I am just heading back to Nairobi from a place called Machakos, about 70km from Nairobi. One of Kenya’s 60 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) is found here and is known as Machakos IBA. I have a personal interest in this area; I have been monitoring a Wahlberg’s Eagle pair in the area for the last 3 years which comes in around August of every year and leaves by April of the next year. Wahlberg’s Eagle is an intra-African migrant raptor and also the smallest of the dark Eagles otherwise called Aquila eagles.
I have watched a number of wild animals in this area, especially in a local agricultural Institute center (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute-KARI) where I made reference to in an earlier post, ‘no poisoning here’. Bordering this area is the Athi-Kapiti plains with its wildlife ranches such as Hopkraft’s Ranch. It is in these plains that the worst of the recently vulture poisoning incidences took place and 187 of the species succumbed to poisoning in 2004. For a while I felt the research institute had every reason to boast a fairly intact habitat relative to the surrounding almost absolute natural habitat depleted neighbourhood. For another reason, I have seen vultures and other raptors pass over this area and sighed, “mmhh they must be confident the chances of coming across baited carcass in this area is minimum compared to the neighbouring Athi plains”.
Fairly intact vegetation on KARI.
The view from mid photo into background is cleared, settled and cultivated land.
It is in this research centre that the Wahlberg’s Eagles found a safe confine where to put up a nest and renovate it year in year out before laying their egg or two utmost. Naturally, only one young survives in case they were two hatchlings because of the phenomenon called canism which essentially is the killing of the weaker hatchling by the stronger. Canism is well explained in one post in Simon Thomsett’s blog. Unfortunately, for the last two years I have monitored the eagles, their nesting has always been a failure especially because intruders somehow always cut down the tree where the Eagles nest. I even went on to request for the large, high canopied trees to be closely monitored by the institute’s farm management which seem to be this small eagle’s favourite. However, today, in my morning scouting around the institute’s premises, I still realized this is on-going, though the tree that the eagles last put up their nest is still intact.
The eagles‘ nesting tree is the tallest in the photo.
Tree stump of recently felled tree
The birds literally left for their southerly bound journey (to Angola most probably where they spend their time when they are not around) without nesting, probably because of human disturbance or the time for their departure had just reached. Normally, they would be renovating the nest at about this time (September- October). Last breeding season, the tree on which they were nesting and were actually incubating in November 2007 was cut down. They ended up staying much longer and after identifying another tree, constructed a nest then left.
(Check the nests in the photo taken from the underside of the canopy. The one on the left was left. The one to the right might be the active one though dominant at the moment)
I was hopeful I would get them in their nest today especially when I heard a loud domestic chicken, chick-like quick squeals which I have heard them make while courting and nest-building but it was not them. I walked around avoiding disturbing them in case they were in the nest but actually they were not even in sight. I went back up the river valley and saw one individual airborne. At least they are around but may be this once safer haven no longer has hope for them especially after no nesting successes for the last 2 breeding seasons.
There is still evidence small game though. Dik diks, mongooses and hares are typical. Below are the crepuscular hare’s pellets/droppings, fresh from early morning deposition I would suppose.
I have observed a whole lot of variety of migrating birds stop over to replenish their energy packs before proceeding on south or north. These include the Pallid Harriers, Montagu’s Harriers, Black Storks, Red-backed Shrikes, Red-tailed Shrikes, Barn Swallows, Common House Martins just to mention but a few. All these roost and forage on the research institute’s grounds, but the whole lot of optimum conditions seem to be collapsing. Besides the human encroachment on the habitat, even the wetland has dried up! I never saw this wetland dry up completely even during the driest of the months. Global warming I would suppose. As a result, skulking coloured rock lizards on the rocky river bed are nowhere (I only saw one) whereas the once flowing river only has only a few pools of stagnated water. I wonder how the frogs are doing!
Dried up mud and surrounding rocky river bed where the river flowed out of the wetland
Drying up reeds
Remnant water pools
Generally, this wildlife haven just looks like it is going down.