Tag Archives: Arabuko-Sokoke

Mida Creek Bird Club is born… & meets an elephant in Arabuko-Sokoke

A couple of weeks ago, I was at our community project at Mida – the 260m-long suspended walkway through the mangroves, and was approached by Juma who has become one of the main bird guides there for visitors who told me that a bunch of the youth there had got together and formed themselves into the “Mida Creek Bird Club” with a view of doing lots of birding and other bird-related conservation activities. He is chairman and promptly showed me their 10-page constitution and talked of their ideas which included a monthly bird walk on the first Saturday of the month somewhere in the local vicinity – the first one being planned for inside Arabuko-Sokoke Forest on 4th August (yesterday)… and could I be their guide?

So early on Saturday morning I picked up volunteers Martin (from Nairobi) and Brian (an ASSETS graduate from Dida to the west of Arabuko-Sokoke) and headed for the Mida entrance to the forest via Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to collect the key for the barrier. KFS have got an excellent understanding regarding community members and encouraging them in conservation of forests by working with them and had given permission for the group to enter the forest for no payment. An African Goshawk was calling (can’t reall call the “chip! chip! chip!” sound they make a song…) high overhead and the first bird singing otherwise was the ubiquitous Red-capped Robin Chat from the bush next to the forest station. On arriving at Mida there were just six members of the Bird Club waiting – but as we turned into the forest a seventh ran to catch up and after we had stopped at the first spot about 1km in three bajajis (motorbike taxis) turned up with another six so that in the end we were quite a healthy sized group! Most of the group had not done a lot of birding before and even more had done any forest birding so everything was new for them. We were on the look out for the stunning Peter’s Twinspot which is often on the track as you enter the forest… and sure enough, 700m in there was a pair doing their stuff feeding on grass seeds out in the open in front of us. A great start! We stopped at that point for a good 20 minutes as there was a feeding party of birds in the mixed forest around there and we added coastal specialities such as Little Yellow Flycatcher & Fischer’s Turaco to the list before moving on a few 100m to stop again to listen.

We were all 15 of us out of the pick-up and starting to walk along the track when without any warning a hunking great bull elephant stepped out of the forest and onto the track about 100m ahead of us… and started walking down the track straight towards us!! There was a moments panic among the group but we stood and marvelled at such an awesome sight! It hadn’t seen or smelt us as we were down wind of it and it just kept on coming straight at us – until it was about 60m off and I thought I’d better warn it of us being here and waved my arms and shouted at which point it wheeled around and vanished into the forest to the left! A really awesome sight and a huge treat for everyone.

Here’s the guy on the road… and see the video clip at the end as well!!

After that there was a bit of nervousness about any noise coming from the forest on the left but otherwise it was down to some serious birding and pointing out the various bird calls we could hear. A little further down the track is a spot I know for an East Coast Akalat territory… and sure enough within a minute of arriving there, he started singing though kept deep in the forest and didn’t show. We then moved on to the Brachtstegia woodland habitat which lies beyond the Mixed Forest habitat along the Mida track and which is a beautiful habitat for birding and walking. Brachystegia is known further south in Africa as ‘Miombo woodland’ and we are basically located in the northernmost extent of the habitat in Africa. It’s also the habitat for our endemic Clarke’s Weaver – though we didn’t see any this time but did catch up with Pale Batis, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Mombasa Woodpecker and Black-headed Apalis among others.

The group were hugely enthusiastic about the excursion and to add to the events of the day as we drove back to Mida Creek itself to drop everyone off, there was a Golden Pipit on the edge of the vlei you drive past down to the creek’s edge. My first here though the Mida guides had said one had been around in recent times.

As the club is still starting out, A Rocha Kenya is committing to helping them grow and strengthen – the first part of which is to give them some organisational training and capacity building on issues such as setting up a simple but robust financial system, how to run committee meetings etc. The finances in particular is something which countless small community groups (and even larger NGOs etc!) have fallen apart and collapsed over when not run transparently and properly and it’s a privilege to be in a position where we can contribute and help a group like this one become strong and effective.
Eastern Green

 Elephant in Arabuko-Sokoke video:

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Unproven biofuel projects given clearance in unique wetlands and forest areas

News has just come through that the Provincial Commissioner for Coast has apparently ordered that the jatropha plantation project for the Dakatcha Woodlands that has been fought for over two years (see other blogs on this) should “start on Monday” – since “the MP and the local people want it”…

In fact there is a significant proportion of the local population who do not want the project and there is plenty of evidence that the crop will fail to produce an economic output that will improve the livelihoods of the people and not damage the environment.

All this comes in the light of the Minister of the Environment, Michuki, who helicoptered into the site last year September for a public meeting and said that “before he would give any go ahead, if Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd want to implement their project, they must furnish his office with scientific evidence that Jatropha is commercially viable in Dakatcha and that it is not harmful to people and the environment.”

He gave an example of a failed “development project” that took place in Tanzania where the proponent clear felled an indigenous forest to cultivate groundnuts. The project failed because by clearing all trees the proponent eliminated all pollinators.

As it is, the Italian company who is behind this project have yet to even address or speak out in support of the economical viability of the crop even when challenged on it. There has been no scientific / solid evidence given publicly about the actual potential of the crop and all the reports we hear are that it doesn’t work here. I have just spoken a few minutes ago with a farmer from Mpeketoni near Lamu who tells me that jatropha has been tried around his area… and totally failed.

He further asked the County Council of Malindi to develop a multiple land use plan and zone all forested areas for conservation. This was agreed that it should be a collaborative effort including the main stakeholders such as NatureKenya and local community.

As it happened, the zonation map has been produced without any input other than from the County Council and done basically behind closed doors and presenting effectively a fait accompli which only those supporting the jatropha project had any input to. The map was produced in a very ‘jua kali‘ (Swahili for rough and ready, unprofessional) way and pretty much sketched by hand – as you can see from an image of it below:

The larger cross-hatch patterned area is the original area that they wanted to put under jatropha but which thankfully has been turned down – at least for now. I’m sure they’ll push for it in due course. The area they are apparently being ‘given’ to do the project is the smaller bold bordered area. Unlike what the project proponents have been saying, the area takes in a significant portion of the Brachystegia woodland habitat – the habitat that the endemic Clarke’s Weaver, found worldwide only in Dakatcha and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest 20kms to the south.

So it is that we are still fighting local government who are insisting in the light of evidence against the cause that it should in fact go ahead. There has been no word to my knowledge from the Minister of Environment’s office that it should go ahead and it would therefore appear that local government officers are being compromised in order for the project to happen.
WHEN will we have anything happening here by government which really benefits the local people and environment?? Those who read this and who pray – please pray that we can stop this project completely and instead bring alternatives for the people which will make a real difference to them and in doing so protect this amazingly precious part of God’s creation.

“Farming God’s Way” in threatened Dakatcha Woodlands

We’ve been somewhat quiet over Christmas and New Year – getting away and having a much-needed break, though many times this is when developers like to take action because they know that there are fewer people looking. This seems to have been what has happened in Dakatcha with the jatropha project – just before Christmas, new machinery was brought in and activity levels at the Italian jatropha project picked up. The worry is that the project will go ahead at a level which is still unacceptable for a) a crop which has overwhelming evidence that it will fail and only bring problems and greater poverty to the site and b) a site that is globally important for rare and endangered biodiversity.

NatureKenya have continued to do a great job at highlighting what is going on though there hasn’t been much news from them either of late… will have to do some ferreting to find out what’s going on.

However the great news is that the Bountiful Grains Trust based in South Africa but working throughout southern and eastern Africa have decided to continue working with us as A Rocha Kenya on the Farming God’s Way (FGW) work amongst farmers in the Dakatcha area. This is awesome and Pius Mutie has just come back from Dakatcha with our A Rocha Staff member Katana where they’ve done ten days of follow up training with the farmers and church members who have been involved already and anyone else who is keen to learn about it.

The beauty of FGW is that it not only works really well in hugely increasing productivity for farmers who practise it correctly, but it also gives excellent teaching on core life principles based on solid biblical teaching. Katana has been putting the FGW techniques he has learnt into practice and has reaped the benefits – as can be seen in the photos below of his shamba (farm) and the size of the maize / corn he managed to grow last year. For comparison, his neighbours crop is shown which shows how traditional farming techniques really do serious harm to communities still trying to live by them.

Katana in his FGW-farmed maize

Katana’s neighbour’s maize – taken the same time

What is the difference with this form of agriculture? The main principles taught by FGW are that you should do your farming with excellence, do it on time (apparently the main reason there is hunger in Africa – farmers plant late and so miss the full benefit of the rains and thus get under sized crops and sometimes none at all), do it with joy and without wasting anything. Following these and applying them with the core techniques of no ploughing, lots of mulching of dead vegetation on the crops and rotating your crops are the key ingredients to getting a bumper harvest from your fields.

We really hope to spread this news far and wide and get more and more farmers using it so as to not only help them get more from their fields, but also to stop erosion, retain moisture in the soils, reduce the area of land required for farming and thus saving some more indigenous habitats. We hope to introduce FGW with our ASSETS community project around Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek and even at the Sabaki River Mouth with the communities there – but that’s a wee way into the future from now.

The recent training has gone pretty well though the turn out wasn’t as high as we’d hoped but there was an enthusiastic reception from those who were there. Our vision is to spread it to as many people as possible and have many of the community being able to feed themselves as well as having food left over to sell and in doing so protecting the forest from further destruction.

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Ringing Continues at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

Ringing has continued with gusto and Colin has been encouraging everyone to get up earlier and earlier!  Today it was 04:30am!  We have had 4 days ringing so far and we’ve ringed 106 birds of which 11 have been re-traps from this week.  We still only have one Spotted ground thrush, which is worrying because it is an indicator of how healthy and undisturbed this forest and the breeding grounds in Tanzania are.  New birds since Tuesday have included the Blue mantle crested flycatcher, the Yellow bellied bulbul and today’s special catch, the Grey backed camaroptera.  In the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest this bird is special because scientists think the ASF Grey backed camaroptera has different DNA from Grey backed camaropteras elsewhere.  For this reason, after ringing the bird and recording its details, Colin took a small blood sample which will be sent away to have its DNA analysed.  The difference in DNA means that the  ASF Grey backed camaroptera could be an endemic species.

Grey backed camaroptera