In January we reported on the start of the Kenya Bird Map an ambitious project that A Rocha Kenya has been instrumental in getting started that is mapping the current distribution of Kenya’s bird species and comparing it with the atlas of birds that was carried out in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The project has continued to grow and whilst it has been a slow start to get going, the website is now functional to the level that it is possible to upload data and already over 2,600 records from 54 cards covering 37 atlas squares (known as ‘pentads’ as they are 5 mins of latitude by 5 mins of longitude in size). However there are another c.8,960 pentads still to be covered – so there is plenty more work to be done!
Chin-spot Batis is a common species in the Kenya highlands (Photo by Patrick L’Hoir)
Atlassing is in fact a LOT of fun and to be highly recommended. Yesterday I had to travel to Nakuru for a meeting but thought to “add value” the trip and do an atlas square en route – and not only that, but do it with a local birder and get him enthused and trained up to do lots of atlassing in his area! So I met up with Doug ‘Tchagra’ Gachucha from Naivasha – a leading birder and conservationist in the community around Naivasha and a lot of fun to spend time with! – and on our way back from Nakuru stopped near Lake Elementaita to do the minimum 2 hours of birding for it to count as a Full Protocol card submission. A ‘Full Protocol’ card simply means that with a minimum of two hours focussed birding, that data is now useable for doing much more than simply mapping species distribution. It can be used for estimating abundance of a species to work out if it is becoming more or less common and so flag any possible problems that might be happening in a species’ population.
– Part of the Google Maps map showing where some of the pentads already covered are. The different colours indicate how many cards have been submitted for that pentad – the more the better! Clicking on a pentad shows it’s code and clicking on that takes you to a separate window that zooms in on the pentad and gives you a chart showing which month the records have been submitted and the full species list of accepted records.
The fun of atlassing is that it not only takes you to new sites – you can go online and see which pentads have not been done yet or had only a little effort and then make a plan to go birding there, but it also stimulates you to really keep your eyes open to look for any new species you can find even as you are going about your normal business. How? Well, once you’ve done the minimum two hours, you can keep adding species to that list or card for up to five days thus giving you a chance to add much more than what you otherwise might have seen in just a two hour period.
Not only that, but even common ‘boring’ species become of interest since each species counts afresh for each new card you start. It is amazing how often you think a bird is common but when it comes to actually looking for it and recording it, you discover it perhaps isn’t around at a certain time of the year etc. By atlassing, you get to see this.
Despite it being the heat of the afternoon yesterday and by far not the best time for birding – in fact, I would never normally have stopped to bird at that time… nor even have thought to driven down the couple of tracks we followed off the main road, we actually managed to record 66 species in just two hours including species such as Little Rock Thrush, Red-fronted Barbet and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting. There were dozens of Rock and Plain Martins skirting the cliffs by Mwewe Camp overlooking the lake – and the view from there was stunning – again, not a place I have ever stopped at before, but by atlassing we did and it was beautiful (see below)!
Lake Elementaita mid-afternoon – there were White-fronted Bee-eaters on the hill to the left…
If you’re a birder and in Kenya or ever visiting Kenya – please do sign up and get involved!! Even if you only contribute one or two pentads worth of bird lists, it will be worth it! To register, wrote to kenyabirdmap(at)naturekenya.org and ask to be registered. You’ll receive an email with your Citizen Scientist number and more information.