— 25 April 2010
— in East Africa Project
As I am experiencing Kenya for the first time, I am in a constant state of awe. There is a complex, teeming ecology here, more diverse and vibrant than any I had imagined- with roughly 72 species of diurnal raptors and vultures ranging within the country alone, not to mention the amazing diversity of other birds, and the famed complex of large mammals, my binoculars have barely left my neck over the past week to sleep. The scenery is dramatic, too, with rich ochre soils, verdant grassy plains, and cumulus clouds billowing over the volcanic features of the Great Rift Valley. And then there’s the frantic Nairobi traffic; the matatus packed with people and strapped with goods- chairs, bags of maize, and lumber, to name a few; and the calls of “Hello, how are you?” (with the tone rising distinctively on the you) by the smiling and waving children in the street…
The tranquil jetty at Elsamere
At this moment, I’m sitting on the lawn of the beautiful Elsamere Conservation Center, on the southern shore of Lake Naivasha; a reservoir of tranquility and the place that I’ll call home for the next few months. I sit flipping through the days notes on Augur Buzzards, as Vervet monkeys run along the rooftop, stopping to mischievously peer over the gutter at me, before scampering up the towering Acacia tree overhead. A pair of African Fish Eagles call along the lakeshore, potentially indicative of a successful hunt. The distractions here are many, but I will try to concentrate.
An Augur Buzzard takes off
Dr. Munir Virani, the Peregrine Fund’s Africa Program Director, collected detailed data on the Augur Buzzard populations around Lake Naivasha back in the mid-90’s for his PhD. Much has changed since those days, with a boom in the flower industry along the lake’s southern shore, and a correlative drastic increase in the human population in the vicinity. My goal for the next few months, in brief, is to revisit all of the breeding territories that he documented then, to see whether they are still active. The question is whether the Augur Buzzard, a relatively abundant and highly adaptable raptor species, has been able to withstand these drastic land-use changes. And if they have declined in the horticultural and urbanized areas, have populations remained stable in the control-like territories within Hell’s Gate National Park and a private wildlife-ranch, which have changed little since the 90’s?
The first few days in the field have been intriguing. Munir introduced me to his contacts, gave me a grand tour of Hell’s Gate National Park (see the previous “Notes from the Field”), lent me a bike and a GPS unit, and I’ve gone out in search of the buzzards. The morning ride from Elsamere coincides with the rush hour for the workers at the flower farms. A steady stream of bike-goers, walkers, and matatus make their way down the pot-holed country road, as the cicadas start to buzz in the warming morning sun. Passing the flower farms, the traffic dissipates and the road is nearly empty.
Wild ungulates graze at the Mundui grasslands at Naivasha
A few Augur Buzzards circle here and there, and I stop to watch them, sitting under a tree. Here, with views of open Acacia woodlands, the mammals are plenty: sightings of baboon, Vervet and Colobus monkey, zebra, warthog, giraffe, buffalo, eland, waterbuck, hartebeest, impala, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, and hippo have been common. Eventually I peel my eyes away from all the diversity and refocus on the buzzards, noting plumage patterns, behavior, and range. In this first week, I’ve been covering large swaths of the countryside in order acquaint myself with the surroundings, returning late in the afternoon with tired legs and a belly yearning for delicious Kenyan cuisine. I’ll report soon with updates on the Augur buzzard presence around Lake Naivasha and other interesting sightings from East Africa…
Find more articles about African Fish Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Africa