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.