Category Archives: Mida Creek

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.


The team at the ringing table.


A Ruff being ringed for the first time at Mida.


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

Declining of Marine Resources;Uyombo Village.

In a typical early morning of January 2015, fishermen in small dug-out canoes head out to the sea. Occasionally, sail boats magnificently creep through the waters past the canoes that seem troubled even by weak waves. The mission is to bring food on the table.
Increasing populations and entry of more fishermen into artisanal fishing coupled with dwindling catches in the Indian Ocean has made life to be harder for every one here. Each day experiences less and less catches, sometimes nothing at all. The fishermen are poor and can only afford dug-out canoes and gillnets. Due to lack of effective equipment, it is not safe for them to explore the deep waters and heavily rely on shallow reef fishing. On some occasions they dare row their canoes deeper when the sea is calm. Stories of fishermen capsizing and perishing in the waters are not uncommon here.
At the shore, women are sitted under mangrove trees. Each of them has a bucket and vigilantly stares at the horizon, waiting for any sign of a vessel. Some few people own sail boats and usually sell the catch at any price they want. The tide is receding and vessels arrive at the shore in intervals of two to three hours, each with barely five kilos; a whole night`s catch. It is common to see women rushing to the canoe to scramble for fish and usually one or two can be lucky. Such lucky women hurriedly leave the shore and head home to prepare the fish for sale. The unlucky ones go back to where they were sitted and wait for their fate. A canoe arrives with ten juvenile back tip sharks and two women are lucky enough to share the catch. Today is worse, it is midday and only three canoes hit the shore with a cumulative catch of less than ten kilos.
According to the locals, migrant fishermen from Zanzibar have been camping here for a fortnight and own at least five big boats. The boats are known as Ngalawa. One of the boats is being repaired so that it can be used for a night fishing shift. The crack in the boat is attributed to its hitting a strong wave. The zanzibari men, at times, get no catch too. The situation is yet to worsen as the villagers anticipate arrival of another crew with controversial fishing gear. Other places have opposed such sophisticated fishermen but the Uyombo locals receive them, yearning for small business opportunities like offering them accommodation and meals.
The village borders a park managed by a state agency. Some of the locals whom we interviewed claimed that the locals have not benefitted from the thirty-year old park, citing a relationship between the agency and the community as one that has been plagued with mistrust. Some fishermen admit that they occasionally poach some octopus in the park. To iron out the rapport, the agency established an eco-tourism facility as an incentive for the locals but it unfortunately had to close down owing to declining tourism in the area and probably, limited marketing. Relatively flourishing tourism in Watamu area also contributed to the facility`s failure.

Predictions of global warming and climate change progressively are painting a hopeless picture and livelihoods are at stake. Stakeholders hence have the challenge to effectively link local socio-economic systems to management of the marine ecosystem.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- bringing back the catch

Fish customers rushing to a canoe.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- fish in a net

A fishing net.

Uyumbo fisheries catch monitoring with CORDIO- recording data

Monitoring the catch.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


Fisheries conservation and A Rocha Kenya

Many communities around Mwamba, our field studies centre in Watamu, are dependent to a large extent on fishing for food and income. So, over the past several months, we on the marine team have been working to learn if, and how, it may be worthwhile for A Rocha Kenya to become more involved in coastal fisheries conservation in the Watamu area. To this end, we have been reviewing the published scientific literature regarding Kenya’s coastal fisheries, meeting with larger-scale Kenya fisheries agencies, and talking with local fishers and organizations in the Watamu area. Combined with our continuing coral reef and rockpool ecology research, this work with local fishermen and women may be an incredible way to both learn more about God’s amazing marine creation and work to redeem the way we as people relate to this part of His world.

Stay tuned for further updates as we continue to think and pray about this new potential project!

_PWS8601 A fisherman walking across the mud flats to his boat at Mida Creek

_PWS8641 Digging for bait

DCIM100GOPRO Returning from fishing in Mida Creek

GOPR0146-3 One days catch

A dugong in Mida Creek – should we care?

I remember one time when I was swimming at Clearwater Beach in Florida. We saw some large shapes in the water near us and wondered if they were dolphins. As they came close and swam under us, they were clearly too big and slow. Manatees! Also known as sea cows, they are the Western Atlantic equivalent of the Indo-Pacific dugong. What an amazing experience to have an animal the size of a large car swimming near you. Other times in Florida our family has sought out experiences with manatees. Who can resist those interesting faces.

So their close relative the dugong has been spotted in Mida Creek. Who cares? I do, but then I like manatees and, I am sure, if I saw the dugong would like it. Is that a good reason that you should care? Is simply “liking” and animal, or thinking it’s “cute” or “amazing” reason enough to look after it? In his book Planetwise, Dave Bookless outlines three different approaches to thinking about the value of creation in general to which Martin and Margot Hodson in their booklet Climate Change, Faith and Rural Communities add a fourth: biocentric, ecocentric, anthropocentric, and theocentric. From a biocentric approach, this dugong has value as an individual, We could also value this dugong for its place in the ecosystem; an ecocentric approach. Dugongs are large herbivores which play an important role in tropical coastal ecosystems. We can also focus on the dugong’s value to us, to humans. This is an anthropocentric approach. Clearly a lot of people like to be near and look at large marine mammals. This presents an amazing opportunity for ecotourism, especially if we can get her (him?) to stay. Perhaps others will come. These three approaches all have their merits.

But for me, as a follower of Jesus, a theocentric (God centred) approach is especially appealing and the most compelling. God created dugongs (however that happened) and declared them good, before humans were around. Their value to God is not dependant upon their utility to me – though God, I am sure, knew that they would be of value to me and the ecosystem and this is also part of how things are meant to be. As God has asked us to be stewards of all he made, in obedience to God, I must care, actively care, for this creature.

A Rocha Kenya has embarked on a marine conservation project and we are very excited by the news that a dugon was sited in Mida Creek brought to us by the Watamu Marine Association, of which we are a member. Mida Creek is part of the area where A Rocha works. Whether or not the dugong stays, there are any number of organisms to which we could apply this thinking. We look forward to working with WMA, Kenya Wildlife Service, and others to protect wildlife. At A Rocha Kenya, we do this for God’s glory. We also are working towards the communities around Watamu Marine Park benefitting in any way they can from this beautiful place – which we also do for God’s glory. We hope you will follow this adventure. Bob Sluka – advisor for the marine conservation project.


Waders leaving Mida Creek for breeding grounds in Asia

Friday morning saw a somewhat bleary-eyed and hilarious group of A Rocha Kenya staff and volunteers return from another all-nighter on Mida Creek catching and ringing waders – or doing our best to, at least! We’ve been focussing on trying to ring waders (shorebirds) at Mida over the past few months in particular the past 4-6 weeks to try and get data on the weights of birds and their moult patterns in the build up to them departing on migration back to their breeding grounds in Asia and eastern Europe. 

This is one of the most interesting times of the bird calendar in terms of these birds. They have just spent possibly even nine months in Kenya after the last breeding season hanging out on Mida where life is pretty easy for a wader – warm conditions so no cold to fight, not many predators to worry about just a bit of disturbance from fishermen and tourists. As a result they don’t need to feed too heavily nor carry much fat to survive any potential harsh conditions – unlike their cousins who are wintering in Europe where a cold spell can come in and freeze their food source and can lead to death if you’re not fat enough to live it out till a thaw comes in.

However at this time of the year, March-May, birds are frantically foraging to fatten for the 6,7 or even 10,000km journey that they’ll be making back to their breeding grounds in Asia. This means as we catch them for ringing and weigh them, over this period you can see the weights of the birds increasing steadily and then numbers of adults suddenly start to reduce as adults leave for the north while mostly the youngsters from last year’s season stay behind and probably won’t migrate but will chill til next year when they’ll head home to join the fray of trying and find a territory and a mate to raise a family.

Moult-wise, it is also interesting. Adults have all completed their non-breeding season wing moult and have fresh, new, strong feathers to take them back to Asia and bring them back to Mida in August. Young birds, depending on the species and the population, will either have simply retained the feathers they grew in the nest last year, or will be moulting some in preparation for the next year spent in the harsh sunlight of the tropics which bleaches feathers like crazy and wears them out fast. 

The other neat thing to see is to go to Mida in the evening in early May and watch for flocks of birds that are setting off for Asia. We did that not long ago – headed out about 6pm with the tide low and birds spread all over foraging away. There was already a clear reduction in the numbers of birds around but still there were adults in 70-90% breeding plumage who would be heading north at any point. At about 6:15pm a flock of c.40 very handsome Curlew Sandpipers in their brick-red breeding plumage landed about 60m from us calling excitedly and looking alert. They only were there a few minutes before they took off trilling loudly and started climbing higher calling as they went. They climbed steadily heading off across the water and then started circling whilst still climbing making 2 or 3 circuits still calling quite clearly. After the last circuit they then adjusted their bearings and headed off just east of north still climbing as they went and flew on and on until they were out of sight. 

Amazing to think that within a matter of hours they would be over Somalia and only a couple of days easily beyond the Middle East. Below is a photo of a Curlew Sandpiper on its nest in its lovely plumage. Then a few images of one of our recent wader nights..

 by Benjo Cowburn

Rings & equipment with Crab-plover behind by Benjo Cowburn

Lesser Sand Plover wearing it's shiny ring

The morning after at Mida Creek...

Images from wader ringing on Mida Creek

I’ve just been sent a link to some images taken by Jane Del Ser who was with us on our August wader night on Mida Creek which give a good flavour of the night’s activities – thanks to Jane for sending us these!

We didn’t get a huge number of birds that night, but it was very useful data as we know very little about the weights and moult of birds at that time of the year.

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Where was the Finnish Terek Sandpiper found in 2008??

In answer to Jimmy’s comment on it would be nice to know where the Finnish recovery was actually found, I had written this on my facebook profile at the time when we were informed about the recovery. I paste it here for your information:

I received an email from the Coordinator of the Ringing Scheme of eastern Africa saying:

“You’ll be glad to know, Colin, that your Terek Sandpiper, Ring no. “Nairobi A71968” was controlled, breeding, by Veli-Matti Pakanen at Kemi, Lappi, Finland (65.45N, 24.32E) on 21.06.08 (no biometrics supplied). Kemi is a small coastal town at the top end of the Gulf of Bothnia, just over 20 km from the Swedish border at Haparanda.

Apart from the intrinsic worth of this super control, the report also raises some important points. It is the first recovery/control of a Terek Sand affecting eastern Africa (as far as I know) and is also only the second recov/control from all the Kenya coastal ringing.”

This was indeed one of “my” birds but was in fact ringed by none other than my kid sister Bethan Harris when she volunteered with us on 20th November 2003 in Mida Creek. The distance in a straight line from Mida to Kemi is c.7,756km and it was 4 1/2 years later that it was found.

This is the FIRST recovery of ANY of my or our A Rocha Kenya birds since I started ringing in Kenya in 1994 other than c.10kms away! Very cool indeed.

This was THE night that the Terek was ringed at Mida – Beth is the one sitting in the door of the car.

The only other movement of a bird since then has been an African (or Eastern as it is now called) Golden Weaver which we caught at Turtle Bay Beach Club in July that had a ring on already which was put on it at our ARK centre, Mwamba, in 2008. It was an immature when we ringed it and now it is breeding in the Turtle Bay gardens, some 3km away along the beach.

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ARK Team Nets 181 Waders at Mida Creek

A week ago last Sunday, the team gathered up all the BlueBand, SupaLoaf, and wader nets we could carry, piled into Duma, our blue Caldina station wagon, and headed down to Mida Creek for the monthly wader survey. We were quite a bit more successful this month, catching and ringing a staggering 181 birds, distributed as follows:

-54 Curlew Sandpipers
-31 Greater Sandplovers
-1 Grey plover
-18 Lesser Sandplovers
-42 Little Stints
-5 Ringed Plovers
-1 Sanderling
-27 Terek Sandpipers
-2 Whimbrels

This is the most birds we’ve caught in Mida Creek since November of 2004, and it kept most of us busy through the long, (mostly) sleepless night.

The data we collect from these birds will help us track their biometrics, as well as their migratory patterns. For example, one of the Terek Sand Pipers we ringed in Mida Creek in 2003 was recaptured thousands of miles away, while breeding in Finland five years later.

Night Ringing, Deserves a Quiet Night

Towards the end of last month a band of 8 keen beans packed the car for night out on the mud flats of Mida Creek. They left at 5.00pm to set up 162 m of mist nets in the light of day. Just as the light was fading the last net was secured. Anna and I (Lynton – volunteer from New Zealand) were cooking that night, so I came out later at 8:30 pm to feed the hungry souls waiting for the tide to rise. As the tide rises, the wading birds are pushed closer to shore and ideally right into our strategically place nets. Every hour a small crew head out to check the nets for birds. If left in the nets for too long, the birds can get really tangled and injure themselves.

Ringing time

For the first few hours the birds came were caught in ones and twos but as it hit high tide at 1:50 am we caught 12 in one sweep of the nets. When removing birds from the nets you don’t want to scare any uncaught birds nearby so torches are a big no. Thankfully Colin and Albert have magical hands (and eyes), extracting birds with ease in the faint moon light. Once back at base camp, 400 m away, the birds are removed from their bird bags and place in a ‘bird tent’ as they wait to be processed. The gas lantern is lit, the ringers watered and scribe penciled. The rest of us helpers bring birds one by one to Colin and Albert to be ringed and measured before being taken back to the beach to be released.

Me and my Little Stint waiting for its new shiny ring

Once the birds are all done, its time to get a few winks before it’s time to check the nets again. After the peak catch around high tide, there is a quiet patch until just before sunrise. During this period, the collectors often returned empty handed. By 4 am, the team was scattered all over the place trying to sleep and keep warm. Unfortunately, it was rather windy at Mida Creek until 3 am. In wind it is more difficult to catch birds as they are more likely to bounce out. The ringing expedition ended at 7 am, as the sun was rising over the mudflats. Everything was crammed back into the car to take the tired birders back to their roosts.Sunrise at Mida Creek

A month has past and we are soon to venture out again, hopefully without wind this time because night ringing deserves a quiet night.