Our analysis of the coverage of the Kenya Bird Map continues with southern Kenya. The three areas we have looked at so far (the central highlands, the coast and the west) all lie within high rainfall zones. As we switch our focus to southern Kenya, we are now moving away from these green zones and entering Kenya’s most dominant eco-climatic zone: the savannahs and arid rangelands (or simply put – the drylands). This low-rainfall zones is associated with the dry Somali-Masai biome that dominates the horn of Africa and covers about 80% of Kenya’s land surface. There are several dryland-adapted birds that are endemic and near-endemic to this biome; including Red-fronted Warbler (Urorhipis rufifrons), Somali Crombec (Sylvietta isabellina), Eastern Chanting Goshawk (Melierax poliopterus), Black-capped Social Weaver (Pseudonigrita cabanisi), Buff-crested Bustard (Lophotis gindiana) and Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark (Eremopteryx signatus). This biome is too extensive to cover in one post and so I have broken it down into three, with today’s focus being on southern Kenya.
The area referred to here as southern Kenya comprises of Narok, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni and Taita Taveta counties. Key features and areas include a large part of the Amboseli-Tsavo Ecosystem (incl. Chyulu Hills and Taita Hills), the greater Mara region (Masai Mara and Trans Mara), the southern section of the Mau Forest, the southern Rift Valley, Namanga Hill, the Athi Plains, Ol Donyo Sabuk and the Athi-Galana River. The Mara, Mau and the larger isolated hills/massifs (Loitas, Chyulus, Taitas etc) are the only parts of southern Kenya that receive fairly high rainfall.
Southern Kenya’s current coverage is characterized by widely-spaced clusters of covered pentads in the more easily accessible and popular areas for bird watchers. These are separated by extensive areas of untouched pentads (in generally remote areas). The Mara region has a large cluster of atlassed pentads, as does a large area between the Ngong Hills, Oltepesi, Kajiado town, Konza, Machakos town and Athi River town. South of this, there is a smaller cluster in the the Nguruman-Magadi area. Moving east, there’s an even smaller cluster at Namaga Hill. Short gaps then separate four clusters: one from central Amboseli NP to Oloitokitok, another covering part of Chyulu Hills and northwestern Tsavo West, one around Taita Hills and southern Tsavo East and a narrow band from Manyani, along the Athi/Galana River in Tsavo East to Sala Gate. There is also some coverage in the Lake Jipe area and a few isolated pentads elsewhere, but, for the most part, the rest of s. Kenya is untouched.
The gaps are quite obvious from simply looking at the coverage map of southern Kenya. I will however point out two major gaps that are of high interest from a conservation point of view:
- The southernmost section of the Mau Forest, which is in Narok County
- An immense area from the eastern reaches of the Mara region (areas east of Ololaimutiek, Naboisho and Lemek) extending eastwards to the Loita Hills, Mount Suswa and Mount Olorgesailie.
- The area from Shompole and Elangata Wuas in the south Rift, south-east through Bisil and Maparasha to Lake Amboseli, and then north through Selengei and Mashuru to Konza. This gap continues, south-eastwards, through the area between Amboseli and the Chyulu Hills to the central and southern sections of Tsavo West NP. It would be great to fill this huge gap as it is known to form an important linkage between wildlife from the South Rift, Athi Plains and Amboseli-Tsavo areas. It is worth monitoring how the avifauna here is doing over the long term.
The two gaps above are linked by a small two-pentad wide gap between Magadi and Koora.
Southern Kenya hosts three of Kenya’s premier wildlife reserves (Masai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo) as well as several other very important biodiversity areas, including one of the largest remaining patches of the great Mau Forest. It goes without saying that this part of Kenya is of extremely high conservation value. This makes it extremely important to map current bird distributions in this area, in order to help provide solid data and evidence to guide relevant conservation efforts and ensure that the area’s biodiversity is conserved even as Kenya pursues its ambitious development goals.
The efforts of active bird mappers have already resulted in a good level of coverage in some of southern Kenya’s key areas, e.g. the Masai Mara. Well done to you! Please keep on submitting records from this and other parts of the country as regularly as you can, and do make an effort to continue filling the gaps. Your efforts are what make this important project possible.
Any other bird watchers who live in or regularly visit southern Kenya, please join us in this crucial bird conservation effort!