Bird Ringing at Mwamba Field Study Centre

Bird ringing can be a very entertaining experience. Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting a good number of visitors from different hotels around Watamu who happily arrived at A Rocha Kenya’s Mwamba Field Study center one early morning to join the whole team in bird ringing.

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The whole process of bird ringing
Tying of the nets to strong poles is what kicks off the whole process either at the beach or at the nature trails a day before the D day.

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As this picture below shows you the tied net, what follows after is letting it free the next day at around 5.45 am for the birds to be caught while flying around.
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A check is then made after every one hour to see if some birds have been caught. A total number of four birds were caught on 25th June, 2015 and a thorough study were done on them.
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When caught or rather captured, the birds are put in cotton bags and everyone proceeded to the ringing table.

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At this stage the birds are studied one by one by first attaching a metal ring on its leg with a unique identification number. Two common Drongos, African kingfisher and Northern browbull were the birds of the day. Everyone was excited to have learnt something about birds that and more so about the African kingfisher which happened to be the favourite to almost everyone who had visited.

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On the ringing table different measurements are recorded of the different birds that were captured in the nets before releasing them. The measurements include the weight of the birds, the wings and the tarsus. Moulting of their feathers is also recorded and an estimation of the age of the birds is also done and recorded by analysing them all in a general view.
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Bird ringing is therefore a very interesting activity as it exposes one to the field of ornithology; which is the study of birds.

A Glance at the Intertidal Zone.

The intertidal zone is a highly dynamic area but one that plays important ecological roles as well as providing economic or livelihood benefits. The intertidal zone is the area that is periodically inundated or exposed depending on the tidal regime. This forms habitats such as rocky shores, sandy beaches, mudflats and sea grass beds. Due to the intervals of high and low tides, the area is highly dynamic with fluctuating conditions such as temperature, salinity and light intensity. There is also a lot of influence from land-based factors such as freshwater run-off. This makes it difficult for organisms to survive here, only those that are specifically adapted to such environments are able to maintain a niche. Such organisms are called permanent residents.

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Corals thriving in an intertidal area.
Transient organisms visit the intertidal zone to feed on debris and planktons brought by the tides. Other transient species come to the intertidal zone to rest or breed. This emphasizes the vital role of this habitat in the wellbeing of adjacent areas. The intertidal zone is also influenced by a handful of anthropogenic factors because humans can easily access it. Intertidal invertebrates harvesting, for instance, is a prominent human activity in this habitat and has been widely carried out in different parts of the world for many years. If this is further overlooked, and continues beyond the carrying capacity, it will definitely lead to biodiversity loss. Tourism and harbor activities such as careless anchorage of boats causes habitat damage which will eventually jeopardize the ecological and economic roles of these areas.
In terms of research and monitoring intertidal areas form perfect platforms for understanding processes of other marine habitats. Think of, for example, corals that thrive in the intertidal zone. We all know corals do well in areas with relatively stable conditions such as temperature and light intensity, conditions that are hardly present in the intertidal areas. The obvious question is: so how do these corals survive here? Understanding the community structure of corals in the intertidal areas, gives an insight on how corals are likely to adapt to changing conditions.
For the restoration of the intertidal habitat a sustainable management strategy is indispensable. Understanding its ecological dynamics and involving all stakeholders in the management is commendable.

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A Rocha Kenya staff carrying out research in the intertidal zone.

Politicians must follow the Pope, say Christian Conservationists.

Climate Change is a global plight, its damage on ecosystems affects all creation. Each human has a stake in tackling climate change since we all need a habitable earth.

A Rocha organisations have welcomed the new Papal Encyclical. It has a strong moral message on the environment.

Read here

 

Care of Creation Training.

Towards the end of May A Rocha Kenya conducted a training on Care of Creation in five villages in Dakatcha. Since moisture (water) plays a pivotal role in the wellbeing of the rest of the creation, the film  Water Running Dry was shown.
Looking at the  dire consequences of desertification as projected on the film, one villager  said,” I did not know that you actually should cry before felling a tree”. Deforestation is a real threat to fresh water sources. Some scientists anticipate international crises on fresh water due to waning global forest cover and general degradation of the environment.

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A group watching the film Running Dry.

A Rocha Kenya has taken the conservation message to Christian  communities, sharing the biblical basis of creation care with pastors. Pastors who attended the week-long training confessed that they have not incorporated conservation in their preaching. The event was a great insight for them as they agreed to spread the creation care message to their congregations.

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This church was among the venues during the training.

In the discussions the villagers acknowledged that Farming God`s Way (an on-going project) which upholds agroforestry as a principle is one of the solutions to the degradation of the woodlands. Deforestation (charcoal burning) coupled with shifting (slash and burn) cultivation is a major threat to the forest ecosystem. As a result the area receives rains at quite irregular times. Last year we were inspecting the Farming God`s Way plots (which had a luxuriant crop) and we saw a withered crop on the plots farmed the ordinary way. Early planting and mulching was the recipe for the success of the Farming God`s Way plots. The communities have started to establish tree nurseries and among the trees to be raised is the acacia Faidherbia albida. Seeds were issued during the training. The beneficiaries were excited to be issued with  seeds of such a useful tree. It is ideal for agroforestry as it shields plants from excessive sunlight during the dry season since it sheds its leaves during the wet season. The leaves readily decompose due to the presence of moisture and enhances soil fertility. In fact, it is claimed to fix ten times more the amount of Nitrogen fixed by legumes. Livestock such as goats and cows feed on it and it is also home to insects including pollinators.

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A group gathering tree nursery materials.

Breeding Sites of Clarke`s Weavers.

Clarke`s Weaver (Ploceus golandi) is a threatened species whose breeding sites have been sought by bird enthusiasts for the last one and a half decades.
In 1998 A Rocha Kenya led by Colin Jackson, and partners visited Dakatcha Woodlands where the birds are believed to be breeding. This was the first of the series of expeditions that would follow and although the ornithologists found no weaver during the first visit, they never gave up. In May 2004 the team found an unoccupied weaver nest on the top of a tree. The previous year they had spotted an adult female feeding a juvenile. In 2007 Colin Jackson wrote,” [U]ntil we actually find a Clarke`s Weaver at a nest, the mystery remains”

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A Clarke`s Weaver at a nest.

Early this month A Rocha Kenya`s Science and Conservation team, aided by university interns visited the  Dakatcha Woodlands in search for breeding evidence of the birds. At last a couple of sites are discovered! Bore    is a large swamp (approximately 10 acres), probably the largest within the woodlands. The team arrived here in the evening. A flock of about 500 Clarke`s Weavers including juveniles, fly some metres high then abruptly descend and perch on  sedges; an aquatic reed with luxuriant stem and long parallel- veined leaves. The crafty birds wove the spine-like reed leaves into nests which firmly rest on the stems, above the water lilies.

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Sedges woven into nests.

The marsh is surrounded by shrubs which form a hedge. Water between the hedge and the sedges creates a buffer and reaching for the nests would require some deal of wading. Some cattle can be seen quenching their thirst here. Some members of the community have been doing some washing and are packing up their clothes.
The following day the team visited another swamp known as Gandi. It is approximately 4 acres though nests are concentrated on a relatively small portion; an acre or so. Some scores of adult Clarke`s Weavers can be seen. Some are mending the nests, and occasionally some enter the nests and before long, fly out. It is highly probable that the birds are roosting.

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An adult Clarke`s Weaver mending a nest.

Young People on a Global Stage.

Young People on a Global Stage (YPGS) is a project that brings together schools in the UK, Germany, Spain, Kenya and The Gambia to research on global sustainable issues; biodiversity, including trees, waste management, climate change, food and water, in and around the cities where the schools are found. They then try to come up with initiatives to address these issues and then propose their ideas to decision makers.
A Rocha Kenya began the project towards the end of last year with Lenana School and the students embraced the initiative with huge enthusiasm. On 8th November last year, the Environment Club organised a clean-up event in Ng`ando Estate which borders their school. Other conservation enthusiasts participated in the exercise.

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Some of the members of the Environment Club(Lenana School) doing a presentation on Trees and Climate Change during an International Forest Day event.

Early this year Karen Secondary School joined Lenana School and from the 27th to 30th of April this year, we did an official launch of Young People on a Global Stage project with the Year 9 students at Braeburn International School.
We introduced the five issues and allowed the students to get into groups and formulate research questions and/or hypotheses. They then researched on the topics and presented their findings on the last day of the launch.

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A group of students doing a presentation on recycling of waste during the YPGS project launch at Braeburn International School.

The event was cross-curricular involving Geography, History, English, Science, Arts, and Music among other subjects. There were all sorts of presentations including Power Point, photography, artwork, animations, poetry, and songs among other exhibitions.

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A dust bin made of recycled material.

Some of the groups will carry on with the project and we anticipate being with them for some more time.
It is indeed a great thing to see young people become more enthusiastic in global environmental issues in bid to make the planet more habitable.

Restoring Dakatcha Woodlands.

A Rocha Kenya continues to empower Dakatcha farmers with farming God`s Way; a form of conservation agriculture whose principles; agroforestry, mulching, zero tillage and crop rotation, boost soil fertility and yield hence discouraging farmers from clearing the forest for new fertile plots. The rich yield, especially cereals, on Farming God`s Way plots has helped relent the rate at which the woodlands were being cleared for charcoal burning and to pave way for pineapple plantations. A Rocha Kenya`s presence in Dakatcha is achieving two important goals simultaneously: transforming the villagers into food secure communities, and conserving the Cynometra forest.

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A farmer on his Farming God`s Way plot.

A Rocha Kenya is also training farmers to make compost manure which can be used on vegetable and maize plots. Farmers  also make biopesticides using neem and Lantana camara which are readily available in the area.

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Farmers standing next to a compost heap.

Dakatcha Woodland is globally recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA). It is also a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by the international criteria developed by Birdlife International and Nature Kenya. Conservation International recognises Dakatcha as part of Coastal Forests Global Hotspot. A Rocha Kenya acquired 218 acres of Cynometra forestland (Kirosa Scott Reserve) in Dakatcha for conservation and research projects that we wish to use to create awareness to the local community. We not only seek to forge alternative ways of making ends meet but also demonstrate value and direct benefits of biodiversity conservation to livelihoods security.

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Kirosa Scott Reserve.

The Dakatcha Community Forest Association is one of  the groups that A Rocha Kenya is empowering with training on conservation of the forest ecosystems. The empowerment is evident as Dakatcha CFA has started collaborating with other Dakatcha conservation enthusiasts; Community Conserved Areas (CCA) members to strengthen their advocacy for the restoration of  the woodland.They own a plot of tree nurseries.

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Dakatcha CFA members on their plot.

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Some of the seedlings on the tree nursery plot.

We have just completed a regeneration study in Kirosa Scott Reserve which involved mapping and documenting various vegetation types, ranging from the easily penetrated woodland and forest to the impassable Cynometra thickets. Height and diameter of trunks and canopy competition index or class (the latter involves the percentage dominance of each tree in terms of crown level in relation to insolation reception) is part of the data that was documented.

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Taking measurements on trees ( above and below).

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The Science and conservation team during the study.

Mwamba Field Study Centre.

Mwamba Field Study Centre sits on a serene part of Watamu Peninsula with a dazzling sandy beach just in front of Watamu Marine National Park. Besides research and conservation projects, mwamba offers full board accommodation and camping services at affordable prices. It is a unique place that offers guests an opportunity to interact with the conservation work that we are doing.

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Mwamba office block.

Mwamba is strategically located for both terrestrial and marine research projects. The nature trail comprises a variety of trees and is home to birds, Sykes monkeys, Sengi, reptiles, amphibians and insects. We do bird ringing every couple of weeks. Scholars who stay at Mwamba also have an opportunity to do studies on our project sites including Mida Creek and Dakatcha Woodlands where we own a sizeable parcel of a Cynometra forest. Our marine scientists have a boat and a wet lab for aquatic research. We have a conference room located in a conducive part of the nature trail which is ideal for lectures and presentations.

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A student doing research in the nature trail.

Mwamba guest house has spacious self-contained rooms with free WIFI internet. Our cuisine comprises delicious meals prepared with an African touch. Guests can also order supplementary meal packages of choice from our restaurant. Our guests can have a great time snorkeling, playing volley ball on the beach, swimming, doing low-tide rock pooling or reading fascinating books from our library.

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A guest room at Mwamba.

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A view of the Mwamba beach from a rooftop.

 

 

 

 

 

Wader Ringing in Coastal Kenya.

Kenya is important for tens of thousands of wintering waders. While some species like the Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus) prefer the fresh water bodies inland, many others target the coastal zone. The rich inter-tidal mud of Mida Creek, Sabaki Estuary, Tana Delta and Lamu are essential for their survival. After breeding in the Artic Region, in places such as East Kazakhstan and Mongolia, vast numbers of waders migrate southwards spending their non-breeding season in India, East and Southern Africa. Between September and May, they feast on worms, shrimps, crabs and other invertebrates along the coast.
Wader ringing forms an important part of A Rocha’s research programme. Monthly monitoring, annual counts, anthropogenic disturbance, nutrition and moulting strategy are part of our research efforts which have been carried out on over 5000 waders which have also been ringed and measurements taken on them. We have demographic data of different species which has helped in designation of IBAs and general habitat conservation which local communities can access. We are working with conservation partners to safeguard wader habitats and migration corridors. The ringing itself creates excellent opportunities for training as it is a way of establishing environmental education knowledge of wader ecology in their non-breeding habitats.
Our lead scientist, Colin Jackson, is currently in the process of preparing a number of research publications on the collected data. Recently, Jaap Gijsbertsen; Science and Conservation Director at A Rocha Kenya, organised a birding event, and as he narrates, it was quite an experience:

The cloud layers gradually thicken as I feel the wind drop. A first quarter moon is visible behind the clouds and radiates blazing light every time it hits a gap in the clouds. It is neap tide, with a water level of 2.45 meters expected for 01.12. On the exposed tidal plain next to the ASSETS boardwalk, gentle wind blows through the wader net which is supported by long bamboo picks running deep into the mud to withstand wind and waves. These are the perfect conditions for catching wintering waders.
The team, comprising A Rocha Kenya, local bird guides and students from Pwani University gathers at around midnight to go round to inspect the more than 200-meter-net stretched across the plain, which is now flooded. Equipped with bird bags and ‘red’ headlights, we pull up our pants and wade towards the net. We are curious and full of anticipation. It is now deep dark and we rely on our experience to avoid deep pools.
As we progress, the last group of Crab Plovers (Dormas ardeola) fly off to their high-tide roost on one of the off-shore islands. Most birds have been pushed off by the incoming tide. We just hope some of them fell into our net. After wading for five minutes, we find a Lesser Sand Plover (Chardrius mongolus). Skillful hands safely drop it into the bag. Then another Sand Plover, Curlew Sand Pipers (Calidris ferruginea ) and Terek Sand Pipers (Xenus cinereus). Soon we discover that we have a good catch and eager students carry the birds. Large birds like Crab Plovers, Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) and Whimrel (Numenius phaeopus) go into larger bags. We return to the table and it is hands on as we ring, colourflag and take measurements on the more than a hundred birds belonging to eleven species, including a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and a juvenile Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) which we have caught for the first time at Mida.  Assessing moulting patterns requires much experience and dominates our discussion all night long. At day break, we down our net and drive home through the early morning, tired but inspired. The wonder of creation diversity and beauty overwhelms me.

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The team at the ringing table.

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A Ruff being ringed for the first time at Mida.

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A Ruddy Turnstone ringed for the first time, too, at Mida.

Benefits of the Acacia Tree.

About 80% of Kenya is arid and semi-arid. These areas have been associated with less or no productivity. Most of the trees found in  these areas  shed leaves during the dry season. The leaves do not decompose easily in absence of moisture, hence low soil fertility. Most tree species would not do well in such areas but the most dominant and suitable tree or shrub in arid areas is the acacia.
In the Sahara Desert, for instance, towards the edge of Western Africa, countries such as Niger have used Faidherbia albida, a type of acacia to reclaim the desert. Once  acacia has been established, the area becomes fit for agriculture again. Faidherbia albida has a reversed phenology thus it sheds its leaves in the wet season and remains green throughout the dry season. It is suitable for agroforestry as it protects crops from excessive sunlight and provides shade for the soil hence conserving moisture. When other trees  shed their leaves, acacia provides foliage for animals. Its narrow leaves allow adequate light from the Sun to pass through, reaching  the crops for photosynthesis. During the rainy season the acacia leaves decompose easily when they fall due to availability of moisture, and their organic matter is incorporated into the soil for plants.
There is, however, a general negative perception towards acacia because of its thorns, when indeed there is a host of benefits associated with it. Nitrogen fixation, nesting sites for birds (especially the white-browed sparrow weaver), bee keeping, medicinal uses, source of true gum arabic, home for a variety of insects and browse material for zebras and giraffes, are some of the benefits of acacia. In the Sahelian region, acacia is associated with improved crop yield. In line with our mission, transforming lives through restored ecosystems, A Rocha Kenya is promoting the propagation of acacia and we have thousands of seedlings on sale at our Karen offices.

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Preparing acacia seedlings  (above and below)

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