The Current Status of Kenya’s Bird Atlas: Part 2 of 7 – The Central Highlands

As stated in our previous blog post, over the next few weeks we will be assessing the coverage so far achieved on the Kenya Bird Map – Kenya’s current bird atlas project. The first area of the country that we will take a close look at is the central highlands. This region includes the capital city, Nairobi, and is one of the densest populated parts of the country. It is also among the highest rainfall areas and contains several of the country’s major forests. This region is also a major water catchment area for Kenya as three of the country’s largest rivers (the Tana, Athi-Galana-Sabaki and Northern Ewaso Nyiro) arise from here.

Specifically, the region we are looking at comprises of Nairobi, Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Embu, Tharaka-Nithi, Meru, Nyeri, Nyandarua and Nakuru counties (see map below). Key features in this region include Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, the Kinangop Plateua, the central Rift Valley and the eastern Mau Forest.

Central Kenya - KBM.jpg
The central Kenya highlands

The Coverage

On the Kenya Bird Map, the central highlands is the best-covered region in the country, with a very high concentration of pentads with full protocol cards compared to the rest of the country (see below). The main reason for this is the fact that this region has the highest number of resident bird watchers in Kenya, and similarly, the highest number of Kenya Bird Map observers actively submitting records on a regular basis.

Central Kenya coverage zoomed out
Central Kenya is clearly the best covered region in the country
Central Kenya coverage
A closer look at the current coverage of central Kenya (the key on the right indicates the number of full protocol cards submitted for each pentad)

The minimum number of full protocols considered suitable for analyzing distribution and relative abundance data from pentads is 4. Therefore, the best-covered areas are those with the highest number of pentads with 4 or more cards submitted (see the color code next to the map to see the number of cards each pentad has).

Within central Kenya, the best-covered area extends from Nairobi and its immediate environs (including Limuru and Thika) north-west through the central Rift Valley to Nakuru. This forms a nearly solid block of atlassed pentads. Notably, nearly all the pentads in Nairobi and around the three main central Rift lakes (Naivasha, Elementaita and Nakuru) have more than 4 full protocol cards – a great achievement by the area’s bird atlassers!

Nairobi-Nakuru coverage
Nairobi-Nakuru coverage

Another nice nearly unbroken chain of covered pentads extends from Othaya and Mukurwe-ini north along the highway through Naro Moru, Nanyuki and Timua to Meru. Meru National Park also has some fairly good coverage, although several pentads on the edge of the park are still unmapped. See below.

Othaya-Meru Coverage.JPG
Othaya-Meru coverage

Major Gaps

One huge gap in the coverage that stands out is at the western end of Nakuru County, extending from Mau Narok to Keringet and Kamwaura. This area was all historically part of the Mau Forest but is now heavily settled (see maps below). Data from here can be compared with historical records to show what impact deforestation has had on the area’s birds. (Eburru Forest – the easternmost section of the Mau – does, however, have some fairly good coverage).

Gap - Mau Narok.JPG
Western Nakuru gap
Gap - Mau Narok satellite.JPG
Satellite view of the same area, showing the deforestation

Another big gap in Nakuru County lies north of Nakuru town and extends to the county boundary just south of Lake Bogoria and east into Nyandarua County. This area is a mix of pentads that are either unmapped or have less than 4 full protocols. It includes Solai, Subukia, Dondori, Bahati, Kampi Ya Moto, Rongai and Machege. Nyahuru and Lake Ol Bolosat, just east of this gap, have fairly good coverage but the southern end of the lake still has just one full protocol card.

Gap - Solai.JPG
Solai and environs gap

The Aberdares are also (surprisingly) quite poorly covered, with a mix of pentads that are unmapped or have few records. In fact, only about 4 pentads touching the entire Aberdare Mountain Range (including Mount Kipipiri) have 4 or more full protocols (see maps below). Gatamaiyo Forest is the best-covered part of the Aberdares.

Gap - Aberdares.JPG
Northern and central Aberdares gap
Gap - Aberdares2.JPG
Southern Aberdares gap

On the eastern edge of the Central Highlands there is another huge gap in the coverage – extending from the Nyambene Hills on the Meru-Isiolo county border south between Meru National Park and Mount Kenya to the Seven Forks Dams bordering Machakos County. The central, southern and eastern sections of Mount Kenya are included in this gap, as are Mwea, Embu, Chuka, Tharaka and Maua.

Gap - West central Kenya.JPG
The big gap on the eastern edge of the central highlands

Finally, one more gap (although smaller) of note lies just south of Mukurwe-ini and Othaya, from Kiriani and Gitugi south through Karuri and Maragua to Kabati, Kandara and Kamwangi. See below. This area is heavily settled but should theoretically produce records of Hinde’s Babbler (endemic to central Kenya), and potentially other interesting records, if atlassers can make an effort to go out and fill this gap.

Gap - Kabati.JPG
Kiriani-Kabati gap

With this said, the coverage is looking very good and, with continued effort, it should soon be possible to do some very nice analyses of the data to assess the status of birds in central Kenya – especially range-restricted species/races like Hinde’s Babbler, Jackson’s Francolin and Sharpe’s Longclaw. For assessment of how forest specialists are doing in the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and eastern Mau, considerable effort still needs to be put in by atlassers to visit these areas (both those still well-forested and those now deforested) and get plenty of full protocols.

All in all, Kenya Bird Map atlassers have done a great job of recording and submitting bird observations from the Central Highlands. Keep up the great work to those who have been submitting records! If you live/work in central Kenya and are registered on the Kenya Bird Map and have not yet begun submitting records, now is the time to begin! Your records will make a huge contribution to improving our understanding of the current status of birds in Kenya and to bird conservation in the country. If you are a birder who is not yet on the KBM but would like to get registered, simply send an email to kenyabirdmap@naturekenya.org.

Check back next Friday for part 3 of this blog series where we will take a close look at another region of Kenya.

 

– Author: Sidney Shema (Project Manager – Kenya Bird Map) –

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