Nairobi is such an interesting city. It was founded during the construction of the railway through East Africa. Due to the swampy condition of the place, numerous officials in the colonial government ruled out the possibility of it being a capital city…yet here we are years later! Apart from it being a bustling business metropolis, it’s also rich in wildlife (Nairobi National Park) and birds. Over 600 bird species have been recorded in Nairobi.
The variety of habitats- forests, grasslands and wetlands- contribute to the high number of species. Nairobi’s forests are amazing. Once you start walking through them you’ll forget that you’re in the city. The air is cool and fresh, the atmosphere is serene and of course the sound of birds very soothing. Today we look at one of these beautiful forests at City Park.
The first time I went there was on a bird walk with Nature Kenya. In fact all my subsequent visits have been bird walks too. I was surprised by the total change in atmosphere from the noisy Limuru road adjacent to the park, to the silent forest within. Climbing plants have formed networks of vines that bring out your inner Tarzan.
During our bird walks we begin at the car park which is usually rich in bird activity. Numerous Black Kites perch on the nearby trees waiting for breakfast. A certain man visits the park daily and feeds them. He says it’s part of his religious duties. However, feeding wild animals/ birds isn’t usually encouraged since they become dependent on people and may forget how to find their own food.
When the grass grows long you may see Bronze Mannikins feasting on grass seeds at the car park. Sykes monkeys jump among the trees and groom each other on the boundary wall of a market in the Park. They are quite entertaining to watch as they play. Be careful if carrying any food, don’t let the monkeys see you as they will snatch it!
From here we walk along City Park road towards the Murumbi Memorial. Before we get there, we stop at the towering bougainvilleas to search for owls. Earlier this year I finally got to see a pair of African Wood Owls. They looked at us curiously probably wondering what these humans found so fascinating. They love this spot because the darkness provides a perfect hideout.
Next stop is the Pollinator Garden. Yes, there is such a facility at the Park. If the sun is out, you’ll see loads of butterflies using the area for it’s intended purpose- pollination.
The Murumbi Memorial is next. This is where Kenya’s second Vice President (Joseph Murumbi) and his wife (Sheila Murumbi) were buried. Along with a board containing information about him, there are a couple of metal sculptures. This is a befitting tribute to Joseph who was an avid fan and collector of African art.
Right next to this memorial is a cemetery where World War II fallen soldiers were buried. Looking at the tombstones it’s sad to see most of them died very young- in their 20s. The place could do with some maintenance. In some areas the grass reaches waist height, giving a creepy atmosphere. Despite the eerie feeling associated with cemeteries, it’s a good place for birds. Weaver birds, woodpeckers, Red-billed firefinch, Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Bronze Mannikins and even squirrels make their home here. And people too! Some brave souls live in this cemetery. I wonder how their children feel?
From here we go to the main Park itself and walk along the forest trails. You need to be extra keen since forest birds are hard to see. Some you’ll just hear but not see at all, like the Yellow- rumped Tinkerbird. Others are hard to miss like the noisy Hadada Ibis. There’s a time we spotted a Black-throated Wattle- eye high in the trees. You need sharp eyes and binoculars while in a forest.
You won’t realise just how big the Park is until you walk the entire circuit. Last month we did so for 3 hours and by the time we were done my back and legs were killing me. Later I looked at it on Google Maps and was even more surprised. The forest is extensive! And right in the city. Quite incredible.
One sad thing about City Park is its deplorable state. It’s largely fallen into disrepair. Overgrown grass along the forest trails, broken benches, missing boundary fence in some sections, littering, and let’s not even talk about the pollution of the river passing through it. And yet it’s a monument under the National Museums of Kenya! The Friends of City Park group are trying to restore sanity, but they need all the help they can get. This is such a beautiful Park. If we’re serious about saving it, it’s beauty will shine through.