Bird ringing at Karara

Birds are excellent tools for monitoring and understanding environmental changes as well as wildlife resources that bring employment and enjoyment to millions of people all over the world. It is for this reason that there is need for their conservation. For effective conservation to take place, their migratory and behavioral patterns should be known to both conservationists and ornithologists, hence the need for bird ringing.

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Bird ringing, also known as bird banding, is the process of attaching a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to the leg or wing of a wild bird. This process involves identification of the bird species, its age, sex, moulting state of the flight, body feathers and weight. Other measurements such as bill length and tail length can also be taken if one wants to do a keen observation of a certain species.

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Through monitoring of the birds, information such as their life span and migration habits is obtained, which is crucial in their conservation.

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A Rocha Kenya, in conjunction with the National Museums of Kenya carried out a bird ringing session at Karara (A Rocha Kenya’s Nairobi Office). The session which lasted half a day, begun with mist nets being set up along the nature trails in the forest. A total of 33 birds were captured from 13 different species. The green backed twin spot was the most beautiful bird ringed on this particular day.

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We are indeed grateful for the great partnerships, as we carry out conservation work.

Fishing among local communities

Fishing has been a long standing and important source of livelihood to many coastal communities. Various measures have always been set to control and sustain fisheries with success and failures in equal measures. In recent times numerous confounding factors from destructive fishing practices brought about by modernity to population growth and impacts of emerging global phenomenon such as climate change have made fisheries management even more complicated. Fisheries have become a sensitive topic in all aspects from political, commercial, social and even in scientific fronts. This has been especially more pronounced in vulnerable coastal communities from developing countries who normally have fishing as their sole source of livelihood.

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Strategies such as gear exchange and alternative sources of livelihood have always been employed to sustain these fisheries. Within and around Watamu Marine National Park and Reserves issues such as type of fishing, illegal fishing and illegal gears have been experienced. Local Beach Management Units (BMUs) and Fisheries Departments have been involved to bring order but more is still to be done. With all proposed management strategies, education and awareness is an important component of linking resource use and conservation. Through Education, communities have become more aware of their resources and their sustainable utilization. Through this understanding local conservation areas have been born which have beamed with biodiversity and added another sustainable source of livelihood, ecotourism.

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A Rocha Kenya marine programme is involved in working with fishers and other Marine stakeholders around Watamu marine park and reserve to understand their work and challenges and raise awareness on how to sustainably use these resources. It’s quite amazing how enthusiastic and passionate local communities are about their resources.

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Through education, awareness and collaboration with other stakeholders we can ensure sustainable use of these resources. We can have both; we can enjoy what God gave us and still have some left for our future generation; that is sustainability.

Photos courtesy of Melita Samoilys – CORDIO EA
Peter Musembi
Marine Research

Natural Resources

Exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. Throughout history, humans have manipulated natural resources to produce the materials they needed to sustain themselves. This refers primarily to food production, but many other entities from the natural environment have been extracted. Often the exploitation of nature has been done in a non-sustainable way, which is causing an increasing concern, as a non-sustainable exploitation of natural resource ultimately threatens the human existence.

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Kirepwe Island

A Rocha Kenya’s Research work on natural resources is centred among four villages in Watamu namely Dabaso, Kirepwe, Mida-Majaoni and Uyombo.

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Kirepwe Island

Why are we implementing a research in these particular areas? Well, the natural resources in this areas have decreased in the last couple of years and in particularly trees and marine creatures are under threat through illegal logging, poaching and the usage of illegal gears. Previous studies have also shown a tremendous decrease in fish population and the same applies to the amount of acres of Arabuko Sokoke Forest.

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Resource mapping at Uyombo

This research aims to find out the livelihood practises carried out by the villagers and how these practises affect the natural resources from the reserves; in what extent they use the reserves and their attitude towards these areas. The four reserve areas included in the research are Mida Creek, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Watamu Marine Reserve.

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Mangroove Vegetation
In line with our vision nature conserved and people transformed we aim to achieve conservation of these unique areas and to educate the villagers on  sustainable use of natural resources as well as their conservation.

 

Environmental Education At Karara

Do we ever think about how life is going to be for our children, children’s children 50 years from now? How do we expect them to lead healthy lives when we have already destroyed natural systems to an extent that they are unable to regenerate themselves?
We live in an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, and instead are glued on television screens, mobile phones and play stations. Well then how do we expect these young ones to take care of their environment when they hardly know what it is or rather when we ourselves can’t take care of it?
A Rocha Kenya recognizes the importance of making a real investment in environmental education and outdoor learning, and is therefore carrying out environmental education in various schools in Nairobi.

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Gillian Raven( A Rocha Kenya’s Environmental Education officer)got together with pupils from Logos Christian school for an Environmental class, with the main topic tackled being forests in Kenya and their importance. This is part of an Environmental Education programme that was rolled out between A Rocha Kenya and the school, to run for the next few months, and hopefully into the future.

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With both theory and practical learning employed, the pupils got to learn about the different types of forests found across Kenya and their importance as well. They got to learn how to measure a tree diameter which most of them found very interesting.

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Tomorrow’s leader needs to be equipped for tomorrow’s challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit.

 

Tourism and marine ecosystems

As a Christian organization in conservation we believe we are called by God to take care of his creation (Gen 1:26). We thrive to promote sustainable use and care for God’s creation, in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) we aim to create awareness to beach operators and tourists to adopt environmentally practices in marine ecosystems.
A Rocha Kenya’s marine work is carried out in the rocky intertidal platforms among other areas in and around Watamu Marine National Park. Rocky intertidal platforms are uniquely rich and abundant with numerous species of fish, echinoderms, corals, sea grass, sea weeds and molluscs. It is amazing how these habitats are connected to the other adjacent and equally important habitats such as coral reefs. Their role in the provision of recreational, economic and ecological roles cannot therefore be overlooked.

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Recently A Rocha Kenya marine team carried out a survey to study the various tourist activities carried out and their impacts on these habitats. Interaction of anthropogenic activities and the intertidal components has an impact on the well-being of these areas. It was evident that there are significant levels of tourist activities being carried out in these areas some of which have detrimental effects on their integrity. Activities such as pooling sea stars in a single pool, poking puffer fish, feeding moray eels and trampling as well as litter disposal in these areas are not environmentally friendly.

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For long term well being of these areas and their continued provision of both ecological and recreational services, we all need to care for them by ensuring that we don’t engage in activities that cause harm to them and we take time to redeem part of those already disturbed. Take the initiative today; pick litter you see on the rock pools. Don’t poke clams and don’t take beautiful creatures as souvenirs. Let’s take care of God’s creation.
Peter
Marine Research

 

Gede Farming God’s way plot

When soil (the essential ingredient in any farming enterprise) is in poor health, plants cannot grow to their full potential. Undisturbed by man, soil is usually covered by a canopy of shrubs and trees, by dead and decaying leaves or by a thick mat of grass. Whatever the vegetation, it protects the soil when the rain falls or the wind blows. The leaves and branches of trees and the cushion of grass absorb the force of raindrops, and root systems of plants hold the soil together. Even in drought, the roots of native grasses, which extend several metres into the ground, help tie down the soil and keep it from blowing away.

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A Rocha Kenya farming God’s way project in Gede is a unique farming method that entirely revolves around incorporating trees into farming, use of mulch and composite manure. In this demonstration plot, Mango (Mangifera indica) is grown together with maize (Zea mays) and bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) crops. One may wonder, why incorporate mango trees into a farm? Mango is tolerant of a wide range of conditions from hot and humid to cool and dry and the fruits have a high nutritional value

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The trees are useful for shade, timber, as a support for climbing plants , improving soil fertility (by providing mulch from the leaves falling off the trees) ,attracting a host of insects such as bees which are beneficial to farming and are also a good source of medicine.

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And as an organization that works to care for God’s creation we encourage each and every person to step up; bring forth hope- Farm God’s way!

 

Cross-cultural experience at ARocha Kenya

Cross-culture is one of A Rocha’s core-commitments and it’s a privilege working with people from all corners of the globe. We believe that each one’s presence is a blessing to the communities in varied ways.

We are therefore glad to welcome Jaap Gijsbersten and his family to A Rocha Kenya. The family has been at Mwamba (Watamu) for the past six months to complement the team following the absence of Colin Jackson our conservation and Science director; on a one year sabbatical leave.

I had quite an interesting conversation with them and learnt a few things about their Kenya experience.

Jaap 33, a nature enthusiast and an Msc degree holder in forest and nature conservation with a specialization in ecology and management is the New Conservation & Science director while Esther 33; as well is responsible for the Hospitality at Mwamba Field Study Centre. Together they have three beautiful kids Boaz (5), Aurelia (2) and Arthur (1).

Fam. Gijsbertsen

Stepping into a different culture is enriching and challenging at the same time but things worked out so well and the family has fallen in love with the country especially Mwamba (Watamu). Esther suggests; “home is where our family is and to us Mwamba is our beautiful home, safe and very peaceful.

The kids who are home schooled, seem to have blended in with the team as well; in fact they are learning to speak English and Swahili. The place has made them quite creative in such a way that they can make their own toys from the plastics they pick along the beach. They seem to be nurturing their environmental interest as well by getting involved in ARK programmes.

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And just as A Rocha’s core commitment is bringing together people from different cultures, they are taking this as an opportunity for a cultural-exchange rather than a challenge.

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They commend A Rocha Kenya’s work in spreading the message of hope for creation and the unity displayed among staff when performing their duties.

 

Mapping Kenya’s birds – website now operating!

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!

DSC00538 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.

2014-05-24 Coverage map – 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)!

WP_20140523_001 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.

Ecosystem based God’s Farming?

Human activities have changed the character and quality of our soils over time. We have destroyed protective vegetation cover and have kept soil bare for long periods of time as we have actively added chemicals to the soil. All these activities have impaired and even destroyed the ability of the soil to carry out its essential functions.

So what do we do? How do we care for the soil? How do we care for it to benefit our neighbors as well?

What is ecosystem based God’s Farming? This involves incorporating biodiversity conservation into farming.

Recently a group from Kingdom Farmers Organization visited us for two day training on ecosystem based God’s Farming. During the training these farmers got to learn how planting different species of trees and shrubs such as Tephrosia vogelli, Faidherbia Albida and Tithonia diversifolia helps in farming. Benefits include but are not limited to pest control, improving soil fertility, attracting a host of insects which are beneficial to farming without forgetting that trees and shrubs give us timber and fodder for animals.

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In the afternoon of the second day we had a walk on the nature trails. It was like a competition for knowledge on local medicine. Some farmers gave Raphael who was facilitating a run for his money in not only identifying medicinal plants but explaining their preparations and dosages. From Erythrina abyssinica,Warbugia ugandensis, Milletia dura, Prunus africanus, all trees seemed to have a medicinal value. Doesn’t God love Africa? It was great to learn ways in which some trees control crop pests from termites to aphids and mealy bugs. It was also amazing to see the connection between that and the birds. The farmers were thrilled to learn how birds are beneficial to their farming with some even predicting the rainy season.

In the final evaluation of the training, it was great to hear farmers begin talking things like ecosystem services, biological pest control, maintenance of soil structure and fertility, nutrient cycling and hydrological services all as benefits that they get from nature. It was quite emotional to get some of the farmers ‘confessing’ how they had mistreated nature hence the poor yields they were getting from their farms.

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Lessons for making green manure seemed very interesting.

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One of the farmers summed up what he had gotten from the training as “ I now have a new desire to have a farm or garden full of bees, sun birds ,butterflies together with enough food for my family” So just like Adam let’s take care of God’s creation.Genesis 2:15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and too keep it.

 

 

 

Fundamentals of Ornithology 2014

05.45 I wake up five minutes before my alarm. Outside it is still dark but the first signs of the new morning are already floating into my room. A soft melodious song tells me the Easter Bearded Scrub-Robin has already woken up. I walk into a cool morning breeze after a refreshing shower. In front of Elsamere Field Study Centre on the shores of Lake Naivasha welcomes me an enthusiastic assembly of students. Yesterday’s lecture on equipment and a birders attitude proves to be fruitful. All my students are up before sunrise, binoculars ready and determined to spot another bird. Teams for the morning walk have barely been formed of overhead flies flashed a falcon silhouette. Although the bird flies high over the chestnut-orange legs and undertail-coverts are visible in the early morning sun. After a good discussion we conclude that it was clearly a Eurasian Hobby, a Palaearctic migrant moving north after spending the winter in Africa. I enjoy listening to the freshly learned terminology to describe colors, patterns and other characteristics of a bird proving that our lectures have had their impact.

FoO 2014

‘Fundamentals of Ornithology’ has been a tremendous success this year. It was the 20th time A Rocha Kenya, together with the National Museums of Kenya, Nature Kenya and the Tropical Biodiversity Association offered this course. With 23 keen students ranging from University lecturers to Safari guides the course was fully booked. Hosted at the pleasant Elsamere Centre we spent nine intensive days on this for East Africa unique training. Lectures covered topics ranging from fundamental knowledge of bird taxonomy and evolution, via physiology topics such as flight, feathers and food, to conservation issues worldwide and in your home area.

It is well known that education and increased understanding influences our attitude and mobilizes to act responsibility. In that respect I believe this course goes beyond bird facts appealing to our attitudes and deeds. The passion and enthusiasm expressed by this year’s student indicates that we reached their hearts and equipped them to take part in conservation. And that is exactly where A Rocha is all about: touching hearts and changing lives. Encouraging people to enjoy birds (as part of the whole of creation) and care for their wellbeing.

Jaap Gijsbertsen

Director Conservation & Science _ A Rocha Kenya