A forest of the Kikuyu Escarpment

Published Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 13 May 2017

Along the path in the forest that rhymes with mutamaiyu or the African olive tree or the Olea europaea (African variety) someone signals to the left and a whole bunch of humans vanish into the evergreen forest that’s part of the larger Kereita forest – a place of the warriors – on the Kikuyu escarpment.

Following the markings on the GPS the group’s looking for a stunner – the Bar-tailed trogan which l have seen at eye-level in the forests of Mount Kenya. It’s not a bird that you ordinarily find flying around – although if we did, the world would be more colourful.

A walk in the Gatamaiyu forest - - copyright Rupi Mangat
A walk in the Gatamaiyu forest – – copyright Rupi Mangat

“Gatamaiyu forest is an IBA,” tells the doyenne of all birds, the amazing Fleur Ng’weno. “It was listed as an Important Bird Area because it has a wide variety of forest highland birds and also because the Abbot’s starling is found here.”

The Abbot’s starling is the smallest of the starlings with a shrinking home in a few evergreen forests in Kenya and Tanzania and the concern is how to keep the forests safe for the bird and other creatures including us.

While the die-hards who have to see the Bar-tailed trogan trudge away on the dry crisp leaves of the forest floor through the vines and ferns, we walk a few feet – only to see an eye-sore: a chunk of indigenous trees clear-felled for a road that will lead to an eco-lodge and forest cottages. It’s an oxymoron – for eco means working within the environment to keep it alive and healthy.

Thirty minutes later, the Bar-tailed trogan fan club emerges from the depths of the forest – a little crestfallen because they didn’t see it.

Along the path, another forest speciality pops up – the Evergreen forest warbler. It’s not green but a drab brown –the green in the warbler refers to the montane forest.

Within the group is another group that’s got a new interest – butterflies. After just a few showers, richly patterned and gorgeously coloured butterflies flit about. I’m in love with the Pied piper that’s black with patterned white dots and a winged beauty of sub-Saharan Africa.

The curios fish out their ‘Pocket Guide Insects of East Africa’ by our own Kenyan insect-guru – Dino Martins. Although we have a love-hate relationship with the six-legged invertebrates, we couldn’t do without them as in one of Martins studies, he found that one in three of the foods eaten by humans are made possible by a pollinator, while in chimps it is nine out of ten foods. For a gorilla it’s two out of every three foods.

Crisp leaf-laden paths trail off every few feet etched by forest creatures that appear when all have left. The day gets hotter, a flock of White-tailed crested flycatchers flit in a grove. Finally where the elephant dung lies all dry from many months ago, we make our way three kilometres back to the fishing lodge. This time, there are feathers of the flycatcher on the path which points to a successful hunt by a predator while blood-sucking horse flies become as irritating as mosquitoes. Life’s not easy in the jungle.

Invigorated by food and rest at the fishing lodge, Peter Mureithi of Nature Kenya takes us in search of waterfalls ducking the forest vines, stepping over fallen trees laden with thick green moss and braving the steep embankments of the valley when we spot a pair of black and white colobus monkeys watching us from high up a tree. They rarely come down to earth spending most of their lives high in the trees munching leaves.

Deeper in the forest the tree ferns grow larger and the sound of water closer. Half an hour later, we sight only the water from the river deep in the ravine minus the fall.

We’ve missed a path and have to call it a day because it’s getting late.

Get to Gatamaiyu

Kereita Hill with Gatamaiyu forest on Nairobi-Naivasha road - copyright Rupi Mangat
Kereita Hill with Gatamaiyu forest on Nairobi-Naivasha road – copyright Rupi Mangat

55 kms from Nairobi. Take the escarpment road along the Great Rift Valley. Turn left at Kimende – the forest is 8 km from there. The hike starts at the fishing lodge where you can camp. There’s a small fee to pay.

It’s a beautiful drive through the southern end of the Aberdares, along little villages and tea farms and woolly sheep wandering around.

Join Nature Kenya www.naturekenya.org for exciting trips – walking’s a great way to stay fit and become aware of the natural world.