afford to ignore them.

Kenya’s Birding starts in Nairobi, - Kenya’s capital city with a busting population of around 4.5 million people. Nairobi is considered as one of the most strategically positioned city on Earth and famous for being the only capital city in the World that borders a protected game park- Nairobi National Park. It is also located approximately 30 Kms away from the Rift Valley and sandwiched between 3 Worldly recognized mountains- Mt.Kilimanjaro in the south, Mt. Kenya in the north and the Aberdares in north-west. The wonderful collection of plants ranging in different habitats attracts more than 250 relatively easily seen bird species of which approximately 50 are either endemics to East Africa or regional specialities. The checklist of Nairobi areas is well over 650 recorded species.

Many visitors to Kenya head straight from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to their respective places of visit, Business, Conference, Safari or Beach destinations. They however spend very little time in Nairobi and hence miss an opportunity for a good way to begin a holiday in Kenya.

As a bird- Tour Guide –Ben Mugambi describes, there are over 20 described local sites that have been well designated for birding within Nairobi and 60 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the whole country. There are many other undescribed or unprotected areas, but still offers superb birding with even rare or endemic species. Your options can be easily organized either prior to your arrival or locally on arrival.

No matter whether you are a beginner or an expert, twicher or just a photographer; Nairobi has something for everyone!

By; Ben Mugambi
ben@bensecologicalsafaris.com


A Survey of Hinde’s Babbler:  2000-2001.

Being rather thinly distributed and associated with unremarkable, scrubby habitat, the status of Hinde’s Babbler Turdoides hindei is difficult to gauge.  Historically, the species has been recorded from 40 10 x 10 km square, stretching from Meru in the north, east to Nziu and Kitui, and south to Machakos.  By the late 1970s, however, its range appeared to have contracted into a ‘core’ area around Embu (Plumb, 1979. Scopus 3(3): 61-67).  Thankfully, it has since been re-found in many of its old haunts, and newly discovered at Mukurwe-ini Valleys, Nyeri District.

Despite these discoveries the species’ global range and population remain very small, and much of its scrubby habitat has recently been cleared for cultivation.  To help clarify its status, the National Museum of Kenya conducted a survey of Hinde’s Babblers at three sites in 1993-94, and at six sites during 2000-01.  Much of this earlier work underpinned the selection of IBAs for Hinde’s Babbler, which is at Machakos, Mukurwe-ini, Kitui and Mwea Game Reserve.

The 2000-01 surveys were carried out by John Musina and Patrick Gichuki of NMK, and by Phil Shaw from Scottish Natural Heritage.  In addition to the sites covered by Peter Njoroge in 1994, they made brief surveys of Mwea Game Reserve, Kitui and Meru National park.  The main aims of these surveys were:  to assess the distribution and population size of Hinde’s Babbler; to measure its breeding output; and to examine the relationship between abundance, group size, breeding output and habitat.

A composite estimate for the six sites surveyed during 1994-2001 suggests a minimum population of 665 birds in 157 groups, of which about 77% occurred within the ‘core’ areas of Mukurwe-ini, Kianyaga and Mwea.  Only about 8% of the known population were found within the two protected areas surveyed (Mwea G.R. and Meru N.P.), while about 62% occurred in or around five IBAs, as they are currently configured (Shaw et al., 2003 Bird Conservation  International 13:1-12).  Paradoxically, the highest densities were found at Mukurwe-ini and kianyaga (the most intensively cultivated sites), where up to eight birds were found per km of water course.  Densities were substantially lower in the more arid areas of Machakos, Mwea G.R. and Meru N.P.  Although some 70 birds were found along the NW boundary of Meru National Park, the bulk of these occurred in partly cultivated land just outside of the park, mainly around Kindani and Nyati camp sites.

Of those birds seen clearly enough to age (by eye colour), fledglings and immatures together accounted for about 16% of the sample in 2000 and 20% in 2001.  Breeding output was therefore higher than in the Northern Pied Babbler (11% offspring in 2000), and comparable with that of two other African babbler species.

Full details of the 2000-01 surveys are given in NMK Ornithology Reports 40 & 42.   Although these surveys have thrown some light on the species’ abundance at six sites, little is known of its status elsewhere.  For example, there have been no records of Hinde’s Babbler at Ol Donyo Sapuk N.P. since the 1970s or from Nziu since 1932!  Its status at Thika is also unclear, following sighting of two birds near there in 1999.  Reports of further sighting of Hinde’s Babbler are very much appreciated!

By; Phil Shaw & John Musina
phil.shaw@snh.gov.uk
birds@africaonline.co.ke

Conserving the Home of the Critically Endangered Taita Thrush.


The forest remnants on the top of the Taita Hills are home to three endemic and endangered bird species.  Among them is the Taita Thrush Turdus helleri, a secretive, specialized ground-dwelling forest bird.  These beautiful birds are found in only four forest fragments, Mbololo, Ngangao, Chawia and Yale, and their small population and range categories them as critically endangered.

The Taita Thrush resembles the Olive Thrush, and for some time was considered conspecific with it.  However, the Taita Thrush is darker above, with a much redder bill and white belly and under tail coverts.  The young bird has a heavily mottled breast.  The song of the Taita Thrush is not well known, as it is often confused with the song of the Orange Ground Thrush, also found in the Taita forests.

Taita Thrushes feed, roost and nest in the indigenous forest, and do not normally venture into other habitats.  They favour areas with dense forest under story and abundant insects.  Individuals stay within their home range from year to year.  The Taita Apalis (sometimes considered a race of the Bar-throated Apalis) and the Taita White-eye (sometimes considered a race of the Montane White-eye) is also found in these remnant forests.

The tiny size of the Taita Hills forests, and the dense human population surrounding them, make them extremely vulnerable.  Most of the fragments are already heavily disturbed.

Conservation of these unique forests will require integrated planning and action.  Several initial steps are obvious.  Those forests that have not yet been gazetted should become Nature Reserves, under the Forests Act, but even this status may not afford adequate protection.  Kenyan law presently lacks provision for small nature reserves to be designed for their biodiversity importance.  The draft new museum and Heritage Bill, which has just been published, allows such sites to be gazetted as National Monuments.  If this legislation comes into force, the Taita Hills forests would be obvious place to apply it.

Plantation of exotic trees, mainly conifers, makes up a substantial area of all major fragments.  These plantations appear to be performing poorly.  However, indigenous vegetation is regenerating underneath the canopy.  Controlled felling that allows gradual natural forest regrowth could eventually increase the indigenous forest area substantially.  At the same time, it is clear that the increasing, demand by the surrounding population for fuel, wood poles and; other forest products cannot be met sustainably from the natural forests.

By; JOHN MUSINA
kbirds@africaonline.co.ke