Malindi Pipit (Anthus melindae) in the Arabuke-Sokoke Forest/ Kenya

MalindipieperA Pipit takes flight as we approach the dry, low grassy area. Our Guide calls immediately: this is not Malindi Pipit (Anthus melindae) but an African Pipit (Anthus cinnamomeus). Already on the Sabaki River Delta we had searched for the Malindi Pipit in the sparsely vegetated grasslands in vain. Our Guide says that the previously highly populated plain has been abandoned because agriculture reduces available habitat. In the specific case on the Sabaki River Delta probably a salt production should be established. Politicians currently seem to be investing in salt production along the coast. This is of course a big threat. The areas for the salines, i.e. the evaporation areas, the technical facilities and the dikes will of course dramatically reduce the available habitat for this species. But the transformation of agriculture, including the cultivation of biofuels, is also a major threat. Overall, he sees a great threat to the survival of this species, at least in the vicinity of Malindi.

In the Arabuke Sokoke Forest, however, he was able to see the Malindi Pipit near the so-called elephant swamp. Because there is nowhere around but the only place to see the Pipit. The swamp is not bad at all. Nevertheless, Our Guide cannot feel comfortable in the area, because you never know when and if elephants would show-up to come to drink. Then only the escape through the electric fence in the agricultural area nearby helps. Nevertheless, we examine the swamp for a moment. Our Guide says that the grass around the swamp is much too high for the biotope claims of Malindi Pipits. There is no grazing within the protected area. The habitat use of Malindi Pipits, which is a Pipit that originally favored occasionally flooded grass plains, is likely to be present only if grazing helps maintain a certain height of the grass. When the grass is not grazed, the grass overgrows and forces the birds to look for places with shorter grass in the landscape. The only alternative is the nearby farmland.

So we cross the electric fence to the agricultural area of a nearby community. Maybe the Malindi Pipit can be found here. A newly planted field is being examined closely. It is now 10:30 am and the sun is already very high. But first we see only one African Pipit. Then 2 dark, small pipits start a short sallying flight. Yes, our Guide identifies these as Malindi Pipits. Malindi Pipits are smaller and more striped on the flanks. We sit down on the edge of the field and try to pinpoint a pair of the Malindi Pipits. Finally, I try to reduce the distance to an area, where we located a home range area. I crawl on my knees to the Malindi Pipits and can then take a picture of Malindi Pipit as it stays on a clay piece on the field. On leaving this beautiful grassland area we disturb a Yellow-throated Longclaw (Macronyx croceus).

A sad story. Now the Malindi Pipits can be found on a field that has been covered with field crops. Individual tufts with blades of grass may remind one of sparsely overgrown grassland. This may be enough for foraging, but as a breeding ground, a field naturally falls solely due to the disturbance caused by intensive cultivation.

The range of Malindi Pipits – considered as near-threatened in the red data book – in the coastal areas of East Kenya extends from the Arabuko Sokoke Forest and its surroundings, via Marafa, Marereni, the Tana River Delta and north to Mpeketoni, Lamu, the grasslands within and the area around the Boni Dodori Forest to the areas bordering on Somalia. This is a very large area.

However, the distribution of this species is highly fragmented and not as coherent as sometimes shown in the distribution maps. There is a large gap in distribution in areas north of Marreni, as the habitat is probably rather unsuitable. The area is just too dry. The Tana River Delta seems to be the stronghold for this species. The largest population of the species is therefore found within the delta with its extensive grasslands.

For the birdwatcher, the best – perhaps the only – option is to look for this rare Pipit just near the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. A special bonus in the area is the Sokoke Pipit (Anthus sokokensis) another endemic Pipit of the eastern coast of Kenya.

On the coast, especially north of the Tana River Delta, there is a high risk of being involved in raids. This is unfortunately up to and including Boni Dodori Forest. This made it very difficult to locate the population north of the Tana Delta.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find; and this not only in the Western Palearctic.  Beside the image of the blog you can find a nice selection of birds in the gallery or in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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