Tag Archives: A Rocha



Increasingly in East Africa, media reports on poaching and trafficking of game ornaments has become so common that rarely a week passes without mainstream press covering such events. Sadly, these stories are no longer ‘breaking news’ stories. On average, there will be a haul of illegal game trophies found either on key gate-ways to the international market, mostly at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, or with poachers caught and arrested, or killed summarily in the act.

There is that African saying: “since man has learnt to shoot without missing, most birds have learnt to fly without perching”. But in the poaching world, while it is true that man-the poachers- today lethally shoot without missing, unfortunately, the big endangered animals, more so elephants and rhinos, have not mastered the cunning knowledge of the birds in the air.

What is reported is what we know, however, wildlife conservationists and environmentalists claim there are more animals being killed out there whose fates go unreported and whose stories are never told.

Reading through any website of hotels and holiday homes, from the coast inwards to Maasai Mara, there is always a promise that visitors will be able to see this animal or that; from rare birds, monkeys, and the famed big five. Wildlife therefore, is part and parcel of the visitor experience in most of East Africa’s high-end tourist resorts and holiday homes.

Yet in some East African countries, wildlife conservationists flaunt statistics and figures of killed animals which boggles the mind. Often, the war on poaching is given a positive spin; like when wildlife agency officials appear to be winning. Each dead animal triggers a change in the laws, hot debates in legislative houses and dismay in national conversations. Sometimes, Kenya’s high and mighty, and even the world’s known celebrities, descend on animal sanctuaries to adopt, or feed orphaned animals. Such swaps end in newsrooms.

Has there been a deliberate and determined effort to conserve wildlife as key to ensuring the growth and development of other sister industries? For example the hotels and related service industries? Keeping safe East Africa’s game needs a renaissance on the role of the wild in completing the economic and social life cycle of the domesticated, including man.

Unlike most of the developed world; East Africa is still in technological neanderthals, so the world do not visit us to get awed by new inventions in machines or breakthroughs in architecture and the build sciences. The wild is East Africa’s wonder, and economic hope. The East African wild offers the chilling contrasts with the developed world, because, after seeing two elephants caged in a zoo in some world capital, thousands of East Africa’s elephants, roaming freely in troops with clear figureheads and ‘leaders’, become the most scintillating experience of the touring visitor.

Conservation of these animals, therefore, is not only an exercise to continue God’s work here on earth, but also to grow and empower this region still constructing its own science and technological devices; be they huge superhighways or meandering subways or imposing buildings that pierce the heavens. Because we still at least half a century to be glorious, and I am being very optimistic, our animals continue to fill this gap.

Tourism in East Africa powers many sectors of each of the region’s economies. Wildlife is the very foundation of tourism, together with the warm tropical beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline. An example is the perilous wildebeest migrations. More tourists check in at the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti across the border in Tanzania to watch this unique animal migratory experience. Hence, to endanger the wildebeest is to render many accommodation and service establishments here a worthless, and wasteful endeavour.

Whether it is the donkeys at Lamu or the Gorillas in the pristine mountains of Rwanda, caring for East Africa’s game is the next frontier for wooing visitors to this part of the globe. Animal poaching is a luxury that the hospitality industry in East African countries cannot afford.

Marine Photo of the Week

Incredible diversity on one small patch of reef in Watamu Marine Park. In this photo there at least 8 genra of coral all crowded and competing for sunlight. In the centre and bottom left there is Pocillopora, the bottom right is some encrusting Montipora, above this a small green patch of Galaxea. Along the top there is the winding lines of Platygyra on the left, next to a yellow branching Acropora, nestled next to a smooth brown Porites in the top right. In the middle there are two domed corals with circular coralites (pits) which are most probably Favites and Favia, although a closer look would be needed for these two. How and why all these corals are crowded together is difficult to know and as complex as any rainforest structure, with canopy Pocilloporas and Acroporas, which an understorey of creeping Monitpora and emergent Porites bursting through the structure to form smooth domes.

Finishing up Marine Work

Time has really raced the last few months for the marine team. Starting in January, Joy Smith an Oceanographer from Virginia, USA, joined me (Benjo) and together we really pushed forward with data collection on the reef. However all too quickly we’ve come to the end of this year’s field season, with weather set to get windier and the sea to get rougher from April through to September during ‘kusi’ monsoon. I’m now sitting in a coffee house in Nairobi thinking about all those wonders way down on the coast and realising that none of the magic of the reef has been lost. Below are a couple of photos from the last snorkel I did around a site we call ‘the larder’. A huge shoal of trevally completely surrounded us and beautiful sweetlips swam lazily over to figure out what these strange new creatures in their home were.

A final piece of news is that nearly all the plates we put down in December are now out of the water. I say nearly, because sadly we couldn’t find one of the plates placed in Kanani, but nevertheless recovering 35 small pieces of equipment that have been sitting on a large underwater landscape for 3 months is quite successful I feel. We did the work in collaboration with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI), which not only being another great contact for future work, but was a lot of fun for the three days we were zooming around the park and pulling the plates up. Juliet from KEMFRI started helping us analyse the plates looking at the major types of organisms settling. While I could see some little corals on the plates, we need to use a microscope and Juliet’s expertise for a longer period of time to get the final results of this interesting study. The plates are stored and can be analysed at any time in the future, so all the more to look forward to for the next field season!


Baby Corals

I mentioned in a previous blog that Indian Ocean coral was severely affected by bleaching and mortality in the 1997 El Nino event, which caused most of the coral in Watamu to die. Fifteen years on many areas in the Indian Ocean have recovered to some degree, but there is a large variation in coral regrowth. Sadly Watamu hasn’t recovered as fast as one would hope and most papers report that it has the slowest regrowth in Kenya. However in the short time I’ve been here I’ve noticed massive variation, even across the park in coral regrowth, with some areas having much more coral cover than others. Not only this but it seems that the areas with good cover are not the established study sites used for published papers to date. Eventually these areas need to be properly surveyed and documented, but before that I decided to start to trying to pull apart why there is a difference.

Many coral species spawn around November to March, sending small larvae into the water column, which eventually settle and grow into new colonies. Success of new colonies is based on the survival of larvae in the water column, currents to carry them to a location and finding suitable substrate, known as pre-settlement mortality rate. After that the coral needs to establishing itself, out-compete other organisms and grow; post-settlement mortality rate. Quite different processes are know to control pre and post-settlement mortality, so in order to understand variation in the park it is first important to know how which kind of mortality is most affecting coral recruits.

In order to do this, I have put settlement plates down. These are pieces of equipment onto which corals can grow. If there is large variation in the number coral recruits on plates when I remove them in March, perhaps this indicates pre-settlement mortality is controlling the flow of larvae to certain locations. If there is little variation, this could suggest that larvae are arriving in all locations, but it is post-settlement mortality in their local environment which either allows or prevents coral growth.

I decided to make plates just before Christmas and it was a mammoth task of designing, testing and then manufacturing many of these small plates to put around the park. I came up with a design based on advice from Tim McClanahan and Austin Humpheries from Wildlife Conservation Society in Mombasa, who also donated the square plates cut out of dead coral head and a big thanks is owed to them. The coral plate was tied to a plastic meshing cage to prevent fish herbivory interfering with settlement variation. This was then sunk into a cement mould, which when solidified, would provide the ballast to keep the plates still on the reef.

The first prototype sat happily on the reef for two days with no issues, so the race was on to make 36 plates before my parents arrived for Christmas! Seemingly no plastic meshing is imported to Kenya, but I discovered some bins in the local plastic market in Timboni, which had just the right kind of holes, and I set about trying to buy enough of these to make the plates. The shop keeper was bemused at why I was so adamant to buy that one kind of bin and why I needed 25 of them! With all the equipment bought I roped in several volunteers and even guests staying at Mwamba at the time, and got to work cutting up the bins and attaching the coral plates. Finally the night before setting them out we sunk them in numerous moulds.

Finally one day before Mum and Dad got here we sank all 36 onto various places on the reef. Success! The plates are all still where I left them just over a month ago and are being settled by a range of organisms. Stayed tuned for more results coming from this research strand, which hopefully will help pull apart one of the most poorly known aspects of reef ecology; how do baby corals grow?

Plastic Market

The raw materials
Guests getting stuck in
Completed Plates
Making concrete bases

Sinking the plates
Plate happily placed on the reef

Recycling for Research

Its really astounding how much stuff one needs when starting something new. From seaweed books to snorkelling bags all the little items necessary for effective research add up to a lot of new equipment. Africans are well known for their resourcefulness and being able adapt and reuse items for novel tasks and its no different here at A Rocha Kenya. When I told Henry (the Centre Manager) I needed a clip board for my underwater paper we looked around what scrap material we had here at Mwamba and settled on an old plastic toilet cistern as being the perfect tool for my new clipboard.

Henry and the Cistern

Clipboard in Action

The perfect Ngulia effect at Lions Bluff – it works!

Fri 20th Nov 2009… Titus had done a check on the conditions at midnight and had not woken me so I woke at just before 2am to have a look, stuck my head out of the tent door and knew immediately that things were looking good – there was mist gently wafting all around! The walk from room no. 10 to the main lodge is about 200m and there are often buffalo and elephant that wander into camp during the night so it was with great care and stopping to listen into the mist every now and then to make sure I didn’t walk headlong into an ele’s backside that I reached the lodge and woke Solomon, the askari (night watchman), to turn the generator on. I didn’t wait to see if it would bring birds down before opening the ‘night nets’ – two nets we’d strung across the front of the spot-lit area below the main viewing terrace of the lodge, and stood there looking up and waiting in anticipation…

It actually took a good 5-6 minutes before the first bird appeared which is interesting and gives an idea of how far up / away they are flying to be able to reach and come down to the lights – though in fact the very first bird was a Ring-necked Dove that perched on a bush below the terrace! It didn’t take long after that, however, for several migrants to appear and for the first to hit the net… and escape. But the second stuck and was Lions Bluff’s first Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris. Solomon kindly went back to the room to wake Titus and the others and by the time they’d come I had half a dozen birds already and it had started raining – turning into quite heavy rain by 02:40hrs. We stuck at it and managed to catch a few more during the rain and had a full dozen by 3a.m. The nets weren’t in the ideal position it turned out which I was expecting to discover, it being a learning experience, but Albert duly started putting up more nets which significantly increased our catch. Also the first two night nets, whilst being Gundreys which are great netting material for catching in damp conditions, were either quite old and holey or had the slightly larger mesh that is better for waders and so we had Marsh Warblers sometimes just flying through it pretty much.

The ringing station at 4am… you can see the mist in the background

The mist thinned a bit after the rain and the catch rate slowed down quite a bit but then as I started the ringing in the lodge it picked up a bit more and by the morning we had ringed 122 birds – mostly Marsh Warblers and Sprossers (Thrush Nightingales) Luscinia luscinina but also a Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis, several Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata and a couple of River Warblers Locustella fluviatilis.

Basra Reed Warbler – and Iraqi speciality

We closed the nets at just before 5am to try and clear the back log of birds before opening all the nets at Dawn expecting there would be a big flush of birds in the first 1/2 hour of daylight. As it was, the catching wasn’t too hectic and we probably could have kept on catching a bit later. The place was alive with the sound of Sprossers peeping and churring and bushes were shimmering with Marsh Warblers and a scattering of Whitethroats Sylvia communis. A great and amazing experience!

Looking down from the viewing platform to the nets at dawn with the mist still thick…

By the end of the morning we finished up with 314 birds ringed which included an Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum, several more River Warblers and Basra Reed Warblers. It was also very interesting that we caught 3-4 Garden Warblers Sylvia borin which are never very common at Ngulia and even rarer on the coast. Once again the swallow Hirundo rustica tape played up and we therefore didn’t manage to catch many of those though there was one during the night.

  Olive-tree Warbler – you can see the tip of the tail in the second photo is darker than the base. This is a “fault line” and is an indication of a young bird. The fault bar is formed when the tail is growing and the parents have trouble feeding the young in the nest for a day or two (bad weather, disturbance etc) so a weakness is formed right across all feathers showing up in this way.

Overall it was an awesome success and very exciting to have it work the way I had hoped it would. We just need to get some better condition nets and work out the best positions for them.

Lions Bluff Manager David taking a photo of a bird held by Tito. Nick (blue top) is supposedly scribing but looks like he’s taking a quick 40 winks!

A few of the other decent birds we caught included the following photographed:

Nightingale – Luscinia megarhynchos

Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis – this handsome guy is often hanging around the lodge

Speckle-fronted Weaver Sporopipes frontalis – this was one of the major surprises in terms of Afrotropical species as its range is apparently a couple of hundred kms to the west of here

As it had been a bit of an early start, we had a kip after lunch for a couple of hours and then headed out again with Kobin, Chris and Bernard from the lodge to do another Eurasian Roller survey and to see what else we could find. Again we had a good number of rollers though we’d left it a bit late to do a very long section but at least got 10kms of transect in. We then took the long route home in the hope of finding some nightjars on the road after dark… but in the typical way for Jackson – whenever I’m out actually looking for nightjars on the road I never see them, but when just driving from A to B there are loads!! It was early to bed after dinner in the hopes of another 2am start with mist – but it wasn’t looking good as the skies were clear in the evening and there hadn’t been any rain on the plain in the late afternoon.

clear evening skies at sunset except for clouds too far off to really make a difference…

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Report from Ngulia for the 20th – a true Ngulia night at last

A short note to report on news from Ngulia as far as I’ve heard so far. I left Bernard “Scopus” Amakobe running it with Janette and reporting on progress. He sms’d me the following on the 20th:

“The first real Ngulia night… real mist, real birds. Approx 1,800 birds. All spp you had plus I.gut (that’s Irania), H olive (Olive-tree Warbler), C. gal (Rufous Bush Chat), L.meg (Nightingale), L.col (Red-backed Shrike), L isabel (Isabelline Shrike), H.pall (Olivaceous Warbler) – you name it. Contented.”

Excellent to have had some action for the 15 or so ringers who were still there and particularly for the Czech guys who had to leave the next day. Am waiting for further news from Ngulia and will update accordingly. I’ll post about our action at Lions Bluff now…

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Could Lions Bluff, Lumo Conservancy, be a second Ngulia migration study site?

Following the last blog posting, I duly hit the sack and didn’t emerge until 5:15am to open the nets at dawn.. a beautifully crystal clear dawn with awe-inspiring views for miles and miles across the plains from Lions Bluff which stands some 200m above the surrounding plains. Whilst it was dire for catching migrants, it was still stunning and the most beautiful morning.

  Dawn at Lions Bluff – looking across to Chawia peak of the Taita Hills

We duly went ahead and put more nets up being assisted by Chris and Kobin who are keen birders working at the lodge. By a lateish breakfast we had 8 nets up and set more for Barn Swallows with a recording of their song going underneath – which had a magical effect on the swallows bringing them in a huge swirling flock over the speaker but unfortunately not low enough to get caught in the nets – perhaps too exposed? too windy? We caught a few but not the dozens I was hoping, and then the iPod packed up and started freezing / crashing which didn’t help matters.

The (slightly) early start of 5:45am for some others meant that with the slow pace of catching that we were having, Al gently nodded off in between net rounds…

Working the volunteers too hard??!

In total we caught about 35 birds, about 10 of which were migrants including a female Irania (also known as White-throated Robin) which was v nice, and several Spotted Flycatchers. Best bird was probably the White-headed Buffalo Weaver pair that were caught in the swallow nets. I’d not realised just how huge they are – and they have a powerful peck as Albert and Titus found out when ringing them

  Titus with White-headed Buffalo Weaver

As we had some time on our hands, it was a good chance to get out and do a Eurasian Roller survey. Chris joined us together with Bernard, one of the Lumo Conservancy rangers who is also keen on birds, and we piled into the back of ‘Kiboko’ our trusty pick-up and headed for the plains. We actually hit pretty large numbers of Rollers in the somewhat open wooded grassland at the base of the hill as well as having four Grasshopper Buzzards which I don’t see very often. As we neared Lion Rock we saw several tourist vans clumped together and predicted it would be a lion – sure enough, there she was perched on top of an exposed rock only about 60m from the track. We of course had an open pick-up full of juicy lion tidbits in the back and it was amazing to see her suddenly perk up and show a lot of interest in us – particularly Sam for some reason! Needless to say we didn’t hang around but continued on (allowing Albert to find us a Spotted Eagle Owl not far from the lion in a fig tree).

It was a very successful roller survey and we had some other good things to see too – well worth the expedition.

out on the Lumo plains – looking at a huge Baboon Spider nest by the pick-up when we’d stopped for a Red-winged Lark

view of Lions Bluff from the plains below – our netting site is at the right hand end of the photo just below the brow of the hill

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Mist, 700 birds ringed, Asian Lesser Cuckoos, Blythes Reed? and Wild Dogs…

Well I finished off last night at around 2a.m from where I was sitting it didn’t look very hopeful. However once I’d packed the computer away and went out onto the patio to look properly the cloud was lower than I thought and there were in fact one or two birds flying around. By 3:30am I figured it was worth giving it a go – so it was to wake Janette to get the night nets and Toby & Keith to help put them up – by 3:45am we had the first net up and pretty soon the second and had caught half a dozen birds – the Ngulia phenomenon had finally come! Others got up to help and then at around 4am it started to rain! and not just a few drops – very soon it was chucking it down and we had to close the nets as to have birds caught in a net and then drenched can cause them to chill very fast and die. We opened and closed the nets a couple more times as the rain stopped and came on again between then and dawn and in all caught just over 30 birds – at least a sample of weights and fat scores for the night which is always interesting.

So it was with renewed energy and anticipation that we went out at 5:40am to open the rest of the bush nets – I didn’t think there would be really huge numbers and sure enough, while there were certainly plenty of birds in the bush, it wasn’t really heaving as it can be and we ended up with a very reasonable catch of c.700 birds total. The diversity was the wonderful thing about the catch.

Scopus, David M and Tito ringing birds (finally!) at Ngulia

I get used later in December to catching 1000s of Marsh Warblers and often not much else (see last year’s blog 19th Dec 08 where we caught over 57% Marsh Warblers!). This time we had 3 or more Garden Warblers (some years we only catch 3 in total), 5 or 6 Sedge Warblers (again some years we only get 1 or 2), several Basra Reed Warblers, Olivaceous Warbler, a Rufous Bush Chat and then the stars of the show – a female Golden Oriole and no less than two Asian Lesser Cuckoos!

Asian Lesser Cuckoo – a first year bird

I was then hammering along through the Marsh and Whitethroats and pulled out of a bag a long-snouted but very small and greyish ‘Marsh Warbler’ that really did not look like a Marsh Warbler… Sure enough the notch on the second primary was way too long making it another Euro Reed Warbler, but then the winglenth was only 64 and basically all the Reeds we get at Ngulia have long wings of 68-72 mostly – this was in fact 2mm shorter than the shortest recorded. It also looked odd and so we looked very hard and long at it and got out lots of books to see if it wasn’t in fact a Blythe’s Reed Warbler – an central Asian species that winters in the far East (and so would be VERY lost if it was in fact one). They look very very similar to a Eurasian Reed so we took some time over it but in the end decided whilst certain features fitted Blythe’s, it was in fact just a very small Eurasian Reed.

small bird.. greyish… but no real supercilium

notice the very long notch

It was then time to head out with Titus and head for Lions Bluff Lodge in the Lumo Conservancy – a site where I suspected the ‘Ngulia phenomenon’ might also occur and it would be very interesting to see what birds we’d catch and if we caught any ringed at Ngulia just 55kms to the north. We eventually left on the staff bus and I fell asleep only to be awoken by the bus jolting to a stop and Tito waking me saying ‘look! look!’ – a pack of real, live (and very full stomached!) Wild Dogs!!! A friend had seen two Wild Dogs in Tsavo West about four years ago which we had got very excited about as this species is fast becoming rarer and rarer and is very hard to see. I remember as a lad growing up in Nairobi, we used to see them every time we went into Nairobi National Park – where they have now long been extirpated (locally extinct). These were the first I’ve seen in many many years and they were just loafing by the side of the road!!! If anyone reading this knows who this important record should be reported to, please let me know.

Wild Dogs in Tsavo West

We eventually got to Mtito Andei (after seeing 15-20 Amur Falcons feasting on termites together with Stepped Eagles strewn all over the road picking termites off the road surface – the first Amurs we’ve seen. It’s amazing how at this time year, you get rain… and you get Amurs immediately after. They must see the rain from miles and miles away and come in for it as that’s where the good feeding is) and straight onto a bus for Voi. Getting there we were relieved to see ‘Kiboko’ – our land cruiser – with Albert, Nick, Al and Sam waiting patiently for us to turn up.

It’s not far from there to Lumo (c. an hour’s drive) though we were delayed on the way by elephant on the main road which we had to stop and admire. At the gate to Lumo, Agnes, one of the rangers, sorted our tickets very nicely and politely and we drove the 5kms to Lions Bluff seeing a Kudu on the way and discussing the potential for the site for ringing. We were given a wonderful welcome by the staff and immediately took Kobin to assist us in putting up a net and locating the best spot for the flood light we’d brought with us to compliment the lodge’s spot lights. In between some heavy rain and dinner we managed to get the nets and light up and left them open in the vague hope that the African Scops Owl calling not far beyond where we put the nets might come up to see what was going on and get caught (it didn’t!).

at the gate to Lumo Conservancy

Now it’s 3:45am and I got up to see what was happening with the mist. There was some not bad mist though a bit high when we went to bed at 10pm and Tito and I had seen 4-5 birds but they were staying high and not coming down. We figured we’d get some sleep and then try at 2am. The mist had lifted somewhat but there is still low cloud and I saw one or two birds just now (had to wake the night watchman to switch the generator on who has also kindly got me a couple of Masai shukas (red cloths) to keep a bit warm and fight off the mosquitos) but the mist hasn’t come in properly yet – at 5am Solomon (watchman) says… We’ll see! I might hit the sack again now and try to get some sleep – having said that a bird just flew into the window which is a hopeful sign. Perhaps I won’t be sleeping much again?!!! – I’ll tell you more tomorrow…

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Grand total of 1,240 birds ringed in 10 days but great rollers & raptors

It’s getting rather tedious and repetitive to report that once again there was no mist… When I went to bed last night at 3:30am and Peter took over the watch, there was low cloud clearly lit up by the lights and even 4-5 birds that I saw dropping down and flying just below the cloud level. This was looking encouraging and we thought Peter might wake us in just 1/2 hour… but it was not to be and the cloud lifted and the birds vanished with the stars coming out once more. 18 ringers were up at dawn (actually, I confess – when I woke at 5:15am and saw it was clear, I had an extra hour’s kip!) and at the 15 or so nets opened to catch any migrant that had arrived over night. The grand total for the day was just 11 migrants in the bush nets and then the redeeming Barn Swallows once again – giving a daily total of at least over 100 – 108 to be precise. This makes the grand total so far this year at only just over 1,200 birds – of which hardly 100 have been migrants other than Barn Swallows!! This is pretty much unheard of and at this rate it’ll be the worst year since 1987 when just 2,400 were ringed – though all of those would have been non-swallows making this even worse! There is the December session to redeem the totals, and still a week of possible nights here…

Toby and Keith had put up some additional 4-5 nets in the old original ringing site along the entrance road to the lodge in the hopes of increasing the catch – even the Afrotropical catch. Surprisingly they caught very few though did produce the first Spotted Flycatcher of the season.

Those ringers for who it’s their first time here are beginning to wonder if it’s all just stories – that of 1,000s of birds in just a few hours – and I don’t blame them! We did catch a retrap Nubian Woodpecker which was very nice to have – the first known adult bird retrap I’ve handled and good to make some notes on. It was a shame that Bruria from Israel and John Musina (Nairobi museum) had to leave today without seeing even one night of mist and real Ngulia action, though both seemed to have enjoyed their time anyway.

Due to it being so quiet, it was perfect to do the Eurasian Roller survey and raptor road count that I started last year and hope to do at least once per year while here at Ngulia. Keith, Toby, Mike and David kindly offered to take me in their Suzuki Maruti (not the world’s most spacious of vehicles…!) and so we set off at about 11am with me standing up through the open roof between Mike and David. For the Rollers we use the Distance Sampling method of recording the distance from the road for each bird seen and the distance travelled for the transect. This is then fed into the Distance program which will give you an estimate of overall density of birds in a given area. I’ve not done the Distance calculations but we saw a total of 42 Rollers today, some of them just a metre or two from the road.

Eurasian Roller by Peter Usher

But it was the raptors that really made the day – particularly a large, light brown Accipiter first seen chasing and trying to catch a cisticola (tho’ the cisticola was too agile for the Accipiter and escaped being lunch) and then mobbing a Wahlberg’s Eagle in a tree. It had heavy dark barring underneath, a plain throat, bright yellow eyes and a very clear supercilium – that made it very much an adult female Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus – the first record I’m aware of for Kenya for c.5-6 years and one of what must be less than 20 records ever. Toby managed to get a very reasonable shot of it:

Eurasian Sparrowhawk in Tsavo West by Toby Collett

Not long after that with a herd of very red elephant as a backdrop, we watched a wonderful aerial display of a Brown Snake Eagle with a snake being harassed high in the sky by first one Steppe Eagle, then another, then a pair of Wahlberg’s Eagles joined in the fray doing some steep diving display flight for boot and then finally a massive juvenile Martial Eagle came hammering in from about a km away and laid into first a Steppe Eagle which turned up-side-down with talons bared about 1,000feet up in the sky and then the Martial went for the other Steppe which was not far behind one of the Wahlberg’s – all of them spiralling and towering way up in the sky… Meantime over to the left a ways was the female White-headed Vulture, an increasingly rare bird to see and definitely one to really watch out for these days.

Steppe Eagle – by Toby Collett

Total count for the day was as follows:
Wahlberg’s Eagle – 7
Steppe Eagle – 13
Tawny Eagle – 5
Martial Eagle – 2
African Hawk Eagle – 2
Black-chested Snake Eagle – 2
Brown Snake Eagle – 3
African Fish Eagle – 2
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
Bateleur Eagle – 6
White-backed Vulture – 9
Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture – 7
White-headed Vulture – 1
Secretary Bird – 3
Augur Buzzard – 1
Gabar Goshawk – 1

White-backed Vultures in the sunset by Toby Collett

Well – it’s 2a.m and the cloud is somewhat high – at least there is cloud and it’s not starry and clear, but unless it drops down further, we’re unlikely to get much of a catch again. I’ll post this and head to bed again and let Peter take over in an hour… Tomorrow I leave with Tito and head fo Lions Bluff Lodge – exactly 53km due south of here. I’m meeting up with Albert from Mwamba together with three volunteers (Sam, Al and Nick) to go and set nets in front of a spot light by the lodge to see if there is a similar effect as we have here at Ngulia. If it works, it could be very very interesting to compare with what we catch here – and you never know, we might even catch a bird ringed at Ngulia!

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