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Picturesque Njabini

River Sasumua in Njabini

River Sasumua in Njabini

Sixty-three kilometres northwest of Nairobi is a footbridge with a signpost.

It is the only main sign that reads “Njambini”; the rest read “Njabini” which, according to the local residents, is the correct spelling and means wetland.

In an era gone by, Njabini was famous for its scandalous Happy Valley set, but today it is famous for its sheep and Sharpe’s longclaw.

This bird lives in the shadows of the Aberdares, a mountain range that stretches for 160 kilometres.

James Maina, a founder of Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FoKP), a support site group under Nature Kenya, is at hand to meet our group that is out to enjoy the outdoors and watch this endemic bird of the highland grasslands that is exclusive to Kenya.

It is a truly beautiful day — with the warm sun, the blue sky, and the vast fields of tussock grass interspersed with potato and maize fields.

From where we are standing we are looking at the side of the mountain that is nicknamed “Elephant’s head”. Maina even points to the imaginary ears on it.

Kiburu forest lines the base of the ranges.

Maina briefs the eager birders on what to do.

The idea is to flush the palm-size bird out of the thick clumps of tussock grass.

It is not normal practice to disturb wildlife, so do not try this on your own.

The group lines up and walks forward and within a few minutes, we spot a Sharpe’s longclaw. The excitement is palpable.

PERFECTLY ADAPTED

“Sharpe’s longclaw aren’t happy in potato fields or tree plantations but they are happy with sheep — and they like tussock grass,” says chief birder, Fleur Ng’weno.

Tussock grass is actually a general name for a few species of grasses clumped together to which Sharpe’s longclaws with their long toes are perfectly adapted — they even lay their eggs in them.

But as more grasslands are turned into buildings and/or replanted by misguided reforestation programmes, the bird is becoming a threatened species.

Thus, to see three in a span of 20 minutes is truly awesome.

Seeing the grassland pipit, long-tailed widowbird, and the black-winged plover, which prefer swamps, adds to our joy.

Soon we are off to the next site, Njabini Spinners. En route, there is a huge white cross by the side of a rough road. Curious, we peer through the binoculars to see what is written on the cross that is quite weathered but is illegible, and to enter a field without permission might invite trouble.

Luckily we meet someone who knows something about the cross.

“The first white missionaries put the cross there and camped by it,” he tells us.

It was around the 1800s. From here they went on to the Aberdares and Murang’a and became friends of the great Chief Karuri Gakure of Thutho.

I would like to know more, but this is all the information we can glean.

SPINNER’S PARADISE

The wool spinning factory is housed in a wooden mill with a sign pinned on the fence reading Njabini Wool Crafters with a hand-painted Sharpe’s longclaw on it.

It is a quaint setting with River Sasumua running below in the valley.

Inside, we are taken aback by the industry.

Men and women working at the cottage industry busy themselves spinning the raw wool into yarn — some for export and some for local use.

The yarn is dyed in different colours using natural dyes from plants and insects, then woven into a stunning array of rugs in various sizes ranging in colours from deep red to natural hues — all at affordable prices.

“I’ve worked here for four good years. I get my food and clothe my babies from here.

I get everything from here,” Margaret Bakari tells me without pausing to look up from the spinning wheel.

She is also the owner of three sheep — a breed known as Corriedale sheep imported from Austria that has adapted well here.

The sheep and Sharpe’s longclaws are very compatible — both like the tussock grass which grows on the highlands and keeps the soils healthy and porous.

Outside the mill, we clamber down into the valley to enjoy a picnic by the river with beautiful creamy water lilies and luscious red flowers in bloom.

A bronze sunbird flits around and when we are ready to leave, someone spots a Tacazze sunbird by the mill.

It is the largest of the sunbirds and named after the river in northern Ethiopia where a specimen was first collected in the 19th century.

It is only found in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

At first it looks like a drab thing but as we are walking out, it flits on the lower branches of the tree with a burst of purple — a grand finale to a beautiful visit.

-Nation

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